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Pennsylvania Dutch Bank Barn Preservation

Updated: Dec 27, 2022

The farmette came with one of the largest barns in the county - now what to do with it!? It was built between the time of the main house (1830) and 1850, to house the 14 head of Clydesdale needed to plough and crop the 500 acres and to store the food and hay to keep them year round.

The barn has a few features of note (to barn historians). The original plaster on the internal walls was inscribed with the image of a fish to bless the first harvest after its completion. The lower level has had beams and posts added by a mill right - having distinct finish and features typically found in a water mill or similar. The back shed extension originally housed an engine (either steam or gas) to run pulleys for the hay lift that was added (engine and lift now long gone);

Being near Kutztown and the excellent folk festival, it was easy to come up with an authentic artist that could add hexes to the barn as decoration. I cannot recommend Eric Claypool (610 262 8911), highly enough, he is professional, knowledgeable and delivers hand painted barn decorations the way it has always been done. After a brief consult we chose a simple design of three large hexes that were typical of the area and the founding family (Schmoyer) for the farm.

These were set at 6 foot in diameter and I hope they help the large barn look a little more compact. After more restoration of roof and floors it should become a very large decorated "toy box".

A conservation project within a restoration project: - bat boxes! There have been a healthy colony of bats in the nooks and cranny's of the barn for years. The new roof threatened to remove most of their nesting space so I set about consulting to build and hang a suitable bat box. The stone gable ends originally had diamond shaped vents, which were boarded up for the last roof replacement in the mid 1980's. These were removed and a box built using cedar planking to create two long thin nesting slots, lined with a mesh that the bats can hold onto. The bottom of the new box was built out to give a landing and launching ledge. The new bat box will be hung on the south side of the barn - so it catches the most direct sun to keep them warm year-round. Our little flappy friends can eat as many as 1000 mosquitoes each in an evening - and with the river so close, we need more bats! The bat box also features a sun dial on its face - which keeps good time but does not adjust for daylight savings time.

Owl Box: We have barn owls that come hunting through the woods behind the house - the upper vent at the back of the barn would be an ideal secluded space for them to find a roost and new home - so we had an owl box built and mounted.

Shortly after we purchased the property we found an antique weather vane that was very similar that was in the painting depicting the house as an art gallery (Camelot - see separate blog article). However we thought of putting it on the barn this time - as we could then see it from the kitchen and lounge. It came with a broken pointer, so after a little planning I made a repair arrow shaft, head and "flights" out copper pipe, fittings and sheet.

Oak Creek Construction built a custom bracket to straddle the roofs cap molding and hopefully provide a really strong anchor for it to face fine weather and stormy days.

They also did an amazing job creating a custom set of brackets and rigging to hang a 36 foot banner flag - this brings horn beeps from road traffic every time someone is near it / adjusting it - epic!

After 5 years of ownership and constant researching and consulting with roofing companies, the money, materials and the right construction company came together to make repairs and updates to seal the toy box up! On this journey 1 in 3 roofing companies were willing to tackle something so high and steep, an ice storm damaged more of the roof, siding and structure just as the work was about to commence, a couple of structure upgrades were completed in prior years to prepare for a new roof. This included reviewing all manner of roof types available and trying to forecast the needs and features for the foreseeable future for the barn. The shingle 3 tab tiles that were on the barn from the 1980's, presumably replaced the original slate and had only managed about 20 years life before high wind, solar and other loads deteriorated it to a series of interconnecting leaks.

Oak Lane Construction and the team lead by Tim Zimmerman (610 787 2092) started work on May 12th 2020 - phase one the road end facing the house..

The shingle was stripped and the boarding and joists removed with saws. The front bay on the house side needed all new rafter, plate beam and supports. The roof overhang was increased to 12" all around - this would ensure the walls below are more sheltered from drips and driving rain. The metal roof chosen would be better for the total wind and solar load expected and required a simpler structure of 2x4 batts to secure rather than the complete board decking for asphalt shingle - the net cost is about the same. The roof peak and crest was worked back into a more straight and true form and the lighting rods removed for reconditioning and eventual return to the barn. "Sistered" rafters were introduced to the whole structure along its length to help the original hand cut wood cope with ongoing loads. The grey metal will have its lower edges finished with "snow dogs" - to stop snow and ice sheets sliding off (instead they are held to melt or disintegrate into smaller pieces).

The front side facing the house had developed a bow over the years, what this meant internally was that one of the vertical beams in the first bent had dipped and was now forming a low point and a handy spout for rain water to run down. With the shingle in disrepair 5 or more years before I bought the property, this steady stream of water spread and caused substantial rot and loss of material in all plates and joints. A series of patches and reinforces had been implemented, but with the ability to reveal and bare the whole structure "properly" all the patch and rot found could be taken back to a "clean white page" - albeit using modern construction and materials. The old windows from the kitchen were up-cycled into what will be the face in front of my future workshop.

Finishing the right hand face.

Finishing the roof and left hand face. The structure had taken more evenly distributed leaks and water damage here, so most of the timber on the front face had to go. A Structural Engineer helped specify the size and style of replacement beams to run full width to replace those that were originally cut to allow for the passage of a hay lift system in the early 1900's. This original work around also required 2 extra vertical columns be used that interfered with the clear space below - these too could now be omitted t open up space and the roof structure is self supporting again.

The barn @1920 - showing the original face and windows, the 3 lower vents in the stonewall were later made into windows, the roof is still slate. The yard is filled with other buildings that are now gone.

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