Updated: Jun 14
Despite their timeless appeal, wooden silos have only existed for about 120 years. The first recorded tower-style silo was built in the early 1880s by Francis Morris, a farmer from Maryland. Between 1882 and 1895, the number of silos popping up across the United States grew from 91 to 50,000. Even though numbers exceeded 500,000 during the early 1900s, only a handful of these relics are left – one of which is the fully restored 1911 wooden silo at Shoenberg Farms in Westminster, Colorado.
The Appearance and Construction of Early Wooden Silos
Before Morris built the first tower-style wooden silo, farmers faced problems trying to store crops from one season to the next. Many farmers used a horizontal creation called a pit silo. These were built using wood or stone in a pit dug fully or partially into the ground. These first attempts at crop storage are where the term “silo” is derived – the Latin word silus means cellar.
Early silos across the United States were constructed using wooden staves and iron bands around a foundation, resembling water barrels (only taller). Although these silos were efficient for storage while they were full, farmers often faced collapses when their surplus was depleted. As construction methods evolved, these silos were constructed using the tongue-and-groove method, which added additional support to the sides of the wooden silo. These new style silos were often sold as a kit for easier construction.
Farmers were forced to experiment with other types of construction material to create their silos. A concrete silo was built in the 1950s at Shoenberg close to the end of the silo building era.
The Problems Endured by Wooden Silos
Early wooden silos faced dry rot issues. Farmers who used these silos for storage would find themselves losing their crop storage to fires caused by the dried-out wood being set ablaze by natural phenomena like lightning strikes. Once they caught fire, they were almost impossible to extinguish. Farmers would have to start over by building a new silo because the remains could not be salvaged.
Another problem many farmers faced was losing crops to leaks and wet rotting wood. Early silos were not created airtight, and crops often seeped out of those spaces. As the structure weakened due to weather conditions, the gaps often worsened, increasing the amount of crop loss. Additionally, untreated wood splinters and splits with age, creating the perfect crevices for rot. Rot not only caused increased spoilage with crops but also weakened the overall structure.
The Last Wooden Silo Standing
Now, one of the last wooden silos in the country resides in Westminster, Colorado, at Shoenberg Farms. Rich in historical farm heritage, Shoenberg Farms strives to create a history and event center for the community. When visiting Shoenberg Farms, you can see the fully restored 1911 wooden silo, a true relic of the region. On your visit, don’t forget to take pictures of the farm and submit them to the site. Farm enthusiasts and history buffs can join the full restoration efforts of the farm. To learn more, visit our restoration overview page.