STRONGSVILLE –The size of the Roe Chapman Barn renovation project at the Strongsville Historical Village was not terribly impressive. The scope, however, is immense.
The 20-by-30-foot structure was restored during a three-month process to house a new historic farming exhibit in a 13-by-20-foot space.
A ribbon cutting took place Aug. 2 to officially open the exhibit and commemorate the work that made the project possible.
Children will be able to learn about the farming history of Strongsville, along with adults, for decades to come thanks to the renovation and restoration of the Roe Chapman Barn.
The Strongsville Historical Society was founded in the fall of 1962 when 20 residents met at the home of Howard and Velda Chapman. The Chapman barn was one of two original structures at the historical village site. The other six were moved from other areas of town.
The inside of the structure was once filled with farming tools from floor to ceiling, according to Ward 4 Councilman Scott Maloney, who is also a historical society trustee.
Maloney chaired the committee responsible for organizing the items and performed the electrical work in the display area.
What is currently displayed is a fraction of what was housed in the barn prior to the renovation. The first question Maloney asked had to do with educating residents.
“What do we know that would be great for a display to teach people about farming a century ago?” the councilman asked. “Some of the items were non-essential for farming or not historically significant. Some were not tied to the history of Strongsville so we got those things out of the way.”
The next step was to answer the question of how many items could fit comfortably in a 13-by-20 room. There is a legend on display with corresponding numbers so visitors can determine any given item.
There are enough farming tools to fill a term paper. One such item, a seed fiddle used to spread the items over a large area via a spinning wheel, was not complete when found.
“The seed fiddle had been broken into five pieces and was scattered all over the place,” Maloney said. “I was looking through books and found a picture. I sifted through the garbage and found the pieces. We got it all put back together. I think that’s one of the neatest pieces we have.”
There is also a display featuring the Maatz Dairy Farm, one of the last in the city. The farm had 125 acres and 40 head of cattle at its peak of operation. The barn and farmhouse still stand today at 21703 Albion Road.
There is an electric milking machine, strainer and milk can among the associated items on display.
Renovation and restoration
What the Roe Chapman Barn went through was a unique bit of engineering that restored the edifice as close as possible to its original state.
The structure was built around 1909 as a carriage barn, housing one horse and a number of tools. One of two original structures at the site, the barn had fallen into disrepair.
The first phase of the project involved reinforcing the building with temporary supports, raising the barn off its original foundation and excavating to install new footers, foundation and concrete floor.
The second phase involved replacing the decayed structural wood, siding, doors, windows and roof, and reattaching the barn to its new foundation.
The third phase of restoration involved all of the finish work on the inside and outside, re-activating the electrical and properly grading the land around the barn.
John Schlabach and his son, Todd, were general contractors on the project. There were special considerations for a building of its age and significance.
“The foundation had deteriorated from the frost and freezing in the winter. That brought the building down and it sunk into the ground where it was a lot lower than when it was originally built,” John Schlabach said.
The building was tied together and raised, and the existing foundation was removed. The Schlabachs dug below the frost line (42 inches) and a new foundation was built.
“The building was leaning and not level. The first thing we had to do was figure out where it needed to be sitting,” Todd Schlabach said. “We put braces throughout the building and only lifted one side at a time. We let the other side sit on the ground because there wasn’t much left … We do a lot of historical buildings. Every chance we get to save a building is our favorite work. We tried to keep the integrity of the building.”
Keeping the integrity included leaving some of the siding on the inside and having the exterior Dutch lap siding, which creates a feeling of depth, milled to match the original.
Preserving the past,
looking to the future
There were a number of speakers at the ribbon cutting. Strongsville Historical Society President Ruth Brickley; Strongsville United Methodist Church Pastor David Scavuzzo; Council President Michael Daymut; Ruby Gormsen, who knew the Chapmans; and Maloney all spoke.
Brickley stated that she and other members struggled with the terms restoration and renovation.
“We have made changes to bring it back to where it was and to bring it up to speed where it needs to be,” she said. “This is something that doesn’t happen very often and may not happen again here. Most of our buildings are in pretty good repair and won’t have to go through what this building did.”
Gormsen took care of the Chapmans, who passed away in the late 1980s. She knew them well and spoke at the Aug. 2 ribbon cutting.
“If the Chapmans were here today Howard would step forward and say, ‘Oh, this hall looks grand, just grand,’” Gormsen said.
Daymut, who also represents Ward 1 where the historical village lies, spoke about the significance of preserving history.
“In order to move forward you have to know where you came from,” he said. “I have to thank all the past members of the historical society and all they have done. Thank you for giving us a heritage.”
“What’s really powerful is when people can take the past, anchor the past and use that as a launching place so we can remember where we came from,” said Scavuzzo. “It’s good that we move forward, but it’s hard to do that if we don’t have moorings and roots. You have all given us that and we are grateful.”
Charlotte Schneider has been a historical society member for more than 20 years and gives tours.
“It’s great that there’s a floor. This is very nice,” she said.
Brickley thanked a number of individuals who had a hand in making the project a reality. Those recognized were Marty Shaw, Dennis Franz, Sylvia Pakish, the Schlabachs, Maloney and those who cleaned the barn and researched items.