Barn Raising

(Condensed from Arch Bristow’s Old Time Tales of Warren County)

               Every barn raised in Warren County in the early days was a community affair. The neighbors gathered together to raise the frame, and there was usually a party when the work was done. The same fine neighborliness applied in the gatherings for apple parings, log rollings, corn huskings and other jobs that were dull labor if done alone, pleasant enough work when performed by groups of neighbors, glad of an excuse to assemble and enjoy the sociability; glad of a chance to talk over what was going on in their little world bounded by the forest skylines, anxious to discuss news happenings that had filtered in from the great world outside.

               The year is 1850 and there is to be a barn raising at Darius Brown's on Still Water Creek. There were eleven teams of oxen at the barn raising and not one horse. Horses were still scarce in Warren County at this time. The yoked steers were unhitched from the wagons and tied to convenient trees. The neighbors began arriving before the dew was off the grass, riding in ox-drawn wagons, walking along the paths that led through dense, fragrant woods. Whole families arrived. One grandmother was transported in her rocking chair in a wagon, her chair extra cushioned to offset the jolting of the springless vehicle. The women brought pans and pails of food with white cloths tied over the top. It was to be a picnic as well as a barn raising.

               The work of the barn raising began. The sides had been put together by a carpenter weeks before. With a heave-ho the heavy timbers went up and stood upright, the big barn rapidly taking shape. The work went smoothly. The carpenter knew his job. When the warm June sun was high overhead at noon, the barn frame was up. Sweating men stood about mopping their brows with red cotton handkerchiefs, or with no handkerchiefs. The big barn was ready. The siding boards, sawed out of good pine with a water-power mill, would be put on later. The barn raising was over, and the large frame stood white and new against the sky. Now for dinner.

               All morning a thin ribbon of blue wood smoke had been curling up from the stone chimney above the kitchen. The thin spiral of smoke that rose out of the chimney came from the wide stone fireplace. Buried in the hot coals of the fire, with handles protruding on the hearth were six large, covered pans. Bread was baking in these heavy, cast iron pans--soft, steamy bread without a crust. Over a fire, hanging from an iron rod rigged across the fireplace especially for the day, hung five fat turkeys, slowly roasting. Iron drip pans were set beneath the birds to catch the juices that came dripping down. As the turkeys roasted they were kept turning slowly with the poke of a fork. Farther back in the fireplace, on a strong iron spit hung a huge piece of pork, roasting and sending off savory odors as it was turned with a crank.

               The fireplace, large as it was, could not accommodate the cooking for the barn raising. Near the house, tended by a half dozen women were two monster kettles of boiling potatoes. Barn raisers had enormous appetites and Darius Brown was not a man to offer his helpers short rations.

               A temporary table, fifty feet long with benches, had been built near the kitchen door. On it were piled the favorite delicacies of the day. For a moment, heads were bowed while a blessing was said; then knives and forks began to clatter, tongues made still more noise, and platters were quickly filled and passed. Women went up and down the long table with large kettles of steaming tea. Few people in that gathering had ever seen or tasted coffee. It was little known in Warren County till ten years later.

               The dinner at Darius Brown’s barn raising was above the average for such occasions. Not every dinner offered turkey and such an array of desserts. Most warren County folk, however, fared well in the matter of food in the years around 1850.  It was three in the afternoon before the last man swung his boots over the bench and left the table.

               A game of Three Old Cats was started among the young men--a game played with a yarn ball. There was only one base. The batter ran to it and tried to get back home before a fielder hit him with the ball. After the game, there was a jumping match of standing broad jumps.

               A mark was scored on the ground, the contestants toed it, and jumped. They jumped with weights. Heavy round stones held in their hands and cast backward to give the jumper more momentum. When the jumping contests were finished, the crowd formed a ring and a wrestling match was held.  It was a rough game without any well defined rules. The contestants were so well matched it was half an hour before a fair fall was the signal for a great shout from the crowd.

               The barn raising ended with the wrestling match. it was high time to be thinking of the chores. The oxen were yoked; those who had come in wagons climbed in for the trip home.


Courtesy of the Warren County Historical Society