Editor’s Note – This is the 10th in a series of stories authored by Robert Kroeger, who has painted 11 barns in Highland County and has plans to paint more. Some of the first 11 paintings, usually framed with actual wood from the barn pictured, benefitted the Highland County Extension Support Committee and some upcoming paintings will be auctioned off to benefit the Highland County Historical Society. Kroeger titled this story “The Scary Barn.”
OK, this “scary” barn is really not a barn at all. It’s a house that looks like a barn and when some children were young, it was scary. When Hillsboro area resident Tim Shoemaker and I walked through it, even though the hand-hewn beams showed its age, the chimney gave it away: fire and barns don’t get along well. People lived here. Maybe ghosts, too.
Tim’s wife Sandy (McKenzie) Shoemaker told me that white curtains were always blowing out of its windows when she was young. She knew it well since her parents rented a nearby pasture for dairy cows in 1962 and Sandy saw “the barn” often, its tattered curtains always flopping, conjuring images of Casper the Ghost, though the friendly nature of Casper wasn’t what the kids imagined. “It didn’t matter what time of day – working the cows or walking to school – it was always scary,” she said. Her siblings echoed these fears. When you’re 6 years old, as Sandy was then, haunted houses can frighten anyone.
“My brother and I were sure there was a ghost upstairs – an old woman. So we never went in,” Sandy said.
Later, Sandy introduced me to 90-year-old Joe Davis, a local resident who knew the property well enough to confirm that there were ghosts in the house. Joe wouldn’t kid us.
Next to the “barn” was a house that eventually came down and 100 yards away an old barn has almost collapsed. And, still sitting in the grass adjacent to the “barn” are rusted metal rimmed wheels from an old wooden wagon that transported migratory workers who helped at harvest time. A certain J.W. Polk (the road is named after him) founded this farm in 1885, the date still engraved into old driveway posts. Next to the house lies a cistern, and what used to be a pumping device to deliver water to cool the spring house. It must have been a thriving place, a century ago.
The farm passed to other Polks over the years. Tom died in the 1930s. One Polk, Jim, was a U.S. Congressman in the 1950s. Bob Polk and his sister owned it most recently, but ran out of heirs and sold it to its current owner, Bill Cluxton, who gave us a tour and the piece of wood that frames the painting. He said that his daughter once found a large U.S. cent coin on the property, which may indicate ownership prior to 1885. The United States large cent was a coin with a face value of 1/100th of a United States dollar. Its nominal diameter was about 28mm. The first official mintage of the large cent was in 1793, and its production continued until 1857, when it was officially replaced by the modern-size one-cent coin (commonly called the penny).
Although it’s difficult to age barns without hard evidence, the hand-hewn timbers of the “scary barn” take it back well into the 19th century. Regardless, we know that this “barn” and its former ghostly occupants made for a colorful scene 50 years ago.
Robert Kroeger is a former Cincinnati area dentist who has since ran in and organized marathons, took up the painting skills he first picked up from his commercial artist father, become a published author, and is a certified personal trainer that started the LifeNuts vitality program.