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Article in the Muskegon Chronicle
May 31. 2004
Bringing down the barn
Family is in the Business of Preservation

  By John S. Hausman

CHRONICLE STAFF WRITER

Here’s something you don’t see every day. A crew of men carefully dismantling a 19th century timber frame barn, beam by venerable beam, for transport to a new site 100 miles away.

But that was the scene last week north of Holton. A team from Hesperia-based Great Lakes Barn Preservation took apart an approximately 1890-vintage barn at 9391 Holton Duck Lake. Each part of the hand-hewn frame was marked for reassembly at its eventual new home near La Porte, Ind. just south of the Michigan boarder.

The buyer is a Chicago-area man developing a 76-acrea farm-country site for his retirement home, said Sam Stitt III, co-owner of Great Lakes Barn Preservation.

“It’s a piece of Americana,” Stitt said. “On the land-scape he can look out and see other barns, and he wanted one of his own. He called me a year ago, looking for a barn to send to Indiana.

Once reassembled and restored to usable condition, the barn can be used for storage. Its floor space is 40 by 50 feet. The sidewalls are 18 feet high.

The Holton-area barn is indeed a piece of Americana. Its frame is held together not with nails but with big wooden pegs sometimes called “tree nails.” In about a week, once the ground in Indiana has dried out sufficiently after recent rains, Stitt’s company will put the disassembled barn on a semi-tractor trailer and truck it down to its new site a few miles off I-94.

Not all of the rebuilt barn will consist of original materials – just the frame. “What’s he’s getting is the hand-hewn, late 1800’s frame,” Stitt said. It’s called a “mortise and tenon” structure, meaning an old timber-frame building, he said.

Stitt’s crew will put the old frame back up with a new roof and new siding. Another company will lay a new foundation and floors. Stitt estimated the reassembly process will take two to four weeks.

Stitt said he typically moves two old barns a year, occasionally, three. But the bulk of his business is restoration in place of decaying barns, about a dozen a year. Usually a barn owner will call him to fix an old barn. Sometimes the cost proves too high, especially when a foundation has gone bad, and the owner may see the barn to Stitt for disassembly, restoration and resale, as in the case of the Holton-Duck Lake Road structure.

For Stitt and his wife and business partner, Peggy, it’s a family business and a labor of love.

“It’s the way we make our living, but we really have a love for it, the old barns, for the life, working in the country for country people. It’s enjoyable,” Stitt Said.

He’s been doing it for 30 years, having learned the craft from his father, Sam Stitt II. Now 84, the elder Stitt retired from his own barn-restoration business about a decade ago but still helps out his son part time. “He’s out on this job,” Sam Stitt III said. “He picked up the roof steel.”

And the family tradition is carried on by Sam Stitt IV, who is working on the project … and even 6 year old Sam Stitt V, who also comes by with his father.

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This article was Reprinted with permission of The Muskegon (MI ) Chronicle