A century-old barn in southeastern Ohio that once provided milk for a state asylum has traded in cows for quilts and crafts.

Coffeen peggy
Coffeen was a former editor and podcast host with Progressive Dairy. 

The Dairy Barn Arts Center in Athens, Ohio, has a unique history, first as a working dairy farm and today as a mecca for fine arts. From 1914 into the 1960s, a herd of 80 highly prized Holsteins occupied the bottom quarters of the two-story barn.

Original dairy barn and facilities were consturccted in 1914

Though the purpose of the dairy farm was to supply one glass of milk each day for the hospital’s 1,300 patients and employees, it quickly became an epicenter for dairy industry advancement. Under the direction of herdsman Homer Gall Sr., the farm bred Athen’s Lotta Faye Korndyke, a record-setting cow that produced 31,501 pounds of milk in 1931. Gall also led efforts in testing for tuberculosis and vaccinating against brucellosis.

In the late 1970s, the barn and other unused buildings on the hospital’s property were scheduled to be torn down, but the local Hocking Valley Arts Council created a task force to preserve it with just nine days to spare. The council received state grant funding to transform the barn into a non-profit center for the arts and, in 1978, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1979, it hosted its first full-scale arts exhibition, and the list has only grown from there.

2017 addition to the barn

“I think it’s beautiful that artists in the area had the vision to create a gallery in the cow barn, but there’s still a historic element intact,” Julie Weller, the barn’s events and outreach manager, says.


Today, Weller says the Dairy Barn Arts Center serves as a hub for exhibitions, educational programs and events related to fine arts and crafts. From ceramics to fiber arts, the barn hosts classes and workshops year-round and draws more than 15,000 visitors annually.

A patio was added in 2017

One of the signature events is Quilt National, a biennial international display of contemporary quilts.

On the outside, the barn’s ornate Georgian Revival architecture has been preserved; inside, a few remnants remind visitors of its heritage. Original wooden poles and beams that support the structure are still in place, Weller notes.

Fiber arts classes are taught at the barn

Hay chutes are seen throughout the barn, and a large concrete platform covers up the former manure reception area. Two silos even have staircases inside.

The former hay mow is now a rental space for parties and events, while the stalls below were removed to create a 6,500-square-foot gallery space.

Barns' upper level is rented out for wedding and events

The most recent renovation phase was completed last year, Weller says. Leaving the historical front of the barn intact, an addition on the back included a community room, welcome lobby, gallery shop, catering kitchen, concrete patio and fiber arts studio.

You can find unique handmade crafts in the gallery shop

The new amenities have turned the Dairy Barn Arts Center into a popular venue for weddings, fundraisers and corporate events, keeping it occupied throughout the week and peaking from the months of April to November.

Barn's lower level serves as the art gallery

The barn located at 8000 Dairy Lane is rich in history, and its future looks just as promising.  end mark

PHOTO 1: Dairy Barn Arts Center

PHOTO 2: The original dairy barn and facilities were constructedin 1914 to supply milk for the Athens Asylum for the Insane, later the Athens State Hospital. 

PHOTO 3: The 2017 addition to the barn added on several rooms, including a welcome lobby, gallery shop and community room. 

PHOTO 4: A patio was added in 2017.

PHOTO 5: Fiber arts classes are taught at the barn.

PHOTO 6: The barn’s upper level is rented out for weddings and events.

PHOTO 7: Visitors can find unique handmade crafts in the gallery shop.

PHOTO 8: The barn’s lower level serves as the art gallery. Photos courtesy of Dairy Barn Arts Center.

To learn more about the Dairy Barn Arts Center, watch this video: The Dairy barn arts center

Peggy Coffeen