By Pamela Whitney Gray
The pagoda-style barn in Deshler, Ohio, had a grand beginning but a very sad ending. George Hyslop (-1843) and his heirs received a land patent in 1845 for the 150 acres that came to be called West View Farm. Two generations later, grandson George L. Hyslop, purchased the land from surviving relatives. He was a dreamer, thinker and inventor. He designed and built the barn, destined to become known as the pagoda or Chinese barn, in 1910 at a cost of $11,500.
His design was highly unusual, labor-saving in its efficiency, and he pronounced it “the best barn in the land.” Timber was harvested from the farm’s woodlot, and neighbors witnessed the milling of boards four feet in width with nary a knot. Hyslop put his own finishing touch on the barn by carving the rafter-tails by hand. He had it finished off by painting it red with white trim.
The gigantic five-story barn, 90 feet by 92 feet at the foundation and 75 feet tall, with four center silos, was designed to house animals and store machinery, grain, hay and ensilage. Over 8,200 square feet on the ground floor held livestock pens and stalls. The operation could accommodate 65 to 130 head of cattle, 40 to 190 head of hogs, 14 horses and crates for 600 chickens.
The second floor housed the granary. Gravity was used to deliver feed by small chutes directly to each stall. The earthen ramp on the rear of the barn provided entry to the second story for machinery. The third and fourth floors were hay storage. An elaborate system of hay tracks ringed the center silos and branched out into spur tracks to service the four dormers. When it was feeding-time the hay was delivered directly to the mangers by a system of trap doors.
FLOOR PLAN: These blueprints show the layout of the barn.
It was a hefty climb to the cupola, 75 feet up, but oh, what a view of the surrounding countryside and towns of Deshler, Holgate, and Hamler. The cupola was the distribution center for filling the silos. A chute could be rotated to fill any silo without stopping to reset equipment. The cupola also served as part of the natural air-conditioning. When the doors in the basement were open, air would circulate up the four ventilation chutes in the four outside corners of the silo area and out through the cupola.
All four of the hemlock silos in the center of the structure were 14 feet in diameter and 44 feet high, with a capacity for 160 tons each. The hay track was also used by a silage car to drop feed to the basement. After years of neglect, the silos were removed during the depression in late 1930s and the hemlock was sold. Unfortunately, this also removed support for the massive roof and it eventually collapsed 40 years later in 1984.
During the Depression the barn was in need of painting. Paint was hard to come by so instead motor oil was applied as an alternative to protect the siding. A few years later, the barn was given a proper painting, all white, and remained so until its demise.
The earthen ramp not only served as access to the second floor, but also held a cistern for a water catchment system. Rain water from the massive roof was channeled to the cistern within the ramp. From there it was fed to a central water tank in the barn. A float maintained a constant water level in the central cistern and all individual water troughs throughout the basement. The only glitch was when the float was iced over in the winter.
Hyslop was a forward thinker and proponent of cutting-edge farming practices; he employed no-till farming, a four-year crop rotation and purebred cattle. However, he was a little ahead of his time and many of his ideas did not work out so well. After a few short years he sold off the purebred cattle and the barn was never again used to its full potential. In the end, he was not a very successful farmer. At the time of his death he was in deep debt.
To nominate other mystery barn candidates, contact The Lady Barn Consultant, Pamela Whitney Gray, by calling 740-263-1369, or by emailing her at [email protected].