A new book from The History Press (www.historypress.net) features stories and paintings of historic barns around Ohio – including examples from Perry and nearby counties.
Ohio-based writer and artist Robert Kroeger’s paintings of old barns from all around the state, along with his informative essays telling a bit about their histories, are being published in paperback book form. Historic Barns of Ohio was published March 22; at a list price of just $23.99, it includes 135 striking images, including many in full color.
The book is organized by region, with individual chapters devoted to 11 different geographic sectors of the state. Chapter 7 focuses on the south central region, in which the author groups Hocking, Athens, Perry, Morgan, Fayette, Pickaway, Ross and Fairfield counties.
Kroeger, a U.S. Navy veteran and retired dentist who hails originally from Youngstown, confesses in the book that he wants to “spread the gospel of Ohio’s old barns to as many readers as possible” – which is one reason why he opted for an affordable six-by-nine-inch paperback format rather than a jumbo-sized hardback coffee table volume.
His account of how he got involved in tracking down, painting and preserving the history of old Ohio barns is as interesting as any of the stories he tells about them. He says his journey began “mysteriously, almost spiritually” during a 2012 anniversary trip with his wife to a bed-and-breakfast in rural Licking County. When he spotted a small, dilapidated barn on a hilltop, Kroeger recounts, he had a kind of sudden epiphany, knowing in an instant that he was going to do an oil painting of the barn, write an essay about it, and help preserve the state’s history.
Kroeger, though he had a professional artist for a father, was more confident at first in his writing skills than his painting abilities; as he tells it, he essentially had to teach himself to paint in order to pursue his mission. When he figured he was ready, he ventured out in search of old barns – and soon realized he would need someone to scout locations and reach out to barn owners about letting Kroeger on their property.
As the project grew and evolved Kroeger expanded his searches into other states, and made connections with historically minded organizations in various locales. Along the way he provided paintings for various fundraisers; by 2020, he had fulfilled a goal of painting at least one barn in every one of Ohio’s 88 counties. He had also started by that time to get some press coverage, and eventually led to his being approached by The History Press about doing a book.
The book offers an overview of the historic significance of barns to the Buckeye State, noting that for pioneer farming families moving into the state in the 19th century, they were the “money makers,” typically the first thing built from local timber after the family’s log cabin dwelling. With advances in farming, however, many of the old barns have become non-functional, and they are disappearing.
The book’s south central Ohio chapter includes narrative about the round barns of Perry County, a distinctive large red bank barn near state Route 329 in Athens County, and a barn in Hocking County painted with the Mail Pouch tobacco logo that adorns thousands of barns across the country.