The 1888 Jacob Rohr barn raising was a major event for the Rohr family and more than 200 neighbors and friends. They assembled on the Ohio Route 241 site in Jackson Township where Shady Hollow Country Club is today. While the men worked on the structure, the women, according to the late Albert Hise, former Massillon Museum curator, provided 110 beef roasts, five hams, 100 loaves of bread, and 100 pies.
Photographer Theodore C. Teeple, who operated The Trio Galleries in Massillon, Wooster, and Ashland, is believed to have photographed the event, creating an image that would be seen internationally eighty years later. He recorded the event on a glass plate negative measuring 8.5 by 6.5 inches. (It is possible that Massillon photographer Louis Volkmor, who did much of Teeple’s work outside Wooster, actually photographed the barn raising.)
Glass plate negatives, sometimes called the wet plate negatives, were created by the collodion process. They were prevalent from 1851 until about 1900. It was the first widely employed photographic process using a negative image on a transparent photographic medium. The previously popular daguerreotype produced a one-of-a-kind positive image on metal that could not be replicated easily. Employing the collodion process, a photographer could create an unlimited number of prints, typically on
albumen-coated paper, from each negative.
The barn raising plate was stored with many significant glass negatives in the Yost Building at 46 Erie Street South in downtown Massillon. In 1957, as the third floor of that building burned, firefighter Walt Shafrath recognized their historic value and rescued the plates that have become part of the Massillon Museum’s permanent collection.
The photograph first appeared publicly in the 1968 American Heritage coffee table book, American Album, as a double-page spread. Seven years later the publisher used it in another large format volume, Hometown U.S.A. The Museum immediately received requests from around the world to reproduce the barn raising photograph. It has appeared in history, business, sociology, psychology, geography, and architecture texts. The national United Way organization printed the image on the cover of its 1981 annual report. When the Ohio Historical Society used it the same year on a fund-raising booklet, they provided the Museum with a copy negative, which eliminated most of the disfiguring blemishes and allowed the original glass plate to remain safely in storage.
Murals of the photograph have hung in the headquarters of the U.S. Postal Service and in Wolf Trap Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., as well as in a number of U.S. embassies. The American Film Institute used the image for a 1973 government-funded film, The Far West. President Reagan’s special task force on volunteerism used it—and asked the Museum to volunteer the print free of charge for their cause. America the Beautiful, a non-profit corporation assisting communities with environmental improvement, published a large Rediscover America poster featuring the barn raising. Reader’s Digest featured the photograph in their advertising campaign for a set of presentation pages to accompany the volunteerism commemorative postage stamp.
One of the most innovative applications of the image was the brainchild of Sunkist Orange Growers, who used the scene as the pattern for their 1982 Rose Bowl Parade float. Men waved carpentry tools and a hat from the top beam while Miss Arizona and Miss California rode below.
The Massillon Museum introduced the barn raising locally on the cover of its 1980 membership brochure. Whatever the use of the Rohr barn raising photograph, it always illustrates the spirit of sharing, helping, working together, or volunteering.