September 11, 2018
In the northeast corner of Ohio in the county of Mahoning sits a picturesque, pre-Civil War, Sweitzer barn. This was a fun find, and it has many interesting features to identify.
Trees were harvested from the surrounding virgin forest in the first half of the 19th century, creating an unwritten historical record of trees growing in the area at the time. Trees large enough to produce the massive posts and beams required for construction of the barn would have started growing in the late 1500s to early 1600s. I also found a board in the granary that is 24 inches wide.
A Sweitzer-style barn has Swiss influence and must have the following characteristics:
• be a bank barn
• have a cantilevered forebay
• have the ridge of the roof centered over the foundation
• have an asymmetrical roofline, which is very distinctive, and easily spotted and identified
The hewn rafter plate — one continuous piece 57 feet long on the south side of the barn — has a siding groove. The ends of the siding boards slide up into the siding groove, holding them in place — no nails required. The siding is then nailed only at the girts and sill plate.
The sawn members in the barn display saw kerfs from a sash saw or water-powered, up-and-down saw. This type of early saw was used through the Civil War era. The reciprocating blade leaves saw kerfs regularly spaced and perpendicular to the item being sawn.
MOWING NECESSARY: The driveway entrance is a combination of natural grade and covered wooden ramp.
The mortices for each joint were first bored out with a series of three holes by a T-auger, efficiently removing the majority of the wood. This primitive tool leaves a flap in the bottom of the mortice at the point where the auger is reversed to remove it from the hole. The mortice is then finished by squaring the corners and smoothing the sides with a mallet and chisel.
The stone foundation is beautifully laid and adds to the quaintness of the setting. Walking into the basement was a wonderment. It is a totally free-span space. Overhead are 13 massive sleepers, spaced approximately 4 feet apart, that span the width of the foundation and continue beyond the foundation under the cantilevered forebay. There is no summer beam or support running the length of the barn as in most barns. The sleepers measure 16 inches by 22 inches by 42 feet, and they taper at the ends under the forebay.
The driveway entrance is a combination of natural grade and covered wooden ramp. I got a chuckle out of the very small owl hole in the peak of the dormer for the ramp. It is in the shape of a barn and is such a small touch of decoration that it would have been fun to know the story behind it — but it is lost to history.
EARLY MARKINGS: A marriage mark is found on bent two.
The braces in the bents have marriage marks indicating they were built with the scribe-rule method. Marriage marks consist of Roman numerals, and they sometimes incorporate flags. In this case, the flags represent which bent they are in, and the Roman numerals tell us the position they hold within the bent. For example, Roman numeral II tells us it is in the second bent, and the three flags indicates it is on the third post.
Scribe rule was used for centuries, until the new Americans with their Yankee ingenuity brought about the square-rule construction method circa 1700. Square rule combines structural construction with finish carpentry, and the carpenter’s square came into use.
This barn will go on my list of early historic barns in Mahoning County.
I continue to search out and identify five of the oldest, historically significant and/or most unique barns in each of the 88 counties in Ohio. If you know of any barns with these qualifiers, especially if they are in danger of being lost, contact Pam Gray at [email protected], or call 740-263-1369.
Whitney Gray writes from Mount Vernon, Ohio.
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