Cerro Gordo County Iowa
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The Globe Gazette
Mason City, Cerro Gordo County, Iowa
Tuesday, September 10, 2002
by Deb Nicklay

Round barns provide fascination for Mills

MASON CITY - Dale Mills' fascination with round barns has come full circle.

As a youth growing up near Spencer, MILLS and his brother worked for area farmers, stacking hay in all manner of barns.

Round barns were the worst, he said.

"You just couldn't store bales in them like you could other barns" with angular corners, MILLS said.

It may be one of life's many ironies that MILLS is building his own round barn, using materials from a century and a half ago.

No hay will be put up in this barn, though. MILLS isn't sure what he is going to do with the limestone and wood construction that sits just to the south of his Cupola Inn, a popular bed and breakfast operation southeast of Mason City.

When MILLS and his brother heard that a Cerro Gordo County farmer was ready to tear down an 1860s barn, the pair gathered family forces to carefully dismantle the building last year with the farmer's blessing.

"We just don't believe anything should go to waste," MIILS said.

MILLS is no stranger to barn history. He is a member of the Iowa Barn Foundation and owns 30 cupolas that are placed near the bed and breakfast. He owns dozens of books on barns, and can easily recount U.S. and Iowa sites of the most historically important barns.

The brothers were intrigued by the mortise and tenon joint construction, anchored by oak pegs, on the old barn.

"We said it was akin to a religious experience, pounding out those pegs - pegs that hadn't been touched since they were first pounded in 140 years before," he said.

"The farmer was just going to bury the stone, and it was too beautiful to bury."

MILLS hauled more than a thousand stones to his farm, and also brought several of the old barn's planks to use as sheeting for the domed roof of his new barn.

He followed no pattern, using his construction savvy to etch out a plan for the barn, whose circumference is 60 feet, and which vaults 20 feet from foundation to cupola.

MILLS and his family spent several weekends laying the stone for the 8-foot-high stone foundation and walls, the most laborious part of the project.

"We felt if we got two rows of stone done in during one weekend, we were doing pretty well; if we got a third, we were doing great," he said.

While using modern cut stone would have been easier, the old limestone "had character," he said.

"It was like a jigsaw puzzle," he said with a chuckle.

The walls feature eye-level window openings, created from four-by-fours from the old barn.

Sixteen pole beams - the only wood portion of the barn purchased new - meet to where a cupola, yet to be designed and built, will be placed. The roof will be finished off with cedar shingles.

"They could have been asphalt, but they had to be cedar," MILLS said. "It had to be authentic."

The barn is too small to serve any farming purpose, he said. A normal round barn would have been at least three times the size of the MILLS' new barn.

"Maybe it is just a place to sit and think," MILLS said, gazing at the rough hewn stone. "It's been my stress reliever. My labor of love."

Transcription by Sharon R. Becker, May of 2011



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