Learn All About It At Ohio Barn Conference III
Goll Woods Barn A Historical Marvel
By Dean Buckenmeyer

The Goll Woods Barn is unique because not many barns in northwestern Ohio have jetties. And the fact that its jetties begin half-way up the front side of the barn make it even more of a novelty.

Many who have a passion for the past stood aghast when they learned late last year that the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) planned to demolish the old homestead at Goll Woods Nature Preserve, five miles northwest of Archbold.

The old jetty barn, they say, is representative of northwestern Ohio's rich agricultural history and they didn't want to see it fall to the wrecking ball.

The ODNR has owned the house, barn and 320 acres since 1966, when the Goll family donated the property to the state of Ohio for use as a nature preserve.

The farm, which borders the Tiffin River, was known to contain Ohio's last stand of virgin timber.

And at least some of the tall oaks flourishing in the stand were growing when Christopher Columbus landed in North America.

The ODNR has used the farmstead as the preserve's headquarters and, up until a year ago, the house had served as a ranger's residence.

Now the home and barn are in sorry shape and the ODNR has no money to allocate for an upgrade.

But now, thanks to a grass-roots movement, the barn may see renewed life.

This Barn Reads Like A Book!

Rudy Christian, president of The Friends of Ohio Barns, says the Goll Woods Barn vividly depicts 140 years of agricultural history in the Great Black Swamp.

The German-style barn features hand-hewn support beams and jetties that protrude out the front.

"The jetties, which provide access to the structure, are unusual for a northwestern Ohio barn," he says.

"But even more unusual is the fact that its jetties extend out from the wall half-way up the front of the barn.

"I find it interesting that the frame was cut and laid out by the builders, who apparently had no intentions of having jetties.

"The barn was supposed to be sided like all the other barns in the neighborhood.

"But it's obvious that the builders changed their minds at the last minute and added the jetties."

Rudy insists that many other changes have been made to the barn over the years.

The barn, for instance, now sports a gambrel-style roof.

But it hasn't always.

"The original barn had a hip roof," he says.

Architectural changes also provide tell-tale signs that the barn's basement was anything but original.

"I've found evidence that feed chutes were located along the bottom of the walls, suggesting that the barn may have had a crawl space beneath where the hogs were kept," he says.

"But structural changes show in marvelous detail that the barn was pushed up and the walls were extended downward to create a basement level.

"It's also obvious that someone tried to turn it into a German fore-bay bank barn.

"The original barn had drive-through bays with doors front and back.

"The farmer could conveniently drive teams with wagon loads of grain or hay in the front, unload and then drive on out the back.

"But at some point over the years, a shed was added onto the back side of the barn and the bay doors were closed."

Rudy observes that the space below the jetties has also been closed in.

Many changes have been made to the Goll Woods Barn during its 140-year existence. The dark outline on this end view shows how the structure looked when it was built.

Spectacular Barn-Raisings

The photo above shows the Goll Woods Barn as it looks now, along with the outline Rudy has sketched to show what it looked like 140 years ago.

"Once members of the public see what a unique history this barn has, I'm convinced they'll agree that it should not be burned," he insists.

Rudy is now president of the Timber Framers Guild, an international organization with 1,700 members.

He's also active in a guild sub-group that's devoted to studying the origins of timber framing.

Although he'd specialized in building new homes when he started Christian & Son Timber Framing Company in Burbank, Ohio 20 years ago, it didn't take long for him to begin dabbling in barn restorations.

He now prefers doing what he calls "historic timber framing".

"Having the opportunity to rebuild the main barn at Malabar Farm after it burned in 1993 is what really got me into barns," he says.

"We held a public barn raising and more than 50,000 people came to watch or help drive the pegs and push the bents into place.

"I had a similar experience a few years later, when 75,000 turned out when I tore down and rebuilt the three-story Crawford Barn for Dave Longaberger.

"The fact that many of the spectators didn't have barns of their own made it crystal clear to me that there's plenty of interest in barns and timber framing.

"Barns have become such an inbred part of the understanding of our collective heritage that I'm convinced they're not falling by the wayside because of a lack of understanding or caring.

"I believe people simply don't know what to do to keep them up."

Harnessing Public Enthusiasm

Rudy became associated with the Barn Again! program a few years ago and he's traveled the circuit delivering talks on the history of the old-style German, Dutch and English barns that are so intertwined with the history of agriculture in Ohio.

But he eventually came to believe that Barn Again! falls short when it comes to getting the public involved in the barn restorations.

So with the help of three county Extension agents, he and Chuck Whitney, a retired builder who now travels the state giving advice as The Barn Consultant, organized the first Ohio Barn Conference in February of 2000 at a church in Delaware.

Rudy was elated when more than 200 people attended, compared to the 50 or so who would normally have turned out for a Barn Again! program.

Attendance soared to 280 at the Ohio Barn Conference II in Wooster just a year later.

"After that second meeting," he says, "we held a discussion on how to go about harnessing all that energy.

"And as a result, we formed the non-profit group called The Friends of Ohio Barns."

Twelve volunteers are serving on its interim executive board, with Rudy as president, Tim Mason as vice president, and Rudy's wife, Laura Saeger, as treasurer.

The group is now working with Barn Again!, the Ohio Historic Preservation Office, Ohio's county Extension agents and the National Barn Alliance to educate the public on how to go about preserving Ohio's barns as cultural icons.

"We want to work with all of Ohio's county agents to be pro-active in preserving barns," he says.

In the private sector, he anticipates that either new owners or the younger generation will step in to restore barns or, at least, keep them from falling further into disrepair.

But in the public realm, as in the case of the Goll Woods Barn, he insists it'll take a public organization to step in and take the lead.

Rudy became quite fond of barns as a result of his work in timberframing homes. He and his wife, Laura, recently discovered this majestic barn, which was built in 1895 near Curtis, and rebuilt it at their home in the Wayne County community of Burbank.

Community Action Plans

The Goll Woods Barn will present these organizations with their first opportunity to spearhead what Rudy calls a CAP (Community Action Plan) to save a barn from long-term neglect.

"We're convinced that Community Action Plans can help bridge the gap between a loss of stewardship and the time when stewardship returns," he says.

"In this case, the loss of stewardship came when the state took control of the farm from the Goll family and the return of stewardship will come when local organizations develop a plan for the barn's permanent upkeep.

"Sometimes a few little things can add years of life to an old barn.

"But the opposite is also true.

"Failing to keep up with the minor repairs can cause a structure to fall apart in a hurry.

The Friends of Ohio Barns will work with The Friends of the Goll Woods Homestead to hold a CAP Workshop sometime this summer at the Goll Woods Barn.

"We'll be rebuilding the bank wall that's caving in, using volunteers with heavy equipment, volunteers who have tools and expertise in construction and volunteers who have nothing more to offer than a helping hand," Rudy says.

"We hope to use the Goll Woods project as a model on how to restore other barn projects around the state."

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