By Elizabeth Hansen, Assistant Culture Editor
Friends of Ohio Barns trekked to Hueston Woods from various Ohio counties for the annual Ohio Barn Conference last weekend.
Starting in 2000, the Ohio Barn Conference has been held in a different Ohio county each year. This year’s conference included a barn workshop Thursday, a barn tour Friday and a barn conference Saturday.
President Ric Beck sees the barn tour on Friday as a chance for barn owners to see different ways people have restored barns and learn about the history behind them.
“It’s a great opportunity for those interested in seeing someone else’s barn, what makes the barn function and how to work on them,” said Beck.
About 100 people each year join the Friends of Ohio Barns for a tour around the designated county. Since this year’s conference was held in Butler County, participants got a look at settlement patterns in Butler County and how the barns played a role in the history of its agriculture.
“We talk about the history of the barn, what makes it unique and what we think it might have been used for,” said Beck. “We usually meet with one or two owners that the barn has been in their family for multiple generations. They provide some really rich history about life on the farm and in the barn.”
On Saturday, participants gathered for a conference to listen to multiple speakers.
Doug Reed, owner of Preservation Associates, Inc., a firm that specializes in historic structures, presented a slide show comprised of different restored barns from around the world.
The crowd, comprised mostly of Friends of Ohio Barns, listened as Reed discussed the importance of barn restoration.
“About 1000 barns per year come down in the US,” said Reed. “In today’s throwaway society, people think new is better than old.”
Reed began with restoring traditional log houses in 1972. His main focus is saving run-down buildings from demolition and restoring them or repurposing them into something new.
He discussed the economic implications of tearing down these old barns. The higher paying jobs of barn restoration are lost to lower paying jobs of demolition.
“When you tell me it’s really expensive, I say, ‘Compared to what?’” said Reed as the audience laughed and briefly applauded, recognizing his passion.
Chuck Whitney, a barn consultant, hosted the first three Ohio Barn Conferences. Now, his daughter, Pam Gray, is carrying on the family tradition as the new Friends of Ohio Barns president.
“My father was getting old, so I decided I better move back home to spend time with him,” said Gray. “I worked with him the last five years and in doing so I realized I had the same passion.”
Gray, like her father, is a barn consultant and owns her own business, The Lady Barn Consultant. Her motto? “Saving Our Agricultural Heritage — One Barn at a Time.”
She is carrying on her father’s mission of saving old barns and sharing their agricultural history. She has written two books — “Americanization of the Family Barn” and “Ohio Barns Inside and Out with the Barn Consultant.”
“I want to encourage people to save barns,” said Gray. “They’re so adaptable, especially as event centers today. You can just do anything with a little imagination.”