Neff Round Barn
The Neff Round Barn was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document.  Adaptation and photo copyright © 2008, The Gombach Group.
The Neff Round Barn is located two miles west of Old Fort at the intersection of PA Routes 45 and 53 on the north side of Route 45 in gently rolling Karst topography. (Text continued below photo.)
The foundation is of farm quarried limestone and encompasses an area of over 6,000 square feet with an 88 foot diameter. At the time it was built in 1910 the barn was one of the largest in the area according to The Centre Reporter of that year. The structure is white pine rising to 56 feet at the cupola. The siding is board and batten on the first floor elevation (cattle floor) and lap from the second floor (mow floor) bent to a true curvature around the studs. The roof is a conical shape from the eave to an inner sill 11 feet from the center. The central portion of the roof has a lower pitch, is covered with tin, and capped by a louvered cupola. The steeper portion of the roof is cedar shingled and has six radiating dormers. This roof has probably been replaced several times.
The mow floor has four large barn doors on the north (bank) side that allow access to the mow floor. The outer doors are on slides and provide a clear path around the inside of the barn. The inner doors allow a vehicle to be parked or unloaded without disturbing access to the rest of the floor. The second story is also ventilated with 12 large louvered windows and has two additional hay doors on the south side of the barn that likewise allow uninterrupted passage in one door, around the perimeter, and out another. Interspersed between these doors are seven narrow glazed windows.
The plan of the mow and cattle floor is separate but is based in both cases on 3 concentric sills with the roof and floor supported by radiating rafters. The mow floor is an impressive sight with 8 tall posts supporting the inner roof sill and 15 shorter ones supporting an additional sill 14 feet from the wall. In the center of the barn is a great silo with a six foot radius, plastered on the inside, and strapped with curved boards on the outside. Between the silo and the inner sill posts, to a height of seven feet from the mow floor, are covered grain bins that extend 11 feet from the silo. A 14 foot isle is then formed between these bins and the outer set of interior sill posts. This isle provides a clear path around the silo for wagons that enter and exit through the aforementioned outer barn doors. The hay mow occupies the space between the outer sill posts and the wall. Although a tall post once supported the roof rafters in the center, it has now been truncated below the level of the inner sill and supported by wires in tension from the sill posts. The space above the grain bins could be used as an additional hay mow, the bins themselves being accessible in a tunnel like passage between the silo and the bins. The bins were also cut away on their lower outside portion to allow feed and hay to be passed from the isle to the cattle floor below without wasting floor space in the isle. The stairway to the cattle floor is also incorporated into the design of the bins.
The cattle floor is likewise a system of concentric circles with sills 12 and 18 feet from the silo wall which continues down from the floor above. The space between the silo and the first sill is a feed alley occupied by grain boxes and allowing — through sliding radial doors — free passage to any of the surrounding stalls and pens. The stalls and pens occupy the area formed between the inner and outer interior sill. The remaining 20 feet between the outer sill and the wall provides a clear area for housing cattle. However, a 1/4 section is partitioned by radiating walls, and has stanchions for a dairy herd facing in toward the feed isle and outward toward the wall. Since it is known that the barn was once modified slightly to accommodate cattle it seems that this section was retained for a smaller number of cows. Nevertheless, the convenient arrangement of a circular pathway for wagons or wheelbarrows has been retained in both sections. The larger 3/4 section of the cattle floor, for example, permits the collection of manure with a wagon that can enter through one door and exit out one of the other two. This section also has several swinging gates to further partition the cattle floor if necessary. Several kinds of stalls and pens, in addition to the cow stalls, indicates that a variety of animals could be housed at the same time.
In general, the observer is presented with a fascinating task of analyzing the well thought out plan that was obviously created to reduce the labor necessary to move silage, grain and hay from storage to animal.
On site inspection reveals the entire building to be in excellent condition. An inconspicuous metal shed attached to the west side of the barn is the only perceptible exterior alteration to its early appearance. No structural detail has been altered to accommodate this addition. With its red paint and white trim, the barn is a handsome structure indeed.
The Neff Round Barn c. 1910 is significant in the fields of architecture, agriculture, invention and as an important Centre County landmark. The architecture is a specific type of barn structure that saw some diffusion in the Midwest and northeast throughout the 19th century, but was late in arriving in the centre region. Although the type had adherents it was not until John Neff built his version that local agriculturalists were exposed to a direct experience with the plan. However, only two others were built in the area after this first example.
The building signifies evolution and experimentation in building types used in agricultural production in an effort to reduce the labor necessary to the farming operation.
Since the evidence indicates that the designer and builder had never seen the inside of an actual round barn, the structure and its interior arrangement represent an interesting example of local ingenuity and invention. By all accounts, their efforts resulted in a practical and successful dairy barn of novel design.
The Barn is one of Centre County's best known and popular rural landmarks.
The Neff Round Barn, popularly known as the Red Round Barn, is the best known and the first of three similar barns that were known to have existed in Centre County. Only two remain and this one is in the better state of repair. The barn was designed by Calvin R. Neff (1860-1920) for his own use, and built by a local carpenter, Aaron Thomas (1848-1926). It is said that Mr. Neff was inspired to build a barn in this shape after seeing similar structures from a train window on a trip to St. Louis and beyond after completing college in 1892. Never having seen the interior of these barns, Mr. Neff was fascinated with the possibilities of a circular floor plan as a labor saving use of space. After returning home he taught school in the Penns Valley region for some years, and in 1910 retired to become a farmer on land his father once owned. The dairy barn he designed still stands as a monument to native ingenuity and craftsmanship. It was probably the first barn of this type ever to be built in the Nittany Valley, and caused quite a stir among curious local farmers who were only familiar with the typical Pennsylvania Bank Barn. Later, Mr. Thomas was known to have built a similar barn east of Centre Hall (James Beck Round Barn) and possibly one that burned near Julian, Pennsylvania.
Since the time it was built, a steady stream of articles and references have appeared in County newspapers. The present tenants attest to its popularity among passing motorists, and it is a popular subject for artists and postcard publishers. Due to its large size, its clear view from the road, its excellent state of repair, and its red paint and white trim, it remains probably one of Centre County's best known rural landmarks.
The structure is sound inside and out and still being used to store hay and farm vehicles, but is no longer being utilized in a full farm operation.
Arthur, Eric and Dudley, Witney. The Barn: A Vanishing Landmark in North America. Ontario, Canada: A and W Visual Library, 1972.
The Center Reporter, Centre Hall, Pennsylvania, June 2, 1910.