If you have ever taken the time to drive through Ohio and enjoy the scenery, there are a few things you will quickly notice. Ohio is a very diverse state, containing some of the largest cities full of industry and bustle, as well as some of the most rural places in America.
These rural areas are draped with the rolling hills of the Appalachia, creating a quiet and picturesque home for the farmers that live there. There is another landmark, though, that you will also undoubtedly find as you drive down back roads and through the country…old barns.
There are a lot of old barns, and each barn that you come across seems to have a story. A story that starts with excitement, with the whole community coming together to help a family build the centerpiece to their livelihood. This is only the beginning of the story, though.
Every missing board, splatter of paint, and faded sign tells of warm sunny days and long, cold winter nights. The important thing, though, is that it is still standing. It is a beautiful reminder of our past, a memory that we will never forget. Today we will talk about the beginning of that story, the day that the barn was built.
Barn raisings have been a part of the American culture from day one. As families settled in a certain area, they soon realized that there was a need for a structure to house their animals and equipment for farming. The problem was that this structure would be nearly impossible for one family to build on their own.
Barn raisings solved this problem by pulling together a force of labor to get the job done in just a few days, and at no cost to the family. Neighbors and friends were usually happy to help, knowing that someday they would get the favor returned to them.
Dorothy Churchill, who grew up in the late 1800’s recalls a barn raising from her youth:
“In my town a big barn was struck by lightning just after the farmer put his hay in. It burned down, hay and all. All the men in the town got together and put the [new) barn up in three days. They built the sides laid down. They took oxen or horses and pulled these sides up with pulleys. They fastened them in place. Then they [put) the rafters in place and put all of the roof of the barn up. Men all got together in times like that to help. Each of the men of the town donated one ton of hay to help this man out because he did not have any hay for the winter.” Excerpt from Shunpike Folk. p.llS
It is stories like this that characterized young America in the 18th and 19th century. A lot of things have changed since then, and a community barn raising seems to be a thing of the past.
That is for everyone except the Amish and the Mennonites. English visitors that have had the opportunity to see a true barn rising are amazed by the speed and flow that the Amish have when working together.
In 1983, Gene Logsdon wrote about one of these stories from Holmes County, Ohio. A tornado had ripped through the area, bringing down houses, barns, and anything else in its path. What was equally as amazing was what happened immediately after the tornado had finished its destruction:
“In the twenty-minute dance that the tornado performed before exiting into the wings of the sky as abruptly as it had come, it destroyed at least fifteen acres of mature forest a hundred years or more in the growing, and four barns that represented the collected architectural wisdom of several centuries of rural tradition.
But what followed in the wake of the tornado during the next three weeks was just as awesome as the wind itself. In that time—three weeks—the forest devastation was sawed into lumber and transformed into four big new barns. No massive effort of bulldozers, cranes, semi-trucks, or the National Guard was involved. The surrounding Amish community rolled up its sleeves, hitched up its horses and did it all.
Nor were the barns the quick-fix modern structures of sheet metal hung on posts stuck in the ground. They were massive three-story affairs of post-and-beam framing, held together with hundreds of hand-hewn mortises and tenons.
A building contractor, walking through the last of the barns to be completed, could only shake his head in disbelief. Even with a beefed-up crew, it would have taken him most of the summer to build this barn alone and it would have cost the farmer $100,000, if in fact he could have found such huge girder beams at any price.
The Amish farmer who was the recipient of this new barn smiled. The structure, complete with donated hay, grain, and animals to replace all that was destroyed by the storm, cost him “about thirty thousand dollars, out-of-pocket money”—most of that funded by his Amish Church’s own internal insurance arrangement.
“We give each other our labor,” he said. “That’s our way. In the giving, nothing is lost, though, and much is gained. We enjoy barn raisings. So many come to work that no one has to work very hard. And we get in a good visit.” *Gene Logsdon, 1983
So as you can see, an old barn in Ohio is much more than just a barn. It is a memory that is etched into the hearts of boys who used the barn to play, and men who used it as part of their livelihood. It is a landmark of opportunity for a family building a new life for themselves.
Most importantly, it is a story of a community showing love for one another through lending a hand after hard times, with optimism on the horizon.