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Message in a bottle: Billy Pike finds history in an old barn
As Billy Pike of Shiloh Road near Fairview was tearing down an old barn on his property last month, he came across a bottle that had been tucked in the wall when the barn was built nearly 100 years ago. Here, Billy and his wife, Tanya, show the letter that was inside the bottle, telling the history of the structure.
As Billy Pike of Shiloh Road near Fairview was tearing down an old barn on his property last month, he came across a bottle that had been tucked in the wall when the barn was built nearly 100 years ago. Here, Billy and his wife, Tanya, show the letter that was inside the bottle, telling the history of the structure.

It was late May of 1916 - 98 years ago.

Andrew Downey and his friend, Alvin Althoff, were in the midst of constructing a barn on Andrew's farm on Shiloh Road; and Andrew decided he'd put a bit of history in his brand new barn.

So, putting pencil to paper, Andrew Downey wrote about the day he began building the barn, and the circumstances surrounding why he had to build the barn in the first place.


Andrew P. Downey. Age 45 years, Vevay, Indiana. May 24th, 1916.

Alvin Althoff and I built this barn the Spring of this date. The old barn that blew down that we rebuilt was built by Father Clark Downey 31 years ago. Father is 69 years. Father sold this place to Uncle William Dennis, and then he sold it to his son, John, and he sold it to his sister, Flora Conaway; and they traided (sic) with Mrs. Dibber, who now owns the place which I am building for.


For the past couple of years, Billy Pike has been patching together the old barn on his farm on Shiloh Road.

The termites had done quite a bit of damage over the decades, and after patching the walls and doors, he knew earlier this year that it was probably time to bring the old barn down and make room for a new one.

The barn had seen a lot of use for the Pike family over the years. Under former owners it used to be a dairy barn; and Billy and Tanya Pike's son, Will, has been using the barn over the years to work with his 4-H beef projects.

A couple of weeks ago, Billy enlisted Darren Romans to bring over his equipment and begin to take the barn down.

"The old barn had hand-hewn beams, those big long timbers," Billy Pike said. "I'd been patching it for years, putting posts under it, but it got to the point where it was really unsafe, so I decided to tear it down.

As Darren Romans pushed the old barn over with his trackhoe on Tuesday, August 19th, Billy Pike noticed a bottle lying a few feet from where he had pulled a water hydrant out of the ground to keep it from being damaged in the demolition.

"I found it in the rubble laying on the ground right beside of it," Billy Pike said. "I'm thinking it had to be on the inside of one of those hand-hewn beams. Someone must have put it in the bottle and then put the siding on the outside of it.


Last fall, 1915, I built Charley Dibber's barn. The tornado passed through here July 7th, 1915. It blew down in my old neighborhood six barns in five miles, Harve Morrison, Joe Goodner, Charley Cutter, Alvin Works, Mrs. Dibber, and Grand Fathers old barn, which was built by David Conaway for his 45 years ago.

Charley's house was built by John Gather of Fairview for Father in the fall of 1882. I built the new veranda on the house in 1912 for Charley Dibber.


"I had the barn painted a few years ago, and it had a strip of paint on the bottle," Billy Pike said. "When they painted the barn, it must have been exposed enough to get a little bit of paint on it. It had an old cork in it, but the cork all disintegrated when we took it out of the bottle."

What Billy Pike had found was a small clear glass bottle. The bottle had housed and protected, for over 98 years, the letter and historical record that Andrew Downey had carefully placed in the barn as it was constructed.

Surprised and amazed at his discovery, Billy and Tanya decided to wait until all three of their children could be with them before they opened the bottle, and that came this past Sunday.

"The reason the paper is kind of pinched there in the center is because I had to take a pair of needle nosed pliers way up in the bottle to get the letters out," Billy Pike said. "I kept the bottle. I really didn't want to break it, but I almost decided to break it when they finally came out. The best I can figure is that it's been in there for 98 years."

Some of the names found in the letters are familiar to the Pikes because many of the surnames can still be found in that area of Switzerland County.

"I bought the farm off of Kenny Clements in 1992, and Kenny said his wife's parents owned it, and they were Ketenbrinks," Billy Pike said. "The letter doesn't mention any of them, so it was before their time being here. The original house that's here on the farm, if I understand it right, it was built in 1882."

So what Billy Pike found was more than a novelty, it is truly a piece of history.

"It's a piece of history," Billy Pike said. "I was pretty amazed. I asked Kenny and the guy who used to live here and the neighbors, because I was curious about how old the house was, but nobody really knew, so that was good to find because I know who used to own it and who built it and what year."

And, as he begins to built his new barn, he'll do it on the original foundation of the old barn, because it's still strong.

And the letter and bottle - what are his plans for it?

"I don't know," he said. "We thought about putting it in a little case or something and put it here in the house. We hope people will want to see it and can tell us about the people listed in the letter."

And, as the new barn goes up, will Billy Pike continue the tradition? Will he find a bottle and write a letter of his own, telling someone in a future generation who has decided it's time for his old barn to come down about the day it was built back in 2014.

"I'll probably do something like that," Billy Pike smiled. "I'll probably put a copy of this old letter in there, too, so someday someone can get the whole story."

Along with his writings about the construction of the barn, Andrew Downey also took the time to include a short biography of his life.


I was born November 12th, 1870 in the old house where Charley Dibber lives. At 12 years, Father built the new house and at 16 years old, we sold out to Uncle Will Dennis and moved over on the old Tom Adams farm, ?-mile north of Fairview.

At 22 years, I married Alma Resor of Vevay and we builded up on the north side of the farm and lived their till we moved to Vevay in 1905. I commenced my trade for the publick (sic) in the year.

I am so thankful for a good Christian mother though she died when I was 22 years old her Christian teaching still helps me to live better and I need it better now than I did when she was alive - that means her prayers are being answered.


Then, Andrew Downey speaks to the person who will someday find his message:

Now, who you may be that will find this, I have no idea, but I hope that the love that Christ had for us when He was on the earth, in whom has helped me to place my feet on that solid foundation. And now I have a longing to help others to find our Saviour, but first you must seek Him and then He will send someone to help you; as He did Cornelious (sic) in Acts 10 Chapter; Acts 8 Chapter, 26 to 40 verse.

And also me, when I got to the place where I was ready to make a full surrender and not till then could He get to make me whole. I am very sorry that I lived 15 years in the Church at Olive Branch and was not a Christian. I joined at 16 years old. But thanks be to God, I have a promise from Christ's own words that He will keep me Glora. St. John 10 Chapter, 27, 28, 29 verses.

I know that I am saved. For I have fully excepted (sic) the Christ. Meet me there, oh meet me there, oh meet with me there.

- Pat Lanman

Reader Comments

Posted: Monday, September 8, 2014
Article comment by: Fred Slack

That Letter is priceless! I t came for a period in time when the true belief of the agriculture community felt " The barn is what built the house, not he other way around.

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