Built in 1855, Bluffton barn finds new home
BLUFFTON — Moving a barn is a huge endeavor. The Swiss Homestead, also known as the Schumacher House, offers a glimpse into the lives of Swiss immigrants in portions of Allen and Putnam counties known as the Settlement.
Now the Swiss Community Historical Society of the Bluffton and Pandora area are moving a barn built in 1855 to their property at 8350 Bixel Road. On December 19, 2019, the society formally purchased an 1850s Swiss Settlement barn from Dan and Cindy Basinger. The building will be disassembled and moved to the Schumacher Homestead to be transformed into a Heritage Center with classroom space, artifact display, offices, and rest rooms.
Caleb Miller of JCM Timberworks in Killbuck, Ohio, along with his brother and crew are responsible for the dismantling and rebuilding the barn. “This barn’s in fantastic shape. All the material that does not need any repair work done to it is going to stay here in this area in a trailer in a building. Anything that does need repaired will be taken back to our shop and we will be able to repair each one of those pieces in time to put it back up.”
Timber framing and post and beam construction were traditional methods of building with heavy timbers creating structures using squared off and carefully fitted and joined timbers with joists secured by large wooden pegs. This ancient craft has been in existence for thousands of years but is not as widely practiced today. There are still tradesman who do this in heavily rural areas such as Holmes and Wayne counties. Caleb and his brother John are two of these tradesmen.
Caleb describes this barn, a Pennsylvania four bay bank barn, built in 1855. “This is all hand hewn so the timbers were not sawed on a water saw or circular saw. They were roughed out with felling axes and then broad axes. There’s no reason to disturb the healing that was done by the human crew that did this in the 1850’s. It’s really nice work. We know the back wall plate is going to need the last 15 feet replaced. So we’ll cut scarf joints to be able to marry a new 15 foot split timber into the end of what was a beam of 80 continuous feet. When we do that, there’s two schools of thought. You could either replace it with a new piece to showcase the timeline between when it was originally done and when it was repaired or modified over time. And the other school of thought is to use time period-specific material to keep the continuity going. There’s no right or wrong answer as long as it’s structurally sound and aesthetically pleasing.”
Miller said from the early 1800s to around the end of WWI, the art of timber framing thrived until the first and second growth trees had mostly disappeared and any available land turned into agriculture. Then stick frame construction became the norm. Although built to last hundreds or even thousands of years, today those iconic barns are disappearing as farming methods have changed in favor of pole barns.
Julie Stratton of the Swiss Community Historical Society tells how the barn is going to be resurrected. “We are using the posts and beams to build a heritage center, an educational center museum for our collections over on our homestead off Bixel Road. We anticipate this building in the ground next spring with a 40×60 meeting room and then some rooms around that for genealogy, for textiles, and for children. We do a lot of tours with schools and with children. We want a children’s exploratory room where they can come and have hands-on things, try things out, put on clothes and costumes and learn a little bit about what it was like to be a pioneer when you came to Allen County in the 1840’s.”
No barn that is 167 years old comes without family history. Mary Ramseyer shared a memory about the barn. “My step-father married my mother many years after his wife died. He loved to tell the story about when he was a boy — he must have been in high school — he and his sisters wanted to make ice cream. So he went out and got a bucket of cream and a mouse had dropped in it. He took the mouse out but never said a word to anyone about it. When they enjoyed the ice cream his sisters noted, ‘I think this is the best ice cream we’ve ever made.’”
Dan Basinger related his decision to sell the barn. “I had a situation where it was deteriorating, and I didn’t want it to just fall down. They have the Swiss farm and I talk to those guys once in a while, but I didn’t know they had a project going on. They approached me at that point. I’m like, ‘Yeah, that would be a good fit for both of us.’ It was going to be too expensive because the roof was starting to leak really bad. It was overwhelming. So they chose to take it so it’s going to be preserved for another 100 years.”
By Dean Brown
Reach Dean Brown at 567-242-0409