Barn to be raised again

A barn sitting where a subdivision road will soon be built is generally doomed to demolition, so the disassembling of a two-century-old specimen in Ellicott City wouldn't be astonishing.

Except this barn will be put back together.


Howard County Conservancy preservationists have raised $47,000 to have the unusual oak-and-chestnut structure meticulously taken apart and moved from the future Montjoy subdivision. Conservancy leaders expect to re-erect the barn in the spring on their Woodstock farm, which can never be developed.

That a large chunk of the moving money came from the subdivision's two builders gives hope to local supporters of aged buildings, who have been dismayed by the speed at which Howard County's architectural history has disappeared under new construction.


"It's sort of a modern-day barn raising," said Mary Catherine Cochran, president of Preservation Howard County, which also donated money to the cause.

Glenn James, the timber framer handling the project, has spent the past several weeks carefully inspecting the barn for rot and other damage, labeling "every stick, even every floorboard" so the pieces could be put back together properly.

Yesterday afternoon, he rode a forklift to the top of the steeply pitched roof - about 38 feet up, by his measurement - and began taking the building apart with employee Tom Lechner, a retired policeman turned timber enthusiast.

The work is slow and hot, punctuated by the percussion of metal on metal. Using a rigging ax and nail puller, the pair worked old lead-headed nails out of the rusted tin sheets and then tossed them down, exposing the wood rafters.

"Heads up!" James called, making sure his employee on the ground, William Jameson, wasn't in the line of fire.

James, president of Craftwright Inc. Timber Frames, is pleased with the barn's condition. It contains some rot - but not much. He discovered repairs in places, which were well done and probably a century old themselves.

"Somebody all along has recognized this structure is really special," he said.

James figures the barn will separate into 250 pieces. He'll take them to his storage facility in Westminster, where they will stay until the conservancy is ready to re-create the barn on Mount Pleasant Farm in Woodstock.


He must finish the disassembly by the end of the month because site development work is about to begin on the 76-acre Montjoy, which is among U.S. 29, Route 100 and Route 108.

Eventually, the community will have 466 new houses, townhouses and apartments. Winchester Homes, the developer and one of the builders, is saving the old farm's 19th-century stone house, along with an old log smokehouse and the ruins of an outdoor kitchen.

A few other agricultural buildings, including a newer barn, will not be preserved. But Albert van Overeem, Winchester's development manager, said he is glad the conservancy is moving the old barn to a farm that thousands of schoolchildren visit every year.

"We think it's a great educational tool," he said.

Donna Mennitto, a Howard County Conservancy board member coordinating the project, said preservationists wouldn't have had enough money to move the barn in time if Winchester Homes' corporate parent, Weyerhaeuser Co., and the builder in charge of the apartments, Elm Street Development, hadn't donated "substantial amounts."

The Maryland Historical Trust recently agreed to give $50,000 toward the repairing and rebuilding - which is expected to cost about $130,000 - but that grant cannot be used to take the structure apart and off the site.


Mennitto is delighted that a symbol of Howard's agricultural past will live on.

"They're rarely preserved like this," she said. "People tend to preserve the houses. ... What's so interesting about barns is they're so purely functional, so it makes you think about how they were used. These were monuments to work."

Kenneth M. Short, an architectural historian studying the Montjoy barn, believes it was built circa 1815, though it could date to the 1700s.

He has never seen anything like it.

Most aged examples in the region are in the Pennsylvania German-style, two stories tall with a cantilevered four-bay and a ramp for moving livestock. The Montjoy structure is similar to an English barn - no cantilevered four-bay, no ramp - which would be unusual enough. But English barns have one story. This has two. Short found other unusual touches throughout.

"It's extremely intriguing," he said. "You just spend time running through the possibilities of why they did this."


James, who appreciates its ancient style of timber framing, thinks people do an injustice when they bulldoze old buildings and destroy the vintage lumber. He is glad to help give Montjoy's two-century-old barn a chance to stand for another 200 years.

"It's the ultimate recycling act," he said.

For the record

A headline and a photo caption in yesterday's editions of The Sun incorrectly stated the location of a Howard County barn that will be dismantled, moved and rebuilt. The barn is in Ellicott City. The Sun regrets the error.