The Round Barn fronts a lodge. Meaning, there is a whole “U” shaped lodge behind the big, red, Round Barn on Hwy 14 in Spring Green, WI. The Barn acts like a mascot for the entire property. “See the historic Round Barn and, while here, stay at the Lodge.” That’s the assumed Wisconsin Tourism dynamic. Mostly influenced by the Dells and Dells Tourism culture, everything in the center of the state–everything in the east end of The Driftless–(and maybe everything in all of Roadway America everywhere) is “Stop and See the (blank) and stay for the (blank).”
“Stop and See the giant, mythical Hodag and stay for the fish fry.” That kind of thing. Don’t get me wrong, it’s all awesome. I love Dells kitsch as much as I love all the Driftless and the Mississippi River Valley. But rewind the clock back 115 years… and the Dells was a place with cool rock formations, Baraboo, WI was a place to park a circus… and the Big Round Barn was a functioning dairy in Spring Green just beginning 35 years of production.
Before reading up on it, I tried to guess why it was so big and round. “Maybe a Dairy?” Bingo.
An innovation window opened between 1910 and 1930; between old style barns, then still (and forever) in use, and the agri-revolution style houses containing rows and rows of milking machines. For a time, Dairy Farmers built big round barns because they were following a sensible trend in crop production, time saving, and efficiency. Everything interior was centralized and spoked out, while outside they took less wind damage during storms. Wisconsin today has less than 200 round barns out of 6,000 barns total (down from 70,000 functioning barns in 1968).
200 round barns seem like a lot, and indeed their structural design has proven them to be long lasting. Not only are they resistant to wind damage, they are resistant to collapse–if a single corner should fall apart due to flooding and foundation crumbling–in a rectangle barn, well, watch out! The whole thing might fall to pieces. Not so with a Round Barn. Round Barns hold themselves together. Even more fantastically, many have proven to be resilient in the face of mobility! Meaning: as several farm families across the state decided Round Barns would make better money as tourist attractions, they discovered the barns were able to survive being lifted up on trucks and moved.
Such is the case with Spring Green’s Round Barn. In 1948, the Schoenmann family picked up and moved the barn across their property and set it down near the highway. I like to picture Cinderella picking up her whale-bone dress and tiptoeing across an open field. (As symbolic for the moving barn, not, you know, as some everyday random thought.) The Schoenmanns used 1940s era diesel flatbed trucks with rollers on them. Back then, they painted the barn white so that truckers could see it for a half mile each way on Hwy 14, day or night.
A successful four-year run as a 24-hour truck stop restaurant naturally led to building a motel behind the Barn. When the Schoenmann family retired, they sold the business. In 1952 it became “Rock’s Round Barn.” Featuring dining and cocktails, the establishment added a dash of Wisconsin Supper Club to its ever-growing resume.
Meanwhile, in the way that a New York restaurant might put up a sign that says “Frank Sinatra ate here,” and in the way a business needs to have a legacy, (or “brand” as they call it these days) sometimes a famous event can lend the establishment some notoriety and a little boost of pride. So too did Spring Green’s most famous resident, Frank Lloyd Wright, visit the Round Barn, and while admiring its structure say to those nearby: “They don’t build them like that anymore.”
True that, Frank. True that.
And hey, he would know. He was kind of an expert on the subject.
If you have a “Zoomer-lennial” at home who says “I’ve never heard of Frank Lloyd Wright or whatever,” simply inform them: “The guy is from Wisconsin, he built cool buildings all over the world, and for a time he was as famous as Picasso and Hemingway.” If your kids don’t recognize the names Picasso or Hemingway, tell them Frank Lloyd Wright was the Elon Musk of Architecture – only smarter, but sadly, equally about as jerky [plus Murder, Arson, (!) Mystery]. (Visit Taliesin, Wright’s home and school nearby for more dirt on the old man.)
As the times changed, in 1974 the Round Barn Lodge & Restaurant grew. One of Frank Lloyd Wright’s students designed the adjoining lodge that backs the Barn. The “History” tab on the “roundbarnlodge.com” website describes it thusly:
“The two-story lodge wraps around a beautiful wood-domed indoor pool and whirlpool. Since then, an adjacent building has been converted into a 3-room suite guesthouse. In 1988, 14 rooms were added to the main lodge, bringing the total number of rooms to 44.”
