Ohio Farmer

Fostering freedom

This Old Barn: The English-style King-Trowbridge barn was a stop on the Underground Railroad.

Pamela Whitney Gray

January 16, 2019

3 Min Read
Trowbridge family farm barn
SMALL BARN: This small red three-bay barn was added to the Trowbridge family farm and is in the running for the oldest barn in Fulton County, Ohio.

In 1834, Section 24 in Six Mile Woods, Williams County, Ohio, was purchased, and the legacy of two families began.

The William King family was the original owner of this section. Staunch abolitionists, they established an Underground Railroad station on this property in the extreme northwest corner of Ohio. They provided a safe haven for fleeing and freed slaves. The Kings sheltered and instructed the fleeing slaves in northern farming practices and taught them to read and write along with their own children. This supplied the former slaves with the means to survive in a new and strange land. After a period of instruction, they were sent on to a settlement in Canada that was established to provide a permanent home for the freed slaves.

The King Farm is formally recognized by multiple organizations as an established Underground Railroad station.

Ultimately, the land was purchased by the John Trowbridge family, and five generations of Trowbridges have actively cared for and cultivated the acreage. This Century Farm has two barns of note — the first being on the place where John Trowbridge’s grandfather and father farmed.

The posts and beams in the frame of this small English-style, three-bay threshing barn are mostly hewn from oak timbers. The planks and boards are sawn up and down. The bottoms of the mortises show evidence of being drilled with a T-auger. These primitive technologies were used before the invention of the mortise machine circa 1885, and the circular saw, introduced circa 1860.


AERIAL VIEW: This is an aerial view of the Trowbridge family beef operation as it is today. (Courtesy of John Trowbridge)

Conversion for hay track
Shortly after the Civil War, the hay track was invented by William Louden in 1867. And, as with this small barn, many were converted to accommodate the new labor-saving invention. This could mean the farmer cut out beams to clear the path for the hay to travel along the track; or, the roof of the barn itself was converted from a gable to a gambrel roof to reduce the obstructions and increase the storage capacity. Such is the case here.

The roof on the end of the barn is a pent one, meaning it is only supported by braces from the side of the barn, and without any support post from the roof to the ground.

The second and newer barn is across the section on the next road. This impressive white barn has become the heart of the farming and cattle operation over the last 100 years. The barn was originally a ground barn built around the time of the Civil War. Later, it was raised to provide a basement for a dairy operation, and subsequently, a beef operation. In the 1950s, a straw barn and loafing shed were added.

The new underpinnings for the original part of the barn are double summer beams. These are constructed of 2-by-10-inch dimensional lumber laid vertically and laminated together to equal 10-by-10-inch beams. In addition, three layers of 2-inch planks are laid horizontally on top to make the finished beams 10 by 16 inches. The sleepers, spanning the engineered summer beams, are half-sawn logs and support the mow floor.

The original tract of land has been placed in an agricultural conservation easement by the Trowbridge family through the Black Swamp Conservancy to insure its perpetual agricultural use and protection from development. These barns, as well as the farming operations, show the pride and stewardship that has been bestowed on them by two families, the Kings and the Trowbridges, over the last 184 years.

The oldest Trowbridge barn is certainly in the running for the oldest barn in Fulton County.

My list of historical barns is growing with each contact I receive from you, the readers. If you know of any old, historically significant, and/or unique barns in your county, I would love to hear from you. Please contact me, Pam Gray, at [email protected] or call 740-263-1369.

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