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Barns tell Jefferson County's agricultural history

October 06, 2003|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Should the long support beam in the York Hill barn ever rot, heaven help the person who has to find a replacement.

The wood beam extends 80 feet, which is a rare feature, said Bill Theriault, a member of the Jefferson County Historical Landmarks Commission.

Sections of beams usually are used to support such an expanse, Theriault said.

"That sort of tells you what kind of timber was here in 1812," Theriault said during a tour of the historic building on Sunday.

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York Hill, along Ridge Road near the community of Shenandoah Junction, W.Va., was one of six barns featured over the weekend in a historic barn tour put on by the local landmarks commission.

The organization holds the tour to help tell the story of Jefferson County's agricultural history, which dates back to the 1720s. People are moving to Jefferson County for the area's rural setting, but the rapid influx could destroy the features that attract them, a brochure from the event said.

It is important to understand the history so the community can decide what part of the county's heritage should be saved, the brochure stated.

The York Hill barn, built in 1812, was one of about 10 barns in the county that was built out of stone, Theriault said.

At their height of existence, there were several hundred barns in the county, Theriault said.

Now about a third of them are left.

"They're going (down) every day," Theriault said.

When York Hill was built, slits were created in the side of the building for ventilation, Theriault said. On the inside, the stone that was used to create the slits is cut at an angle, which allows more light to pass through.

An important characteristic about York Hill is that it illustrates how old barns can be adapted for different uses, thus extending their usefulness, Theriault said.

York Hill sits in Mary Frances Hockman's apple orchard, and in 1950, the ground level of the barn was converted into a cold storage facility for fruit. The old wooden floor of the barn has been replaced with concrete, which is typical for today's farmers who need a stronger floor to support the massive hay bales they make, Theriault said.

But there still are hints of the past, like the initials carved by children on a wooden shutter.

One of the sets of initials has a date of 1890 beside it, and there are several large cursive "s" letters on the shutter, which Hockman assumes stands for Snyder, one of the families that owned the farm.

"It's kind of fun. I asked my children if they carved their names and they said 'no,'" Hockman said.

Walking under the floor of the barn on the ground floor, steel beams and railroad ties can be seen that have been placed along the large wooden support beams over the years to provide extra support for the floor.

"That reflects the reality of farm life. You used what you had," Theriault said.

Other barns featured in the tour were at the Dunn farm south of Rippon, W.Va.; the Linden Spring farm near Shepherdstown, W.Va.; Aspen Pool farm near Shepherdstown; Ripon Lodge near Rippon; and White House farm near Summit Point, W.Va.

Happy or sad, the stories of the barns were presented.

The stone barn at the White House farm is thought to be possibly the oldest in the state, but it's had a rough time lately.

The heavy snow in February crushed the roof on the 261-year-old barn and heavy rains from Hurricane Isabel caused one of the walls to cave in, said owner Curt Mason.

Help is on the way, however, thanks to a state grant that will be used to replace the roof and rebuild the wall, Mason said.

The barn's history includes a Civil War skirmish that partly centered around the structure, and in the 1920s it was converted into a dairy barn.

Still visible in the floor is a concrete trough, from which the dairy cattle used to eat. In the middle of the floor were two square-shaped channels that run the length of the building. The channels were designed to catch excrement from the animals and make the barn easier to clean, Mason said.

A string band played Colonial-era music as people viewed the old barn.

"Some of these people have been doing a good job of restoring and maintaining these barns," said Ina Hendricks of Shepherdstown.

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