Malabar Farm, 25th Anniversary
There was a tragic fire on April 4th of 1993. It completely consumed the large dairy barn at the Malabar Farm State Park where Pulitzer prize-winning author Louis Bromfield had created a model for sustainable agriculture that gained national attention. After his success as an author and Hollywood screen writer he chose to return to his roots in the rolling hills of Pleasant Valley where he bought the farm in 1939 and expanded the existing home over the next 18 months into the Big House, known by many as the heart of the farm. He continued to write novels and entertain Hollywood elites such as his friends Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, who were married there in 1945. Sustainable farming increasingly became his primary focus and he became recognized as a pioneering conservationist. And while the Big House was seen as the heart of the farm, the Big Barn, built in 1890 and vital to the farm’s operations, was its soul.
Following Bromfield’s death in 1956 his children gave the farm to a conservation foundation which in 1972 deeded the land to the state. Subsequently, Malabar Farm became a state park in 1976 where she received thousands of visitors every year. Shortly after the barn fire of ‘93, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, knowing that a new barn needed to be built, was made aware of the need to build an historically accurate structure, one employing traditional mortice and tenon joinery held together with wooden pegs: a timber frame. The call was made to Rudy Christian, founding member of the Timber Framers Guild of North America, and an active builder of timber frames in Burbank, Ohio, or as he and his wife Laura Saeger know it, the center of the universe.
After convincing the good people at the ODNR of the right way to build this new barn they granted Rudy the job. Well aware that this monumental task would require a bit of help he put the call out to the Guild. They responded with enthusiasm and workers from all over the country began work on newly cut timbers to help restore the soul of the farm. R.G. Beer worked as the general contractor to build the barn’s new foundation and its decks in preparation for the barn raising which took place over the Labor Day weekend 25 years ago. Governor George Voinovich and his wife, Janet, flew in for the dedication ceremony. Louis Bromfield’s daughter, Ellen, well-known barn historian Chuck Whitney and well over 50,000 folks from all over Ohio stopped by to watch nearly 200 Guild members and volunteers erect the new barn, truly a lasting labor of love. Beloved Canadian Guild member Doug Lukian gave the command “Un, deux, trois, VOLEZ!” to commence the hand-raising of the barn’s bents. All went well, no one was injured and the public was invited for a traditional barn dance on Sunday evening. From the Big House, looking over to see the barn frame all lit up with lights, listening to the live square dance music as it led the crowd to the stomping of feet and the rhythm of the warm night one might think that this is how it once was and how it should always be.
Now, on this 25th anniversary, a recognition of that historic weekend was in order so Rudy got together with Malabar Farm officials and decided to build another traditional timber frame, albeit a bit smaller. The need for a Sugar Camp Shed, where traditional maple sugaring would be demonstrated to the public each spring sounded like a good idea. A workshop was put together and sponsored by Friends of Ohio Barns and the Timber Framers Guild and supported with donations from Christian & Son, Inc., JCM Timber Works, Hochstetler Timbers, McKay Gross, and Yoder Family Roofing. Lunch was provided by volunteers with the Malabar Foundation. The new timber frame, signed by all who participated, was raised by noon and its siding and roofing completed just a couple of hours later.
Out of the ashes something good has arisen. The Malabar Farm barn, its soul, was reborn. Beyond this singular achievement it is important to recognize what the barn and the farm represent to all of us in Ohio. Our past is agrarian and surely Louis Bromfield recognized that. (He would have been proud of the community that gathered together to rebuild his barn.) The collective contribution of our farmers to our national fabric should be celebrated for we stand on their shoulders. Barns are an
iconic representation of our roots and have even been recognized just this past December when Governor Kasich signed into law Senate Bill 86 which designates Ohio’s barns as the official historical architectural symbol of the state. They help tell our story and it’s a legacy that we should all cherish for generations to come.
- Dan Troth, Vice President
Sugar Shack Workshop at Malabar Farm, August 31-September 2, 2019
In 1993 the Big Barn at Malabar Farm State Park was lost to fire. For the 25th anniversary of the rebuilding of the Big Barn in 1994 the Malabar Foundation, headed up by Virginia Cochran, decided that a timber frame sugar shack would make a nice addition to the farm. The new building will be the backdrop for Mark Sommer to explain the art of making maple syrup! So, Friends of Ohio Barns and the Timber Framers Guild got together and sponsored a rendezvous type of workshop to get a frame cut and raised. Jenny Roar, Park Manager of Malabar Farm and Laura Saeger organized the workshop. Rudy Christian drew up an 8’ by 12’ frame and with the help of Laura Saeger, Ric Beck, Todd Herzog, Mary Speer, Mark Schaeffer, Caleb Miller, Caleb “Junior” Raber, Dave Hamblin, John & Sarah Woodall and Ian Schwartz we made it happen.
The following donations were made: Christian & Son, Inc – design, educational instruction and logistics. JCM Timber Works – educational instruction, trucking and equipment. Hochstetler Timbers – timber for frame. McKay/ Gross – poplar siding and strapping. Yoder Family Roofing – metal roofing. And the Malabar Foundation provided the wonderful lunches for all the volunteers!
There were some off handed comments about how this frame could be cut and raised by one or two people in a weekend after seeing the small stack of timbers on Friday compared to some of the larger timber frame jobs some of us have been on. But smaller is not necessarily easier and faster and of course we had some mistakes along the way and did some fixing on raising day, but it all went well and it truly took all the people listed above to make it happen. Malabar provided workshop space in the working farm barn, so we were on the regular tourist loop of the farm wagons. Lots of our member brochures were handed out, our banner was prominently displayed and lots of new folks were exposed to Friends of Ohio Barns.
-Sarah Woodall and Laura Saeger