Barns and Silos
One of the most outstanding inventions was the silo.
These great towerlike structures sprang up like mushrooms throughout the farming areas of
the dairy states. So mother had two wooden silos erected at the back of the Big Barn [in
1912]. Architecturally they set the barn off, seeming to complete it. Sarah Van
Barns and silos changed the appearance and practices of Michigan farms
during the early 20th century. The barn itself changed as farmers built additions, new
outbuildings or entirely new barns. Pre-cut lumber shipped by rail, mail-order building
plans and professional carpentry made it easier for farmers to make these changes.
The style of dairy barn in the exhibit (see color photo) became popular during the
latter part of the 19th century. Its gambrel roof gave it more space for hay storage than
a barn with a straight-slope roof like that in the historic photo. Farmers kept livestock
and tools on the lower level of the barn. Round and polygon-shaped barns, built mostly
between 1905 and 1924 in Michigan, were efficient, economical and wind resistant. Farmers
began to use metal pole barns by the late 1930s.
Farmers stored silagefinely chopped crops for feeding livestockin silos. With
silage stored for the long winter, they were able to enlarge their dairy herds. The
Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station gave farmers advice about storing crops,
including corn, oats, peas, sunflowers and sugar beet tops. Farmers grew about 50% of
Michigan's corn for silage. In northern counties as much as 90% of the corn was
choppedstalks, leaves and allfor silage.
In 1921, the Michigan Agricultural College's Experiment Station Quarterly Bulletin
reported, "In Michigan alone, 49,000 silos were erected during the last two
years." Silos of the 1920s were built of masonry, brick, steel, cement or wood stave,
solid concrete, concrete block or glazed tile. Some early silos were built square, but
farmers discovered that air seeped into the corners, causing the silage to spoil. Round
silos eliminated air pockets, and the next improvementconcrete linersprevented air
See Michigan's historic barns. Use the Search Wizard at Michigan's Historic
Visit the online version of the Michigan Historical Museum System's Walker Tavern barn exhibits.