New barn will rise at fairgrounds
Only days after quieting down following the successful four-day Fair, the Martha's Vineyard Agricultural Society fairgrounds in West Tisbury will be filled with activity next week when work gets underway on a new animal barn. A crew from Riehl's Construction, an Amish firm from Leola, in Lancaster County, Penn., will arrive Monday afternoon to set up shop for the five-day barn raising. "We've been wanting to build a barn," said Agricultural Society president Dale McClure of Vineyard Haven. "We knew we could use the space."
Mr. McClure said plans for a second animal barn have been under consideration for some time. Along with providing more stalls, cages, and pens for the animals during the annual August fair, the new barn will offer more room for horses during the Martha's Vineyard Horse Council shows that take place on frequent weekends from spring to early fall. Storing and displaying antique agricultural machinery and memorabilia donated by Island farmers is another longstanding need that the new barn will help fill.
The new structure will be located at the rear of the fairgrounds, beside the current animal barn. It will measure 52 by 96 feet and will be built of hemlock with white pine siding and will have open-air stalls on the side. The site has been cleared and a foundation is in place, ready for the builders to begin work. All the lumber has been milled and pre-cut at the company's shop in Pennsylvania.
Mr. McClure recalled the success the Ag Society had in the 1990s acquiring the recycled barn from New Hampshire that was erected at a festive community raising for a new hall. West Tisbury builder Rick Anderson, who was instrumental in procuring and rebuilding the structure, also resurrected three old tobacco sheds as the existing animal barn. Despite these good results, Mr. McClure explained that reusing antique barns is no longer a practical option because the custom has become so popular.
"The availability of these barns has diminished," said Mr. McClure. "We don't have that kind of money for another barn."
Photos by Susan Safford
He added that older structures could have problems like powder post beetles that are not a concern with new buildings.
It was David Flanders of Chilmark who brought the Ag Society's attention to the Amish firm. Mr. Flanders had hired Mr. Riehl's company two years ago to build a barn at his Chilmark Hills Farm off State Road. Mr. Flanders and his wife Fran learned about the Amish builders from a family friend who lives in Pennsylvania. The Flanders were delighted with the project, enjoyed interacting with Mr. Riehl, his crew, and the family members who accompanied them.
"They are lovely people," said Ms. Flanders, recalling how gracious and industrious the Amish visitors were, and that even the smallest children pitched in to do simple jobs.
Ms. Flanders was in charge of finding houses for the Amish families to stay in and providing food. She helped introduce them to the Island, taking them fishing and lobstering, having a beach day for women and girls, and a big clam bake before they left. "They loved the Island," she said.
But she stressed that work always came first. They were up at dawn to get on the job, took very short meal breaks, and enjoyed recreation only when work was done.
"We had a wonderful time and I think the Agricultural Society will have a good time too, because they're wonderful people," Ms. Flanders said.
The stately Flanders barn stands against a hillside across from the family home with entrances on both ground and first floors. Much taller than the barn that will be built in West Tisbury, it measures 54 by 36 feet and has three levels. The basement provides space for animals and farm equipment with the upper stories available as workshop and storage areas. Hefty timbers are joined by long, thick pegs. It is a barn for the ages, heavy and solid, even now smelling of fresh, new lumber.
"It's beautiful," said Mr. Flanders proudly. "It turned out wonderful."
He said about 50 workers and family members came for the job. Most had never been near saltwater and enjoyed being on the Island. He described them as hard-working and pleasant, and said they not only fulfilled the contract, but performed extra chores too.
"They did a wonderful job," Mr. Flanders said. "They just stayed with it until the barn was built and shingled in one week. They really bent over backwards. They're really great people. I have nothing but praise for them."
Ag Society officials talked with Mr. and Ms. Flanders, visited the Chilmark barn, and were quickly convinced.
"When we looked at that barn and saw the quality of workmanship and the fact that they used the same materials and construction techniques used 100 years ago, we thought, 'we can get a brand-new barn that will be the same as what we have,'" said Mr. McClure.
His discussions with Mr. Riehl went smoothly and just before the Fair, Mr. Riehl and his son Eli visited West Tisbury to observe the site and finalize plans. Mr. Riehl said the building crew would include about 15 men and youths.
In accordance with Amish tradition, the builders will be traveling with their families and Ag Society members are pitching in to offer hospitality. Katherine Long of West Tisbury has been organizing accommodations, meals, and transportation for the group. Late last week Ms. Long reported that several Ag Society members and friends had made guesthouses available for the group. She was still finalizing plans for housing and food, and said it was likely that the Ag Society will hold at least one dinner for the group. Although the visitors will do much of their own cooking, the society will arrange for food and supplies. Because the Amish people do not drive, they will travel to the Vineyard on a bus with a Mennonite driver. While here, Islanders will provide them with rides to the job and run errands. This will entail some early hours, Ms. Long said, because the Amish traditionally begin their work close to dawn.
Although it will not be a community barnraising and only the Riehl crew will take part in the work, Mr. McClure said that visitors are welcome to observe the process. Bleachers will be set up to allow Islanders to watch without getting in the way. If all goes as planned, the builders will depart Saturday morning, leaving behind a sturdy and striking new barn.
To offer assistance with transportation or meals, please call Katherine Long and Tom Vogl, 508-693-6065.