Rivers meet at a busy intersection

Thursday, April 11, 2002

Arthur Poorman of Scott City, Mo., was familiar with an aerial photograph of barges along the river which appeared in a recent "Faces & Places" page in the Missourian.

"I've made tow there many times," said Poorman, a former pilot on the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. "That's a busy place."

Poorman was referring to a point just north of the confluence of the nation's two major inland waterways.

Reese Sanders and Al Panier, both of Cape Girardeau, agree.

"I've seen as many as 400 to 500 barges at a time there," said Sanders. "As many as 200 barges are usually tied up at Cairo Marine Service along the Ohio River at any one time."

Panier worked a few miles north of the rivers' confluence for more than 20 years, at Louisiana Dock Co. Inc., at Urbandale, Ill.

"A lot of river barge freight passes through Cairo," said Panier.

In 1985, more than 149 million metric tons of freight passed through Cairo, more than passed through the Panama Canal. The tonnage has increased since then to more than 280 million tons, with more than 200 million tons on the Ohio River.

Ohio River tonnage is expected to double over the next 50 years. Construction already is under way on a $1.2 billion dam at Olmsted, Ill., north of Cairo. The dam will replace two outdated locks and dams near Brookport, Ill., upstream from the Olmsted dam site. The first barges are expected through the new dam in 2006.

'No corners for goblins'No one is quite certain where the idea of the round barn originated.

Some say the round structures were created to keep the devil from hiding in the corner. Old-timers say the advantage of a round barn was that goblins and spooks couldn't hide in the corners.

Other benefits of round barns include the inexpensive construction cost because of the use of less lumber and better insulation against the elements.

Round barns have always been a rarity, but they did flourish during the late 1800s. Round barns could be found everywhere, even in Cape Girardeau, where two of the architectural gems were built almost side-by-side.

They were thought to be built around 1919 on adjoining farms along South Sprigg Street. One of the barns was destroyed by fire in 1929. At the time it was owned by Giboney Houck. The second round barn, which was razed about 1982, was originally on the Anna Kay Farm, which later became the Campbell Farm. The latter barn, built on a concrete base, included a silo in the middle of the barn where food was dispensed to livestock inside the barn.

The barn, red in color, was featured in a recent "Faces & Places" of the Southeast Missourian.

"I can't understand why the old red 'round' barn on South Sprigg was razed," says Tom Giles of Cape Girardeau. "To this day, I smile when I pass the former site of the barn as I am reminded of the time-worn joke we told all the kids."

The joke concerned a farmer's horse, or maybe it was the farmer, who went crazy in the barn -- looking for a corner.

"The old red barn was a piece of craftsmanship, from the inside out," said Jeannie Troy, who had an opportunity to see the inside of the structure.

"There were few, if any, like it in the area," said Troy. "It must have been quite a source of pride for the owner. There was a circular rail suspended from the roof that allowed farmers to convey hay bales or any heavy object all around the barn. I recall hearing my father relate an old joke about the barn. It involved a hired hand who went crazy trying to find a corner."

Sadly, the barn no longer stands.

"It was taken down a few years ago," said Dave Burger, who farmed the land for more than 20 years.

Dwight Taylor, another farmer who farmed the land for a while, said he used the barn for cows and horses when he lived there. "They had wedge-shaped stalls," said Taylor.

John Freeze of Cape Girardeau remembers the old barn.

"My dad may have helped build it," said Freeze. "We could never find out who the builders were."

If anyone knows, call B. Ray Owen, 335-6611, or e-mail rowen@semissourian.com.

Round barns are a novelty, and not many remain today.

One architect said that to achieve its circular shape, the wood siding had to be cut green and bent in large presses. Most of the round barns were built of wood, but a few were constructed of brick. The roof was usually the first to deteriorate. The roof of the barn here was filled with holes and decay.

The lower part of the round barn was used to house the livestock -- horses, cattle, hogs -- said Taylor and Burger.

Circular barns ranging from 60 to 90 feet in diameter were practical; they could accommodate as many as 100 dairy cows with space to spare.

In fact, cows were one of the driving factors behind the origin of the round-barn, according to some sources.

In the book "Stories from the Round Barn" by Jackie Dougan Jackson, it says that "an aerial view of a cow shows it to be wedge-shaped and therefore arranging these wedges around a circle represents the most efficient use of space." Other benefits of round barns included the inexpensive construction cost because of the use of less lumber and better insulation against the elements.

Round barns have always been a rarity. According to Jackson's book, reasons for this are unclear but may include the slow development of the self-supporting ceiling and the difficulty in enlarging the structure for expanded use.

There are only 153 round barns listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but there are many barns, not on the registry.

Meanwhile, the round barn continues to be an appealing landmark for artists, photographers, history buffs and curiosity seekers.

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