Sunday, June 17, 2012


IMG_4662We had a neighbor in St Louis, a scholar, an educator, and a gentleman. This equated to pretty boring for a fifteen year old, until he reported back from a sabbatical year in Pennsylvania that he was living in a HUNDRED-YEAR-OLD STONE FARMHOUSE. Now that was interesting. I couldn't wait to hear more.

 Were the walls cold to the touch in the winter?

Did it have a wood stove?

Were there warm nooks beside a kitchen hearth?

I had lots of queries about plumbing and maintenance and dry stone foundations to prepare for the hundred year old farm house (and huge stone barn) I would eventually own and cherish. The answers never came and it seems likely that the farmhouse will not replace Airstream in the years I have left. Nevertheless I have enjoyed these last few days driving the back roads of Berks County, marveling at the best stone barns I've ever seen. You must excuse me if I have WAY too many pictures of stone -- Pennsylvania Field Stone walls two feet thick, huge timber frames, little windows near the hearth that I thought were an Appalachian thing --a granny window--but I find at Valley Forge and learn they go back to Welsh farms and beyond.


Hearth window on General Varnum’s quarters at Valley Forge.


Massive walls of a failed  Anthracite furnace at Hopewell.


   Nineteenth century farm house at Crows Nest Preserve

IMG_4813On a Natural Lands Trust Preserve --Crows Nest -- we were lucky to catch the Preserve manager with a spare minute and he toured us through the barn renovated to house a day camp for visiting children.  He gave us a quick orientation and turned us loose to hike mowed paths along French Creek, among the fields being mowed for hay and other native grass fields that will  stand until July to give the critters  cover for nesting. Other buildings were being renovated for staff housing and several other stone barns stand ready for crops and educational uses.  The farm machinery was modern and the farm practices ideal for sustaining the land and the the creatures on it.  Surprisingly there was little of the sprawl  and clutter of  disused stuff around the buildings, something I had come to associate with every active farm. (Dad used to tell us to study the rafters of the barns we visited. "A farmer doesn't have time to run to town for a part.  He saves everything.  I bet you could build most of a tractor with stuff you find in corners here."  )

Here is a link to some of the sights at Crows Nest Preserve and stone parts from the last century.  There are so many, many more, but Patty won't let me stop on the narrow little roads.


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