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Fulton County Museum

Updated on December 12, 2015
Leedy - Partridge - Paxton Round Barn
Leedy - Partridge - Paxton Round Barn | Source

The Fulton County Museum is just north of Rochester on US 31. It is to the west of the highway, near the intersection with 375N. The museum has a number of interesting items on display. Also on the museum grounds is the Larry Paxton Round Barn. It was damaged by a tornado in 1989. Although offered a substantial amount of money just for the wood, the Paxton's decided to donate the barn to the Fulton County Historical Society.

Round Barns

Round barns can be traced backed to 1820's New England where they were built by the Shakers. Some say the Shakers liked round barns because evil spirits could not hide in the corners (We all know how evil spirits like to hide in corners). Round barns did not become popular until the 1900-1925 time frame. In the early 1900s, Purdue and Illinois Universities began touting the advantages of round barns. In 1910, Illinois published a booklet entitled "The Economy of Round Barns." Round barns were cheaper to build since they had less surface area for the same volume. They were primarily used by dairy farmers. The cows all faced towards inward, and could easily be fed from the center.

Originally, 225 round barns were built in Indiana, and 17 in Fulton County. Kindig Builders, a family of carpenters from Kentucky, built many of these. Indiana has more round barns than any other state, and Fulton county has the most of any county in the state. After the people of Fulton County, discovered this fact, they figured they had more round barns than any other county in the United States. They proclaimed Fulton county the "Round Barn Capital of the World" and began their Round Barn Festival in 1971. In 1992, Fulton county residents found out that a 1982 survey revealed Vernon county in Wisconsin had 20 round barns.

Unfortunately, time continues to take its toll. Those original 17 round barns in Fulton county are now down to eight.

Village of Loyal

Also on the museum grounds is a living history village named Loyal. It was named after another Fulton County town, no longer in existence. That town, a few miles west, was originally named Germany. When the United States entered World War I against Germany (the country, not the town), local residents showed their patriotism by changing the name to Loyal. There were a number of similar name changes around Indiana. In eastern Indiana, the town of East Germantown became Pershing (after the American general) and the Anthenaeum in Indianapolis was originally called Das Deutsche Haus (German for The German House)

The present village of Loyal depicts the 1900-1925 era, which is known as the Golden Age of Agriculture (it was also the golden age of round barns). It was a transitional time for farming, as tractors began to replace horses and blacksmiths became mechanics.

This time period was also known as the Golden Age of Indiana Literature. Prominent writers at he time included:

  • James Whitcomb Riley: A poet best known for his work "Little Orphant Annie."
  • Gene Stratton-Porter: Largely forgotten now, she had an estimated 50 million readers of her novels and nature books at the height of her popularity.
  • Booth Tarkington: One of only three authors to win more than one Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
  • George Ade: A popular writer, newspaper columnist and playwright, whose writings typically dealt with average Americans.

There are a number of buildings in the village, including:

  • General store (built in Rochester in 1910)
  • Cider mill (Built in the town of Athens before 1900 & originally horse owered)
  • Railroad depot (this was the Rochester Depot, built in 1876)
  • Log cabin (reconstructed with logs from a couple cabins built around 1860)
  • Stagecoach inn (William Henry Harrison attended an 1834 wedding here, 6 years before becoming President)
  • Blacksmith shop (This was recently constructed & named for Forest Sutton, who was a blacksmith the town of Tiosa for over 30 years)
  • Round barn (of course) and round chicken house

Aerial view of the living history village of Loyal
Aerial view of the living history village of Loyal | Source

Trail of Death

In 1838, over 859 Potawatomi Indians were forcibly removed from Indiana. 42 of them died during the two month trip, earning the route its "Trail of Death" name. The route was 660 miles long, passing through Indiana, across Illinois & the Mississippi River, to Osawatomie, Kansas. This was the same year as the even more deadly Cherokee "Trail of Tears" during which they were relocated from the Smoky Mountains to Oklahoma. Four thousand out of fifteen thousand Cherokees died during that removal.

Potawatomi 1838 Trail of Death
Potawatomi 1838 Trail of Death | Source

Zoppe Family

Four Zoppe brothers and a sister moved from Europe to Rochester, Indiana in 1936 after signing contracts with the Cole Brothers Circus. Their work included monkey, horse, dog and unsupported ladder acts. Several generations have worked for circuses and some family members still do today. They are typically on the road for ten months of the year and only spend two months in Rochester.

One of my favorite items on exhibit at the museum is a matador outfit from a Zoppe family member who performed a comedy bullfighting routine on the rodeo circuit in the 1950s. Rather than fighting an actual bull, he fought a bulldog which had cardboard horns attached to its head. Apparently this act was quite popular, since he earned $1-2,000 per week.

Visiting Rochester

Be sure to visit downtown Rochester as well when you visit the Fulton County Museum. The courthouse is a beautiful Romanesque structure that is on the National Register of Historic Places. It was built in 1895. In 1896, ten stone lions were added. They were created on site by a German sculptor who did not speak English. His son acted as interpreter. If you get hungry, stop in at the Streamliner, which is on the courthouse square. Rochester is on the shore of Lake Manitou, which has long been rumored to contain a lake monster.

Fulton County Courthouse
Fulton County Courthouse | Source


A markerFulton County Museum -
37 East 375 North, Rochester, IN 46975, USA
get directions


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