My husband and I were leaving Ann Arbor, Mich., in late January, taking a different route back to Battle Creek for a change of scenery and for the opportunity to photograph a barn or two along the way.
A big, white, steel-sided barn paralleling busy Jackson Road caught my attention. To the right of a driveway near the barn was a sign, “Pirates Cove Self Storage.”
After learning of my special interest in Michigan’s amazing barns, Deborah Maracani, manager of the business at 8225 Jackson Road, and her co-worker Sue Hubbard happily showed us around.
“Barn preservation is a beautiful thing!” says Maracani, pointing out features of the barn’s hand-hewn framing, left visible in the process of giving the grand old barn a new purpose.
The ground level of the barn, including the office, is 35 feet by 102 feet, while the upper level is 35 feet by about 66 feet. A portion of the ground level serves as offices for the storage company, which has locations in several Michigan communities. The back half of the barn and the drive-in loft are used by an electric company for a workshop and storage.
A Scio Township survey done in March 1997 of property that had become part of the Cole and Huss subdivision contains photos of the barn, a nearby brick farmhouse and a description that reads, “Newer farmhouse, large gambrel-roof barn situated near road. Barn has newer (1940s or 1950s) cinder block garage addition. Gable-roof outbuildings and shed to rear (south) of barn in former orchard. Small shed-roof building and stone fireplace in grove of trees adjacent to house.”
For many years, the farm had been a prosperous apple orchard belonging to the Schlupe family. Dave Hughes, owner of Vanston/O’Brien Inc. — an architectural, engineering and construction firm in Ann Arbor — bought the property in 1997 when the area was being developed, or devoured, as some term the process.
Too often, existing buildings and trees are razed rather than thought being given to how they might be incorporated into the reconfiguration of an area.
Scio Township leaders, seeing how rapidly and dramatically sprawl overtakes agricultural land and open space, have been purchasing parcels of farmland, keeping some and adding restrictions to others before reselling them.
The purchases are made possible by a millage approved by about 70% of the township’s 17,000 residents in 2004. A renewal was approved in 2012, and the tax raises about $500,000 each year for land acquisition and preservation. In addition to acquisition, funds go for conservation easements that pay landowners not to develop their land but to keep it as green space.
Since the program’s beginning, the township has collected $10.8 million in taxes and placed easements on or purchased 1,435 acres of land, including the recent purchase of a 161-acre, post-Civil War farm settled in 1867. That land will not be kept by the township, but it will be sold with restrictions to someone who will preserve or farm it.
For other farms, the goal is for developers to see the wisdom in keeping solid timber-frame barns intact and giving them new uses. In some subdivisions, barns have become community centers or remain in use as a barn for residents’ horses or other animals when buyers share common interests.
“The township wanted the barn saved,” Hughes says. It was structurally sound, so little was needed apart from the installation of steel siding and remodeling for the offices of Pirates Cove. He also eliminated sliding doors for a drive-in bay on the upper level.
Hughes’ company also converted a similar barn on the nearby Len Lillard farm for a heating and plumbing business.
Saving the Schlupe barn was a good decision in Scio Township. “As manager of this facility for the past 10 years, it has been exciting, talking to tenants who notice the structure of the office with the preserved beams,” Maracani says. “We love to tell them this was once a working barn for the apple orchard. We have one tree left by the office that still bears fruit, and it is oh, so good!”
Ric Beck, a barn contractor and member of the Friends of Ohio Barns, admires the large, angled-designed section between posts and beams in the barn.
“These are known as bolsters,” he explains. “The thought was that they were a way to spread out the load on the post, or as the saying goes, ‘Just for pretty.’ These are originals. I have seen several like this in the Ann Arbor area.”
Studying the time-proven features of the comfortable office, Maracani adds, “Sue and I have always felt at home working in such an historically unique atmosphere.”
Arnett is the author of “American Barns” and co-founder of the Barn Believers Community Project Fund held at the Battle Creek Community Foundation. She writes from Battle Creek.