Editor’s Note: This is another in a continuing series of stories authored by Robert Kroeger about barns in Highland County he has painted, most of them framed with wood from the actual barn. Kroeger called this painting “Twelve Sons.” His most recent paintings will be auctioned off April 8 at the seventh annual Highland County Extension/4-H Dinner and Auction fundraiser.
It always gives me joy when I have a chance to record Ohio history before it’s gone. And this one’s gone. A strong storm in the spring of 2016 blew in much of its roof, ending its days. A year earlier, Hillsboro area residents Sandy and Tim Shoemaker showed me this barn, aged but still mostly intact, its roof showing a few holes and several patches of repair. From a hill overlooking the barn, speckled with pink and white wildflowers, the scene practically screamed to be painted. So I did.
Eventually, I contacted the owner, Ramon Fenner, who agreed to meet us in the spring of 2016. When I called him shortly before our visit, I was saddened when he told me, “You’re too late. The roof caved in.” But I replied that I wasn’t too late since I had a good photo of the barn and all I needed was some information for an essay. He met us at the barn and obliged with the barn’s history.
Fenner’s grandfather bought the farm in 1909, though it dates to an era much earlier. The stone foundation points to the early 1800s and, according to Fenner, the many tiny windows might have been used as protection in an Indian raid. Though that’s unlikely, maybe the barn did trace back to the late 1700s. Because of danger, I couldn’t go inside to look at the timber-framing construction.
After her husband died, Fenner’s great-great-grandmother left Pennsylvania for Ohio, bringing with her their 12 sons, after whom I named this painting. They settled in Highland County and the three cemeteries named Fenner testify to Fenner’s many distant relatives who are buried here.
In 1933, in the height of the Great Depression, Fenner was born and raised in a house, built by his father, on the northeastern part of the farm. He grew up on this farm and remembers milking cows every night after school. But planes became his passion, taking him away from Highland County. After high school he spent four years in the Air Force and later became a pilot for Northwest Airlines, where he spent his career. Flying is still in his blood – he flies planes locally and in Florida where he spends his winters.
I’m not sure what happened to those 12 sons, but I like to think about a widow bringing them the long way from Pennsylvania to Highland County – not the easiest journey in the early 1800s – across rutted roads that could wreak havoc with wagon wheels. And she had 13 mouths to feed. Some of the sons were probably young; perhaps some were teenagers. Regardless, she was a pioneer woman, brave enough to seek a new home for her family in spite of the long, dangerous journey. And Highland County is all the better for her courage.
Robert Kroeger is a former Cincinnati area dentist who has since ran in and organized marathons, took up the painting skills he first learned from his commercial artist father, become a published author, and is a certified personal trainer that started the LifeNuts vitality program. Visit his website at http://barnart.weebly.com/paintings.html.