Ohio barn conference raises questionsconference raises questions

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More than 120 people came from as far away as Canada and Florida to take part in the third annual Ohio Barn Conference at Sauder Village in Archbold, Ohio, March 15 and 16.

Bill Kimball from Michigan and Randy Nash from New York provided perspectives from the programs and organizations in those states. State representative Steve Beuhrer of Ohio provided some valuable insight into how the state funding currently works and how it might be accessed by organizations interested in helping save historic barns on public land, and all three answered questions about the proposed Historic Barn Preservation section of the Farm Bill currently being considered by the House of Representatives.

Highlights. One of the highlights of the conference was the barn repair demonstration expertly headed up by Rick Lazarus of New York and Lindsay Graham of Grand Rapids, Ohio.

With a crew made up of volunteer Timber Framers Guild members Brian Beals, Rick Beck, Dane Gustafson and Paul Noble, onlookers learned how to jack up a roof and remove, layout, cut and replace a badly rotted section of top plate in a timber framed corn crib recently relocated to Sauder Village.

A barn tour gave everyone an opportunity to visit several barns in the Archbold area, including one of the area’s famous “double-barns,” owned by Marvin Leatherman. Built in 1927, the twin barns replaced Bert Gisel’s barns that were lost to fire.

Irving Robarge showed folks on the barn tour his preserved 1866 octagonal barn with very ornate decorations. Originally built as a bank barn with a straw shed, the restored barn now sits at ground level on a new foundation.

The gigantic Ames barn in Bryan, currently owned by Rene Isaac, stunned those who walked into its 100 feet by 110 feet timber frame. Said to be the first barn to be electrified in northwest Ohio, the barn was once home to 100 dairy cows, and yet was designed to function as a one-man operation.

The triple jetty out-shot barn at Goll Woods was also a highlight of the tour.

Need repair. The expressions of curiosity, interest and joy over having the chance to visit some of the great barns of the area were obvious, but so was the concern and dismay as the tourists passed farm after farm where old barns stood in serious need of repair.

Although agriculture is strong and healthy in the rich soils of this area once known as the Great Black Swamp, it was still impossible to drive very far without seeing a roof blown off by the recent windstorm, or a bare stone foundation where a barn once stood.

A real need to find a way to save more barns seemed to be on everyone’s mind during and after the conference. As easy as it is to understand how important and valuable our historic barns are, there’s no good answer yet for the barn owner who asks, “What kind of help is available for my barn?”

Even when an owner takes it on himself or herself to invest the time and money required for good stewardship of their barn, its conservation requires it have some use.

It’s clear more than individual effort will be required to save many barns. It will take community effort and community funding. But with that mandate comes a great deal of responsibility.

Important issues. Many of us are beginning to understand that utility is an important issue. The answer to the question “What do I do with it?” has to come from within our community.

For farmers, the very real challenge is to justify putting money into a building that was designed for century old farming practices. There is no denying that new large-scale farm equipment and modern produce storage methods don’t fit in most 19th century barns, but if we want state or federal tax dollars to be spent to help maintain these structures, we have to be able to justify that investment.

New ideas for utilizing these buildings include retail space such as selling fruits, vegetables or even Christmas trees. In many cases simple modifications such as reinforcing the floor can allow them to be used for storage of square and round bales where once hay was stored in stacks.

Renting storage space for boats, antique cars and farm equipment is also a good use for these large structures that are by nature open space. Creative solutions may not be easy, but they may make the difference between survival and destruction of buildings that have outlived all of us.

Difficult solutions. Although the best solution for preserving barns is to find ways for them to be useful where they stand, all to often this is impossible. Rural development is an enemy of our barns that seems to have no feelings.

No longtime resident of Wayne County can drive into Wooster from the north without feeling a sense of loss. Where once the Gateway Oak stood among farmsteads with some of the most beautiful Pennsylvania bank barns to have graced our landscape, parking lots and “big box” development defines the term “sprawl” in no uncertain terms.

Finding new homes for old barns can at least save the buildings, if not the farmsteads where they once stood. Commercial, public and even private uses are becoming answers.

Restaurant space, gift shops and beautiful homes not only save the barns and the resources that went into their construction, but offer opportunities for visitors to enjoy the beauty in their framework often cut from our virgin forests.

This adaptive reuse offers opportunities for creative design that is nearly limitless. If a barn can be a restaurant, why could it not be a church, or a conference center or even an ice skating rink? In many cases these types of uses require very little modification and in the long run may even be a less expensive alternative to destroying the old building and replacing it with a new one designed to last less than half as long as the barn already has.

Take interest. Saving Ohio’s barns will come from all of us deciding it is what we want to see happen. We invite you to become a member of Friends of Ohio Barns and share your ideas. Our first workshop will be at Goll Woods Nature Preserve this summer.

You can also attend one of the Barn Again workshops being scheduled in counties around the state to learn and talk about barn history, rehabilitation and conservation. The next one will be held April 19 and 20 at the Nimishillen Grange in Stark County. For more information call 330-497-1611. Information about future workshops is available by calling the Ohio Historic Preservation Office at 614-298-2000.

(The author, Rudy R. Christian, is chairman of Friends of Ohio Barns. You can contact him by e-mail at friendsohiobarns@aol.com, or by fax at 330-624-0501. Christian can also be reached by mail at P.O. Box 203, Burbank, OH 44214 or on the Web at http://ohiobarns.osu.edu)

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