An unorthodox route to preserving a classic barn garnered a local couple statewide recognition.
Last month, the Michigan Barn Preservation Network named Bob and Kathleen Garvey's barn in Williamsburg as the Barn of the Year in the Family/Private Adaptive Use category. The annual recognition by the statewide nonprofit also named three other barn awards in the categories of Continued Family/Private Agricultural Use, Non-Profit Agricultural or Adaptive Use and Public-Private Partnership.
The Michigan Barn Preservation Network appreciated how the Garveys honored the barn's integrity — despite disassembling the structure, moving it a mile and reassembling it. The couple and their construction team took painstaking efforts during the two-year process to sustain the structure's historical accuracy.
"We look for effort in maintaining the character and sensitivity in caring and preserving original features and details," said Tom Nehil, Barn of the Year chairperson for the Michigan Barn Preservation Network.
"The Garveys very carefully and beautifully brought that barn together at a new site and really highlighted the original timber construction," he added. "The sense of the barn is there."
They may be part-time Williamsburg residents at the moment — he still works downstate as an attorney — but the Garveys are honoring the area's agricultural roots and traditions.
They decided that a piece of property they owned near their residence, where they kept horses and grew lavender, needed a classic barn. In 2010, they acquired from neighbors one built in the late 1890s and situated at the corner of Lautner Road and M-72. The structure had been lovingly cared for by the Lautner and Andres families for more than a century but was slated for demolition to make room for a new Meijer.
"People don't like to see them taken down, but if someone doesn't come along, then that's what happens," said Bob Garvey.
When the Garveys learned that moving the barn intact just one mile would cost $60,000, they turned to Terry's Barn Restoration for help.
The veteran craftsmen, based in Grand Junction, took the barn apart and moved it piece by piece. During the process, workers discovered that much of the siding and sheathing was not salvageable. Determined to honor the barn's history, the Garveys found an Amish craftsman to make many of the 12-inch replacement boards.
"We replaced some but ended up with the bones," said Bob Garvey, who noted that the old workhorse barns were "almost impossible to knock down" because of their solid construction.
The Garveys also extensively researched paint to recreate the realistic "barn red" shade for the finished structure. The traditional red color harks back to the days when farms used a cheap, readily available and durable concoction of skimmed milk, lime and red iron oxide. The Garveys used a modern paint but perfectly matched the color.
The couple tapped designs from early 20th-century Sears kit barns to add windows to their structure. Working farm barns do not need windows in space for storing hay, but the Garveys wanted greater versatility. Both hailing from large families, they knew the restored barn had great social potential.
With some fundraising parties for various local nonprofits under their belt, the renovated barn space has proven to be an excellent gathering place. The couple is exploring the possibility of using the barn on a limited basis for weddings.
"It is so charming to have parties here — on a wonderful summer evening, it is just a different atmosphere," said Kathleen Garvey.
Barns now have a different meaning to the Garveys since they rescued and revived a classic one. The noble structures catch their eye — whether lovingly cared for and restored or in various stages of dilapidation and neglect.
"You want to save them all because they're so beautiful," said Kathleen Garvey.