Conservancy prepares to rebuild old Montjoy barn

Groundbreaking ceremony at fall festival to celebrate start of restoration this year on Mount Pleasant Farm

September 29, 2006|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,SUN REPORTER

Preservationists routinely lament the structures that have been swept from the Howard County landscape by time and development. But this year, one unusual 200-year-old wooden barn - currently stacked in 250 pieces in a Carroll County warehouse - is expected to return.

Three years after it dismantled the Montjoy barn to save it from the path of a new housing development, the Howard County Conservancy is prepared to rebuild the structure in Woodstock.

The conservancy will hold a groundbreaking ceremony for the barn as part of its fall festival, which runs from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. tomorrow at the group's Mount Pleasant Farm. There also will be children's crafts, a history lecture, a plant sale, a guided hike and bluegrass music.

Three years ago, conservancy leaders examined the manor house and outbuildings at the 76-acre Montjoy farm near Route 100 and U.S. 29 in Ellicott City when construction plans for a subdivision road where the barn sat were imminent.

Board member Donna Mennitto recalled that James Clark, a former state senator and local preservationist who died this summer, noted there was something different about the 30-foot-by-50-foot wooden barn.

The wood in the frame had been hand-hewn from trees with an ax and connected at the joints with tenons and mortises - carved ends that fit into carved-out holes - and secured with wooden pins.

One 50-foot-long floor support, called a carriage beam, is "one of the most exciting parts of it," Mennitto said. "You really got a sense of the craftsmanship and the enormous effort to build it."

A historical analysis indicated the structure is most like an English wheat barn, while the majority of old Maryland barns used a German style, Mennitto said. It also appears to have been moved onto its eight-foot stone foundation around the 1840s, which was not an uncommon practice as farmers moved from wheat farming to keeping animals.

"It has a lot of history," she said. "It represents important transitions in the history of agriculture in Howard County."

Neville Worthington Ward of Great Falls, Va., is a granddaughter of Montjoy's previous owners, Dawson and Leticia Lee, and lived on the Montjoy property as a child. She remembers caring for horses in the lower level of the barn and searching for newborn kittens in the upper portion.

"It was a gorgeous place," she said of the farm, and while she finds it too sentimental to go back to the Montjoy location, she said, "I'm happy that some part of the farm will basically remain the same."

Moving the barn became possible after two companies that were building on the Montjoy site - Weyerhaeuser Co., which is the parent company of Winchester Homes, and Elm Street Development - made substantial contributions.

But the conservancy was having trouble reaching the $240,000 total price tag for the project

After quickly taking advantage of the opportunity to move the barn, "we were beginning to wonder if we would have to give up on it because there just weren't any funds," said Ann Jones, president of the conservancy's board of directors.

She said the project had a breakthrough when a casual conversation one day revealed that philanthropists and preservation fans Lucy and Vernon Wright, who live in northern Baltimore County a few miles from Lineboro, had ties to Howard County. Vernon Wright grew up in the county and is related to the Lee family. As a child, he was also a member of a 4-H club led by Clark.

The Wrights made a donation that brought the fund up to $200,000, which is enough to move ahead while the remaining $40,000 is sought.

Restoring the barn is "an absolute tribute to [the Lees], since they were such nice people," Vernon Wright said, "and there's my fondness for Senator Clark."

While the conservancy has been securing the finances, Glenn James, who owns Craftwright Inc. timber-framing company, has been getting to know the old building that he pulled apart and catalogued in August 2003.

He said he discovered repairs - made with 19th-century techniques - that could only have occurred if the barn had been taken apart once before. He noted the evenly spaced hatchet marks that indicated a master of the craft had hewn many of the beams. And he found several pieces that likely were first used in a cabin and then recycled by the builder of the barn.

James also has been salvaging material from other old structures and plans to soon begin replacing rotted areas with similarly aged and hand-hewn wood.

He said the Montjoy barn, with its history of changes, has given him a different perspective than other projects.

"I'm just passing through on the history of a structure that is going to last probably another 300 years," he said. "If we are good stewards and do our job correctly, it will be repaired again."

The Howard County Conservancy is at 10520 Old Frederick Road, Woodstock. Information: www.hc or 410-465-8877.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.