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Friends of Ohio Barns hosts its annual meeting in Tuscarawas County

DOVER – Barn enthusiasts from across the state of Ohio gathered in Tuscarawas County this weekend to get an up-close look at the region's agricultural heritage.

These visitors were attending the Friends of Ohio Barns annual conference. The event included tours of local museums and a day-long conference at the Buckeye Career Center in New Philadelphia. The highlight of the conference, however, was a visit to five historic barns, including the barn at the Norma Johnson Center near Dover and three barns near Ragersville.

The 135 participants traveled in three buses.

First stop of the tour

The tour began Friday morning at Steam Valley Farm on Steel Road in Dover Township. The farm is owned by John Steel and his wife Paula. They operate the farm with their sons Nathan and his wife Brandi and Clinton and his wife Kameron. They have eight granddaughters.

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The Steels own 150 adult cows that produce 11,000 pounds of milk daily. The milk is sold to Pearl Valley Cheese in Coshocton County.

Their large 1913 frame barn is 40 by 90 feet with a 40 by 50 foot straw shed on one side. The roof is 50 feet high at its peak. The original barn on the farm burned down in 1912 and was replaced with the current structure the following year. Newspaper reports at the time described the new barn as the largest of its kind in Tuscarawas County.

John Steel's grandparents, James and Hazel Steel, purchased the farm in 1939.

“He was forced off his farm in Sandyville because of the construction of the Beach City Dam,” John Steel told those on the tour. “They told him they could pour two feet of water into the second floor of his house if they had to close the dam. They forced him to leave.”

“For two years he shopped around looking for farms. God bless him, we feel like he made a good choice.”

The original farm was 140 acres, but the Steel family added another 175 acres. They also lease an additional 200 to 300 acres.

Dismantle the barn

Two members of the Friends of Ohio Barns, Rudy Christian, an engineer, and Dan Troth, a home builder, serve as barn detectives for the organization. They dismantle a barn when they first enter it.

Christian said he knew the barn was built after the Civil War because of the buzz saw marks on the beams. He also pointed out the hay trail on the barn's ceiling, which was a post-Civil War innovation. The hay trail did two things.

“Farming took a lot of work because instead of having to throw all the hay into the mowing areas with a pitchfork, now you could actually take a fork, drop it in the hay wagon and pick up the load.” “We catch hay, pull it “Put it in the hay mowers, let it go and build a haystack with horses, not just pitchforks,” Christian said.

The hay railway also allowed farmers to build larger and taller barns to store more hay.

“It’s a really interesting barn,” Christian said. “There are only a few barns from the 20th century. The concept of building half-timbered barns didn't last long into the 20th century.”

One of the tour participants was Mike Wengler, who lives in Hamilton, Butler County. He has been a member of the Friends of Ohio Barns for several years. He performs remodeling, repair and restoration of wood frame barns.

How did he join the group?

“I've been dealing with wood frame barns for almost 18 years now, so I think part of it was because someone contacted me about the Friends of Ohio Barns because I did the barns and the restoration and repairs “A good one Reason to join a good group,” said Wengler.

More about the organization

According to its president, Caleb Miller, the organization has been in existence for 23 years. The group holds its annual conference in a different Ohio county each year. Last year it was in Morrow County, between Columbus and Mansfield. Next year the group will meet in Stark County.

The group's primary purpose is to provide information and knowledge about historic frame barns in Ohio.

“We are a free source of information,” Miller said. “What we have, we share. The most important thing is to help people with management, that is, the general maintenance of the buildings and knowing what they have and what they mean. We are simply there for anyone who needs it.”

Reach Jon at 330-364-8415 or [email protected].

Anna Harden

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