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Athens Dairy Barn: Past, present and future

Barn Spotlight: A former state-of-the-art Georgian Revival dairy barn has evolved into one of Ohio's premiere art galleries.

State legislation in 1867 provided for the establishment of Athens State Hospital. It opened in 1874. The farm and hospital grounds were comprised of 4,000 acres.

In an effort to make the hospital a self-sustaining entity, gardens of vegetables and flowers were planted and cared for by the patients, cultivating produce for the hospital kitchen. Likewise, a dairy operation was established in 1912. Along with milk, it supplied all the feed for the dairy, poultry, swine and beef operations with the help of 30 patient-employees.

During the early part of the 20th century, the government was designing state-of-the-art dairy barns to improve sanitation for milk to be used by its state institutions. From the 17 farm buildings, the lone surviving structure is the Georgian Revival barn from the dairy operation, completed in 1914 at a cost of $10,000. It was designed with 40 stanchions.

An 80-cow milking herd was established from which a pure-bred Holstein herd was developed. From this herd, many champion bulls and milk cows — including the first calf born from artificial insemination — were sired. 

The ground floor of the dairy barn handled 40 milking cows at a time in individual stanchions. A center feed aisle ran the length of the barn, and another aisle bisected the barn across its width in the center. The concrete floor was poured with a feed bunk and watering fountains at the head of the cows on either side of the feed aisle. A trough ran behind the rear of the cows for the collection and removal of manure.

The milking area was well-ventilated with large windows on both sides, the full length of the barn. The upper floor, the mow, stored hay and straw for feed and bedding. The gambrel roof is slate and topped with three cupolas. In both ends of the second level are beautiful arched doors with arched glass windows.

Throughout its lifetime up until 1984, the state hospital has had eight titles. It has most recently been named The Ridges, which encompasses all of the surviving buildings of the hospital and farm buildings.

Time for change

The dairy operation was in decline by the 1960s because of changing farming practices and a declining patient population. It ceased operation in the early 1970s and was virtually abandoned for a decade, at which time it was slated for demolition in 1977.

Upon hearing the dairy barn was going to be torn down, a group of citizens led by Harriet and Ora Anderson, members of the Hocking Valley Arts Council, and community members had nine days to come up with a concept to save the barn. The plan was to repurpose it into an arts center. Grants were obtained to provide for winterization and painting of the barn and start renovation.

The main floor milking area is now a large, open gallery area where a variety of exhibitions, and community events can be featured and enjoyed by all. The second level has been developed into classrooms and work areas. A diversity of classes, workshops and art camps are offered to the public.

This is a great example of taking something old and giving it a new life in the community. The once state-of-the-art Georgian Revival dairy barn has evolved into one of southeastern Ohio's premiere art galleries. The repurposing of this 104-year-old barn was accomplished with forward thinking, and a vision for the future that will serve the local community and its visitors for years to come.

The dairy barn has added a gallery gift shop. Wanting to keep the theme of a barn, the board of The Dairy Barn Art Center asked Friends of Ohio Barns to help in sourcing old hewn barn timbers to decorate the new gift shop. It is open and airy, and displays art from regional artists for sale.

Over the past 45 years, an added benefit has emerged. Much of the pastures and fields of the farm are returning to wooded areas, offering opportunities for wildlife and outdoor experiences.

With so much to offer, The Dairy Barn Arts Center is a worthwhile stop on any visitor's itinerary to Athens County.

The Dairy Barn Arts Center’s mission is to offer exhibitions, events and educational programs that nurture and promote area artists and artisans, develop art appreciation among all ages, provide the community access to fine arts and crafts from outside the region, and draw attention and visitors to southeast Ohio.

The 12-month program calendar includes international juried exhibitions, festivals, touring exhibits, programs of regional interest, live performances and activities for all ages.

Gray is the author of "Ohio Barns Inside and Out with the Barn Consultant." To buy her book, visit barnconsultant.com or email her at barnconsultant@yahoo.com.

TAGS: Farm Life
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