Wayne County’s Favorite Barn

It has been known by a number of names over the years: the Grange, the Round barn, and in recent years, the Rotunda.

Whatever name people refer to it as, they most often wish to know more about the structurally-engaging building located on the south side of Christmas Run Creek at the Wayne County fairgrounds. Susan Zimmerman of Wooster contributed the following history:

In April of 1912, the Wayne County Agricultural Society placed ads in local newspapers announcing they would be accepting bids to build two new structures on the fairgrounds: a swine barn and something referred to as first, a horticultural building, and later, as an agricultural hall. The Agricultural Hall referred to in the newspaper at the time would become the iconic round building that captures the attention of many visitors to the fairgrounds to this day.

On May 1, 1912, the Wayne County Democrat newspaper reported the directors of the Wayne County Agricultural Society had met over the weekend for the purpose of accepting a bid submitted by contractor C.O. Langell for the erection of the planned Agricultural Hall. However, during the meeting the directors decided the plans and specifications submitted by Langell were not exactly what they wanted. They declined the bid and deferred further action on the building until they had completed better specifications for the building. Whether they intended the building to be round in the initial plans is not known, but they clearly wanted to build something special, as it was unusual at the time for them to decline a bid and not enter into a contract.

A week later on May 8, 1912, the Wayne County Democrat reported the contract for the new swine barn was awarded to Abraham Deneke for $1,344 with the understanding that he had to have it completed by mid-August of 1912, as the Wayne County Fair was scheduled to be held September 11-13 of that year. While no newspaper reports could be found on exactly when the Agricultural Society accepted a bid and contract to build the Agricultural Hall, it became clear that Abraham Deneke got this contract too: when a Wooster Daily News story reported on July 3, 1912 that during a severe thunderstorm Mr. Deneke and a number of men working for him building the Horticultural Hall at the fairgrounds were stunned by a flash of lightning. They had taken refuge during the storm in another building on the fairgrounds when it’s steel roof was struck. None of the men were seriously injured but a newspaper delivery boy was killed by a bolt of lightning from this same storm in another part of Wooster.

It was a wise decision by the Fair Board to locate the Agricultural Hall on the slightly higher ground located on the south side of the creek behind the Grandstand and east of the Exposition Hall in 1912. The older buildings had endured substantial damage during a previous flash-flood incident which took place on the eve of the last day of the 1911 Wayne County Fair. That flood had forced the Board to take steps in the Spring of 1912 to attempt to better control any overflow water running through the creek by putting in cement walls along the creek in front of the Grandstand. These cement walls likely saved the Fair from having to be canceled in 1912, to only being postponed from it’s planned start on September 11 because another devastating flood struck the area and tore-up the fairgrounds that first week in September of 1912. On September 3, 1912, the Wooster Daily News reported, “The buildings on the fairgrounds were considerably damaged, and the grounds themselves covered several inches deep with gravel, sand, etc., which would make it very bad to get around next week.” The Fair Board had no choice but to postpone the 1912 Fair until October. However, by September 20, it was reported the fairgrounds were now in good shape and the creek had been widened in front of the Grandstand. Another 140 feet of cement wall had been added to the creek to help prevent overflow. Flood debris had been removed from the grounds and burned, and the Fair was on schedule to open in October.

The Agricultural Hall escaped any significant damage from the September flood and debuted at the Wayne County Fair on October 8, 1912. The new Hall was described as housing “hundreds of products from Mother Earth” which were “displayed in a remarkable manner.” The building was circular in shape, with an 83-foot diameter, and had 16 sections arranged along it’s sides, one for each township Grange to display their best agricultural products, plus tables in the center for more ag-related exhibits. The original purpose and occupants of the building explains how the nickname, the Grange, came into common use.

The beloved Agricultural Hall has survived the ravages of time and mother nature and is a testament to the building skill of contractor Abraham J. Deneke. Other notable structures built by A.J. Deneke include the J. Weller Pickling Company in Smithville, two brick blocks in Dalton, and schoolhouses in Milton, Wayne, East Union and Green Townships of Wayne County. In addition, the Alhambra Theatre and a branch of the Citizens Bank in Wooster, plus many homes built between 1911-1929 in and around Wooster.

Arguably, his greatest work of craftsmanship delivered to the citizens of Wayne County was the Agricultural Hall, affectionately known as the Rotunda.

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