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Friends of Ohio barns saving, educating others on antiquity

BURBANK, Ohio — Old barns may not have the usefulness they once did, but they attract a following. Friends of Ohio Barns is a nonprofit founded in 2000 and its goal is to spread awareness and educate people about the importance of old barns, which the state is losing at an alarming rate.

“They have a value not only in the agricultural community, but in their historic sense of what they represent about Ohio, about rural life and farming practices and about the craftsmanship of the people that built them,” said Ric Beck, past president of Friends of Ohio Barns.

“I believe they represent a great historical picture of what farming and agriculture meant to Ohio, as well as the iconic value and beauty that they represent in our state’s countryside.”

People are using old barn wood for flooring, for furniture, Beck said. They are demolishing the buildings when they collapse and for lack of use. Many of them are too small for today’s farming equipment; some are being repurposed.

“The good news is that a fair amount of barns are being repurposed in Ohio,” Beck said. “Some of the smaller organic, niche farms are finding some good uses for the smaller timber frame-type barns.”

Member Mike Wengler, owner of Timber Frame Reclaim, repairs and reuses barns all over Ohio. He repairs five or six old barns and resets (moves to a new location) about three barns each year. He wants people to understand that these timber frame barns are a part of the state’s heritage.

“The wood in these barns is virgin growth timber from Ohio,” he explained. “You don’t see virgin growth timber in the landscape in Ohio anymore, except for a few spots here and there. If you want to see the old growth, here it is in the old barns in Ohio.”

Wengler is currently repairing a barn for Connie and Jeff Ehrnschwender in Darrtown. Their pre-Civil War barn had some structural damage and they had considered selling some of the wood until she started investigating the barn’s history. Along the way she discovered and joined Friends of Ohio Barns and contacted Wengler; by coincidence, he lived nearby.

In her investigations, Connie Ehrnschwender learned from Mike and others that the barn, which looked like a bank barn, was the kind that people used for their own families – enough to house a cow for milk, chickens, that sort of thing, she said.

“Later on, they decided that they wanted to have a little dairy farm, so they put the barn up on jacks and poured a foundation,” she said. “Now you had a basement and upstairs. There are all kinds of clues that you can tell that that happened; if you look at it, it looks like a bank barn, but it is a ground barn.”

Fixing the old barn all at once was going to be expensive, so the Ehrnschwenders decided to do it in stages. First, Wengler will get the barn structurally sound so that no more water can get in. Then the owners can let it sit indefinitely until they decide how they want to use it and how much money they want to put into it.

For information on Friends of Ohio Barns, visit – the organization holds a conference each spring and has a quarterly newsletter.