Two remodels and a Pandemic later, I spent a long weekend at the Round Barn Lodge. I was there for a mini-tourism visit: I took in a live band at Slowpoke Lounge and Café, and then went for brunch at Homecoming the next day (both in downtown Spring Green). The Round Barn lies a mile and a couple stoplights north of Spring Green–which itself lies a mile north of the Wisconsin River and all its outdoor beauty.
The Lodge was super clean and neat. A health inspector long ago told me that, “If you want to get a feel for how clean a place is, look at the ceiling.” I’m happy to report the ceilings here are so clean, you could eat off them. It stands to reason, after all, what else do you do in a rustic lodge and round barn combo but look up? Look at the architecture. Look up at the giant moose head hanging high in the lobby. And check out the spiral wood roof supports. The Lodge is as advertised: vaulted wood beam ceilings in the upper guestrooms, rustic décor, a large, heated pool, a conference room, a game room, a work-out room, and a lobby with a computer station and a nice, free, Folgers coffee machine. (I hit the coffee machine six times in two days, so, no joke. It’s a nice unit.)
This was on a very cold winter’s day, so I felt a little embarrassed by what, to Mother Nature’s eyes, must have seemed like me thumbing my nose at her. I sank into the large, heated pool, relaxed, floated, and contemplated my good fortune at being in such a comforting place while the wind chill was below zero outside. The pool is housed under dark stained wood beams that tent high into a circular pattern that compliments the Barn nearby.
As the times change, so does the Round Barn. Its current owners have installed a large bank of solar panels just west of the parking lot, that help keep the lodge energy efficient and eco-friendly. The lodge can accommodate conferences and wedding receptions. And the Barn itself has definitely kept current. It is open for business and, as of 2023, is the home of Kelly’s Coffee House.
Reviews for Kelly’s Coffee House appear on Kelly’s Facebook page and gush with praise:
“Friendly, Fast, and Delicious – oh and incredibly cute atmosphere. Love this place!” says Sarah. “Just found this gem of a coffee house today!!” raves Chad. “Great atmosphere, coffee was awesome. Staff was super friendly, and very knowledgeable. I’m always looking for a new spot for coffee. 5 out of 5 stars.”
The Kaul family owns the Lodge these days and Kelly’s Coffee rents the Barn from them. They remain in a symbiotic relationship: Hotel and Restaurant/ Lodge and Coffee Shop. So, lately I’m thinking the Barn isn’t so much the mascot of this attraction. You could say they are equals now: “Stop in for the Coffee and Stay at the Lodge,” or “Stop in at the Lodge and Stay for some Coffee.”
I am a coffee nut, however, (I mean… what I did to that Folgers machine was borderline uncool) so I’ll definitely be back to visit Kelly’s Coffee House (inside the big, red, Round Barn) and the Round Barn Lodge itself ASAP.
Kelly’s Coffee House (in the Round Barn) and The Round Barn Lodge are at E4830 Hwy 14 in Spring Green, Wisconsin. With attractions in Downtown Spring Green that include Slowpoke Lounge & Cabaret, Homecoming’s Café in a Historic Schoolhouse, and The Sh*tty Barn’s Live Music venue, The Round Barn Lodge makes a great hub to go 20 minutes in every direction and find American Players Theater, House on the Rock, and Taliesin. Inner tubing/canoeing on the Kickapoo is nearby as well as a beautiful stretch of the Wisconsin River. Check out the Lodge’s website and Kelly’s FB page for more details and history.
Thanks for Reading.
By Matt Schumann
Featured Image taken by Matt Schumann
If you have the time, I found a fascinating article about moving a round barn in Lancaster, Wisconsin at https://agupdate.com/agriview/lifestyles/round-barn-makes-rare-trek/article from March 2022. The Driftless Area Magazine has no otherwise affiliation with AgUPDATE. But they deserve a shout out. I see you, Barry Adams. Your Barn Article was cool.
I also discovered that puffed corn (like Chee-tos and Quisp Cereal) was invented at a Round Barn farm in Beloit. So, there’s a whole “Round Barn Rabbit Hole” to go down out there.