By JEANNIE WILEY WOLF
The age-old art of farming has gotten a fresh new look at the Hancock Historical Museum.
The Agriculture Building — lovingly referred to as “the barn” by museum staff — highlights many different aspects of agriculture heritage in Hancock County, from historic methods of planting and harvesting, to the diversity of crops that used to be grown in the area, to ice harvesting on the Blanchard River.
“We really made it a focus over the last year to design all new exhibits, refine those exhibits, and have it be a very comprehensive exhibit center,” said museum director Sarah Sisser. “So although the building has been here for quite some time, I think for the first time it really now speaks to the significance of farming in our area’s past, but also present and future.”
The building also features some never-before-seen artifacts, including a Studebaker farm wagon and a San-A-Pure Dairy horse-drawn wagon.
Located just behind the main museum, the ag building has been an integral part of the campus for many years, said Sisser. The front portion was built in the 1980s and has always served the purpose of highlighting some of the farming history in the area. A large addition to the back of the barn in the early 2000s originally served as a transportation annex and provided space for the museum’s Grant cars and a half-scale Corsair airplane.
The plane and the museum’s 1940 Buffalo fire truck are now displayed in a storefront at the Findlay Village Mall, allowing the museum to do some new things with the barn.
One of the reasons museum staff wanted to do a better job telling the story of agriculture was because of area school children who visit the museum. Each May, about 1,000 Hancock County students come to campus. Fifth-graders in particular, Sisser said, participate in a program called Hands-On History and have the opportunity to speak one-on-one with farmers who volunteer their time to talk about life on the farm.
“We started to notice that a lot of our fifth-graders that were coming through, despite being surrounded by agriculture, really had very little reference for farming,” Sisser said. “And that’s not unique to our area. That’s sort of nationwide that there is not a lot of food literacy anymore. People don’t really understand how their food gets to the grocery store or to their dinner plate.”
In an attempt to focus more attention on farming, the museum has tried to step up programming over the past five years, she said. A historic barns tour was organized and is now held annually. The debut program in 2013 was recognized as the best preservation program in the state by the Ohio State Historic Preservation Office. The museum also hosts farm-to-table dinners. And, for the past four years, the staff has worked with the University of Findlay to gather oral histories of some of Hancock County’s century farm owners through a project called Ohio Farm Stories.
All of these programs have brought the museum and the farming community closer, said Sisser. More than $8,000 was raised from the farming community to support the remodeling project, helped along by a small grant from Ohio EPA Education Fund.
The front part of the barn still tells the story of farming in Hancock County. Visitors will see some unusual implements like a coal-burning chicken brooder made by the Royal Manufacturing Co. of Toledo. Chicks were kept in the round metal container — where they could be fed, watered and kept warm — until they were able to care for themselves.
There’s also information about ice harvesting on the Blanchard River, something the museum hasn’t featured before, said Sisser, who noted that 1897 was a record-breaking year for ice harvesting, as the ice was 8 feet thick in December.
Some of the early mills in Hancock County are highlighted as well.
“We wanted to kind of talk more about the role the river has played in Findlay as a natural resource. Obviously we’re all familiar with flooding, but not everyone realizes what a driver it has always been for our local economy and for settlement here,” she said.
A millstone on display came from the old Misamore Mill. Sisser said this is the mill Tell Taylor had in mind when he wrote the song “Down by the Old Mill Stream.”
Another exhibit tells that crops once grown in Hancock County included apples, tomatoes and sugar beets. “Now of course our primary crops are corn, wheat and soybeans,” Sisser said.
A portion of the new exhibit center is also dedicated to recognizing Hancock County’s century farms and the Hancock County Ag Hall of Fame.
Larger displays are housed in the back part of the building, including a 1915 U.S. Standard corn husker-shredder. Sisser said the machine shows an important evolution on the farm, but was also a very dangerous piece of equipment.
Nearby stands Buckeye Traction Ditcher’s “Old 88.” The Buckeye Traction Ditcher Co. produced ditch-digging machines in Findlay in the early 20th century. Mechanical ditchers revolutionized the process of draining land and played an important role in the area’s agricultural history.
“Of course it was very swampy here when it was being settled, so drainage on our fields was very important. But prior to a machine like this, people were having to hand-dig the trenches to lay drainage tile,” said Sisser.
“Old 88,” the 88th machine made by the Buckeye Traction Ditcher Co., sat on display in front of the Ditcher plant on Crystal Avenue before being donated to the Hancock Historical Museum in 1985.
Sisser also explained that the first field tiles were made of clay by Hancock Brick and Tile. That company evolved into Hancor and later Advanced Drainage Systems, which still makes drainage tile, but using plastic, she said.
A 1935 San-A-Pure horse-drawn wagon has attracted a lot of attention from visitors. “It really seems to hold a lot of memories for people in Findlay because so many people remember having milk delivered,” Sisser said.
An 8-foot-by-12-foot timber-framed barn with hand-hewn posts and pegs teaches visitors about the lost art of timber framing. The barn was crafted in 2003 by Paul Knoebel, a member of the statewide organization Friends of Ohio Barns. Since then it has been raised over 160 times throughout Ohio, she said.
“Paul decided to retire, and the barn now has a semi-permanent home here,” said Sisser. “It’s really special, so we feel privileged to have that exhibit here at our museum.”
She expects the barn to be raised again this June when the museum sponsors farm camp for children ages 7-12. Participants will visit several Hancock County farms, learn the science behind soil and water, plan and tend a garden, discover and taste the basics of farm-to-table cooking and meet farm animals.
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