On the banks of the Big Blue River, approximately one mile from where it empties into the mighty Ohio River in Leavenworth, Indiana, stood a barn with a 30-foot hay press inside. Zebulon Leavenworth constructed the hay press in 1849 and 1850.
When the hay press was donated to the Crawford County Community Foundation, Cook Group, a global, privately-owned collection of businesses spanning medical devices, life sciences, business services, property management, and resorts, got involved and contacted Pritchett Bros, a Bloomington contracting company, to move the hay press to the O’Bannon Woods State Park in the Harrison-Crawford State Forest with the help of the Department of Natural Resources in 2000. Judy O’Bannon, wife of the former Indiana Governor Frank O’Bannon, was a big supporter of the project.
The hay press was built primarily of wood and heavy timbers, including a massive iron jackscrew in the lower level. It is believed that local blacksmiths made the hinges, latches, and bolts, while the jackscrew likely came from a large foundry.
To operate the hay press, loose hay would be packed into the top and partly compressed by levers and weights. Then, the jackscrew below the floor would be turned to provide the final pressure. Wooden slats and strips of hickory bark were used to tie up the finished bale.
The bales were believed to have weighed between 800 – 1000 pounds; however, early records indicate two types of bales weighing between 280 – 400 pounds. The size of the compartment which held the bales in the Leavenworth hay press shows that the completed bale contained about 26 cubic feet of hay. The compressed hay, therefore, would have weighed 12.6 pounds per cubic foot.
For comparison, a modern rectangular hay bale contains 10.5 cubic feet and weighs about 5.5 pounds per cubic foot. The Leavenworth hay press produced much larger bales that were much more tightly packed.
To move the mammoth-size bales to the boat for transportation, the barn was built in a level field atop a steep bluff near the foot of the river. A chute ran directly from the barn down to the riverbank. It was reported that bales of hay were positioned in the boat to act as buffers when the massive bales shot down the chute.
There were clear traces of a large door at the end of the barn overlooking the bluff but no traces of a chute. It may have been swept away by the 1937 floods, which forced the evacuation and relocation of the nearby town of Leavenworth.
O’Bannon Woods State Park (formerly Wyandotte Woods State Recreation Area) lies in the state’s central and extreme southern part, bordering the Ohio River. It is nestled inside 2,400-acre Harrison Crawford State Forest, but is managed separately, along with Wyandotte Caves State Recreation Area.