Olentangy Valley News

History today

Barn's fate takes serendipitous turn

A gratifying event took place recently in Delaware County.

It all began with a casual conversation between two men one morning at a nearby Bob Evans restaurant. Stan Carmichael, a member of the Powell Liberty Historical Society, learned something from the man he'd just met that dismayed him.

Plans for excavation work at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium's new Safari Africa project included removal of a historic barn. Carmichael knew the barn, now on zoo property, previously had been part of Craig Askins' farm and had come from a world's fair well before it was moved to Powell, and he knew it was quite old. Stan hoped it could somehow be saved.

When I was contacted, I asked my husband to retrieve a video interview he conducted with Craig Askins in 1996 when he was 86 years old. Askins said he and his father were seeking a barn in 1935 when they learned about one in Radnor at the Farmer's Exchange. The barn originally had been constructed and used at the 1893-94 Chicago World's Fair. They purchased it, and, during the summer of 1936, Bert Dixon helped them re-erect it at their farm on West Powell Road.

Jerry Borin, retired executive director of the zoo, helped us get this information to the current zoo administration. Then, in a matter of a few days, something amazing happened.

Robin Mayes, farm educator for the not-yet-opened Depression-era home at Gallant Farm Preserve Farmstead near Radnor, was the featured speaker at the historical society's September program. We knew items still were being sought to furnish the house established by Delaware County Preservation Parks, and we inquired about their needs. When Robin said they were looking for a barn, you can imagine the wheels that began to turn for several of us attending the program.

Mayes emailed her supervisor that evening, and the next morning, he advised parks Director Rita Au of the barn's availability. By that afternoon, the machinery kicked into gear. Shortly after that, her board took action and bids were quickly sought to dismantle and move the historic barn. The barn was on its way before the end of October.

Serendipity and community action have played equal roles in this story.

Soon, if you visit Gallant Farm Preserve on Buttermilk Hill Road, you will see the barn being erected once again. The upper two-thirds of the 36-by-60-foot, two-story timber-frame barn was saved. Robin Mayes says she is watching the footers go in as she looks out her office window in the granary at the homestead. She also can see the beams stacked up. New siding and a new roof are planned for the structure.

Hours for visiting and a special December holiday evening at the farm are described at the parks' website, preservationparks.com. There were a few children lucky enough this past summer to enjoy a variety of farm activities and chores when a camp was held prior to the official opening last month.

It appears this is a win-win situation for the zoo and the homestead, and I feel Craig would be pleased to know the barn has been preserved for another generation. That makes members of the historical society happy, too.

We are delighted that the zoo will keep Craig Askins' Civil War-era red-brick home and the one-room Bovee School located on the family's original property. Craig's family moved there in 1920 when he was 10 years old. Grain, livestock, dairy cows and chickens were the mainstay of the farming operation.

In later years, Craig's hobby involved collecting antique farm machinery and horse-drawn wagons. He raised Belgian draft horses and enjoyed pulling his antique wagons in parades. He was, indeed, a significant part of our local history.

When Safari Africa opens in 2014, perhaps you just might see the historic home and 1891 schoolhouse and will know that good things can take place even when change occurs.

Carole Wilhelm is a member of the Powell-Liberty Historical Society.

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