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Colonial Barn

Restoration Of Antique Barns Heralds Revival Of Historical
Bartlett Farm

Carlisle Mosquito, January 1999

If you're not familiar with the southern section of Carlisle, you can easily get lost on the winding roads that lead to the Bartlett Farm, situated on the edge of Estabrook Woods. As you make your way down the long stretch of driveway you can't help but wonder: am I in the right place? All you see is a large and very old barn.

To Tim Murphy, that's fine. He's the owner of Colonial Barn Restoration, with skills honed for renovating antique barns. Murphy will ensure the aged barn makes it to the millennium. With his bias, he might even argue that this barn should be the first thing you see.

While the barn may dominate your initial view of Bartlett Farm, there's much more to this property and story. A New England farmhouse founded in 1765, its associated structures, and 49 acres of land lie beyond.

Memorable people have lived here: Minuteman Zacheus Green, his good son Isaiah who brought in the Blaisdell boys, the independent Hannah L.C. Green, and the conservation minded Bartletts. The current owners, Bill and Marge McCormick, live each day within the parameters of the past: Finding their dream house, preserving it, and planning for the future. For over 230 years, residents of this address have shared one striking characteristic: a strong public spirit.

1997: Buying a Conservation refuge

A few years ago, the McCormicks casually began looking for a new home. They had lived in Carlisle since 1978 in contemporary houses on Acton Street and on Hickory Lane. They liked the town, but they wanted more land. Bill, an active member of the Appalachian Mountain Club, loves hiking and Marge is an avid gardener.

Realtor Sue Steeter of Barrett & Co. knew the McCormicks were the ideal buyers for the Bartlett Farm. The property featured 49 acres of land, 47 of which were under conservation restriction. Although some of its walls dated back to colonial times, the recently renovated house had new plumbing and heating systems. Further revisions included a completely new kitchen, dining room, and master bedroom. Steeter scheduled the McCormicks for the first showing.

"I fell in love immediately," said Marge McCormick. "A purist might be horrified [at the improvements] but we felt everything was done so well and it pleased us so much. "

"It was like heaven on earth," said Bill McCormick, who had grown up in an old Victorian house. "Foolishly, I made an instant decision to make an offer. "

The McCormicks quickly realized that despite the very good condition of the nine-room house, there was plenty of work to do outside. An old workshop and garage were totally beyond repair and required removal or wood rot might threaten the house. An adjoining field had a pool with a bad crack in its floor. The antique barn needed immediate renovation or it would collapse.

The McCormicks have already removed the workshop and garage. Construction has begun to add a garage, another bedroom, and a potting shed. They have reconstructed the pool. The barn is undergoing repair.

The McCormicks are greatly interested in the history of the property. They have explored remains of an old foundation, and other "relics" as Bill put it. They have thought about the former residents and can even picture colonial soldiers marching past the house on their way to fight the British in Concord at the Old North Bridge.

When tearing down the workshop, carpenters uncovered four mismatched shoes apparently dating back to the 1800s. The shoes, while of little financial value, are important to the McCormicks as they provide a connection to the past lives of those who once lived here.

1998: Saving the barn

If you are thinking of renovating a barn, get in line. Murphy, the founder of four-year old Colonial Barn Restoration, specializes in complete barn restoration. He has worked on about 50 barns, including the repair of four in Carlisle with five more scheduled in town.

"This is the oldest barn I think I've worked on," said Murphy, who began renovating the structure in November. "It's an English barn, and many were taken down in the 1800s. "

A former employee of the Skinner Auction House, Murphy has an eye for appreciating antiques. Based on the foundation, structure elements, and the nails used, he dates the barn to the late 1700s.

"Nails can tell you a lot," added Murphy. "Nail technology changed rapidly - it still does - so it's a good way to date buildings. "

The barn greatly needed repair. Although the basic structure was good, the roof and three walls were falling apart. Colonial Barn Restoration has replaced the wooden shingles with asphalt ones and renovated the walls. The barn sports real windows where only holes were before. The building has a new cupola. Murphy prices similar barn restorations at $20K, but each case is unique.

"Farmers weren't the best carpenters in the world," he said. "They made repairs over the years, and lots of things were done incorrectly. If you take off a few boards, you may find you have to take out a lot more.

"In the old days, they did not have concrete. They built a barn on top of stones, and ad the earth settled, the barn moved. Barns are usually one level so you're not working on perfect geometric shapes. We have to do a lot of custom work on these jobs. "

The McCormicks had to wait nine months for Colonial Barn Restoration to start the project, but they are glad they waited for the enthusiastic Murphy.

Anne Marie Brako

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