SHELBYVILLE, Ind. — What began as a project to build some farm tables has turned into a barn reclamation business for Angela Crouse.
Crouse started her company – Reclaimed Barns and Beams – in Shelbyville in September 2015. She and her team dismantle old barns and turn the wood into flooring, furniture and home accent pieces.
“Those farm tables, that’s still the concept, to take something from history and pass it on to others,” she explained. “These barns are incredible pieces of history. These trees were growing before our country existed.”
Interest in reclaimed barn wood has increased tremendously over the last few years, said Jim Ellison, co-owner of the Reclaimed Barnwood Co. in Alexandria, Ohio. He started the company in 2010 with cousin Chris Williams.
“We got into this toward the beginning of it getting popular,” Ellison said. “I think we’re at the peak of the fad. People like seeing the beautiful character of older wood. We like the old look ourselves, so we understand that interest.”
Crouse’s company will have worked on 11 barns over the past couple of years by the end of this season. She is generally able to save 60-70 percent of a barn’s wood and fixtures, depending on the condition.
“Some are in real disrepair, mostly due to water damage,” she noted. “Some are still structurally sound, but maybe the owners want to put up a pole barn that better fits their needs. For those, we’re trying to find a way to repurpose them or restore them elsewhere.”
Most of the barns Crouse has worked on are from the late 1800s-early 1900s and feature oak or beech wood and occasionally some chestnut. While she can find a use for the wood removed from a barn, she doesn’t have a need for asphalt shingles and is actively looking for someone who may have a way to dispose of them.
When Crouse was in search of wood for those farm tables, a man in Southport, Ind., gave her his barn because he was selling the land and needed to remove the structure. It took her and a small group of helpers four months to dismantle that first barn.
Today, Crouse has a crew to tear down the barns. In February, her brother, Andy Ballard, became a partner in the company. They’re planning to open a showroom in downtown Shelbyville in November. Their shop, including a lumber yard, is north of town.
She cited several reasons for the increased interest in reclaimed barn wood, including television shows promoting the use of barn wood and websites featuring photos of products made from it.
Ellison and Williams target barns for reclamation that aren’t able to be used. They may be a hazard and a liability for the landowner, Ellison said.
“Other times, the barns are in perfect shape but they don’t go with the way they farm today,” he noted. “The equipment won’t fit or they store hay in a different way. I’d rather see a barn saved if possible. Sometimes they’re taken down for a farmer to build another building in their place.”
Ellison estimated they’ve either taken down or purchased wood from as many as 700 barns since they began their company. They can save up to 95 percent of the wood if a barn isn’t in bad shape.
Some landowners allow them to take their barns for free just to get them off their property, he said. If a barn is in really good shape, there’s a value in it and it’s worth it for them to pay to remove it, Ellison added. They’ve found several types of barn wood, including ash, elm and red and white oak.
Organizations such as Michigan Barn Preservation Network hope landowners will consider their options before deciding to have a barn dismantled, said Steve Stier, the group’s vice president.
“Our policy is that dismantling barns that can be repaired or rebuilt on another site should not be used to repurpose the wood,” he explained. “If an owner wants to remove their barn and it can be rebuilt as a barn, there are people who want an old barn and are willing to finance the move.
“We do whatever we can to put these deals together and have good success if conditions are favorable.”
Landowners should also understand that a barn may be reparable even if it looks as if it’s in bad shape, Stier said.
Timber-frame barns are historically valuable structures, said Chuck Bultman, vice president of the National Barn Alliance.
“First, we hope the owners continue to use a barn for what it was intended for,” he explained. “Short of that, we’d like to see them moved and then maybe still used for agriculture. Short of that, we’d like to see them used for another purpose. If a barn is too far gone, we’re okay with taking them down.”
Many owners of old barns don’t stop and realize what they have, Bultman said. “These barns have a personality, they have a story. There are many people, very passionate people, like myself. I’d move a barn and use it for something else before I’d let it fall down.”
For information on barn wood reclamation, visit Crouse’s website at www.reclaimedbarnsandbeams.com or Ellison’s, www.the-rbc.com For information on preservation, go to www.barnalliance.org or www.mibarn.net