In 2016, Karin and Kenneth Kirk hired a crew of Amish builders to construct a new barn in place of the original, a dilapidated old barn dating back to at least the early- to mid-1900s. Because this barn was so run-down that renovation was impossible, the Kirks were determined to do the next best thing: make sure their new barn was constructed in exactly the same way as the original. It was built using the traditional method, without nails. Its pieces fit together like a puzzle.
Karin Kirk’s was one of the four barns that was showcased in the Knox County Landmarks Foundation’s (KCLF) biennial Barn Tour. The other three barns included “The Barn,” which was transformed into a warm and lovingly maintained living and entertainment space in 2009; the Overholt Barn, which was constructed in 1924 and still stands strong today, continuing to function as a working barn; and Warwick Barn, which has been in operation since the mid-1800s and is currently available to rent for large gatherings like weddings and other events.
Jeff Gottke, president of KCLF, emphasized the significance of barns in the Knox County community, and the Barn Tour’s role in creating a space to celebrate their rich history and stunning construction. “This is a rural county,” Gottke said, “and proudly rural. So what we want to do is take the barns out of the scenery and make them the focus because of their contribution to Knox County’s agricultural history.”
At each barn during the Tour, visitors enjoyed several displays of local crafts like pottery, quilting and rug weaving as well as performances by local musicians. Terry and Margaret Walter, owners and creators of “Gourd Creations,” made animals, birdhouses, and other fun decorations from gourds, which they displayed at the Kirk barn. Lonnie Frazier shared with visitors the rugs he weaves at home on his four looms. Frazier explained that his grandmother had taught him the art of rug weaving, and he has continued the tradition.
At The Barn, the Knox County Quilt Guild, or “Quilt Squad,” displayed their intricate and colorful blankets, purses, place mats and other handmade quilted products. Paul Courtright, a member of the Central Ohio Woodturners Club, also displayed his work at The Barn; his pieces ranged from a large wooden top-hat – which Paul said reminded him of Dr. Seuss – to elegant wooden bowls, salt and pepper shakers, and other carefully crafted wooden pieces. Richard Barker, a potter since 1989, sat at his pottery wheel. A guest asked him about the beginning of his career as a potter. “I didn’t believe my father when he said I needed something other than art to make a living,” Barker said.
At Warwick Barn, dancers from the Kenyon College Department of Dance, Drama, and Film performed a structured improvisational piece inspired by the barn itself. Dancers collaborated as an ensemble to bring the space to life, utilizing the barn throughout the piece. Benny Hershberger, an Amish painter, also exhibited his paintings at Warwick Barn. Some of his works were inspired by the Ohio landscape, others were from his imagination.
For Phyllis Williams, Barn Tour Chair and treasurer of the KCLF, repurposing is vital to the preservation of barns in the 21st century. “We’ve put five or six barns up that have been renovated that would not, under normal circumstances,” Williams said, “have had any use for farming. But they can be reborn as bed and breakfasts, entertainment centers, furniture stores.”
After the last barn on the Tour closed its doors, community members came together for the Barn Dance, which welcomed everyone no matter their prior square dancing experience. Attendees danced, smiled and laughed the night away through traditional square dances.