The Rev. Searles was the preacherman at the Hinckley Baptist Church quite some years ago. He lived just down the road from the church. Behind his home is what may be one of the oldest barns in Ohio. The very early settlers, in what later became known as Ohio, had incredible amounts of work to do. They built roads where none existed, cleared trees to create fields, put up fences to contain livestock and planted crops and gardens because there were no food stores. They hunted, built cabins and put up barns. Just getting water required digging a cistern or well. They even built a good bit of their own furniture. And they did all this, mostly without help, always having to look out for aggressive wild animals including cougars, bears, poisonous snakes and bobcats. All the while having to be mindful of the original inhabitants, who were none to happy about “boat people” moving into their lands.
So, of course, the first buildings they built were generally just large enough to do the job. The cabins were small and the barns only big enough to hold the minimum of animals to run a farm, -a road horse, a plow horse and a milk cow. The “Searles” barn was one of these two horse/one cow barns.
The present day owners had come to my farm to buy pumpkins. They mentioned they had a falling down barn they wanted torn down. My first look at the barn I was also none too impressed and I pretty much agreed with them. It was a mess. About a hundred years ago the previous owners had covered it with tongue and groove pine boards. One corner had sunk into the ground 3 feet. The opposite corner was down 2 foot. The roof was in very bad shape, and the siding worse. Inside the groundhogs had been having fun so that dirt and manure was in piles, with holes everywhere. Someone some time ago had put up some now falling plasterboard. Doors were askew, windows broken, and lots of briars and ivy made entrance interesting.
But when I climbed the ladder to the loft, I noticed something I had never seen before. The hand hewn beams that formed the structure had rows of holes drilled in them. …I didn’t know why. I thought maybe one of the owners had put pegs all around the walls to hang something, but all the pegs had since been removed. This proved to be a poor guess.
When I pulled the pine siding off the building, underneath was sixteen foot long, sixteen inch wide, two inch thick yellow poplar boards, that were “nailed” to the beams with square red oak pegs. The “peg” holes I had seen from the inside were actually “nail” holes for holding the boards. The barn was built entirely using pegs. There were no metal nails used in its building.
All thought of destroying the barn was gone. I very carefully removed the asphalt roof to find wood shingles, and I numbered all the boards and beams so I could return them to their original order after reassembly. I got the whole thing on the ground without hurting myself or the barn, and I loaded it up on my small pickup. (The local police seem fairly indulgent to my eccentric driving “habits”.)
Then the fun began. It’s not nearly as easy to put back up a barn as it looks. The original barn foundations had just been large stones laid on the ground. Over the course of two hundred years they sunk and the corner beams with them. As a result, the barn was largely rotted all around its base. I thought about it for awhile and decided that instead of replacing the beams or joining lengthening extensions to their ends, I would just cut the whole thing down three feet. This may have been a mistake at the time considering the historical significance of the building, but it was what I could do and what I could afford. I then built a block foundation three feet high and laid the barn back up. Beams that big are always fun to raise alone.
I got the beams up, dropped in the second floor floor joists (which were all numbered in order, and relaid the flooring on the second floor. Then I got ready to put up the roof rafters. They were put up as matched pairs, joined with lap joints, and secured with wood pegs. There was no ridge board, as that was generally an innovation developed for use in later buildings. The rafters were also notched and pegged into the hand hewn 8″x8″ wall header beams.
My nephew, Mark, happened to stop by while on a visit from Conn., and offered to help raise the rafters. That was a lucky break for me, he made a difficult job to do alone much easier. We got them up and pegged (a couple hour job) and nailed on several roof boards to steady the rafters. Then over the course of the next week I got the rest of the roof on. (Thanks Mark)
Since I thought we’d eventually use the barn for a harness shop I covered the whole building with plywood so it would be air tight (probably another unfortunate violation of historical correctness) then rehung the original 2″ thick, 16″ wide, up to 16′ long yellow poplar siding boards. I also added quite a few windows and two “people” doors. I didn’t retain the wide barn door opening (the door itself being long gone). I then used 24″ rough cut pine boards to “panel” the inside. And finally I put in a floor of paving bricks I acquired during the reconstruction of Old St. Rt. 21, which was the main route between Cleveland and points south. Right now the roof is covered with rolled roofing, but when I can afford it wood shingles will go up. We also “painted” the siding with a mixture of linseed oil and mineral spirits, to give it new life and to protect the wood from Ohio rains.
Quite a bit is changed from the original, but the barn has the same foot print, same height, original roof and roof angle and original second floor boards. The beams and boards I could salvage are in the same order. In many ways the barn looks like it must have looked originally, and in many ways it does not. But being a 200+ year old barn that nearly was lost and was in terrible shape, it’s back in good order and may stand another two hundred years.