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Hartwood barn is perpendicular again

Syracuse company comes to leaning Hartwood barn's rescue.

The Free Lance-Star
Date published: 2/16/2007

THE OLD RED barn's precise history is uncertain, but one thing was for sure: Someday, a strong gust of wind would come through Hartwood and that would be the end of it.

For Connie Hilker, that scenario was unacceptable. Her solution was to contact Woodford Bros. Inc., a Syracuse, N.Y. , company that specializes in stabilizing and renovating old barns and other structures. A crew has spent the past week in Hartwood.

Hilker has what might be called an urge to preserve. Since late 2002, she and her husband, Stephen, have been working to restore 335 Hartwood Road, a rare Southern example of Gothic Revival architecture two miles off U.S. 17. The house dates to 1848. Their efforts were featured on this page about a year ago.

Known as Hartwood Manor, the property includes an old hay barn that measures roughly 66 feet by 21 feet. Connie Hilker said her research indicates the original barn was built in the late 1890s. An addition that tripled the size of the barn was probably built between 1910 and 1920.

What to do about the barn has weighed on Hilker for years. Last fall, storms packing high winds caused it to lean a little more. She couldn't find anyone locally to help, so she turned to an "old house" chat group on the Internet and learned about Woodford Bros. Then she thought her barn experience, and the need to preserve these rapidly disappearing structures, might make a good feature story.

"Ours isn't a masterpiece Amish-style post-and-beam structure with historic significance," she said. "It's just a plain old hay barn. But it's our hay barn, and we're going to do what we can to preserve it."

Hilker, who knows from experience that contractors don't always show up when they say they will, had a glowing report on her initial contacts with Woodford Bros. First, she would need to download a Ballpark Estimate Kit from the company's Web site, woodfordbros .com. The kit explains how to gather the necessary information.

On a Wednesday, she mailed the information in. Just two days later, she was e-mailed an estimate and a description of what the company would do. She accepted the offer, and on the following Wednesday, just a week after mailing the kit, the on-site evaluator was in Hartwood.

Cables now hold the Hartwood barn upright.

John Gowing uses a come-along to put tension on one of the cables used to stabalize the old barn. Cables now hold the Hartwood barn upright.

Ryan Mosher clamps one of the cables used to stabilize the structure. Cables now hold the Hartwood barn upright.

Cables now hold the Hartwood barn upright.

Cables now hold the Hartwood barn upright.

After spending a couple of hours studying the barn, he had some good news: The damage wasn't as severe as first thought. The original estimate of $25,000 was way too high, and the actual contract would be for about $14,000. Hilker thinks it would have cost at least that much to raze and remove it.

"I've seen some a lot worse than this," crew leader Gary Krom said Tuesday. "There was one that was leaning 32 inches per 8 feet [of height]. This one was [leaning] only 6 inches."

Then there was a barn that was so wobbly it could tell you which way the wind was blowing.

Krom has been doing this work for Woodford Bros. for 18 years, so there is a comfort level he imparts to visitors as he works with confidence on the second story of a rickety barn that is actually moving as it is ratcheted into an upright position.

"First we'll get it plumb," he said, as crew members John Gowing and Ryan Mosher used a come-along to pull several cables taut across the width of the barn. "Then we'll put in the diagonals and brace the uprights."

Cables were attached to second-story posts, run diagonally through the floor and tied off at the bases of the first-floor posts on the opposite side. Once the cables were tightened to bring the barn upright, braces were installed.

If Krom is convinced by week's end that the bracing will stabilize the barn, the diagonal cables can be removed.

The barn may not be an architectural masterpiece, but its original portion was stronger than the addition. The original part, with its heavier lumber and better craftsmanship, was leaning hardly at all compared with the addition. Krom pointed out that the addition's interior posts were braced, rather than those in the exterior walls--a situation he was at a loss to explain.

In just a couple of hours, the cabling had straightened the old barn and it was ready for bracing. The contract also calls for the crew to remove the warped and rotted boards covering the front portion of the addition. Hilker will re-board the barn herself when the weather warms.

Hilker's plans for the barn are uncertain, but she'll think of something.

"The idea was to stabilize and preserve the barn for now. That was the important thing. We can decide what we're going to do with it later," she said.

Krom's crew is one of several Woodford Bros. has working in a territory that covers the nation's northeastern quadrant. Once they complete work in Hartwood today, Krom and his crew will take their panel truck and minivan back to Syracuse, in a region where snow is measured in feet, not inches. Then they're off to Rhode Island next week.

"We'll take all the work we can get around here," he said, despite the inclemency earlier this week. "This is nothing."

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