Montgomery County couple helps give new life to old barns
By St. John Barned-Smith | The Gazette,
Hilary Moore and her husband, Mike Hebert, cherished the barns on their Germantown property, two structures suffering from age and neglect.
So they renovated one, an old dairy barn, which resembles a 1950s Sears barn but could be older, to hold horses. Reluctant to demolish the other one, they sold it online. It’s now destined for a new life in Long Island, N.Y.
Renovating the nearly 3,000-square-foot dairy barn, which was supported in some areas by discarded telephone poles, “was probably 10 times harder” than building a new stable from scratch, Moore said.
Moore is the senior editor of Dressage Today, a national magazine dedicated to the equestrian sport. Having started at age 8, she still rides competitively and trains students and some of the horses she also boards on her 30-acre property. She occasionally judges local dressage schooling shows as well, she said.
The couple used outside help for the renovations but worked on the project, too. Hebert devoted his weekends to the construction work, ripping out the old cow stalls with a crowbar and then storing the wood for future use, Moore said.
The cost, around $75,000, was nearly as much as building a structure, she said. The ceilings of the barn were low, so she and her husband had the concrete floor ripped out and lowered.
“I didn’t really know what we were getting into when we bought the place,” Hebert said, who works as an architectural engineer. Hebert said they were still updating the building’s electrical features but would probably be finished by the end of the year.
“I don’t think you ever stop working” on buildings, he said.
The couple moved onto the property in April 2011, naming it Alsikkan Farm. The name comes from a Dutch phrase meaning “as best I can,” Moore said.
“I chose the motto for the farm for two reasons. One is because we are working with what we have and improving it, rather than trying to level everything . . . and also because dressage is [about] developing each horse into the best that he can become,” she said.
Moore suspects the land on which the farm sits was part of the original Harris Choice, a parcel of land granted to settlers by King George II of England in 1754. She and Hebert discovered the information while researching the land after they bought it.
Saving the bank barn — the smaller one, built into an embankment — would have required so much work that “there would have been nothing of the original building left,” Moore said. Amish builders whom the couple consulted estimated the 2,400-square-foot building was about 100 years old.
Hebert listed the structure on Barns.com, where it sat for about a year. David Posnett, a doctor and professor at Cornell University Medical College in New York City, found the listing and spent $30,000 total between buying the structure and disassembling and transporting it, said his contractor, Duane Koncelik.
Posnett said the quality of the wood and the proximity of the barn were what drew him to Germantown.
“A barn in New England might have been closer, but we managed anyway,” he said. “On one occasion we left at 4 a.m., arrived at 11:30 a.m., worked until 7 p.m. and drove back, arriving at 3 a.m. in East Hampton.”
Posnett, Koncelik and two assistants labeled each piece of wood as they took it apart so they could reassemble it consistent with its original construction.
“Hilary’s bank barn was . . . very well preserved,” Posnett said. “We think it was originally a tobacco barn. The siding was open, allowing plenty of circulating air, which is good for drying.”
Along the way, they made some surprising discoveries, Koncelik said.
Everything was made out of oak, he said, including the shingles, which normally are cedar.
“I’ve never seen that before,” he said.
Koncelik disassembled the structure in two weeks. He said the materials would be used to create a large room in Posnett’s house, although it will be smaller than the original barn.
“We plan to use the extra beams all over the building,” Posnett said.
Despite the work that has taken place so far, Moore isn’t done. She and her husband are building an indoor riding arena. For now, she’s still focused on the remaining work.
“It will be exciting and a huge relief to have finished,” she said, “but it will be unusual to have so much free time.”