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Project seeks preservation of historical Adams County barns

Written by Lillian Reed, The Evening Sun | May 4, 2015 11:46 AM
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Photo by Shane Dunlap, The Evening Sun

Kendra Debany with the Historic Gettysburg Adams County Barn Preservation Project works on surveying the bottom floor of a Pennsylvania-style barn May 1 on Kuhn Road in Littlestown. The team works to gather detailed information on the historical barns of Adams County and places them in the Adams County barn registry.

State legislators declared 2015 to be the year of the Pennsylvania barn to raise awareness

Four members of the historical barn surveying team looked up at the rafters of an old barn on Kuhn road and pointed at the hew marks still visible in the hand-cut beams supporting the roof.

The stalls that once held horses and cattle are long gone but evidence of them, pegs on the wall and a currycomb for brushes and veterinary medicines, still remains.

The manger has been moved to a different spot in the barn, but the team could still see bowing in the slats where cattle once stuck their heads through craning to reach their feed.

Overall, they said, the barn is in pretty good shape.

There are an estimated 1,500 barns in Adams County, and after the survey team finished examining Beulah Hartlaub's barn on Kuhn Road on Friday, it became number 172 in the county registry.

Made up of mostly volunteers, the team is part of the Historic Gettysburg Adams County's barn preservation project and grant program. The project's goal is to preserve historical barns by adding them to a countywide registry and awarding grants funds to owners who need financial help in preserving the archetypes of good old fashioned American architecture.

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Photo by Shane Dunlap, The Evening Sun

A doorway leading to the bottom floor of a Pennsylvania barn located on Kuhn Road in Littlestown. The barn was being surveyed by the Historic Gettysburg Adams County Barn Preservation Project on May 1.

Nowadays, Hartlaub's barn isn't used for much more than storage and nesting grounds for a few local robins. The group's boots crunched on their discarded shell fragments as they moved around the barn, examining every last detail from the doodled carvings in the wood to the types of joints and pegs fastening beams in place.

Kendra Debany, the project's part-time preservation specialist, made notes about everything observable including function, shape of the roof, dimensions and materials used in construction.

Every little detail gives her hints as to the type of lifestyle the farmer and family lead.

"You can see how wealthy they were, what crops they grew and what sorts of animals they had," Debany said. "You never see two barns alike. They all have their own charm."

Besides the registry and grants, the project's ultimate goal is to raise awareness of how precious and rare the Pennsylvania barn truly is.

"It's that old adage with barns that you don't know what you've got until it's gone," said Bruce Kile, a forester by trade and volunteer member of the surveying team. "There's a gradual heightening of awareness. It's recognizing in a rural landscape that if you remove all of the barns, people would notice."

Ninety percent of the barns examined by the project's teams are a type of Pennsylvania barn, including Hartlaub's, which are characterized by a distinctive overhang on one side and a ramp on the other. The other types of barns that can be spotted around Adams County include English barns, Round barns and Dairy barns.

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Photo by Shand Dunlap, The Evening Sun

Paul Mangan with the Historic Gettysburg Adams County Barn Preservation Project works on drawing floor plans of the bottom floor of a Pennsylvania barn May 1 that is located on Kuhn Road in Littlestown.

Curt Musselman, a representative of Historic Gettysburg Adams County, helped to designate 2015 as the year of the Pennsylvania barn through a resolution adopted by state legislators on April 13. The resolution, which was introduced by state Rep. Dan Moul, is part of a small effort among preservation groups to maintain the agricultural character of rural landscapes in the state.

With agriculture being the prominent industry in Pennsylvania for centuries, preserving barns is important to the state's history, Moul said.

"The barns were so important and everyone took pride in their barn," he said. "We must do whatever we can to save that heritage."

Musselman said the preservation project is his baby. Though the team only registers barns at the request of owners, he is hoping they'll be able to begin making cold calls to people when they spot a barn with character.

"We're trying to get people to appreciate what they've got," Musselman said. "There's nothing to stop them bulldozing a barn."

Though the project currently has 30 requests for barn registration in its backlogs, hiring Debany has helped speed up the process, Musselman said.

The core region where Pennsylvania barns can be found is spread across 15 counties and Adams is the only one to fall entirely within that area, making it ideal for preservation efforts.

Some counties, like Franklin, have a "windshield approach" to looking at registering the barns, where surveyors drive around and attempt to document the structures from afar, Kile said. Others, like York do not have a registry at all.

In addition to cataloguing the details of the barn up close, the surveying team also researches the history of the barns, providing owners with a chance to learn more about their farmsteads beginnings. Most, typically have no background knowledge about their barns despite the historical significance of many structures.

"You can think about the labor that went into these barns," Debany said of the ones like Hartlaub's that were built by hand. "That's why it's so heartbreaking when you lose somewhere like this."

So how old is Hartlaub's barn?

Based on the hand-hewn beams and evidence that the slats had been cut by water-powered sawmill, the building probably dates between 1830 and 1850, much older than was initially thought, the team concluded. However, they will know more after they look into the historical records of the property.

Registering barns is a slow process but Debany hopes one day they'll have every barn in the county catalogued.

"This is a nice barn, she has taken great care of it," Debany said of Hartlaub's building. "Hopefully it will stand for another 200 years."

Register your barn

If you own a barn in Adams County and would like to bed added to the registry, call 717-334-5185 for more information.

Year of the Pennsylvania barn events

In support of the barn preservation project and grant program, there will be several fund raising activities held to celebrate the Year of the Pennsylvania Barn.

  • May 23
    A BarnAid concert will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Adams County Winery on Orchard Road in Orrtanna.
  • June 10-14
    The ninth annual BarnArt Show and sale is scheduled at the GAR Hall at 53 East Middle Street in Gettysburg.
  • Sept. 26
    The Gettysburg Foundation will host a seminar on the barns of the Gettysburg battlefield. This will be an all-day lecture and bus tour available to the public by paid reservation only.
  • Oct. 3
    A Civil War Barn Dance is planned at the Beech Springs Farm Barn in Orrtanna.
  • Oct. 17
    The Land Conservancy of Adams County will have a road rally to celebrate the year of the Pennsylvania barn.
  • Oct. 20
    Historic Gettysburg Adams County will host a one hour lecture at 7:30 p.m. on the barns of the Gettysburg battlefield.

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Photo by Shane Dunlap, The Evening Sun

The historical 19th century Pennsylvania barn located along Kuhn Road was added as the 172nd barn in the Adams County barn registry May 1 by the Historic Gettysburg Adams County Barn Preservation Project. The barn has many of the distinguishing features of a Pennsylvania barn such as a frame made from heavy hewn wood posts and an overhanging fore bay.


This article comes to us through a partnership between The Evening Sun and WITF. 

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