“The most unusual barn is the Fox and Hounds Barn on Pretty Run,” said Emmett’s e-mail message.
The 89-year-old Emmett Conway, “The Olde Forester” according to his Web site about the history of southeastern Ohio, told me that I needed to check out this old barn north of Londonderry, south of the Narrows of Big Salt Creek.
Emmett’s note went on, “the barn was decorated in the 1860s. The owner liked to chase foxes. My father remembered it from when he lived on Pike Run. I had a letter from Nina Fox describing it and how it came about.”
See for myself. There was only one way to check this out. I went over to Chillicothe with a friend and snatched Emmett from the assisted care facility where he was feeling somewhat incarcerated. Three of us hopped into the front of the pickup and headed into the hills in search of the old barn.
Emmett has quite a memory, especially for detail. In no time he had us on back roads near the corner of Jackson, Ross and Vinton counties where Salt Creek cuts from Ohio’s glacial plains and moraine deposits into the hills and valleys of the eroded Allegheny plateau.
Driving through the narrow valley, an old white farmhouse with a cupola once containing a large bell, came into view. This was immediately followed by a community of out buildings and a small overgrown orchard stretching around a curve in the road.
On a small rise at the foot of the hills a couple hundred yards beyond the farmstead, a half dozen gravestones beneath a scattering of cedar trees was visible against the gray brown autumn woods. The place must have been something in its day.
A closer look. We stopped and got out for a better look. A high tension power line with enormous support structures towering overhead dwarfs the farmstead, crop fields and pastures all overgrown with joe pye, golden rod, briars and young trees.
A burn pile and its residue surrounded by some furniture, but not lawn furniture, two junk cars, an old tractor and a pickup truck overflowing with trash grace the front yard beneath a ramshackle old shade tree.
The porch sports a wet and rotting couch with shredded cushions. The front windows, broken out of the first floor of the house, muffle none of the riotous jabber of daytime television talk shows coming from the seemingly empty structure.
“Folk art,” said Emmett, as we turned our attention toward the old barn.
There it was the fox and hounds barn, a three-bay English threshing barn with a shed addition on each end. Wood cutouts of four black and white hounds on the left side of the barn are chasing two cutouts of red foxes over the doorway toward a cutout of a man with a muzzle loading firearm on the left side of the barn.
According to Emmett, the woman who designed the barnside adventure made patterns for the dogs by holding one up in front of the fire and tracing its shadow. The foxes and the hunter were designed from memory.
Test of time. If they were installed in 1860, they are in real good shape nearly a century and a half later. Beneath the lead hound in the chase is a hand painted notice to wit: “No shooting or hunting will be allowed on these premises by man or dog.”
There is no paint on the gray weathered siding, but the sign and the cutouts seem to have been touched up some over the decades.
While not contributing much in support of agriculture these days, the three-bay barn seems to still serve some purpose. The center bay serves as storage for a couple of engine blocks, piles of used racing tires and aluminum wheels are also heaped in the center bay and spill into one of the side bays.
Used kitchen appliances and 50 gallon drums fill the other. One shed addition, once serving as a corn crib now shelters a scattering of garbage, an old soggy sleeping bag coupled with piles of used tires and old appliances. These and poke weed decorate the entry.
“The wreck of the Hesperus,” uttered Emmett.
Arrows. Although it is not uncommon to see a star or crescent moon, crosses, dates, and other patterns cut into the siding on the gable ends of a barn, this barn has two upward pointing arrows. The arrows and other patterns are sometimes cut into the siding for purposes of ventilation or possibly as owl holes inviting such birds of prey indoors to help keep the rodent population under some control.
In spite of some apparent neglect, the barn and other farm buildings are in relatively good condition. Covered with a standing metal roof, the main barn seems firm. Siding is intact and the interior was dry on a wet daytime visit.
An important structural beam was cut out of the center bay for some reason; maybe to accommodate a larger piece of equipment at one time. A few sheets of roofing have been turned up by the wind on the shed additions.
The other buildings were victim to similar inattention. One small building houses a rusting auto, vintage early 1950s. It was squeezed in past the long handled pump that still stands above a well or cistern, hidden in the briars, nearly in front of the doorway.
Diamond in the rough. At first glance one might see the wreck of the Hesperus. But unlike many a barn and farmstead in Ohio’s hill country, which might invoke an image of a shipwreck melting into the landscape, this farm is really a gem, a diamond in the rough, as they say.
It’s the scattering of non-farm items in and about the place and its general unkempt appearance that does such a disservice to this barn, the entire farm, and the rural community in which it resides.
So, Emmett’s old Fox and Hounds barn is a typical three-bay English threshing barn serving an all too common use in this day and age. It is not unusual in that sense.
It is remarkable more in its history and its relatively good condition more so than many neighboring barns which suffer from similar disregard and have rotting foundations because of long neglected roof repairs.
Worth saving. It is barns and farmsteads such as this to which Friends of Ohio Barns hopes to bring attention and assistance. While it may appear as a low rent house with extra space to pile trash it is still an important piece of Ohio’s rural heritage that is worth saving.
A little siding and roof work on the barn, grapevine removal from the fruit and nut trees in the orchard, window replacement in the house and a trip to the local recycling center with the cans and used tires would make a world of difference on this farmstead.
(The author, Tom O’Grady, is a board member of Friends of Ohio Barns. You can contact him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by fax at 330-624-0501.)