One of the many Highland County barns painted by Robert Kroeger will be featured at a “A Tribute to Historic Barns of Ohio: 88 Counties, 88 Paintings, 88 Essays” slated for Wednesday, Sept. 29. at Muhlhauser Barn, located at 8558 Beckett Road in West Chester Township. Nearly 100 original paintings by Kroeger, a Cincinnati artist, will be auctioned off. The free event runs 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Muhlhauser Barn is a restored 1880s timber frame barn available for rentals. It has connections to Cincinnati’s beer barons and Butler County’s agricultural roots.
A portion of sales from the silent auction will benefit at least 11 Ohio nonprofits.
“This is the first time an exhibit has been held in Ohio that features not only old barns from 88 Ohio counties — in paintings and essays — but one that honors the restoration of the Muhlhauser barn,” Kroeger said on his website. In the 1800s Cincinnati was a German beer drinking town and the brewers grew their hops and grains in Butler County’s farm country, storing the crops in this barn before transporting them to the Windisch-Muhlhauser brewery in downtown Cincinnati, an area known as Over-the-Rhine.”
Essays and images of the barns selected are posted at www.barnart.weebly.com. The paintings and essays form the basis for “Historic Barns of Ohio”, a book published by the History Press/Arcadia Publishing, which will be available for book signings during the event.
This unique experience underlines the predicament of old Ohio barns — the deterioration, collapse and dismantling of what once was the backbone of Ohio. As old barns disappear, one by one, a part of Ohio’s once-familiar landscape vanishes,” Kroeger wrote.
At the beginning of each hour, Kroeger will tell barn stories for about five minutes and sign books, which will be for sale for $25. Food trucks will be available throughout the day as well as beer booths.
Kroeger started the Ohio Barn Project in 2012 and completed the project in 2019, visiting the final three counties. He visited Highland County in 2015. Almost all of the paintings are framed with wood from Ohio barns, many with siding from the barn painted.
The following is a story Kroeger wrote about Tim and Sandy Shoemaker’s barn on Grabill Road, north of Hillsboro, in 2015:
I met Sandy Shoemaker through the Highland County Historical Society. Both a barn owner and former USDA employee, Sandy’s job involved issuing permits for waterway construction on farmland. So, after three decades of this, she came to know most of the farms, farmers and barns in this rural county. Were it not for Sandy and her husband Tim, I might not have kept going with this Ohio barn project.
My wife and I arrived early in the morning and spent most of the day touring the northern half of the county, talking with barn owners. I took photos and made sketches. Sandy gave us the history and told me she could show many more. But, after all, it was Mother’s Day and Sandy and my wife deserved some personal time.
The first barn was a beauty, a formidable gray one, framed by huge spreading trees in front of a built-up bank leading to the entrance. Sandy and Tim co-own it with Howard Grabill, whose family name graces the road alongside it. Originally unnamed and called “West Road” by locals, it officially became Grabill Road in the 1970s when the state introduced 911 and mandated names for all public roads.
As we sat on the porch of the 1912 farmhouse, Sandy told me that Howard Grabill was born here. Sort of. In 1945, when Howard’s mom felt strong labor pains, Howard’s dad was nowhere to be found. He was hunting mushrooms deep in the woods. So grandpa took Howard’s mom in his truck and sped to the hospital. But they never made it. Howard was born in the truck. In farm life everyone pitches in.
The farm is named Millstone Creek Farm, in reference to the many mills that lined the nearby Clear Creek. Several large millstones greet visitors on the driveway as does a big brass bell that Howard got from a West Virginia steam engine. If you ring it, Howard, a railroad aficionado, will answer with a toot-toot-toot from his horn.
Howard and I both served in the Vietnam era, he in an Army re-con unit in Vietnam and me in the Navy. In those days our military personnel weren’t on pedestals, as Howard and I can attest. But times have changed, fortunately.
A farmer built the barn in the 1880s, a time when Ohio pioneers still knew the properties of wood and how to make a barn last, as this one has. In those days, Ohio was primarily a farming state. But, further west, Indians still roamed the plains. And one of the Grabill family was there to document those days. John C.H. Grabill was a photographer of the Great Plains and in 1886 he opened a studio in Sturgis, Dakota Territory. He took photos of the Wild West: mining, stagecoaches, the Devil’s Tower (now a national monument), and cowboys including the famous Buffalo Bill. But his most memorable work, now in the Library of Congress, showed the aftermath of the massacre at Wounded Knee in January of 1891, a tragedy that happened in the unforgiving Dakota winter. All this while his Ohio relatives were building barns and farming. John was an adventurer.
Howard’s grandfather, the one who provided his truck for Howard’s delivery, had farmed for decades in Highland County before he purchased this farm in 1944. Much earlier, when Howard’s grandmother was a child, an old freed slave named Manny took care of her. They called her husband, also a freed slave, “Uncle” Oliver. In return, the Grabills took care of them when they grew old. Highland County was one of numerous Ohio counties that helped slaves escape through the Underground Railroad.
In 1960, a tractor loaded with hay fell through the floor, but the barn survived. It was repaired. A few years later, Howard explained, his parents spent $5,000, a considerable sum then, to level the barn with railroad ties and steel beams since it was 17 inches “out of plumb,” as Howard put it. He said that’s why many barns fail: lack of support.
During his later years, Howard’s grandpa still owned the farm, but allowed Howard’s family to live upstairs in the farmhouse. That changed when Howard began making too much noise. So grandpa, tired of Howard’s bouncing on the ceiling, moved upstairs. He died in 1953.
And the other owners of this wonderful barn, Sandy and Tim, grew up on Highland county farms as well. Sandy’s parents raised dairy cows; so Sandy spent a lot of time milking. “We had 100 cows and I had to milk them. But my dad sold them the year I left for college. He could have done that a lot sooner,” Sandy told me. Tim also grew up on a farm, one in the southern part of the county where his parents and grandparents had been farmers. But Tim decided to spend his career working in a hospital, until 10 years ago when they bought into this farm. Even though retired from their jobs, they work the farm, raising cattle and crops.
Who knows what the future holds for this Highland County barn? Maybe another father will be out hunting mushrooms at delivery time. Maybe.