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Barn Raising

Dow Corning Corp's land grant
to make 'living history museum' possible

By Sherry Timms
Contributing Writer

VEVAY, Ind. (Sept. 2002) – Once in a great while, a group of dedicated people set out to accomplish something out of the ordinary and end up accomplishing the extraordinary.
On Aug. 13, the Switzerland County Historical Society received the deed to 167 acres of land from Dow Corning Corp. This land was part of the original property sold to the original Swiss settlers by the U.S. government in the early 19th century to engage in the enterprise of wine making.

Dow Corning officials

Martha Bladen (center) with
Dow Corning officials at
theAugust ceremony

This farm was the homestead of Frederick Thiebaud of Vevey, Switzerland. Thiebaud and his family left Switzerland in 1812. They were at sea for three months when the lack of provisions forced them to return to Switzerland.
The Thiebauds traveled to America again in 1817, this time with the Schenck and Van Baren families.
The three families crossed the Allegheny mountains by Conestoga wagon from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh. At Pittsburgh, they boarded a keel boat for the trip down the Ohio River to Vevay, where a cabin had already been built and prepared for them by other early settlers. The three families remained in the cabin for some time. Eventually the other two families moved to their own properties in Vevay and the original homestead remained in the Thiebaud family.
The original cabin still remains as a part of the house that was built in the 1840s. The house contains the original doors with doorknobs and hardware, some of the original wide planked wood floors and most of the original woodwork and fireplace mantles. The barn is still standing, as well as the stone wall and stone outbuilding that was used either for protection from the Indians or as a smokehouse.
Ray Bear who, along with his wife Ginny, owned the farm for almost 50 years.
Stories of cave men, “Injun” fighting and river shenanigans were flying at the ceremony.
“There were cave men in those caves back there thousands of years ago, and that stone building over there is where they used to fight off the Indians,” Ginny Bear said.
Representatives from the Indiana Historical Society, Nature Conservancy, Indiana Historic Landmarks Foundation, Switzerland County Schools, Switzerland County Community Foundation, many members of the Switzerland County Historical Society and officials from Dow Corning watched as Jack Lackner, Dow Corning Carrollton Site Manager, handed the deed to the property to Martha Bladen, president of the Switzerland County Historical Society.
“Dow Corning has always thought of itself as a good neighbor and is active in outreach programs in the community,” Lackner said. “For us, it was a great opportunity to partner with a group of people who were trying to make the community even better.”
A few years ago, Denver Markland, an active member of the historical society, now deceased, convinced the group to purchase one of the five hay press barns still in existence in the county. At one time the county had more than 200 of these barns, but their numbers were dwindling to extinction.
Hay press barns housed a giant machine about three stories high that worked off a pulley wheel tied to oxen. The machine would press loose hay into bales that weighed 300 to 400 pounds to be shipped down river to the farmers in the south. So when a family bought a piece of property to build a new home and pole barn, they put the old hay press barn on the property up for sale. The Switzerland County Historical Society purchased it for $10,000.
Afterward, the society needed to find a place to put it on. The land needed to be on the main road, close to town and have historic significance, according to Bladen.
After brainstorming and driving up and down county roads, Steve Bladen, Martha’s husband, suggested the group look into the old Bear farm (the historic Thiebaud homestead). Martha Bladen contacted Dow Corning, which owned the farm, and explained her dilemma. Officials there agreed to deed over the property, which will now become part of a living history museum.
“It is a dream come true,” Bladen said. “It shows the compatibility of industry in a rural setting.”
The Barn Committee of the Switzerland County Historical Society includes Bladen, Tom and Dianne Barry, Ginny Reeds, Ellyn Kern and Jerry Brown. They attended the deed ceremony, along with Connie Rendfeld of the Indiana Historical Society.

• For more information on the living history museum, call Bladen at (812) 427-3469.

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