Jeffrey L. Marshall, President of Heritage Conservancy in Doylestown (Bucks County), has been involved in land conservation and historic preservation for more than 40 years. Marshall has been a frequent presenter at the Land Trust Alliance Rally and the National Trust for Historic Preservation conferences and has been the keynote speaker at preservation conferences in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Kentucky. He is the author of six books on Bucks County architecture and history.
Marshall serves on the Board of Directors of the National Barn Alliance and is a founding member and past President of the Board of Directors of the Historic Barn and Farm Foundation of Pennsylvania. Active in land conservation as well, Marshall has been directly involved in the preservation of thousands of acres in Pennsylvania and serves on the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association Board of Directors.
He is a former board member of Preservation Pennsylvania. You may have met him online recently if you joined our January Barn Celebration webinar and Pennsylvania breakout room!
Of all the hundreds of barns I have been in, one is near and dear to my heart. My barn! While it is not the most dramatic barn I have studied, it still stands out because it is a survivor, even though it has become a barn in the ‘burbs.
It proves that it is a mistake to think that historic barns, or any historic building, doesn’t change through time. We often don’t have the evidence of changes. Sometimes we get lucky! Through a lot of coincidences and some hard work, I have been able to track down changes to my barn in Newtown, Bucks County.
Nineteenth century newspaper advertisements describe the barn as being constructed circa 1830. A hundred years later, as shown in the photograph from 1938, the barn had fallen into disrepair.
A gentleman farmer purchased the farm and rehabilitated the barn. As the April 15, 1938 photos show, the barn was altered to accommodate a dairy herd. The recessed forebay wall was removed and a new exterior wall, flush with the corners of the barn, was constructed. However, the tapered conical pier supporting it was preserved. Six months later the work had been completed.
The photo below taken on October 1, 1938 shows the barn. A large cinderblock milk house addition was constructed to the right of the main barn.
Less than two years after the barn renovation was completed, a fire in August 1940 gutted the structure. The dairy herd was sold after the fire.
A year later, like a phoenix, the barn rose again. This time, the rehabilitation resulted in the creation of a balcony on the forebay elevation as the purpose transformed from a dairy barn to a party barn.
Bucks County underwent a tremendous population explosion after World War II. Parts of Bucks County saw mammoth housing developments such as Fairless Hills and Levittown, bringing tens of thousands of new houses to the area. Changes in land use and land values led to the decline of many farms.
This farm, like many others, began to suffer neglect as the economics of farming and the farming community began to change. Without farm animals, Pennsylvania bank barns lose one of their core purposes. One by one, farms were transformed into suburbia, making it harder for each remaining farm to hang on. Located less than a mile from historic Newtown, this farm was purchased by a developer.
Newtown Township was concerned about preserving its rapidly disappearing historic resources. The township had a historic commission that was given the opportunity to review projects for their impact. I was retained by the township as a preservation consultant to help with that assessment. The attorney for the developer advocated for the ability to demolish the barn as he felt no one in their right mind would buy such a structure. He was probably right. Unfortunately, I had shown the property to my wife who had grown up several miles away and we ended up purchasing the property subject to a preservation and conservation easement.
The barn is now going through its fourth life. Once again, you can walk into the barn and experience the sights, sounds and smell of animals. This barn is my barn; but only my barn for a short period of its existence. This barn is proof that a barn can adapt time and time again if given the chance. You have to love a building like this for its fortitude if nothing else.
Jeff recently alerted us about some recent correspondence with a friend (and fellow barn enthusiast), Rick Speranza, who works with the Newtown Historical Society. Rick had recently purchased an old black and white postcard online. Once he received the item in the mail, he sent a picture to Jeff to ask if he could identify the farm location. It turned out to be Jeff’s farm!
“The earliest pictures [Jeff], or [we] at the historic association, have were from the 1930s. This card was posted July 1906, pre-dating the other images by decades. . . . I dropped it off at the barn today, back where it started 115 years ago. I’m grateful that I bought the card and was able to contribute to the history of the place, however unintentional it may have been.” — Rick Speranza in the Bucks County History Facebook Group.
Learn more about barn preservation at the Pennsylvania Historic Barn & Farm Foundation website.
The Historic Barn and Farm Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing educational resources for the long-term preservation, protection, and documentation of historic barns in Pennsylvania, and the agricultural heritage of the Commonwealth. The HBFF Archive is an on-going barn survey database compiled to facilitate the documentation and research of Pennsylvania’s barns and farm structures.
Do you love barns? Want to learn more about preserving barns? Preservation Pennsylvania, in collaboration with the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance, recently hosted a webinar celebrating barn preservation. Check out our Celebrate Barns post for the link to the webinar, the link to the Pennsylvania break out room video, and a full stable of useful links and resources. (Plus, two “stump the expert” questions we’re seeking expertise on!)