KINSMAN, Ohio –
For the last few years, a Valley native’s been traveling around Ohio, county by county, preserving the memory of old barns through paintings. His latest trip brought him to Trumbull County.
Robert Kroeger sees more than just a barn, he sees a piece of Ohio history.
“So many people don’t understand what our forefathers went through. The pioneers who built Ohio. For 100 years, Ohio was mostly a farming state,” said Kroeger. “And the barn was the moneymaker. Often the barn was the first thing constructed.”
Six years ago, he was in Licking County and something clicked.
“It was like a thunderbolt right in between my eyes. Something said, you are going to paint this barn and you are going to write about it and keep the history before it falls apart,” said Kroeger.
That’s where his journey through the state first began. Since then he’s hit 24 counties, visiting barns in person to sketch and take some photos before using the impasto technique with thick oil to paint them and preserve the memory forever.
“I like an old barn that’s on its last legs; especially one with a good story,” said Kroeger.
Which is what drew him to one barn in Kinsman, built by Frank Reed back in 1885. In 1898, Reed disappeared and it was a full year before anyone knew what happened.
“A year later in 1899, his wife received a letter from Frank saying he had left with 100,000 others for the gold rush in the Klondike in northern Canada,” said Kroeger.
He told his wife to sell the barn and keep the money, which she did, but his initials are still right there on the slate roof to this day.
“Not only an Ohio gem, this is a national gem. It’s a shame it’s going to come down,” said Kroeger.
Every time he visits a county, he finds a local non-profit then donates a few paintings back to use as fundraisers. For this trip, he’s teamed up with SMARTS in downtown Youngstown.
“Now that I’ve met Bob all I do is look at barns when I’m driving. It’s really pretty crazy. So I’ve always loved barns but now they have a whole different meaning and I think that will be the same thing for our students,” said Becky Keck, the executive director of SMARTS.
So his mission is working; spreading the love for barns throughout the state and making sure the stories behind these 100+-year-old barns live on.