By Ruth A. Ringelstetter
We first visited the Dougan round barn in 1998 and, at that time, we couldn’t figure out how to get any pictures from the road. I don’t remember what time of day it was, but for whatever reason, we didn’t drive in and ask for permission to take photos.
Then, towards the end of October, 2010, I was on the phone with our youngest sister, when she asked me if we knew about or had pictures of the round barn east of Beloit. I told her we knew of it and had been by it once. She said there was an article in the paper about the city making plans to take down the old farmhouse and outbuildings in the coming weeks.
As I always do when I hear news of a historic property about to be demolished, I got on the phone to Joann and we made plans to drive south that weekend to photograph what we could ahead of the wrecking ball.
This true round barn was built 100 years ago in 1911 by Mark Twain Kellor for Wesson J. (Daddy) Dougan. Daddy Dougan had been a preacher until he suffered a hearing loss and turned to farming in 1906.
The barn is a large round barn which is 68 feet in diameter. Cows were milked in the bottom floor of the barn and hay was stored on the upper level. In the center of the barn is a concrete silo.
Painted on the side of the silo in front of the main doors are the following words:
The Aims of this Farm
1. Good Crops:
2. Proper Storage:
3. Profitable Livestock:
4. A Stable Market:
5. Life as Well as a Living:
W. J. Dougan
The barn was last used for dairying in 1969 and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979 as part of the Centric Barns in Rock County group. While Wesson’s son Ronald owned the farm, local school children came each year to tour the farm and the round barn.
On that late October day, Joann and I picked up our sister Peggy and drove out to the farm. The old farmhouse was already a pile of rubble and equipment sat in the yard for further demolition work.
We walked around the property, noticing the old foundations near the house, and the few remaining outbuildings. As Joann photographed, Peggy and I peeked inside buildings and talked about what they might have been used for.
The barn had cables stretched around it to stabilize it. The main doors at the front of the barn were covered with sheets of plywood and many siding boards were missing. At the back of the barn, whole sections of siding were missing. Peeking inside the front doors, dappled light came through the many holes in the roof where the shingles were missing.
As early as 1996, the barn was condemned by the city of Beloit and slated for demolition. Shortly thereafter, preservation efforts began. The owner wanted the barn removed from the site and offered the barn for $1 if the barn was moved. For that to happen the barn would have had to be stabilized before the 100-plus tons of masonry and wood could be moved. Moving it would also have been problematic since it could only travel on roads where there was room for it, which would eliminate moving it over and under most bridges.
Preservation efforts never gained enough momentum to raise the funds necessary to replace the roof or to move the barn, which would have cost well into six figures. There were also differing opinions of what should be done with the barn. Some wanted to preserve the barn at its current location while others wanted to move the barn to a new location on the other side of the interstate.
Ronald’s daughter, Jackie Dougan Jackson, has published several books including “Stories from the Round Barn” and “More Stories from the Round Barn.” Most recently, she published a book entitled, “The Round Barn.” Soon these memories and many photographs may be all that is left of the Dougan round barn.
We’re sad to see the barn in its current state of disrepair, but we’re also thankful that we got to go and see the barn before it is gone forever.
If you hear of a historic property in jeopardy of demolition, please let us know. And if you have any interest in seeing the building for yourself, go check it out as soon as you can. You never know when it might be gone forever.