Ohio Farmer

This Old Barn: The 1835 Cassell family barn was built of sycamore timber harvested from the area around Mount Vernon, Ohio.

5 Min Read
Photo of the Cassell’s nearly 200-year-old Sweitzer barn
SWEITZER BARN: The view of the Cassells’ bank barn shows its asymmetrical roof line and forebay out over the stable wall. The term “Sweitzer” reflects its Swiss cultural influence. Photos by Pam Whitney Gray

In 1835, George Cassell decided he would take his family and leave his childhood home of Little Pipe Creek, Md. After buying 300 acres of farmland in Knox County, Ohio, settling all his debts and selling all the family’s possessions save one, George packed up his wife, two sons, daughter and a grandfather clock, and moved west to their new home near Mount Vernon. In the first year or so, he built a rather small primitive house and the barn that still stands on the farm today.

Good stewardship, long-lived barn

George constructed the barn of sycamore timber harvested from the surrounding acreage. It is a very stately barn that’s 66 feet long. The foundation, dug into the side of a ridge, was laid with fieldstone. The summer beam, or horizontal load-bearing beam that supports the upper timber-frame barn, is one solid piece of hickory spanning the middle of the basement for the full 66 feet. The foundation has been repaired in recent years, with the the original fieldstone stable wall under the forebay saved. The forebay is an area where one or more walls overshoot the building’s foundation. The gable roof is topped with a cupola original to the barn. The louvers in the cupola allowed hot air to escape through the highest point, assisting the ventilation throughout the barn to dry the long hay stored within.

The siding was replaced in 1930 with sycamore off the farm, just as in 1835. The barn addition was built in 1940, and the new roof was put on in the 1990s.

Now, 185 years later, following good stewardship by the Cassell family, the barn has been in continual use and will surpass the bicentennial mark with ease. It was designated an Ohio Century Farm by the Ohio Historical Society in 1993. In 2006, the Friends of Ohio Barns presented the Cassell family with its first-ever Barn of the Year Award for agricultural use.

Most folks from Ohio would call this barn a Pennsylvania forebay, but Art Cassell is always quick to say it is a Maryland forebay. In reality, it is a Sweitzer barn, so-called because of its Swiss cultural influence. This is evidenced by its being a bank barn (set into a hillside to ensure easy access to both the basement and the level above), with a forebay and an asymmetrical roof line stretching out over the forebay.

Farm with a farmhouse and barns
LONG HISTORY: The Cassell Angus Farm in Knox County has a 185-year-old history. George Cassell and his family came to Ohio from Maryland in 1835 and built a small house as well as the barn that still stands today.


Grandfather clock survives from before 1835

The original small house burned in the mid-1800s, but the grandfather clock and most of the family’s possessions were saved. In June 1886, the second house on the farm also burned. This time, the flames were seen in the early morning by a B&O Railroad engineer passing the farm in a train on the nearby railroad tracks. He blew his whistle to alert the family. Once again, the Cassells were able to save most of their possessions — including the grandfather clock.

The present house was built that same year at a cost of $3,500 using lumber from the farm. The builder used the existing foundation, even though the footprint of the new farmhouse was bigger. There are four fireplaces, seven outside doors, five upstairs bedrooms and two large porches on either side of the house. And of course, the grandfather clock is prominently and proudly displayed inside.

7th generation of Cassells own farm

In the early 1800s, the barn was home to a variety of animals — draft horses, milk cows, sheep and hogs. Upon his death in 1865, George Cassell passed the ownership of the farm to his son Bascom. At Bascom’s passing, it went in turn to Bascom’s son Arthur, who worked the farm. Arthur passed the farm to his two sons, Leland and Charles, in 1927.

In 1969, Charles’s son Art became the owner. It is now owned by Art’s son Alan, who now operates the farm with his two sons Grant and Carter, the seventh generation of the Cassell family.

Farm now raises Angus cattle, hay

In the early 1800s, the barn was home to a variety of animals — draft horses, milk cows, sheep and hogs. It also stored hay and grain to feed the herd during the winter, as well as harness and horse-drawn equipment. Today, the farm operation is specialized around the registered Angus herd started in 1909 with the purchase of a bull from Ohio State University. The herd has been designated as a historic Angus herd by the American Angus Association.

The majority of the farm is kept in hay and pasture, with a corn rotation. The cows are on a rotational grazing program. The registered animals born and raised on the farm are sold as bulls for breeding and heifers for replacement females throughout the Midwest. Quarters and halves of high-quality Angus beef are marketed throughout central Ohio.

Because of the pandemic, Gray notes she has not been out to visit as many barn owners and farm families as usual. She requests that readers please send stories, histories and barn pictures to her, if they’d like to share their family barn history, at [email protected]. Readers may call Gray at 740-263-1369 for more information.

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