Barns from Ohio’s past being rejuvenated in McConnells

dworthington@heraldonline.comAugust 5, 2013 

— The trees started growing when the land was the frontier of a fledging United States. Settlers crossed the Appalachian Mountains into what was then called the Virginia Military or Connecticut Western Reserve districts.

Both states claimed the territory that was west of the mountains and north of the water the Iroquois called “O-Y-O,” meaning “the great river.” Virginia and Connecticut intended to use the land to compensate their Revolutionary War veterans.

After Indian wars, and Virginia and Connecticut ceding their claims to the federal government, more settlers arrived. The trees continued to grow until farmers felled these tall timbers for homes and barns or to create fields and pastures.

Using axes, adzes and draw knives they turned round trees into square beams. The wood still bears the scars of their work. They bored holes for pegs that helped turn the beams into wooden frames or bents. Using ropes and poles pulled they pulled the frames into place, raising a barn.

For years the barns stored hay, housed the draft horses that powered the farms and the dairy cows that sustained farm families.

Over time, the barn roofs failed, roof trusses began to rot, and farmers turned to other occupations. In most cases, the barns were pulled down and burned.

A barn raised sometime between the 1830s and 1850s in Attica, Ohio, could have met that fate. So could a barn believed to have been raised in the 1850s in Suffield, Ohio, near Akron. The Suffield barn was likely raised by farmers who once lived near Suffield, Conn.

Instead, the barns came down, carefully. Jim Harris of Atwater, Ohio, took the barns apart over a three-week stretch. Each part of the timber frame was given a number so that the craftsmanship of these early Ohio farmers could be put back together.

The task of reassembly fell to a another Ohioan, Dennis Brion, who is Harris’ neighbor. So – in 10-day stretches – Brion and his workers have battled the South Carolina heat and humidity and one of the rainiest seasons on record to rebuild the barns just north of the McConnells post office on U.S. 321.

The barns will become the centerpiece of the Markets at McConnells, perhaps housing a restaurant and retail shops, complements to the flea market that recently opened on the site.

The flea market is owned by Larry Queen and Daryl and Ann Hebert of York. It has been a dream of Daryl’s for several years. The flea market has been open only a couple weeks but the two market sheds are already packed with vendors on the weekend. Items for sale range from farm produce to what’s just been pulled from the attic or garage. Another market shed should be built soon.

Queen contributed one of the barns. He grew up in Suffield and passed the barn everyday on the school bus. It was a “bank barn,” built on a side of hill with a stone foundation that create a space for animals.

He purchased the barn from Harris. Queen originally planned to turn the barn into his home. It was in outdoor storage for five years before Queen and the Heberts decided to add it to the proposed flea market.

The task of rebuilding the barns fell to Brion.

Brion has held a variety of jobs over the years. For 20 years he framed buildings. For the last 12 he has exclusively concentrated on saving and rebuilding barns.

“This is more than throwing up a building; you are dealing with history,” Brion said.

Brion relies on many of the same tools the farmers of old used. His tool belt has a hammer, a carpenter’s square and a thick carpenter’s pencil.

The modern concessions on the job site are a chainsaw and a skill saw to cut the wood, a crane to lift the frames into a place, and then a lift that allows workers to reach the roof.

Pneumatic nail guns are used when new wood is joined. The barns have been wrapped with a 2-by-4 frame. The new frame will be where electric lines and other utilities are installed.

The modern tools make the worker easier, but when it comes to connecting the joints, that’s still done with wood pins and strong arms, Brion said.

“I’m 60, but I’m working like I’m 21,” he said.

Reconstruction is more than just putting the pieces of the puzzle in place. The Suffield barn lacked a roof. Brion is using lumber from what once was a warehouse in Pittsburgh to make a new roof.

Wood that once served as floor joists has been turned into rafters. Planks of pine, hemlock and oak form one layer of the roof. The planks will be visible from inside the barn. On top of the plans insulating form will be sprayed which will be covered by metal roof panels.

Reassembly is almost done. As he has after every barn job, Brion will be more than satisfied. “No better job than this,” he said. “No better job.”

Then it’s back to Ohio – and the Indian wars. Brion is a Cleveland Indians baseball fan.

Don Worthington •  803-329-4066

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