Ohio History Journal

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The Ohio Farmstead: Farm Buildings

as Cultural Artifacts



Ohio's rural landscape, though dwindling, constitutes a signifi-

cant area of the state, some 17 million acres, largely in the central

and western counties.1 However, Ohio's agrarian past is still evident

in the urban centers where an occasional farm building remains

on-site, often adapted to some commercial use such as a dairy store

or carry-out-an ignominious end at best.

The barn, in particular, has become a romantic symbol, another in

a long tradition of such symbols which have become fashionable in

the United States. The cult of the barn has become so strong that

several firms in the New England area offer original barn frames for

conversion to dwellings; in fact, one firm advertised newly manufac-

tured barn frames suitable for houses, an anomaly perhaps better

interpreted by a psychiatrist than a historian.2 Romance (defined

here as the imaginative or emotional appeal of the heroic, adventur-

ous, remote, or idealized) has drawn other architectural forms such

as water-powered gristmills and covered bridges, and more recently

opera houses and log buildings, into its camp. American printmak-

ers, such as the Currier and Ives company, profited from a current of

romance, nostalgia, and sentiment from the 1840s into the twen-

tieth century. Their lithographs reflected a yearning for the "old

homestead," the rural countryside, from which so many members of

the newly urbanized, industrialized society had recently departed.3



Donald A. Hutslar is Curator of History, the Ohio Historical Society.



1. Ohio Crop Reporting Service, United States Department of Agriculture, Ohio

Agricultural Statistics, 1977 (Columbus, June, 1978), 6.

2. For professional literature on the subject, see Mildred F. Schmertz, "Upgrading

Barns to be Inhabited by People," Architectural Record, 115 (June, 1974), 117-22.

3. The allure of cultural artifacts often becomes difficult to explain even in terms

of romance or nostalgia. For example, can the present interest in Ohio canals be

classified as "roomantic hydraulic engineering"? What are the artifacts? Canal beds,

aquaducts, and bridges have been proposed for the National Register of Historic

Places, but the most important relics, the original canal boats, no longer exist. A