Saving barns one piece at a time | Living the Country Life
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Saving barns one piece at a time

John High has a mission to keep old barns out of landfills.
  • Following his calling

    At the crack of dawn each weekday, John High climbs into his trusty old pickup truck and drives from his home in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, to sites hours away to take apart barns piece by piece, saving them from landfills, bulldozers, burn piles, and burial. High is The Barn Saver, and his work is a calling he does not take lightly. "I want to save every barn I possibly can," he says. "Whenever I see one being bulldozed, I feel sad that I didn't get to it in time. Our forefathers worked very hard to build these barns, and it's a tragedy that they are being thrown into landfills."

    Date Published: July 31, 2012
    Date Updated: September 5, 2012
    Tags: Barns
  • What's old is new again

    High says that in these tough economic times, people are getting back to their roots -- and that includes barns. "Building a home from a barn frame is not only unique and beautiful, but also, in general, it's cheaper than new construction," he says. "Plus, it's built to last."

    Date Published: July 31, 2012
    Date Updated: September 5, 2012
    Tags: Barns
  • Everything has value

    In 1990, High left his job at an excavating company --where he bulldozed old houses and barns to make room for developments -- and began The Barn Saver, rescuing the buildings he'd always hated destroying. Starting with an 1880's vintage bank barn built into a hillside, he began taking old structures apart, board by board, saving the flooring, siding, windows, doors, roofing, beams, joists, hardware, and even the contents -- from lightning rods to pig troughs. "I save everything. There's value in every piece," he says.

    Date Published: July 31, 2012
    Date Updated: September 5, 2012
    Tags: Barns
  • Careful deconstruction

    For barns that will be reset elsewhere, he carefully preserves the integrity of the buildings by drawing blueprints and using them to number each piece of wood. High strives to lessen the environmental effects of deconstruction. Using mostly crowbars, hammers, and his hands, he saves barns with old-fashioned elbow grease rather than with a wrecking ball and bulldozer. "I take them down in the opposite direction from which they were built, top to bottom," he says.

    Date Published: July 31, 2012
    Date Updated: September 5, 2012
    Tags: Barns
  • New life for old barns

    One of the barns taken down by High (a log structure) is currently in storage at Valley Forge National Historic Park, where it will be set up as part of the park's museum. Other barns have traveled as far as California.

    Wayne Yonce of Franklin, North Carolina, has purchased several barns from High and has reset them in his home state. Some are being used on working farms, while others are summer homes. One barn is used as an arts center in the Highland mountains. "It seems appropriate that the barn is part of the structure, because barn building in those days was an art," says Yonce. Visitors enter the arts center property through a vintage covered bridge that also came from The Barn Saver. 

    Date Published: July 31, 2012
    Date Updated: September 5, 2012
    Tags: Barns
  • Historical undertaking

    High's biggest project is ahead. The Barn Saver has been slated to dismantle the famed Star Barn of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, taking the Civil War-era structure apart and tagging the pieces so it can be rebuilt in an Agrarian Center where children and families will learn about America's farming past. "It's a good feeling to know I'm preserving part of our heritage," High says.

    Date Published: July 31, 2012
    Date Updated: September 5, 2012
    Tags: Barns
  • Put to good use

    Not all barns are rebuilt. "It's amazing how many different people use materials from my jobs," High says. He's donated barn material to school plays, churches, Scout groups, and other community organizations. 

    Date Published: July 31, 2012
    Date Updated: September 5, 2012
    Tags: Barns
  • Saving barns together

    Barn saver groups are popping up across the country, as are timber framers and restoration specialists. Old wood has gained a new appreciation among home builders. Dale Lehmer, owner of Antique Woods and Colonial Restoration in Gouverneur, New York, has worked with recycled building materials for 30 years. "Older woods provide a tighter grain, meaning harder wood," Lehmer says. "It's a quality that can't be found today. This is wood that captures the imagination." 

    Date Published: July 31, 2012
    Date Updated: September 5, 2012
    Tags: Barns
  • Rewarding work

    All told, more than 400 old barns and houses (and their contents) have been dismantled and rebuilt or reused by The Barn Saver. "It's rewarding work," High says. "As the old saying goes, 'They don't build them like they used to.'"

    Learn More

    The Barn Saver
    www.barnsaver.com

    Vintage Woods
    www.vintagewoods.com

    18th Century Restoration
    www.18thcenturyrestoration.com

    Home Town Carpentry
    www.hometowncarpentry.com

    Pennsylvania Barn Co.
    www.pabarnco.com

    Date Published: July 31, 2012
    Date Updated: September 5, 2012
    Tags: Barns

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