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By Pem McNerney
Madison Patch – February 17, 2012

Travis Gulick of Madison’s Gulick & Spradlin LLC explains why someone would travel all the way from Connecticut to Pennsylvania to buy an old barn.

If you’ve driven down Scotland Road recently, you may have noticed a construction project going on behind 76 Scotland Road. But this isn’t exactly new construction. The guest house going up behind the Jonathan Murray House, circa 1690, began its life as a barn in Pennsylvania. Here, Travis Gulick of explains why an old barn from Pennsylvania is a perfect match with an old house in Connecticut.

Can you tell me a little about the history of 76 Scotland Road?

That address is the location of the Jonathan Murray House, which is one of the oldest houses in Madison. The Jonathan Murray House is dated to circa 1690. Jonathan Murray moved to America in 1685 and in the same year he married a Guilford woman named Anne Bradley. As a first home, they built a house in East Guilford, at the current location. In 1826 East Guilford separated from Guilford and became its own town, Madison. Jonathan and Anne had nine children in this house. In 1743, Reuben Murray was born in the house, which is the great grandfather of Jennie Jerome, who is the mother of Winston Churchill. This house was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.

How did you get started on this project? When the client came to you, what was he looking for?

The client came to us and wanted to build a guesthouse/recreation area in the backyard for his kids and visitors. This is the same family that bought the Jonathan Murray house after we finished restoring it in 2006 and over the years we have developed a great relationship with them.

How did you decide to use the old barn in Pennsylvania as a solution? What was that barn used for? What is its history? Was it an actual working barn with animals and hay and the like? How did you find it?

The reason for going with the barn idea was to establish that back in the 1700’s barns were a part of a family’s lifestyle. Family members held their animals, hay and tools in the barn. Doing it this way will make it feel like it belongs on the property. Once the idea of using an old barn for this project was finalized, it was almost like shopping for anything else on the Internet. There are many companies that sell old barns online and we had to sort through what we thought would work best. A company in Pennsylvania had the best old barns to choose from. The barn that was chosen is called Foreman Barn in Montgomery County. It was being used as a hay barn on the Foreman Farm. Unfortunately there is not much history to tell about the barn except that we can estimate the year it was built, which is about mid 1800’s.  Peter Gulick and the client traveled down to Montgomery County and looked at it before it was disassembled.

What kind of special skills does it take to reconstruct an old barn, as opposed to just building a new one?

Constructing an old barn is the same concept as putting together a 3D puzzle. Every part has a place to go and it cannot fit any other place. When the barn was taken down in Pennsylvania, it was taken down piece-by-piece and labeled. This technique is what makes it easier to put back up when it is time. Most all the joints are mortise and tendon with pegs through them to secure them together. While all the mortise and tendon joints are original, the pegs are new.

After the timber frame is set up, how do you go about transforming it into a guesthouse? What kind of amenities will the guesthouse have?

This is an interesting project since the client wants the feel of an old barn when you walk in. Therefore you cannot just put up new walls on the inside and insulate it that way. We bought old barn board from different barns in Pennsylvania and are going to wrap the whole barn in that first. After that is up, then we will use Structural Insulated Panels on the outside walls and the roof that will give the whole barn strength and make it completely insulated. Once the Structural Insulated Panels are installed then we will use new boards to finish off the outside and over time they will age on their own.

Using this technique we are able to get the feel of being in an old barn when you walk in. You will see old timber frame posts and beams and see the old barn board surrounding it. There will be one open room on the first floor as well as a guest room and bathroom. Above the guest room, there will be a loft area for either a play area or an office type of space.

Why go to all this trouble?

As a company, this is not a lot of trouble for what we believe in. If we were to put up a new guesthouse behind the 1690 Jonathan Murray house it would take away from the history of the house and land. This way the guesthouse/barn will fit right into the property and feel like it belongs yet still be separate. This project is fun for us as a company since we get to save an old timber frame barn from demolition and use our craftsmanship to give it new life for at least another 150 years.

If people are interested in this kind of project, can they stop by and take a look?

We are willing to show anyone the project if they are interested. If there are Gulick & Spradlin LLC workers on site, please do not hesitate to ask someone to give them a quick tour of the project.

A time-lapse video of the project so far can be seen on the Gulick & Spradlin LLC Facebook page.

periodHomesReviving a Colonial-era house for modern living involves more than putting back missing pieces.

Should you think restoring a Victorian house or 1910s bungalow in the 1970s had its learning curves, consider what it’s like to resurrect an 18th-century house in the 21st century.While many of the old hurdles, like finding period-design hardware and paint colors, have gotten easier, working on a 300-year-old timber frame in the digital age brings another bag of challenges – not the least of which is how to thoughtfully blend pre-industrial craftsmanship and materials with modern sustainable building practices and energy efficiency needs.

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