Saving History in Old Ohio Barns
Repairing or restoring an old barn that no longer serves its purpose has been taking place around Ohio with increased frequency. People feel these buildings instill that pioneer spirit and are worth saving.
In Guernsey County, Bill and Sue Cowden decided to renovate an old barn that carried fond memories for many of the neighbors and their children. This barn was originally on the 500 acre Morrison farm and used for horses for many years.
The Morrison family came to Guernsey County from Ireland in 1855 and Sam purchased a farm on the east side of Pigeon Gap Road. His son, George acquired land on the other side which spanned Coshocton Road, now Route 209.
It was George’s son, W.C., who is most remembered in the area. He grew record-setting crops of wheat, had an emergency airstrip on the farm, and entertained frequently. Morrison School received its name from W.C., who lived until 1953. Upon his death, his entire estate of 3.2 million dollars was left to Guernsey County charities.
When you realize the Morrison barn was built originally in 1869 – only four years after the Civil War, you can understand the desire to put it back to some useful purpose. Bill realized the barn was either going to have to be repaired or torn down. “When the doors no longer open, latches no longer work, and the floor is unsafe because the roof leaks, you have to make a decision.”
Some things had to be changed. Big posts by the door had rotted so needed to be replaced. Sadly, the slate roof had so many pieces missing that it received a metal roof. New siding had been put on previously, but now they covered that with metal siding as well.
Outside the barn looks like a new barn, but inside you can still easily see its history pouring out through all that old timber framing. The amazing craftsmanship of our ancestors without all the tools of today makes it extra special. These barns were built by hand and often in six to eight months. Inside the barn looks pretty much as it did back in 1869. The hand construction used to build the barn can clearly be seen in the rafters. All the beams are wood pegged, no nails were used.
Today, Bill and Sue use this barn for hay and machinery storage. Over the years they have raised chickens and even pigs in the lower level. They are pleased to have been able to preserve this historic barn.
Three other barns were found that have been treasured by their owners and repaired when needed.
In nearby Newcomerstown, the Schumakers barn (1887) still has its original slate roof with the date written on it. Their farm has been in the family for over 200 years so Jim and Wendy Schumaker keep striving to make their farm a showplace for others to enjoy through their produce stand and a fall adventure of Pumpkin Patch & Farm Experience to interest children in farming.
Another was built by Carl Wilson (1932) during the Depression. He had purchased the supplies for the barn, but the banks closed before construction began. The contractor asked if he could keep his men working with Carl’s promise to make payment when the banks opened again. Both men fulfilled their promises. Today that barn has been extensively repaired and is owned by Jim and Dot Wells.
Across the road from the Cowden farm is the Bennett dairy barn (1960) that was built on the farm of the father, Sam Morrison. Today that barn has been repaired by owners Pete and Martha Smith after a tornado damaged part of the barn heavily back in 1993.
Many people tend to feel that when something no longer fulfills its original purpose that it should be forgotten because repair takes time, money, and energy. Sue doesn’t agree, “Then you lose a bit of history and the wonderful work that went into it long ago.”
Enjoy a ride through the country and pay special attention to the barns. You’ll find many large modern barns, those ready to fall down, and some that have been saved as part of our agricultural heritage.
If you have a wonderful old barn, house, or building on your property that can be repaired, perhaps you will consider preserving it for future generations.
If we don’t care about our past, we cannot hope for the future.
~Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis