Barn Restoration Lifts Off

Barn Restoration Lifts Off
ABOVE, this view from the side of Andy Jackson’s barn shows how it has been suspended over 10 feet off the ground during the stabilization process. AT LEFT, this view from the road shows the loft where hay was once stored.

ABOVE, this view from the side of Andy Jackson’s barn shows how it has been suspended over 10 feet off the ground during the stabilization process. AT LEFT, this view from the road shows the loft where hay was once stored.

Barn Restoration Lifts Off
ABOVE, workers with Timber Works of Interest L.L.C. hammer blocks under the beams supporting the barn. ABOVE LEFT, this view shows the stabilization process from behind the barn. AT LEFT, Al Anderson uses the sky-lift to help move a beam slightly.

ABOVE, workers with Timber Works of Interest L.L.C. hammer blocks under the beams supporting the barn. ABOVE LEFT, this view shows the stabilization process from behind the barn. AT LEFT, Al Anderson uses the sky-lift to help move a beam slightly.

Barn Restoration Lifts Off
THE HISTORIC BARN on Walkers Creek Road can be seen from behind as it was suspended off the ground earlier this fall.

THE HISTORIC BARN on Walkers Creek Road can be seen from behind as it was suspended off the ground earlier this fall.

Saving Piece Of History Challenging Process

Historic barns in Rockbridge County and across Virginia are slowly collapsing.

“It isn’t hard to understand why,” said Rockbridge County barn owner Andy Jackson. “They slowly become structurally unsound, and from an economic perspective it makes sense to let them fall.”

Jackson, a retired U.S. Marine who moved to Rockbridge County two years ago, is the proud owner of an old threshing barn on Walkers Creek Road that was built sometime between 1880 and 1910.

Jackson said that when he realized the barn had begun to tilt one way and was structurally unstable, he decided to restore it for the historic value.

“The main reason I’m doing the restoration is because barns like this are becoming rarer and rarer and seeing it takes you back in time,” Jackson said.

Restoration isn’t cheap, though. Jackson said he estimates that building a new barn would cost only about a third of what a proper restoration costs.

“I’m fortunate to be financially able to take on a project like this,” he said. “I find preservation extremely important.”

The restoration process isn’t simple either.

Jackson started by looking for a contractor, which wasn’t an easy job. Many of the initial people he contacted wouldn’t commit or couldn’t start the project until much later.

Finally, Jackson contacted Al Anderson. Anderson has been in the timber framing industry since 1983 and he opened his current company, Timber Works of Interest LLC, in 2003.

In the fall of 2008, Anderson restored the barn at Camp Maxwelton-Lachlan, just down the road from Jackson.

“He’s an incredibly talented individual and his team does great work,” said Nancy McLaughlin. “The barn is an integral part of our camp property for both practical and historic purposes.”

Prior to opening his company, Anderson spent time in Scotland, working in the timber framing industry. He says that experience piqued his interest in working on old barns, houses, and other historically significant structures.

“Stabilizing it will be the biggest challenge with this barn,” Anderson said.

The Jackson barn weighs somewhere in the 15-ton vicinity and to stabilize and straighten the structure, Anderson and his team have been using hydraulic beams to lift the barn completely off the ground.

At its peak, Anderson said the barn will be hoisted nearly 10-feet off the ground.

After the barn is stabilized, the crew will be tasked with replacing the rotten wood, which includes the nearly 30-foot tall support beams.

The barn is supported on the sides by hundreds of purlins that function as a horizontal support system. Remarkably, these purlins were hand-made to attach into specific notches carved out across the barn.

Jackson says that often, one way to tell if a barn has been built from scratch in the modern day is that the purlin system is no longer used, because of its lack of efficiency.

“To me, that’s really special that every single one of those purlins was made by hand,” Jackson said. “You don’t see that same kind of craftsmanship and attention to detail anymore.”

Jackson says he also hopes to restore the hayfork pulley system that would have likely been used to help farmers hoist their hay through the hay door and into the barn.

“It’s all important to the barn’s history,” Jackson said. Neighbor John McCray, who grew up on Walkers Creek Road, says the barn has some unique folklore associated with it as well.

McCray said that according to local rumor, sometime between 1910 and 1920, a woman was murdered in the barn. Subsequently, her suspected killed was hanged in the barn as well. Jackson has looked at the census data from that time and suspects the woman was Virginia Brown, who lived in the house above the barn in 1900 and died before 1920.

McCray said it was likely a servant who killed Brown when she reprimanded him for laziness. Instead of going to the police, the locals in the area took matters into their own hands, caught the killer and hanged him.

While there is no concrete proof of the story’s truth, the rumor is still well known in the Walkers Creek area.

Mike Pulice with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources visited the barn earlier this year and nominated it to the National Historic Registry. Pulice said it is the first barn to ever gain nomination approval from the state based on its own merits, meaning it does not have a house or other historic structure immediately attached to it.

Jackson said he plans to pursue signage to mark the barn’s historic significance once its status with the NHR is determined.

The Virginia Department of Historic Resources does provide some incentives for restoration, including a 25 percent credit on select rehab costs. “Every little bit matters,” Jackson said.

Currently, Anderson and his team are in the process of stabilizing the barn. Next, the team will start replacing damaged timber on the interior. The target date for completion is the beginning of January.

Jackson ultimately hopes to use the barn for educational purposes. “Eventually, I’d like to be able to host local school students here for history courses to show them how barns like this used to work,” he said.

The News-Gazette

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