A small silo, large chicken coop, concrete smokehouse, and another smaller barn still standing on the property suggest that a farming operation existed years ago. John and Melanie know that Mr. Turner — one of the farm’s early owners — was a schoolteacher. Cherry and walnut trees and a variety of wild berry bushes indicate that Mr. Turner may have enjoyed botany as a sideline job. An attic in the smaller barn that they found filled with old dolls, dinosaurs, and tricycles points to a past era where children tumbled about the farm and enjoyed a carefree life. Old car and tree stand remnants on the 40-acre property indicate that an active, refreshing lifestyle was enjoyed.
From Crumbling to Captivating
Mystery surrounds this little hay barn tucked into the hills of Manchester, Maryland. With no cornerstone to reveal the building date, the owners — John and Melanie Murray — can only speculate about the year the barn was built and the things it has seen in its lifetime.
When John bought the place in 2006, the barn was in need of immediate attention but still functional. They used the barn for minimal storage while John watched the painful deterioration happen. Parts of the roof blew away. Planks were disintegrating. He held his breath as he came around the corner of his drive every evening, always grateful when he’d see his faithful friend still standing. He hated what was happening but felt unsure how to stop it.
As the deterioration continued, John asked locals for barn restoration recommendations and searched the internet for options. Nothing felt right, but the countdown was on. He had to make the decision to restore or demolish before the elements beat him to it.
One day, Stable Hollow Construction appeared in an online search. It looked like they loved what they did. They even specialized in barn restorations. Had John found a fit? In August of 2019, a Stable Hollow team arrived to assess the barn. John waited anxiously for their verdict. He couldn’t believe it when they finished and calmly told him they were up for the challenge.
Before committing to their work, John asked to see other barns renovated by Stable Hollow. So one morning, John joined a Stable Hollow team to tour several restored barns. At each location, he pulled the owner aside and privately asked for their honest critique of Stable Hollow’s work. He was impressed. Hearing positive feedback and inspecting tangible work was great comfort. John and Melanie were in.
John and Melanie dreamed of building a horse barn in addition to the barn restoration. Stable Hollow suggested building horse stalls into the bottom of the barn instead. John was convinced there wasn’t enough head room in the basement. The basement floor sloped, and when standing by the back wall, a person had to stoop. But as Stable Hollow explained a possible plan, the idea seemed feasible. Today, they don’t regret their decision to include the horse stalls. They feel like the end result was phenomenal.
A huge rock pile bordering the Murray’s property became a valuable restoration asset. The rock matched the original stone work perfectly and was used to patch crumbling sections of the barn walls.
Often throughout the project, John would brainstorm something new or worry about the way something was going to be designed. Every time he approached Stable Hollow about an issue, they were delighted to discuss it with him. John felt like they usually had an even better solution than he originally imagined. For example, when he asked about the mortise & tenon joints, they already had a plan.
Actual restoration started in April 2020. John and Melanie joked about their front-seat reality show. They called it “The Barn Show”. Once barn renovations began, the project happened quickly. By the end of the first week, the barn was disassembled down to the stone foundation. And by mid-June — only two months later — Stable Hollow was wrapping up the main work.
“At the stage that the stone foundation remained, neatly dug out to its depths, I was transported back in time. Many years ago, somewhere in the 1800’s I guess, a farmer and his family were standing back and admiring this same sight. At that time, it was freshly dug and the stone was newly erected. A foundation thick and solid from their own land; a foundation ready to build their barn and their dreams on. Like them, my dreams were being realized.” -John M.
For Melanie, the historical significance of how the barn was rebuilt is valuable. She loves its authenticity and believes the barn will be there for another 100 years. John, on the other hand, liked the original barn. Photos taken from the West were his favorite, and he still talks about painting it red again someday. But, for now, he recognizes the fact that restoration was the barn’s saving grace. The barn must live on.
Neighbors have followed the project. Strangers have stopped in to see the barn. John and Melanie’s grandchildren are already enjoying the new loft play space. And Melanie has used the space to throw a birthday party for John.
What about the barn’s future? The Murray’s have many dreams. They’ve talked about renting the upper level to a yoga instructor or to a teacher of special needs children. They definitely plan to own a few horses — probably one named Bob — and would enjoy boarding horses for others.
The Murray’s are thrilled with their restored gem. They’re also thrilled with the relationship they formed with the Stable Hollow team. “They actually became my friends.” -John M. One day, they hope Stable Hollow will return to restore life to their smaller barn nestled under this beautiful barn’s shadow.
There was quality and attention to detail at every step. They employed maximum reuse of materials. Any decay in an original beam or post could be cut out and the piece could be resized for windows, door frames, and trim. Besides saving some money, the reuse greatly contributed to maintaining the character and heritage of the barn.