A Story about Building a Barn
Old farms come with old stories. They're hidden in walls and buried beneath the dirt. They're filtered through generations and are sometimes better left forgotten. But, they leave their mark and become history.
Photo above: ghf taken in 1920 by the old alley in Sharpsburg looking north
Growing up on a farm was a little different. There are no friends with bicycles right next door. Playing outside usually involved solitude where creativity can run wild. My best friend for 3 summers was a rooster named, "Baby." Some of my favorite memories involve endless afternoons carrying around that chicken. Baby is buried here and so is my first dog. I know every cracked floor board in the farmhouse and every inch of these 24+/- acres. Its barns and buildings hold the memories of my childhood. Calling it "home" does not quite emulate my sentiment for this place, but I can't think of a better word.
The aerial photo below was taken some time around 1945. Back then times were simple and so was the farm. It was a homestead where a garden is more important than a front yard. The hog pen was close to the back door making it easy to drop off that evening's slop and the fence lines were barren as every stick meant heat in the fire. And, those draft horses earned their keep.
Over a cup of coffee a few years ago local native, Jim McCoy told me a story about how he used to walk up the hill to borrow the plow horse. He'd ride it back to Poffenberger's farm to dig up potatoes each fall. The horse was so familiar with the route that he'd walk himself home after the job was done. That story got me thinking about how simple and community-oriented those times were and how distant they seem. Shared crops? Shared plow horse? Shared land?
A lot has changed around the farm since then but the bones are the same.
The picture below was taken a few years ago.
The outhouse still stands outback, rickety and weathered ...a testament that life may not have been complicated, but it certainly wasn't easy.
This farm is my family home now but it has been home to many before and will be home to many after.
Preserving it's future, to me, is just as important as it's past.
With so much needing to be done, we needed a niche... a way to keep this farm producing with an income to maintain it.
Built in 1986 and considered to be "new" by all Sharpsburg standards, the stone wall looks like it's been here for a hundred years. Dad sure made good use of those rock piles.
Though life is much faster now, time seems to stand still here on this tiny hill overlooking south county. Much like a capsule, these old bones have been preserved well and they have a story to tell... a story people seem to really enjoy listening to.
The nostalgia of the homestead and its history is real. Welcoming guests to the farm became our niche in 2010. Starting small, our event venue quickly grew and we were ready to spread our wings just a few years later. We needed a new, county-approved "commercially-up-to-code structure" in which to fly to, but what modern structure could blend with an 1800's house and outbuildings? That's when we turned to timber framing: an old-fashioned method of building where the wood is joined through mortise and tenon construction.
Like dad's stone wall, new doesn't have to look out of place.
Our dream started simply, but it certainly was NOT easy.
Two long years of sketching, planning, financing, worrying and hoping later, our dream was delivered and dropped in the field early November 2016. The massive bundles of white oak logs were too heavy to
lift and too daunting to fathom. Uncertain and overwhelmed, we began.
From our borrowed plow horse (left) to the neighborhood master timber-framer (below) and everything in between, our stars magically aligned that winter of 2016-2017.
We had 6 months to complete the barn before our first wedding in May.
Al brought along his good buddy from Berkeley Springs, Bruce. (below)
They are both members of the Timber Framers Guild, a non-profit organization dedicated to the legacy of the art of timber framing. Both guys brought the tools and the talent and for months they measured and cut and chiseled. We had no choice really but to have faith that their math, their cuts and our vision would manifest by raising day... whenever that happened.
(pictured below: Bruce uses a "mortiser" which is a very large plunge router used to cut precise holes into the posts and beams of the barn to host future support braces.)
By late January our giant bundles of logs morphed into a massive jig-saw puzzle. Each piece is numbered, sanded, oiled and ready. Countdown to just 4 months until our 1st wedding!
I remember the day I drove up the farm lane and saw THIS! (below) It was the day my hopes became faith in Al and Bruce. A wall was complete! Everything fit! And, it looked absolutely like the work of art we envisioned.
Hallelujah **songbirds and angels and rainbows and all that**!!
After the walls were finished and test-fit to all connecting beams, it was ready for raising (3 months after the drop). The crane was ordered and walls were positioned. We prayed for decent February weather and invited our community to come and watch the spectacle.
It was cold that morning. Al brought a few guild members to assist with the raising. They were pros and skilled and the build began.
It moved fast!
The order was complex. The crane driver needed communication. Timing was imperative. Logs needed strapped. The fittings were tight and the loads were heavy, everything needed positioned and nearly a hundred pegs had to be driven into the frame.
The build was massive and overwhelming.
Our community full of onlookers may not have ever built a timber frame barn, but they understood the simplicity of it and they didn't hesitate to jump right in.
A gallery of photos below shows just a fraction of the build.
Two years later, it's still astounding and inspiring to think about how many friends and neighbors joined in on the raising.
The skeleton frame was completed on February 27th.
"3 months of foreplay for a 2 day erection" was the joke of the day.
Exhausted and stressed, but with no time for rest,
we were just two months away from our first event!
The siding was stained, installed, the ceiling was sheeted with pine and the roofing was cut and screwed down. The windows were salvaged and restored. Every inch of that barn had our hands on it. The finishing touches turned out to be just as consuming both financially and physically as the framing. We lived with constant anxiety about our money and time constraints, but had no choice other than to keep pushing.
When it was finally completed, it was time to begin focusing on Spring events... Without having an opportunity to let it all sink in, there were quite a few times that I remember waking up and being unsure if it was all real or not! Now, each day is a beautiful reminder of all our efforts and how a community came together for such a giant undertaking. When we could no longer hide that we were in over our heads, that's precisely when hands reached out and I'll never forget it.
For generations to come this farm will have a means to productivity which will, in turn, create self preservation. How awesome is that!?
"Grateful" doesn't quite emulate my sentiment about this, but I cannot think of a better word.
This farm's history is still being written. It's about hard work, family, a small town, neighbors and friends that feel like family and all of us that continue the tradition of community. It's about Linda Churchey's smile when she talks about the updates we share and her time as a child here on the farm. It's about neighbors sharing laughs and reminding me what a good man my dad was. It's about building on top of good bones and keeping those simpler times a little closer to us all.
Old memories pass through like dear friends
(Sharing a cup of coffee on a Saturday morning at Pete's Tavern)
pictured above: me - full-time mom, wife and flower farmer, part-time party girl and chicken lover extraordinaire, Arthur Ahalt -Vietnam veteran/master bass hunter/married to Linda Churchey and our good buddy, Larry -Vietnam veteran/jokester/cigar smoker/front porch sitter, Jim McCoy -story teller/CPA guru guy/IRS secret letter outer/grew up knowing everybody who lived at the farm and Don -gardener/storyteller/heirloom tomato eater/old house lover and good friend of my dad.