The Locust Hill Barn

Great Falls, Virginia

Click the image above to see a larger photograph.

Author’s note: This is a story of a 50 year old barn located in the fast growing Northern Virginia area that is now owned by a community association of 92 Homeowners. The building was saved in 1982 from its planned demolition when the home build out was completed. At that time the barn site was cleared of construction debris, the roof repaired and painted, and the block walls and trim painted by volunteer labor. A contractor installed metal siding in the gables and blocked up selected doors and windows for security reasons.

The barn is located on high ground that is mowed and landscaped and serves as a landmark for the tens of thousands of commuters that travel the Leesburg Pike (Rt. 7) daily.

Currently the roof needs replacing and the Homeowners are considering the barn’s future. Among 92 families there is bound to be a range of opinions on any issue. Here they range from strong support for preserving the barn as a landmark to razing the structure. Local community papers recently gave front page coverage to the Locust Hill barn, but the decision is with the Homeowners. Most Homeowners have an appreciation for the barn but their decision on preservation or razing will be heavily influenced by costs. Due to zoning, the land cannot be developed and therefore there is not a competing economic use for the site.

Conversion into a community building is not feasible. The costs of adhering to public assembly building standards, and the attendant liability and management concerns are judged too great for a community the size of Locust Hill. Therefore, supporters are only proposing to maintain and secure the barn for its continuance as a prominent landmark.

What follows is a description of the building and the issues that an increasing number of civic groups have to consider as more barns are owned by non-farmers in urban areas. The Barn Journal will follow this issue and inform you of its outcome. Meanwhile, suggestions and comments are welcomed, and will be relayed to the Homeowners.

- Charles Leik
Great Falls, Virginia

The Barn as a Dairy

The barn built in 1951 is of typical post-War dairy barn construction -- concrete block, a two pitch (gambrel) steel roof with the livestock area below and a loft for hay and straw storage above. The dimensions are 36' x 45' and 30' to the peak. By the mid-‘50s, pole barns clad with steel on both the walls and roof, and cheaper to build, became the prevailing farm construction method.

The adjoining small 12' x 36' silo was filled with chopped corn (the complete corn stalk including the almost mature ear of corn cut into small pieces and called, quite logically, corn ensilage). A mixture of ensilage and hay was the principal cattle ration.

Milk houses were first required after the War by state health regulators if the farm wanted to produce Grade A milk. Grade A is for fresh consumption as opposed to milk used to make cheese, dried products, or yogurt. The milk was taken immediately to the milk house, at first in covered pails and later by pipeline directly from the cow. There it was filtered and stored in a cool place. The separate building greatly reduced the bacteria count from when the milk was handled in the stable area. You will see many older barns with an attached concrete block milk house constructed in the early ‘50s. This milk house is 14' x 32' and 14' 6" high at the peak.

The Locust Hill barn had stalls for 12-16 cows. The cows were in two rows with their heads over the feed trough facing the windows. Vacuum milking machines wee in widespread use at this time and the milking units were attached to the cows from the alley running between the two rows of cows.

Locust Hill

Locust Hill a community of 92 homes was developed in the late ‘70s and is located 4.5 miles west of the Capital Beltway and the huge Tysons Corner commercial and shopping center. Locust Hill is located on a farm that was owned in the ‘50s by a Dr. Webb and when you consider that Seven Corners was a distant suburb, there was no Beltway, and apple orchards were still producing on the high ground that is now Tyson’s Corners, Locust Hill was true farming country! Route 7 (stretches from Alexandria to Leesburg and Winchester) was a two lane road until summer 1967. Urbanization has been constant and swift in Northern VA in the last 30 years.

The Webb property was later rented to a riding stable named the Ponderosa and in late 1970 this author happened to rent a horse there never imagining that he was galloping over where he would later live, or that he would ever commute so far (17 miles to the District of Columbia)! The Ponderosa was in the news shortly thereafter when it was discovered the horses were suffering and dying from malnutrition. The county authorities had to intervene.

The Future

Directors of the Locust Hill Homeowners’ Association have determined that a decision must be made between maintenance/repairs to keep the barn attractive and weather tight, or removal of the barn, silo and milk house. Alternatively the milk house could be removed leaving the barn and silo. An initial estimate of complete removal was in excess of $20,000.

The most pressing repair is the roof. The author who repaired and painted the roof in 1982 recalls that many nails didn’t "bite" into the roof boards indicting unsoundness (the roof boards are 1" x 6" boards running horizontal with the ground and nailed on top and perpendicular to the rafters; the steel sheets are nailed to and supported by the roof boards). For some unknown reason the roof boards are spaced a wide 18" apart on the north pitches and probably 10" apart on the southern pitches. An inspection of the rafters indicates that the roof’s structural members are sound.

Rust is reappearing on the steel and today the roof doesn’t look very attractive. (The accompanying photos were taken shortly after the 1982 repairs and painting.) New roof boards should be added between the current spacing to provide added support and sound nailers. A new galvanized roofing that could later be painted any color would complement the white gables and block walls.

A second major issue is to secure the buildings from vandals. This is both a property and liability issue.

In 1982 four doors and three windows not visible from the road were blocked up. Doing the same with the rows of windows on the north and south sides would destroy the architectural integrity. Instead it is recommended that the nine smashed sheets of the 17 pieces of plexi glass installed in 1984 be replaced..

The personal door, the large double west doors and door in the west gable should be replaced with those of heavier material like the door on the milk house. At the silo, three steel plates need to be anchored into the concrete to prevent entrance and climbing. The final expense for this minimum maintenance program is paint for the exterior block walls.

Currently the Locust Hill Homeowners’ Association Directors are soliciting bids for the roof work. When costs are identified the issue will be presented with a recommendation to the Homeowners.

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