Re-Claimed Red Oak, White Oak and Hickory from the Dairy Farm Barn of Greenbrier, Ohio Dairy Circa 1855
Josiah Dixon took a leaf out of the 1846 Lewis F. Allen’s first American Herd Book when he attributed increases in milk yields to better out buildings. As a notable Scotsman and first generation American, he took the sage to heart when he built his home and dairy barn. But, first, he cleared a swath through the woods for accessibility. Hundred year old Hickory trees along with White and Red Oaks were felled. From which he built, prudently, the barn first followed by the home for his family. Unfortunately the first house, constructed of double logs was destroyed by fire. It was replaced later by a brick one.
The family, consisting of himself, wife and five children plus Josiah’s younger brother, settled near the Lyman Stearns farm, and then called Greenbrier. By 1855 their Yankee barn and their Greek revival farmhouse was completed and the Stearns family was ensconced. In 2001 The Stearns Homestead was placed on the National Register of Historical Places, and today it is still a working farm, used for educational purposes and it is open to the public. Now sitting in the heart of Parma formally Greenbrier, makes it a favorite for children’s field trips and historical buffs.
After the death of Josiah in 1890, Ida quickly went into decline, the sounds of her vociferous grieving coming from the bed she had shared with her Josiah for over 20 years, wafted throughout the house night after night. Until one night there was silence.
After Ida’s death most of the Dixon family took their leave of Greenbrier, their childhood home and more specific to our story, the dairy barn. The remaining three sons settled in Chicago and got on to the business of getting married and dealing with the day to day of establishing careers and starting families. The exceptions were Fredrick, Josiah’s brother and Johanna, the surviving daughter of Josiah and Ida. Fredrick, a bachelor stayed on the farm. Out of propriety, Johanna moved to a boarding house in the township where she indulged herself with painting pretty pictures. She had a modicum of talent and after a while, she felt constricted and hungered for exposure in the arts, Paris became her obsession.
After overruling the objections of her absentee brothers and Uncle Fredrick she set sail for France. The excursion of a young single American woman on her own in Paris, was not highly unconventional as the road had been paved with a migration of Americans which started in the 1830’s. The exodus was comprised of intellectuals, students of literature, medicine, architecture and art. Johanna wrote rapturous letters about the Cafe Society, the civility of Parisians and of her daily trips to the Louvre. She never returned to America, nor was her work ever shown.
By now Fredric Dixon’s age and health have caught up with him, the rigors of dairying and the turn of the century governments’ health regulations for the handling of fluid milk, now required new barn designs in order to meet the new mandates. As a dairyman, he was done and as an uncle his heart was broken over the surmised death of Johanna. But, joint tenancy and sharecropping saved the lineage Josiah Dixon barn. The tenants planted tobacco and turned the dairy barn into a tobacco barn. The crop never gained the popularity among Ohio farmers as it did among farmers further south, but a commercial market did develop for Ohio-grown tobacco. Ohio farmers continue to grow tobacco today.
The barns of America, before their legendary ascent into a popular building media, were used as crude billboards for selling tobacco. Wheeling’s Bloch Brothers Tobacco Company originated outdoor advertising when they began painting Mail Pouch Tobacco signs on bridges and barns across the nation. Does anyone else, besides yours truly, remember the signs for the Burma Shave campaign across the highways of the contiguous United States? In 1963 Phillip Morris bought Burma Shave and painted their advertising for tobacco on old abandoned barns. That plight was not visited upon the Dixon family barn even though tobacco farming was part of its progeny.
When, in 2009, the salvage crew started dismantling of the barn there were scraps of this n’ that. Most note-worthy was second edition of Short-Horn Cattle, copy of cover is included with the story.
If you are privileged enough to possess planks from the Dixon barn, your floors provenance might be from sleeper beams or floor and ceiling rafters along with the tobacco poles that were added around the turn of the century. After years of direct exposure to the soil or indirect contact through the wicking of the soil, will bear evidence of the affinity between the various life orders i.e. animal and humus combined with the alkaline earth, produces that slight gray patina. The eras of exposure and the tight grain from the old growth trees that Josiah cut down affords an unmistakable look. We were able salvage all of the interior components of the barn. The exterior weathered barn siding was, well, too weathered for our use.
We gleaned 12″ planks from the, rafters and from the anchor beams. The flooring and sleeper beams were 100 per cent White Oak. The poles, which were added turn of the century when the barn was converted to a tobacco barn were suspended across the livestock stalls and used for drying the tobacco leaves. They are especially rare, not just with the antiquity of them but, they were in great shape with the added benefit from the enzymatic changes of the drying tobacco leaves leaching into the beams. These beams came from White Oak and were hand hewn on two sides, with the remaining two sides still in the log form, from which we were able to saw 14″ wide planks. The added benefit from this formation was the sawing method of cutting through and through, commonly referred to as “live sawn”. Within each wide plank, sawn by this method, there are a host of grain patterns.
When the salvage crew started the dismantling of the barn there where scraps and bits of this n’ that. Most note-worthy was a second edition of Short-Horn Cattle, it is definitely worth peeking at.