For more than thirty years Dr. Hubert Wilhelm, taught classes on cultural and settlement geography and the Geography of Ohio at Ohio University in Athens. Wilhelm spent untold hours poring over the 1850 census to determine where Ohioans came from. He tallied their origins by county and recorded the number from each state and each European country. He made maps and charts showing where these settlers put down their roots.
Wilhelm taught about the natural landscape of Ohio; the forests and soils and landforms; the early land claims and subdivisions; transportation routes into the new state; how each of these factors influenced those settlement patterns. Wilhelm examined the records and imparted his findings with enthusiasm and exuberance to his students. He taught us how to see the 19th century settlement patterns in the rural and urban landscapes of Ohio by observing the architecture, land-use practices, place names, and other characteristic attributes of the material culture surrounding us.
A very significant part of that lesson is the Ohio barn. He matched the people to the barns we see dotting the rural scenes we observe in our travels across the state. By merely glancing at many an Ohio barn we can know a great deal about the people who built them, their place of origin, and their cultural history. For many it has made a trip across the state an ongoing lesson in Ohio history and geography. Wilhelm’s legacy is marked by his infectious enthusiasm that has inspired many to learn more about the people who used local resources and cultural traditions to build the foundations of Ohio’s economy.
It is for these efforts, and this body of work, that the Friends of Ohio Barns recently established the Wilhelm Award, named in his honor. The award will be presented on occasion for outstanding contributions to the understanding of the history and significance of Ohio’s barn heritage. The first presentation of that award was made to Hubert Wilhelm himself.
Wilhelm was recently presented this award in the presence of family members including his son David Wilhelm, daughters Suzanne Robinson and Diana Pollock, daughter-in-law, Degee, and his grandson Lukas.
In making the presentation, Rudy Christian, founding president of Friends of Ohio Barns, thanked Wilhelm for his work “which has taught us the real value of our historic barns is not as much in what we can learn about them, but what they can teach us about our self.” Wilhelm has made exceptional contributions to our understanding of our roots and our agricultural heritage.
Image: Photo by Dan Troth
01 Hubert Wilhelm, in the foreground, is presented the Wilhelm Award, established in his honor by members of the board of Friends of Ohio Barns; from left to right – Vice-President – Dan Troth, Treasurer – Laura Saeger, former President – Rudy Christian, President – Ric Beck, and newsletter editor – Tom O’Grady.