With TLC, old barn regains practical use

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Messenger photo by Mike Munden

Joanna and John Mitchell stand near the barn they restored in 2000. The barn was built in 1904 by Daniel Lucy and measures 54′ x 38′. Printed in large letters in slate on both sides of the roof is “DIAMOND ROCK STOCK FARM 1904.”

London area residents John and Joanna Mitchell like old barns. They also like meeting other people who like old barns. For these reasons, they are looking forward to their first trip to the annual Friends of Ohio Barns conference scheduled for March 28-30 in Springfield.

“Their goals are very similar to ours—to save the barns that are falling down,” said John Mitchell who joined the statewide organization two years ago with his wife.

The Mitchells have firsthand experience with preservation of agriculture icons. When they expanded their farm on Markley Road in 2000, they got a bonus with their purchase of the adjoining farm—a barn built in 1904.

“It was in need of major repair,” Mitchell said. “It was bowing at the rafters, the floor was partially rotted, and the roof had lost some slate. It was either fix it or lose it. We decided without a doubt that we were going to fix it.”

The Mitchells hired a company out of New York to make the major repairs. The company is a regular exhibitor at the annual Farm Science Review in London. The crew cabled the structure to make it stable and replaced the sill, the part of the barn on which the floor sits, to make it strong enough to handle the weight of modern-day equipment.

When it came to the roof, the Mitchells were glad to hear that repairs rather than total replacement would do the job. Durable Slate out of Columbus fixed the damage and predicted the slate would weather another 100 years.

The couple did much of the remaining work themselves, including repairs to the floor. Improvements are ongoing; last summer, they fixed the barn’s stone retaining wall.

The old barn now serves as a second storage area for hay and equipment on the Mitchells’ 250-acre grain and cattle farm. The original homestead also is outfitted with a modern pole barn.

It’s this idea of re-use that serves as the theme for this year’s Friends of Ohio Barns conference, and the Mitchells are happy to help spread the word.

“We’re at a critical juncture with our old barns because the older farmers are retiring,” Mitchell said.

Groups like Friends of Ohio Barns aim to educate the next generation of owners that it’s worth their time and money to keep the relics from falling down. The old barns can regain a practical purpose as well as continue to stand as tributes to the state’s agricultural heritage.

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