It has long been said that when a building is abandoned it begins to die, literally and figuratively.
Houses no longer echo with the sounds of family life and feel cold. Barns no longer warmed by shuffling livestock seem sad. With no one paying attention, time and the elements extract a deadly toll.
Just ask Jim and Anne Freiburger.
“To say the barn was in rough condition when we bought the 160-acre farm in November 2003 would be a gross understatement,” Jim Freiburger recalls. “The original wood shingles and siding had been covered with metal sometime in the early ’50s, and much of it had blown off. Half of the fieldstone foundation had crumbled. Much of the sill plate was suspended. The woodchucks had buried equipment left in the barn. The house had everything living inside except human beings.”
But that was then, and this is now. A lot of determination, vision, hard work and more than a few dollars have gone into the reclamation of the property at 585 Lindley Road, Bronson, Mich., now affectionately known as Bucktale Farm.
“A bulldozer and excavator spent three days clearing brush and unusable old buildings,” Freiburger remembers. “In May of ’04, we started on the house and one year later, a barn contractor and his crew set up camp near the barn with trailers and tents.”
The barn was stripped to its frame and straightened with cables and wenches. Rotted timbers were repaired with sound, salvaged stock. The fieldstone foundation was restored using stone from the farm’s own pile left when the land was first cleared in the late 1800s.
Built in the late 1800s for cattle and crops, the barn is 40 feet by 66 feet, 32 feet in height with a 16-by-40-foot lean-to, which served as the milking parlor. Most of the structure is hand-hewn, mortise and tenon, wood-pegged construction. The barn includes a grain storage room, two horse stalls and a hay chute. A hay car and track run the full length of the peak.
By the time the project was completed in October 2005, 1-inch-thick and 12-inch-wide (in 16-foot lengths) rough-sawn white pine boards had been installed as siding, facia and soffit. Half-inch plywood became the new roof decking and was covered with metal.
“We decided that inside the barn, we would not replace the entire loft, which would allow us to appreciate, from the main floor, the beauty of the beams and workmanship of the original builders,” Freiburger says. “The loft joists were straightened, we installed tongue and groove Ponderosa pine flooring, and railings were made from round joists salvaged from the unused portion of the loft. The granary was sided in pine, and the horse stalls were cleaned.”
The project moved closer to completion with the removal of 18 inches of dirt and manure to be replaced with compacted gravel over which a concrete floor was poured.
“We added zoned lighting with dimmers, caulked and painted,” Freiburger says. “And then we celebrated our new, old barn with 80 family members and friends on a warm day that led to a nice night under a full moon.”
The Bucktale barn, so named for a print that hangs in the now-renovated farmhouse, of hunters swapping stories, has become a place of welcome with its own tales to tell.
In September, it was the setting for the wedding reception of grandson, Ben, and bride, Cory, with more than 200 guests enjoying the inviting setting.
“The barn project was extremely exciting and turned out even better than we expected. We knew the cost up front,” says Freiburger, with deep satisfaction. “Looking back over the last 13 years at the enjoyment the barn has given our family and friends, the cost was worth every penny. I never enter the barn without stopping to look at and appreciate the craftsmanship and beauty. We also recognize our duty as stewards to maintain and pass it on to the next generation.”
Arnett writes from Battle Creek, Mich.