The icons of Pennsylvania agriculture are quickly disappearing. The 27-year-old is in the business of finding then reinventing barns before theyre gone.
These barns are the foundation of our agriculture, the foundation of basically everything, said the New Milford resident. How could you just throw away what someone has spent their whole life building and maintaining?
For the last six years, Mr. Benedict has both dismantled and restored barns at the behest of their owners. Through his company, Benedict Antique Lumber & Stone, Mr. Benedict reclaims what he can from the aging structures, creating flooring, ceiling beams and other new elements from the old lumber.
In other cases, he and his crew sweep in and rebuild dilapidated barns, breathing new life into old wood.
Mr. Benedict, meanwhile, may have to build up his memory bank for a flood of
A call to spend state dollars for barn preservation is gaining momentum.
Thats going to actually generate business for us -- a lot of business for us, he said. To a lot of these people, these things have been in their family for generations. They dont want to see them go.
The state Legislature wants a complete inventory of Pennsylvanias remaining barns, considered icons of the Commonwealths largest industry and possible tourist destinations.
In October, both the House and Senate passed resolutions calling on the state Department of Agriculture and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission to conduct a count. A progress report is due by December.
The hope is a complete survey of all barns built before the mid-1960s.
The goal is to enact a grant program or tax incentive for people to preserve their barns, said state Rep. Sheila Miller, R-Berks County, a major sponsor of the resolution and chairwoman of the Center for Rural Pennsylvania.
I think that any time we lose an opportunity to market our past, and in a unique way that cant be coped by another part of the country, were missing a great opportunity, said Mrs. Miller, whos spent her entire life in agriculture.
Pennsylvania boasts close to 60,000 operating farms. More than 2,000 are enrolled in state programs recognizing farms in continuous operation for at least a century. Of those, 117 are at 200 years and counting.
And barns follow farms. Housing animals, feed and sometimes farmers themselves, barns come in dozens of shapes and styles. As agriculture has waned in some corners of the commonwealth, many barns have adopted new incarnations, from dairy buildings to stores.
But countless others have fallen into disrepair or willful neglect.
In Northeastern Pennsylvania, dozens of property owners are waiting for Mr. Benedict and his crew.
I think its a great idea, Mr. Benedict said of the plan. Its preserving our heritage.
Farmers hoping to save their barns may turn to Mr. Benedict for help.
Yet, conversely, he doesnt think the push for preservation will cut into his supply base. Most of his income stems from the fruits of barn razings -- hes installed hand-hewn barn beams into homes and businesses throughout the Northeast.
Theyre not ever going to be able to offer enough grant money to save a lot of these barns, he said. I dont forsee any potential loss in my business.
State aid lacking
At this point, its unclear how much the state could offer property owners if a tax incentive or grant program emerges. But, in many cases, state help may not be enough.
Mr. Benedict paid $800 for the chance to harvest a massive, 50-foot-tall thresher barn in Noxen. Fierce winds ultimately toppled the frail frame before his crew could finish, but, either way, the barn had to go. Its owner, a farmer whose family enjoyed it for generations, couldnt manage the $20,000 needed for restoration.
He didnt want to see it go, said Mr. Benedict. Most times, so many pieces are so far gone. Most people are down to earth, and realize it takes a lot of money to save the structures.
Mr. Benedict and his crew have almost completed their restoration of a dairy barn in Jackson. That price tag is approaching $20,000.
Mrs. Miller remains optimistic but knows the state cant save them all.
In some cases, the stories of Pennsylvanias barns -- passed down through their new incarnations -- may have to be enough.
My preference, if I had an ideal world, it would go back to barn use, Mrs. Miller said with a nod to Mr. Benedicts work. But if not, at least that wonderful timber is going to be used by someone and not just be allowed to fall together and be consumed by mother nature.
Contact the writer: email@example.com