Collection of the Massillon Museum
The Jacob Rohr Barn Raising 1888 The story of The New Barn is inspired by this photograph of my family raising a barn in rural Ohio. Two hundred family, friends and neighbors came together in the summer of 1888 to build the structure, and a photographer from Theodore C. Teeple’s Trio Gallery was there to capture the moment. It is very likely that this event would’ve gone unremembered otherwise. Though special, barn raisings were not uncommon events. Every farm needed a barn. The Rohr family built another barn nearby the following year. Everyone in the photograph has died. Even the barn is gone, having long since ceded its ground to a golf course.
It’s possible the Rohr family may not even have seen this photograph. Teeple had recently opened a new gallery in the area and the photographer may have been there to promote the studio more than make the image. The glass negative was one of many to be tucked away in the studio’s attic and forgotten. Then in the 1950s, a fire led Walter Schafrath, another relative, to discover the negatives and save them. The negatives were donated to the local museum. A decade later, American Heritage decided to publish a coffee table book on 19th Century America and scoured the country for images. They not only chose this image but made it the centerpiece of their marketing campaign. It was subsequently reproduced in textbooks, United Way used it to promote volunteerism, and Sunkist credited it as the inspiration for their 1980 Rose Bowl parade float. So what makes the moment captured in this photograph special? I believe it is the celebratory nature of the image. Think of pictures from the dawn of photography. The subjects often look serious. Exposures were slow and people were instructed not to move. You can see that attitude in the crowd gathered at the base of this photograph. But the men on the barn frame are different. They are playful. They have their hands in the air. They are in the moment.