After facing a rifle up close and personal while he was checking out historic Ohio barns, Robert Kroeger decided it would be more wise to reach out to historical societies and see if they could hook him up with local “barn scouts.” He met his first scout, Hillsboro’s Sandy Shoemaker, in 2015.
Over the next several months Kroeger and Shoemaker traveled all over Highland County visiting old barns, many of them past the point of repair. Kroeger dug into the history of the barns, painted them, and sometimes framed the pictures with wood from the barn that was depicted. He also wrote stories about the barns’ history to be preserved with the pictures.
The Times-Gazette printed Kroeger’s Highland County barn stories from 2016 to 2017.
Kroeger also auctioned off several of his paintings to raise money for the Highland County Historical Society and local 4-H program.
Eventually, Kroeger traveled to all corners of the state, preserving the history of barns in all 88 Ohio counties. Now he has turned a story and painting from each county into a book called “Historic Barns of Ohio.”
The Highland County barn featured in the book is on Grabill Road and belongs to Shoemaker her husband Tim.
Kroeger said it was in Warren County that he ran into the man with the gun. He said he knocked on the door of the home on the property, but when he did not get an answer he walked toward the barn and starting taking pictures.
“The guy said I was on private property,” Kroeger said. “He was very nice, but I realized that yes, this is private property. That’s when I decided to start contacting historical societies and Sandy was one of the first to respond. She was very encouraging and, of course, she knew everybody. She told me people enjoyed reading about their neighbors’ barns. To be honest, I don’t know if I would have pursued it on my own, because I was going on private property.”
Back in 2016, Shoemaker said she wasn’t sure what she had gotten herself into by agreeing to take a man she did not know around Highland County to see barns. But she had read a group email from Vicki Knauff with the Highland County Historical Society, learned that someone was looking for barns to paint, and figured she would reach out.
“I noticed that nobody answered the email and I said, ‘You know what, I know a lot about barns in Highland County,’” said Shoemaker, who was raised on a Highland County farm and spent 27 years working for the local Farm Service Agency.
Shoemaker said she still wasn’t sure what she’d got herself into, but when Kroeger pulled up in a Lexus, she felt a little better. Before long they were checking out barns all over the northern part of the county.
“He said, ‘I don’t want pretty barns, I want old ones that are almost falling down, ones that are a 100 years old or more,” Shoemaker said. “The best thing he likes about a good barn is the story that goes with it.”
That made Shoemaker rethink where she’d take Kroeger, but that didn’t take long and, “We had a grand time and hit it off really well,” she said.
“The one thread that was common was that every barn we went to seemed to have a 4-H animal in it,” Shoemaker added. “No matter where we stopped, there was a connection to 4-H.”
After Kroeger started painting local barns, he contacted The Times-Gazette to see if it would be interested in publishing the essays he writes that go along with his paintings. It’s his way of preserving a piece of history he admires.
The 6-inch by 9-inch paperback became available Monday through Arcadia Publishing for $24.
This year, Kroeger said he is holding fundraisers to help historical societies across the state. He said he will hold one in Highland County sometime in the future, but it may be a little while because he said the local historical society is concerned about COVID-19.
“I’m very grateful to Sandy and everybody there who helped me out,” Kroeger said. “It’s Ohio history preserved, which is why I do this.”
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or on Twitter @13gillilandj.