The south facade of the restored Deertz barn
The south facade of the restored Deertz barn

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The late 18th century Deertz barn on its original site, Middleburgh, NY
The late 18th century Deertz barn on its original site, Middleburgh, NY

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A full-scale steel replica of our barn frame atop a reclaimed slag-heap near Dusseldorf, Germany
A full-scale steel replica of our barn frame atop a reclaimed slag-heap near Dusseldorf, Germany

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The south facade of the restored Deertz barn
The south facade of the restored Deertz barn

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AT HOME IN A BARN

My wife and I live in an aisled barn, constructed in the late 18th century in upstate New York by a descendant of Johannes Leyer, a 25-year old Lutheran immigrant from Southwest Germany. It is one of the finest remaining examples of its type and an historically significant structure. We purchased the barn in 1987 and after dismantling and repairing damaged sections of the timber frame we re-erected it on our hilltop property in Columbia County, NY.  Over the intervening years we have transformed it into our living space, cognizant that as temporary guardians we have a responsibility to retain evidence of the barn’s original function and layout.

William Krattinger, Project Manager for New York State’s Division for Historic Preservation, commented, “In what has now become a 20-plus-year career working with historic buildings, I’ve yet to encounter a barn conversion that can even begin to rival the comprehensive thoughtfulness of your home.  Much in the way of interior “potential” was set aside in favor of presenting the artifact in a way that it can be viewed, analyzed, and appreciated in its totality.  It is a remarkably compelling work of design and I feel fortunate to have enjoyed the opportunity to view it in person.”

A few years after my book, “SILENT SPACES: The Last of the Great Aisled Barns,” was published my wife and I received an invitation from the Dutch public-art group, Observatorium, to inspect a project it had completed in Germany’s Ruhr Valley. The area’s traditional coal-mines had long-since closed and grants had been awarded to reclaim and beautify the disfiguring slag-heaps left behind. As we drove along the A57 autobahn a familiar profile appeared atop one of the tall heaps ahead of us. It was a full-scale replica in steel of our barn’s timber frame, which the Dutch team had copied from the book.

In its new role it is suggestive of a temple without walls, affording a contemplative sanctuary to passers-by. It is also a tribute to the thousands of impoverished migrants forced by circumstance to depart the region centuries ago in search of a more productive life in America. The sight of our barn transposed back to the Old World and re-defined as a work of public art was a gratifying and poignant experience.