Ellicott City barns get a second chance at life

Two old barns in Historic Ellicott City have been given a second chance at life, albeit in a different form.

Torn down in recent weeks, their wood will be used to build a new, modern home.

The two rusty and somewhat dilapidated red barns had stood on either side of College Avenue for at least a half-century, and probably for much, much longer.

For decades, their grizzled exteriors had spoken to the rural legacy of the rolling, horse-grazed hills just outside of the old mill town, even as that legacy was being drowned out in recent years by the sounds of chain saws and bulldozers, of trees falling and young families moving into new homes and townhomes all around.

The barns had served as an aesthetic nod to a bygone era, one that caught the nostalgic gaze of passersby and new neighbors, and the lens of budding photographers.

"It's a relic of sorts. You know it obviously has a story behind it," said Will Manning, a Johns Hopkins student and amateur photographer from Virginia, of what inspired him to take a striking photograph of a friend in front of one of the barns, an arm curled behind her head and a longing gaze on her face, in November of 2011. "It had a kind of mystery or mysterious air about it that kind of intrigued me."

Such was the draw of the barns. But there was also a drawback.

Because the barns were so weathered and unkempt, they were deemed unfit and unsafe for the large new Taylor Village community rising around them, the second phase of which is currently being constructed on the edges of the Patapsco Valley State Park, across College Avenue from the completed first phase.

As a result, both barns were removed, piece by piece, in the last two months.

Still, their stories don't end there.

Thanks to local restaurateur E. Randolph "Randy" Marriner and his wife, Mary, they will live again, in repurposed form.

'They save everything'

Marriner, who owns Victoria Gastro Pub off Snowden River Parkway in Columbia, has long been a business partner in real estate ventures with Dr. Bruce Taylor, whose family is developing Taylor Village on old farmland they acquired over the decades.

When Marriner heard Taylor, who is the medical director of Sheppard Pratt at Ellicott City psychiatric hospital up the road on College Avenue, was preparing to tear the barns down, he saw the potential for a deal.

Taylor and his family are inclined toward preserving history when they can — Taylor was honored in 2003 by the Ellicott City Business Association for his efforts to rehabilitate properties in the town. As for Marriner, he has experience repurposing old materials for new uses.

"They save everything. They don't want to throw anything away, and they love things to be repurposed," Marriner said of the Taylors. "And they knew I was crazy enough to try and take (the barns) down, piece by piece, board by board."

Taylor said the barns were already on the properties when his family purchased them in the 1960s, but didn't know their history beyond that time.

Marriner just sold his home off Jennings Chapel Road in Woodbine, the home he built in 2006 using old stone foundations found on the property and other stones he extracted from a forgotten mine. The home was made to look old, he said.

When he heard of Taylor's plans for the barns, he was already looking for a new project.

Now, Marriner is planning a new home in Ellicott City that will be built using wood and other materials from the two barns — rekilned, treated and made fresh through a refurbishing process.

"We'll be able to make all sorts of things from it, flooring and stairs and paneling, so it's really quite exciting," Marriner said. "We're working with the architect as we speak."

Worth the effort

The process hasn't been easy.

"All the boards were full of nails, we had to spend a tremendous amount of effort and time and money to make them available for reuse, so there's a lot of work to being green," Marriner said.

Hundreds of thousands of pounds of wood had to be removed from the two barns, according to contractor Daniel Hillman.

But despite all the effort — bringing in cranes to take the barns down, putting all the wood through the refurbishing process — the project has been worth it, Marriner said.

"Even if you have to pay a little more, how wonderful to be able to take these old things and repurpose them rather than just burn them?" Marriner said. "We should be looking to reuse things rather than just throw everything away. We currently just throw away society, which is pretty sad."

Others had similar feelings about Marriner's project.

"It's better to salvage it than to let it fall," said Melinda McKay, who moved to a new townhouse in Taylor Village in 2008, where she could look out over one of the barns and its horse fields from her back deck.

McKay said she will miss the horses, but wouldn't have wanted the barn to attract "teenagers, varmints and raccoons" if it wasn't going to be kept up.

Manning, the photographer, said it was probably time for the barn to go, and was happy to hear of Marriner's plans.

"It was definitely in bad shape," Manning said of the barn. "So it's good that it's being recycled into something, so the spirit of the building is still alive somewhere."

Marriner wouldn't say exactly where in Ellicott City his new home will be. But once it's completed, he said, he might let people take a look.

"We want them to say, 'Wow! Look at those floors! Look at those stairs! This thing must be hundreds of years old!'" he said.

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