Places: Round Barn, Arcadia
Published: February 3, 2010
Modified: February 3, 2010 at 2:45 pm
You can't help but smile, standing here alone in the middle of Arcadia's famed Round Barn. It's not just the way the arched ceiling amplifies every noise, from the sound of your voice to the crunch of the floorboards sagging beneath your feet.
It's the look of the place — wooden walls with exposed beams and diagonal braces, the ceiling rising up and up and up like the inside of a space rocket. It's as if someone started building the hull of a ship and kept going through 360 degrees; turned sideways, the whole thing could be the prow of an ill-conceived submarine, one that would never submerge.
The walls are drafty. Sun shines in between the boards, and you can hear the traffic on old Route 66 dopplering past. Wooden shutters dot the walls, opening not onto glass but to fresh air and the outside world. The whole place smells faintly of sawdust. It's rustic, beautiful and peaceful. Cold, too, with the wind blowing through those cracks and the open door. The dome of the ceiling peaks at 43 feet, leaving plenty of room for hot air to rise. Benches line the walls. Folding chairs, all closed, stand in regiments or hang like bats from a rack. Folded up tables, some rectangular, others round, lean against the walls nearby.
The barn was built in 1898 by William Odor and his hired hands. They soaked planks in water to make them pliable, then forced them into forms so they'd dry and harden into the curved shapes necessary to construct a round building. When finished, the barn was an immediate landmark, and from the start, people saw its potential as a meeting place. Over the years, though, as interstate highways directed people off of Route 66, the barn fell into disrepair. The walls twisted, throwing the whole place out of plumb, and the fabulous domed ceiling partially collapsed. It took heroic preservation efforts, led by Luke Robison in 1988, to restore the barn to its former glory.
People get married here now. It's easy to see why. With its lack of fuss or stodgy ornamentation, this place defies pretension, much like a tomboy bride who refuses to wear makeup. You can almost see her here, wearing a practical white dress with no train or veil and dancing with her new husband, her face freckled and teeth shiny, genuine as all get-out. Arcadia holds dances here, too, not just weddings, and when folks gather, the barn must shake and thunder and echo with the stamping of feet and the sound of guitars.
For now, though, it's just you, alone, listening to your creaky footsteps and the cars whizzing by. It's dim in here. It's chilly. But you don't want to leave.
KEN RAYMOND, STAFF WRITER