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Central Ohio Residents and Communities Find New Uses for Old Barns

To the casual observer, barns are just part of the suburban and rural landscape in Ohio. The structures have been part of the state's landscape for more than 200 years. And experts say Ohio is home to what might be the largest variety of barns in the world.

But as more barns fall into disuse and decay, individuals and communities alike are looking for ways to pump new life into old barns.

Two years ago, 65-year-old Larry Gerlach of Thornville faced a difficult decision. The largest barn on his 120-acre farm was at risk of collapsing. The north side of the structure was deteriorating so badly that beams inside the barn were breaking.

Gerlach says, he had three choices: let it fall down; let someone remove the beams and tear it down; or, we could have restored it. "I'm not one for wasteful things," said Gerlach.

As a retired middle school teacher who taught Ohio history, Gerlach was also not one to give up on a barn built in 1878.

erlach farms dozens of acres -blueberries are his most popular crop. His uses for the barn are likely similar to those of the original owner, shelter for livestock and storage for equipment, supplies and crops.

The Gerlach structure is called a bank barn. A man-made bank of earth on one side makes it possible to deliver crops into the upper, storage area of the barn and even drop feed to livestock below.

Forty miles northwest of the Gerlach barn in Thornville is another example of a restored bank barn. The city of Westerville renovated the Everal Barn to host community and private events.

Standing at the Everal Barn, Ric Beck, president of Friends of Ohio Barns, explains that barns such as this one were essential to early settlers who flooded into the Northwest Territory in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

"In most cases," says Beck, "they would come in and build just a little log shack to live in and spend the bulk of their time building their barn."

Beck says itinerant timber framers followed settlers into the Ohio country, and the results of their work are visible today.

"They would stay in an area for five or six years at a time. We see evidence of that because as you go around to different neighborhoods, you'll see evidence it was the same framer using the same techniques."

Beck notes today, some barn owners who do not farm are looking for help deciding whether it's worth saving a structure, how to save it, other possible uses for a barn and the costs associated with restoring a barn.

So far, Larry Gerlach has invested $25,000 in raising the north side of his 40-foot by 60-foot barn by five inches, leveling it and replacing the roof. He plans to paint the barn in five years and figures the entire project will be finished in maybe 10 years.

"If it survives another 40 years, I'll be 105," says Gerlach. "That'll be enough."