TAYLORSTOWN – In the pleasant midday light, the heavy footfall of visitors disturbed the dust and dirt gathered in the nooks and crannies hidden within the old basement barn on the Crothers-Cramer farm.
The floor boards of the barn whined as people entered and began to explore the structure Saturday. Established in the mid to late 1800s, the Crothers-Cramer farm is the highlight of this year’s annual Historic Barn and Farm Foundation of Pennsylvania’s barn tour. Owners Fred and Laureen Cramer painstakingly restored the barn after purchasing the property in 1996. Now, it stands as one of the finer specimens of historic barns in Washington County.
Ken Sandri, an executive board member with the HBFF, said this was the first time the foundation has focused on the southwest portion of the state in its seven years in existence. The HBFF is a statewide nonprofit organization that promotes the identification, documentation, protection and preservation of the rural heritage of Pennsylvania.
This year’s tour began Friday at Plantation Plenty near Avella, with the group’s annual meeting taking place afterward at Meadowcroft Museum of Rural Life and Rockshelter.
On Saturday, 60 people from Virginia, West Virginia, New Jersey, Ohio and Washington and Allegheny counties visited six local barns. Participants had the opportunity to also visit several barns in Somerset County Sunday.
Among the group was 88-year-old Bob Ensminger. Ensminger, a co-founder of HBFF and author of “The Pennsylvania Barn: Its Origin, Evolution, and Distribution in North America” – a volume which provides a comprehensive study of the type and evolution of architecture found in area barns – said it’s important to preserve this part of local history.
“Most people don’t appreciate what they are looking at,” he said. “Once it is gone, we lose it. We lose track of what it was, what it meant.”
Laura Walker, a member of the HBFF executive board and tour organizer, said finding barns in good shape can be difficult.
“We miss them as soon as they are gone,” she said. “Maintenance on a barn that has no economic purpose is an extreme hardship.”
But that may slowly change as royalties from gas wells continue to roll into the area, Walker said. Walker’s log barn was among those featured on the tour. And, while she admits there have been numerous changes to its structure over the years, Walker said it adds to the structure’s history.
She said Washington County has a “special place” for barns and farms.
“(The area) is special in that it has depth of stability within family farms,” Walker said. “Families stay close. That’s something lost on the rest of the country.”
Walker said the “barn theme” doesn’t end with this past weekend’s events. She said the Pennsylvania Barn, and barns in general, will be featured at this year’s Washington County Fair.