• The Incredible Disappearing Barn

    The Incredible Disappearing BARN - -

    Local historians say iconic piece of N. J.'s agricultural heritage grows harder to find   - - 

    • STORY BY MARTIN DeANGELIS, StaffWriter | Press of Atlantic City - - 


    When Anne Salvatore needed a classic barn for a planned addition to Historic Cold Spring Village, she called an expert on old buildings for help.

    But Joan Berkey, an architectural historian in Dennis Township, had some bad news for the founder of the living-history museum in Lower Township: Many of the old barns in Cape May County were history, too.

    "They fall apart — often, it's demolition by neglect," Berkey said. "They will cave in, and (the owners see) no reason to save it, no reason to put any money into it."

    The old-fashioned barn is disappearing from the local landscape. And as it goes, that familiar bit of scenery takes with it part of the visible history and heritage of a region once rich in farms and farmers.

    To many observers, the fate of these old barns — typically victims of age, lack of maintenance and cheaper replacement options — simply reflects the still-shrinking state of South Jersey agriculture. The latest federal Census of Agriculture, released this year, shows Cape May County losing 24 percent of its farms from 2007 to 2012. Atlantic County lost almost 20 percent of its farms in that same period, and Ocean County lost 30 percent.

    Even agriculture-rich Cumberland County — which has more total acres being farmed than those three nearby counties combined — lost almost 5,000 acres of farmland in those five years.

    "The difficulty for farmers is in putting (old barns) to use," said Janet Sheridan, a preservation consultant in Salem County. "If you're using something, you maintain it. If you're not using it, you don't maintain it. And if it's not profitable, it's not going to get maintained."

    Jamie Hand has maintained many old barns, moved some and been involved in building at least a few new ones - mostly in the classic

    three-bay, English barn style that was typical on farms around Cape May in the 1700s and 1800s.

    Hand, 60, of Middle Township's Goshen section, is a restoration carpenter whose family roots in Cape May County date to colonial times. To him, seeing a centuries-old barn "melting" is painful.

    "It's part of our culture," Hand said. "The barns my ancestors built here in the 1690s are different than the ones their ancestors built in England in the 1400s" — mainly because "of adaptation to local building materials," including the Atlantic white cedar once abundant in Cape May County.

    Americans should value and appreciate the long history and rustic beauty in barns "for the same reason we appreciate fine art," said Hand — who has an artistic reputation of his own as J .P. Hand, a decoy carver.

    Berkey has compiled a detailed study of Cape May County's oldest buildings and sometimes leads tour groups around them. To her knowledge, there is no such list of barns.

    "They've never been surveyed. Nobody has ever gone up and down the road and said, 'Here's a barn. There's a barn,"' she said. "But there are a few barns left, some with some age to them."

    And in the past year or so, Gwen Raring — an artist and photographer who is also Hand's partner — has started compiling an online catalogue of barns she passes in South Jersey and Pennsylvania. Her photography collection, which also includes old homes, is free for the looking at

    "I wanted to document them before they go away," she said. "Once these buildings are gone, they're gone."

    Elric Endersby, of the New Jersey Barn Co., has shipped barns from New Jersey as far as Sonoma County, Calif., San Antonio and Cape Cod to get new lives as homes, stores and more.

    "We've probably (visited) between 1,500 and 2,000 barns over that time in New Jersey," said Endersby, who — although he has sent some of those barns far away — is always happy to keep one in its home state.

    One satisfied customer is Pam Larson, of Barnegat Light, who thought a barn was a fitting addition to her antiques shop, The Seawife.

    Larson does a lot of traveling around New Jersey to hunt down antiques for her store and said she sees too many antique barns falling apart as she does. But she knows it's not simple to keep old barns together — in fact, the 200-plus-year- old barn she bought wasn't together when she got it.

    "I bought a pile of wood and a pile of beams and a blueprint" drawn up by an architect for the barn company, she said. She got a builder to put the barn back together — and didn't even use the siding from the original barn.

    "I had a choice, but the old stuff was so rotted and deteriorated, it wasn't worth it," Larson said. "So we cedar-shaked it" — or used new cedar shingles as the siding.

    To Endersby's thinking, the heart of the barn is its heavy timber frame, hand cut from old oak forests — also once common in New Jersey's landscape. The siding doesn't have to be part of the rescue.

    "It may cost five times as much to use original materials, and it may take five barns to accumulate enough (siding) material to do one," he said.

    The preservation proponent can't put hard numbers on the cost of buying a classic barn — there are many variables involved, including size. Often, Endersby said, property owners just let his company remove their old barns at no charge, to save on demolition costs of $10,000 to $20,000.

    In rough figures, though, he estimates the cost of taking apart, shipping and reassembling an old barn is about triple the price of adding a metal pole barn of similar size.

    But there's more than one way to get a barn from a place where it's no longer needed, or wanted, to a place where it is. When the Historical Preservation Society of Upper Township needed a barn to fill a gap in its John Wesley Gandy Farmstead in the township's Greenfield section, its leaders found an available barn in Upper's Beesleys Point.

    In 2002, the body of the barn, which dates to about 1812, was lifted onto the back of a truck, where the trailer would normally go. A "wide load" sign went on the barn, and the whole structure — minus a dilapidated roof — was driven 6 miles south to the re-created farmstead.

    The barn they found "was just kind of gone to wrack and ruin, and we needed a barn on our site to make it complete," said Sonia Forry, the society's historian, adding that Hand, the barn expert, did a "major restoration" — including a new roof and siding.

    Historic Cold Spring Village focuses on the years 1789 to 1840, and it already has three barns and a blacksmith shop dating from that period.

    Anne Salvatore, who founded Cold Spring Village 40 years ago with her husband, Dr. Joseph Salvatore, has rescued some of the county's oldest buildings from being lost to history.

    "We would spend weekends riding around the county, looking for old buildings about to fall down, and we did that looking for barns, too," she said, adding that their target was an "event barn" for people who want "country weddings."

    Berkey helped Cold Spring Village find an available English-style barn that was empty and unused in Upper Township. Salvatore said the barn will have to be taken apart piece by piece, then trucked 20 or so miles to Lower Township and put back together on the site.

    "But to get to that point is a long process," Salvatore said, so she can't give a date for the new/old barn to open its doors to visitors. Still, she has no doubt it's worth the effort to save another barn — another piece of South Jersey's historic landscape — from falling down.

    "The nice thing is that more and more folks are appreciating this earlier architecture," Salvatore said. "Maybe it's the social state of the world or the way things are in the country, but people are finding solace in things that show a history. They figure that we made it through these earlier times, and we'll make it through this time, too."

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