Forensic Science Takes a Different Turn in Barns

Barns of Fairfield County provide ample material for detectives looking to deduce how farmers of old constructed the wooden cathedrals that housed their livestock and feed.

Published on: May 10, 2011

Rudy Christian leans against the waste wall in the mow of the Mertz farm near Pleasantville. A crowd of about 100 barn enthusiasts listen attentively as he describes the 175-year-old structure.

"How else do we know this front forebay section was added on after the original Schweitzer barn was built?" Christian asks. "First there we can see the old nail marks from the siding on the wall girts. And secondly look at the center of the door header. Attached to the beam is a block that was standard for locking the original swinging doors shut."

Forebays (overhangs common in Pennsylvania German barns), girts (horizontal beams on the outside of the barn), scantlings (smaller sawed 4 by 4 s) and purlines (cross beams that hold the rafters) are just a few of the construction elements the barn detectives use to examine the structure of barns.

Christian and the Friends of Ohio Barns have been conducting tours of Ohio Barns as part of their annual conference for the last 12 years. Fairfield County provided a perfect location for their investigations last month. In addition to a visit to the Mertzes' barn built in 1831, the tour stopped at Steve and Debbie Miller's barn that is part of the 200-year-old family farm, Steve and Becky Pontius' 1835 barn with forebays on all four sides, Rocky and Carol Gaal's home built from a barn that once stood in Morgan County, the Kohler family's sawn oak barn built in 1910 and the rebuilt Rock Mill on the Hocking River gorge.

 "We have a lot of fun visiting these sites and trying to piece together how the barns were assembled," says Dan Troth, a member of the FOB board. "The group has all levels of expertise from professional timber framers to folks who just want to know a little more about their barn."

Here's a slide show featuring some of the sights from the tour.



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