The Builder's Blog

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November 20, 2023

Story of a 200 Year Old Barn

Lynn Hess grew up on a farm just outside of Berrysburg, Pa. and remembers working in the barn ever since he was big enough to help his father. He remembers holding strings so his dad could tie feed bags when he was just a little squirt. But over the years, the barn became very dilapidated—it had been built around 1820, it had taken everything nature could throw at it for close to 200 years. Lynn couldn’t stand to see the barn falling down, and decided, “You know what? I can still save this thing.” So he began restoring it. He spent the better part of 15 years restoring it, since he was also working at the time. Lynn, with the help of his family, friends and neighbors put a whole new foundation under the barn, installed all new siding, replaced a number of beams, and shored up a few others. The original main beam that held up the center floor was a 12x12 log, and 60 feet long. For siding, he used 1” barn boards, rough sawn on one side, and planed on the other. It was lots of work, but many friends and family helped with it—which added to the many memories already associated with the place.

The day of the fire, Lynn was working around the farm, mowing the grass, and getting ready to plant sweet corn in the fields the next day. He finished around 5:00 that evening, and drove back to his home, 20 minutes away in Halifax. Later that evening, around 9:00 pm, Lynn’s sister called saying, “The barn’s on fire!” By the time he got there, the roof had already caved in, with just the main timbers sticking out—it was already gone. For Lynn, it was a heart-wrenching, traumatic thing to witness! All the work that had gone into that barn - and now it was gone! He at first wondered if one of the mowers or tractors in the bottom floor had started the fire, but the fire marshal thought it had started on the second floor and believed it to be an electrical fire.

That night was when Esh Builders met Lynn. The barn was less than a mile from Esh Builders (as the crow flies). The fire company wanted the walls pulled down so they could work better. The Grocer’s had their big trackhoe there, pulling stuff out, and Esh took their pettibone over to help pull the walls down. It was pretty late till they got done, and Lynn was concerned about the cost for the time they had put in. Esh told him that they considered the work they had done as com- munity work and there was no cost. They were just glad to be able to help.

In the morning when the insurance inspector showed up, he agreed with the fire marshall on the electrical cause of the fire. Lynn was a bit under-insured, so the insurance company did their job, but the rebuilding project had to work within the constraints of a limited budget. They discussed options for rebuilding on the original foundation, with the preference to somehow include a second floor again if at all feasible. The lumber market was very high during that time. Additional cement work also needed to be done, to level up the old foundation. After several days, and with the help of several venders who cut prices to help with the cause, they came up with a plan to build 2 floors, at a price that came close to the budget. A plan was agreed upon, and Esh Builders got started!

Lynn helped from time to time while the work was in progress, taking responsibility for the cleanup needed, which saved Esh Builders a bunch of time. He was a good guy to work with and they all enjoyed getting to know him. As the barn-raising time approached, Lynn took three full days off to help with the framing of the barn itself, which was completed in about three days. Lynn enjoyed working with the Esh team and likes to brag them up a bit. In his words, “When the build itself finally started, it was incredible! I can’t describe how hard and how quick they worked… I’m 68 years old, and someone over 45 should not attempt to keep up with those guys! They just work! To call them contractors wouldn’t really be… They are carpenters—they are craftsmen. They work almost like a family. Everybody knew what had to be done, and they just go from one thing to the next.” With Lynn and a young boy from a neighboring farm handing materials up to the construction crew, the trusses were up in less than an hour. By lunch time half of the roof was on and by quitting time, the roof on the 80 x 37 foot barn was finished. It took about two weeks from start to finish for the whole barn.

Another sad part of this story is about the nest of barn owls that were in the silo beside the barn. Barn owls are a special interest birds, due to the rapidly reducing amounts in PA. Wildlife rescue said as far as they are aware, they are the only nesting pair in the area. Lynn was worried about them and after the fire he found all six of the babies had jumped out and two had died from the fall, during the fire. Animal rescue came out and took the remaining babies, since the parents were too traumatized to raise them in that location. Two had broken legs and died soon after being rescued. They were able to raise the remaining two babies to the age where they were able to be on their own. They brought them back to the farm to release them and it was a happy day to see them fly free. This year, Lynn found another nest in the silo with a new nest of owlets! The two released owls have been spotted in nearby areas.

Note from Esh Builders: We really enjoyed working with you, Lynn! It was a pleasure getting to know you and we wish you many more good years on your farm.

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