Links to the Past

Barns have long been part
of our rural landscape

Functional housing for farming,
barns are still regarded by many
as historical landmarks

By Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer

(June 2008) – Barns are a witness to centuries of change. Just ask any farmer, and he’ll likely tell you that he couldn’t have made it without his barn.

June 2008 Kentucky Edition Cover

June 2008 Kentucky
Edition Cover

Threatened by development and harsh weather, there are fewer barns left standing in Oldham County than there were a century ago. In their heyday, barns had many functions: milking parlors, horse stables, tobacco curing, grain storage, cattle and hog shelters, just to name a few.
Several Oldham County residents have tried to document these historic landmarks before they are all gone. Glenn Yost, executive director for Creasey Mahan Nature Preserve and a former Oldham County extension agent, began a project several years ago in which he tried to preserve barns in slides and written documentation.
“Barns are part of our culture,” said Yost. As the main structure of farms, they were a symbol of hard work, as were the people who used them, he said.
Many barns were used for storage, one of the best being the hip roof barn. The Allgeier barn on Hwy. 53, south of La Grange, is a prime example of this type of barn that has outlasted the elements.
A round roof barn on Hwy. 42 now owned by Marge Casper had ample storage room in the rafters. The barn still contains the pulley and ropes used for putting hay in the loft, said Yost.
It is such barns as these that local artist Ann Carter has tried to preserve in her oil paintings. “It means something to the community to see what used to be there and how it has changed,” said Carter. “Farming was an important part of our country and our county.”
In the 1940s and ‘50s, Oldham County was one of the leading dairy counties in the state. In some way, almost every family was tied to a dairy farm through production or manufacturing.
Carter’s father was a barn builder in her native state of Iowa. Since 1997, she has painted so many barns that she has become known as the “Barn Painter of Oldham County.”
The ones that are left symbolize “the fact that this was a farming community in the past,” said Carter. She displays her work at Cornerstone Café and plans to participate in the “Arts on the Green” festival June 7-8 in La Grange.
“Barns come in all shapes, sizes and colors,” said Yost. Whether they’re new or old, each has a story to tell.

Ann Carter

Ann Carter

One of the most recognizable barns found along Hwy. 53 north of La Grange is the old Hampton barn. Built between 1913 and 1919, it remains in great shape, Yost said. It was used as a dairy barn until the new Hwy. 53 came through and divided the farm. The Hamptons then gave up dairying.
A noticeable feature is the accompanying silo. Silos are a more recent addition, not having been developed until 1860. The vast majority was built throughout the 1880s.
The Hampton silo was made of tile, giving it a unique look. The silo has a twin on Hwy. 42 on the Norman Dick farm. The salesman who sold the Hamptons the brick tile for their silo sent enough for two silos the day it was constructed. Since Hampton only wanted one silo, the deliveryman had to get rid of the extra tile some way. Dick bought it, and both silos are still standing.
“Not just anybody can build a barn that will last forever,” said Yost. Many families from Lancaster County, Pa., settled in the county and brought their barn building techniques with them. Amish and German and Swiss immigrants built several barns in the county as well.
The last two groups were notable for the bank barns they built. The Gheens Barn at Yew Dell Gardens in Crestwood and the Mahan-Oldham County Public Library in Goshen are examples of bank barns.
Converted from a barn into a library, the Mahan barn was built around 1830. It sits in front of the Creasey Mahan Nature Preserve and has since been covered in siding, detracting from its identifiable barn look.
Bank barns were built into a hillside so that a wagon and horses could easily be driven onto the second level. A barn bridge, a ramp made of soil, was used to enter the upper level. The lower, darker quarters were reserved for animals.
Several barns in the county were constructed of chestnut wood, making them very distinctive. In 1904 a chestnut blight began and lasted until the 1940s, wiping out all chestnut trees. Farmers cut the trees and used the wood because they thought they would lose it anyway, said Yost.

Ann Carter Gaskin barn painting

Photos provided by Ann Carter

Oldham County, Ky., artist Ann
Carter, drawing on her rural Iowa
roots, has painted dozens of barns
in the area. Above is a painting of
Gaskin barn on Payton Lane; below
is Mike Schutte’s barn, previously
owned by Jack Vanberg. Many of
Carter’s paintings hang on the walls
of Cornerstone Cafe in Buckner.

Ann Carter painting of Mike Schutte's barn

Chestnut was a wise choice because it lasts an extremely long time. Poplar and ash were also used on many barns. Poplar doesn’t rot and isn’t invaded by many insects.
Sometimes details were added to the roof of barns, such as cupolas or vents on tobacco barns. Ventilation is important for hay and tobacco crops to help them cure.
Those barns that are still standing symbolize family life, said Yost. Legend has it that a husband and wife were making plans to immigrate from the old country. The wife insisted that her house not be connected with the barn, as was the tradition in Europe. She refused to come to America until her husband promised a separate barn and house.
Decades later, and before the county became heavily populated, Al Klingenfus could take his cows across Hwy. 22 twice a day at milking time to the milking barn because there was so little traffic in the county.
Regardless of whether they came from a rural background, citizens are still proud of their barns. The Westport Homemakers are behind a new project in the county known as “The Art of Women’s Work.”
Traditional quilt patterns will be reproduced on wooden surfaces and attached to local barns for display. Kathy Hockersmith, president of the Westport Homemakers, said the project is a celebration of women’s everyday tasks translated into works of art.
The Homemakers will work with local artists and organizations to produce the painted quilts. A brochure is being developed to follow the trail, describe the quilts and artists. The project will become part of the Kentucky Trail of Quilts and the National Quilt Trail.
The Homemakers hope this will “increase tourism and celebrate the works of women in our culture and heritage. We feel this project is a long time coming tribute to our ancestors who took ordinary tasks and put them above the common place,” she said.
And just as the barns themselves were once commonplace, few now stand as examples of our culture. The remaining ones evoke a sense of tradition, closeness to the land, family life and a link to our fading rural past.

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