If these walls could talk, oh the stories they’d tell. Black Cat Barn, located east of Medway, will whisper its last words as it comes down this month.
According to auditor office records, the barn was built in 1900, of flat barn design and measured 44 feet by 74 feet. A family by the name of Denlinger owned the farm at that time. However, in talking with Brad of Creekside Barn Company, who is taking the barn down, he assured us that the barn was older than that, probably being built the same time as the house which was in 1854. The owner was the Harnish family. Brad said the design was cantilever style which meant that the roof overhung the walls so animals could stand up against the barn and be protected from the elements. Foundation stones were limestone, hewed and squared by hand with a pickaxe.
Rafters were marked with Roman numerals to be assembled correctly. Rafters were pinned with oak pins. Wood throughout the barn included white oak, ash and elm. He said perhaps they’ll find some walnut but it was not unusual for that wood to be used for other things.
Anytime a structure that has endured decades and sheltered community and played a role in history comes down, it is a sad, sentimental and emotional day. Barns, especially, have that effect on people. And so will this barn called Black Cat, part of the Black Cat Farm.
Assigning years to land events such as a particular barn can be a challenge but we know that Harry Miller Sr. was living on the farm in 1942. A notice in the New Carlisle Sun of December, 1942, indicated he was ill and gave his home as “Of the Black Cat Farm, east of Medway.”
Some years past that date, the barn played a major role in Clark County’s evening entertainment with square dances and barn dances and radio broadcasts. It was back in the last of 1940s and into the 1950s that music could be heard around the barn and up and down the pike. Inside, pretty young ladies in full, frilly skirts over layered petticoats swirled around young gents in white or western style shirts and scarfs or string ties to the calls of “Swing your partner” and “All join hands and circle to the left” or “Do-si-do and gents you know, once-and-a-half and let her go.”
Square dance was the choice most of the time with rest periods finding couples dancing waltzes, two-step or even the foxtrot. Fiddlers were treated with deep respect as they could play for hours on end with backup from guitars, piano and banjo. Callers were known to tease the crowd and throw in a command now and then that threw the dancers into laughter. Yes, this barn held so much to make memories from.
Since it can’t speak for itself, we can listen as a member of the Medway community tells us what she remembers about the barn. Nancy Neff and I corresponded about the barn back in June, 2006. Here are her memories, including notes from family and friends.
“Kevin Smith owns the barn. From a couple of area people, it is thought that Jonathan Winters performed there. What I remember about the farm, as a kid, was that big dances were held there. Sherry Maupin remembers going to the dances with her mom and dad. Sherry says she remembers bales of straw for people to sit on around the dance floor and the big stage. Sherry and I were in the same grade and born in 1942, so as kids we could sit and watch what seemed to us to be big crowds.”
Nancy remembered being at Sherry’s house and watching Sherry’s mom pressing skirts, like they wore for the square dancing. “It was the talk of Medway at the time. A big black cat was painted at the top of the barn that all us kids would watch for whenever we went to Springfield.”
Nancy’s husband, Jerry, had a job of helping park the cars for the dances. His father, Robert Neff installed the PA system through the barn. Jerry remembered the barn was fixed up nice inside with big timber posts going up through the barn and a nice hardwood dance floor and big stage.
Friends remembered that Roy Wolfe called the square dances. Many evenings the entertainment could be heard over the radio, as WIZE out of Springfield and WING out of Dayton were said to have promoted the evening.
Barns have a life span just as humans do. Black Cat Barn was a place where people gathered, worked, met friends and family, sealed deals, greeted generations of neighbors, introduced out-of-towners, and became an intricate part of our community. And many evenings it resounded of music and laughter. That kind of heritage never dies. It lives on in our memories, passed on in the stories we tell.
The black cat, painted on the west side of the barn, faded away years ago. Today, the old siding boards are removed, timbers carefully pulled down and lifted out. Sunlight shines throughout, from one end to the other, revealing corners and hidden doors and all the nuances of long-ago construction. As dusty wisps of straw float on the air, a faint do-si-do and swing your partner seems to come from up there, where the stage used to be. And the walls whisper “thank you for all my years, good-bye.”
If you have memories or photos of this old barn and the dances held there that you would like to share, please contact this newspaper or the Medway Area Historical Society’s Facebook page.
For more information about building or taking down barns or any barn questions, contact Brad Marquart at www.barngeek.com/creek-side-co. or 567-230-0843.