Secrest 1883 octagonal barn

The Secrest Octagon Barn is not a Pacific Post & Beam project, it was built by George Frank Longerbeam, a master builder and my great grandfather. It is an historic octagonal barn which is located near Downey, Johnson County, Iowa. The barn was constructed in 1883 for Joshua Hunt Secrest, a local farmer.  

This rural American farmstead represents three important periods in our nation; the Western Expansion of the United States, the Golden Age of Agriculture, and the Depression.  The farmstead was settled and established by Joshua and Esther Secrest.  The farm flourished for decades, but was eventually lost during hard times by their son, Guy.  The farmstead is highlighted by the Octagonal Barn, created by a local master builder, George Frank Longerbeam.

Longerbeam constructed a one-of-a kind barn.  It is one of the largest, oldest and most brilliantly constructed round barns in the United States.   Longerbeam had no formal training in architecture or carpentry, but may have apprenticed with his grandfather.  The use of lamination and the Gothic roof are ingenious.  It is likely Longerbeam road to Muscatine to buy his lumber from the Hershey Lumber Company.  Hershey had a rectangular dairy barn built in the late 1870s, that was probably the first use of lamination in a barn. Longerbeam may have seen the Hershey barn, and adapted the technique to his round barn.  The Secrest barn was likely built by constructing on arch on the ground and raising it with pulleys and braces.  Then the other six ribs were raised one at a time.

 

Longerbeam came to Downey from Ohio after the Civil War.  He was listed as one of two carpenters in Downey in 1878.  Longerbeam was known around the area as “one of the best” and that he “took great pride in his work.”

 

The completed barn is an architectural wonder, a monument to the brilliance and determination of our early settlers.  The roof is supported by eight ribs, composed of 18 laminated 1″ by 6″ boards.  The barn once held 200 tons of loose hay in the upper level, breakfast for the 32 horses and 16 cows waiting on the lower level.  The neighboring youth, perhaps including 10 year-old Herbert Hoover living in nearby West Branch, must have traveled to marvel at the unique structure.  The lofty miniature octagonal cupola is 75 feet above the ground.  photo link