Historic barns across the state are getting a new lease on life through both physical and artistic preservation, thanks to the dedicated Ohioans who are ensuring these significant structures’ legacies live on.
Friends of Ohio Barns Encourages Education and Participation
Established in 2002, Friends of Ohio Barns is a statewide advocacy organization focused on preserving and maintaining Ohio’s historic barns and helping the public understand what makes these buildings so special – and so worth saving.
“We want people to understand the importance of Ohio’s barns and their agricultural heritage,” says Ric Beck, past president of Friends of Ohio Barns. “Many barns in Ohio were constructed with virgin growth, first-cut timber. If you want to learn about the history of Ohio’s forests, all you need to do is go into our old barns. Plus, these historic barns showcase the incredible, distinctive craftsmanship of our ancestors. They were often built by hand in about six to eight months, and there’s a lot we can still learn from their hard work.”
Much of the nonprofit organization’s work culminates during the last weekend in April each year when they host the Ohio Barn Conference and Barn Tour. During the event, guests have the opportunity to tour century barns, learn from Ohio historians, and enjoy demonstrations and presentations from local experts on topics such as historic barn maintenance and repair.
In addition, Friends of Ohio Barns helps communities restore and repurpose their historic barns. For example, Beck says the group worked with the Timber Framers Guild to save Upper Arlington’s oldest farm structure, which was built in 1838. Today, the building is known as the Amelita Mirolo Barn and serves as a favorite community destination, hosting weddings, graduation parties, family reunions, concerts and more. It has become a place where the past and the present meet, and that’s the goal Friends of Ohio Barns is aiming to achieve.
“These barns are perfect examples of living history, and with some work, they can still be enjoyed today,” Beck says. “To preserve them is to save relics that can never be recreated and to hold onto important parts of Ohio’s history.”
Maintaining the Legacy Through Barn Art
Ohio barns also live on through paintings created by Robert Kroeger, a Cincinnati-based artist who has a goal of painting at least one historic barn in each of the state’s 88 counties.
Kroeger’s venture started in 2010, and to date, he has painted hundreds of barns in nearly 30 counties across Ohio and written about each one on his website, barnart.weebly.com. Almost all of his creations – painted in the oil impasto technique with palette knives – are framed with the depicted barn’s wood, and they’re typically used to raise money for nonprofit organizations in each county.
“These barns may not be standing in 50 or 100 years, but hopefully my paintings and essays will still be around and the people who see them will get a glimpse of Ohio’s rich history,” Kroeger says.
Preserving the Bank Barn at Gorman Heritage Farm
One barn that will likely be standing for many years to come is the Bank Barn at Gorman Heritage Farm in Evendale, which was built in 1835 and is still used today for livestock housing and educational programming.
Constructed using white oak and tulip wood on the side of a bank of earth, the Bank Barn is a two-story structure that includes a 45-foot-long summer beam hand-hewn from a single white oak tree that is believed to be from the farm’s original property. Tricia Watts, executive director of Gorman Heritage Farm, says the barn will soon undergo renovations and preservation work to ensure it remains well-supported and stable – after all, it’s irreplaceable.
“The Bank Barn was built before the former owners’ house on this property, and we consider it the most important building on the farm,” Watts says. “We take great pride in making sure this beautiful barn continues to serve the community.”