Monday, January 14, 2002

Barn saved for history will make history

Colerain Twp. home will be part of Ohio bicentennial

        The yearlong search for Hamilton County's representative to the Ohio Bicentennial Barn Project is over. It ended in Colerain Township at Bernie Fiedeldey's 102-year-old barn with the green roof and sandy-colored stone foundation.

        This was meant to be.

        Bernie saved that barn.

Bernie Fiedeldey's barn in Colerain Township will be painted with the Ohio bicentennial logo.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
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        “When I bought the place in 1995,” he said as he stood at his kitchen window and admired his barn, “I thought I'd keep it as a piece of local history.”

        Little did he know the barn would wind up making history in 2002. On May 1 and 2, one side of the black-walnut stained wooden barn will be painted with the red, white and blue logo of Ohio's bicentennial.

        Bernie's landmark-in-waiting will be the 72nd barn in the state to wear the symbol and the only one in Hamilton County. Eventually all of Ohio's 88 counties will have a bicentennial barn.

        Finding the right barn in Hamilton County was tough. The county is mostly urban. Roadside wooden barns in good repair are hard to find.

        Last February, when I wrote a column about the bicentennial project's fruitless search for such a structure, only 17 Hamilton County barns had been nominated. None made the grade.

        After the column appeared, 25 more nominations were submitted. That number included Bernie's barn.

        “The barn's setting is perfect,” explained Cindy Schillaci. As the bicentennial commission's southwest regional coordinator, she picked the barn for the logo painting project.

        Bernie's place sits above a manicured, tree-lined ravine. On one side, the Great Miami River can be seen flowing in the distance. On another, cars and trucks negotiate the bends on nearby East Miami River Road.

        “It's a great road for a Sunday drive,” Cindy said. “As you approach it in your car, the barn looks tremendous.”

        Bernie thinks so, too.

        “It's got that New England look to it,” he said.

        He pictures Vermont when he looks out his kitchen window and gazes at “the trees casting shadows on the stone wall in the hillside and the dark barn on top of its stone foundation.”

        When Bernie bought 24 acres of the old Bachman family farm in 1995, the barn was showing its age. The roof had been leaking for so long, two-thirds of the floor had collapsed into the basement. Every plank of weathered siding was loose.

        Bernie could have easily afforded to wreck the old thing and put up a strong steel barn. He's in the structural steel business.

        “My company,” he said, “puts up big erector sets all over Greater Cincinnati.”

        Instead, he decided to save the barn.

        “There was something special about it,” he said. “The foundation and the frame were still solid.”

        It would have been a sin to wreck them, he thought.

        “Besides, I wanted to preserve a little bit of the township's character.”

        He saw the barn as a reminder that Colerain Township is more than the urban sprawl of Colerain Avenue. Farms and barns and fields still exist.

        Bernie serves as one of the township's three trustees. He just got elected in November and sworn in Jan. 1. He wants everyone to know “the barn was nominated before I was elected and picked before I was sworn in. I didn't throw any weight around to get this honor.”

        Bernie started bringing the barn back to life with a new roof and floor. He wired the place with electric lights and overhead fans.

        With his wife, five children and six grandchildren, he holds barn dances where bales of hay once were stored for the milk cows that lived in the basement.

        The barn's wood siding — now firmly nailed down — is held together by the original oak framework. Thick wooden columns, made smooth by axes and elbow grease, support rafters and beams of century-old wood. The remaining original floor joists were cut from the straight trunks of ash trees, sawed in half and then pegged in place still wearing their armor of rough, ribbed bark.

        “I put a lot of money into this barn,” Bernie said as he pointed out the date, “1900,” scratched into the foundation. “I won't tell you how much. But I could have put up a steel barn for a whole lot less.”

        He smiled and rubbed his hand over his face.

        “But then what would I have? A new steel barn. With no character. No history.

        “Now, I've got something I look at every day and enjoy. I've had some people come by and make paintings of this place.

        “I'm just tickled someone else has recognized how neat it is.”

        He realizes that in the coming months, visitors will stop by his barn.

        “I just hope I'm lucky and they're all good people,” he said.

        They'll be the lucky ones if they run into Bernie. He's the guy who was meant to save Hamilton County's barn for the bicentennial.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at; 768-8379; fax 768-8340. Past columns at


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