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Seneca Stone Barn

Woodstock Equestrian Park: A design build preservation/Stabilization project

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Project Description

The Woodstock Equestrian Park consists of approximately 850 acres of rolling farmland straddling both sides of Darnestown Road.  A Master Plan for the Woodstock Equestrian Park was approved by the Montgomery County Planning Board in January 2002 and amended in March 2004. Phase I completed parking lots and an extensive 18-mile equestrian trail system to take riders on a tour of the natural beauty of the area and provide views of historic buildings, including the Seneca Stone Barn. Additional phases of work for future Woodstock Equestrian facilities are underway.

The Seneca Stone Barn is remotely located along the wooded edge of a scenic farm field in the western section of the Woodstock Equestrian Park. The barn sits in a picturesque setting at the bottom of a sloping hill near a small creek and is surrounded by trees and vegetation on its south and east sides. The building’s address is 20101 Wasche Road, Dickerson, Maryland  20842 but vehicle access is only available during special interpretive events arranged by the M-NCPPC’s Cultural Resources Stewardship Section. Other times, visitors should park at the main park entrance on the western (Greenberg) side of MD Rt. 28 (Darnestown Road) north of historic Beallsville, Maryland, then hike or ride along designated natural surface trails to the barn.This project preserved and stabilized the historic Seneca Stone Barn, Montgomery County Locational Atlas Site #12/40.  The work was initiated because of the building’s historic significance and because it was structurally unstable due to settlement, especially on the east and south sides of the building.  In addition, heavy vegetation was encroaching upon the wall’s integrity.

The 22’ x 40’ one and one-half story barn is made of rough Seneca stone masonry walls and foundations. The intermediate floor framing is heavy timber and the roof is composed of wood rafters, covered by a metal roof.

The work included stabilization, repair, and rebuilding of all stone walls with existing stones (50% of the walls were dismantled and rebuilt, from the middle of the north wall to the middle of the south wall including the entire east wall); installation of a new concrete foundation where the walls were rebuilt; removal of non-historic Portland cement mortar; restoration of original mortar on all facades; restoration of interior wood loft floor; repair and replacement of wooden grilles, doors, windows, and frames; replacement of the metal roof; and site grading to deflect water from the foundation. Vegetation was also cleared, especially on the south side to give the effect of a barnyard that may have existed in the past.

The work was completed under contract with the Oak Grove Restoration Company. The project was managed by staff in the Park Development Division with support from the Cultural Resources Stewardship Section and other park staff. It was financed in part with Program Open Space funds from the State of Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Parks, Restoration of Historic Structures Capital Improvement Program (CIP).

Background

The Seneca Stone Barn stands as an important and rare example of stone barn construction in Montgomery County. It is a highly significant example of a late 18th century or early 19th century English barn.  In the 18th and 19th centuries, Seneca sandstone barns and buildings were a common sight across the fields and rolling hills of the Poolesville area. The structure was likely associated with the late 18th or early 19th century Seneca stone house, which used to stand at the top of the nearby hill. The barn was likely constructed by the Young family at the end of the 18th century or early 19th century, or by the Fisher family post 1824.

Like many barn structures, the Seneca Stone Barn is very difficult to interpret as to its original and subsequent uses. This was compounded by the fact that its interior was difficult to access due to the extremely unstable condition of the building’s structure and interior.

The small barn was constructed out of local red coursed-rubble Seneca sandstone. It is a one-story structure with a loft under its gable roof. The south elevation contains three doors, all with stone thresholds, and two windows between the doors. The windows originally had wooden bars placed horizontally across them. The small central door is surmounted by a segmental, stone lintel. The heavy stone lintels and thick exterior walls lend the building a primitive appearance indicative of its early construction date. The initials “J.R.F.” and two crosses are carved in a stone to the right of the central door. The initials could have been carved by Joseph R. Fisher, the husband of Mary Fisher, at some point in the mid-19th century when they lived at the nearby Seneca stone house. There are remnants of the original door frames, such as wooden pegs and wrought-iron hinges. The placement of three doors on the south elevation implies that the lower level of the barn was divided into three sections, most likely for animal shelter, root or cold food storage, or other multiple uses. Steep door thresholds led to the lower level. The loft most likely contained hay storage. The floor is dirt on the lower story and wood in the loft. The hay might have been taken by hand to the upper level by way of wood stairs and then when needed lowered from the two large openings from the upper story on the north and west elevations – or a pulley system might have been used.  Many early barns provided shelter to humans also, but the lack of a chimney on this barn suggests that the building did not serve this purpose.  By definition, barns sought to incorporate multiple purposes – such as stabling, stalling, crop storage, food storage, and processing – all in one structure.

The north elevation contains a large opening on the upper story (the top of this opening extends to the eave) flanked by two small horizontal windows on the lower story. All three openings rest upon stone sills and have wood frames. The following is engraved in the mortar on the upper-left-hand corner of the north elevation: “10-5-44.” This most likely represents the date of the Portland mortar replacement and patching; steel ladder steps were most likely set into the mortar leading to the central opening on the north elevation at this time.  Both the east and west elevations contain one small horizontal opening of the lower level. The west elevation, however, also is pierced by a large opening on the upper story, which has a hinged wood door enclosing the opening. The roof is tin with gable-end sheathing. The original roof was replaced some time during the 1930s or 1940s when the Donaldson family purchased the property.

The Seneca Stone Barn has been referred to as having the “appearance of an English barn.” The form of the building is the same as English barns, but it is not clear into which of the established English barn types the Seneca Stone Barn falls – these include the three-bay threshing barn, the English bank barn, raised barn, and foundation barn. The English barn was introduced in American by early colonial peoples who brought the design of this barn type with them to New England and the Chesapeake Bay. Invariably, the barn type was adapted to meet the needs of farmers in specific regions. American English barns and barns in England are often identical in form.  However, in England, stone construction dominated, whereas in America wood construction was most common because wood was less expensive and a more readily available building material. The function of English Barns was mostly related to crop farming and was not usually found on large-scale farms where livestock was a more prominent component.

Status/Project Update

The project was completed and opened to the public on June 27, 2009 during Montgomery County Heritage Days, a countywide open house tour of historic properties. The building is opened for special events by M-NCPPC’s Cultural Resources Stewardship Section.

M-NCPPC Staff Contact

Eileen Emmet, Park Development Division
Eileen.Emmet@MontgomeryParks.org
301-495-2550

Date of last update: October 13, 2009