A new livestock barn rises on the Ag Hall grounds
"Amazing" and "beautiful" were the words heard again and again at the Martha's Vineyard Agricultural Society fairgrounds in West Tisbury this week, as awed observers watched a new animal barn rise as if by magic. It was not magic but instead the hard work of an Amish crew from Riehl's Construction in Leola, Pennsylvania, that had the barn's sturdy frame standing only hours after they began.
"I knew it would be fast, but I didn't know it would be this fast," said Dale McClure, president of the Agricultural Society, with a wide grin when he came to see the progress Tuesday evening. "I love it, I love it. There's nothing else to do but love it."
Despite a light but steady rain that began in mid-afternoon, the 13-man crew stayed at work until it was nearly dark.
With their wives and children, the builders arrived by chartered bus early Monday afternoon after an eight-hour drive from Lancaster County. They went directly to the fairgrounds and got down to business. The hemlock timbers and white pine siding, milled and pre-cut at the Riehl's shop, had been delivered earlier. The company builds barns across the country, and the crew has developed a high level of expertise in assembling them.
Activity began early each morning according to Amish tradition. The men were efficient and focused, intent on their labors. Except for a mid-morning pause for a hearty breakfast, they stopped only for drinks of water.
Most of the men were clad in traditional black trousers with suspenders and light, short-sleeved shirts. As a tall crane hefted thick timbers and sidewall sections the men fit them in place. They scaled the framework, balanced on beams, clambered over the roof, tossed wood and tools to one another, all with grace and agility. Company owner Ephraim Riehl donned a wide-brimmed straw hat that lent him a jaunty air as he strode the roof.
While efficient and determined, all the crew, which included teenaged boys along with adult men, were cheerful, smiling and occasionally joking with their fellows as they worked.
David Flanders, whose stately Chilmark barn inspired the Agricultural Society to hire the Amish company, visited often. He and his wife Fran admired the work, re-connecting with friends they had made during their 2006 construction project.
The new 96- by 52-foot single-story barn will provide additional stall space for livestock during the annual Fair and on other occasions, as well as space for antique farm machinery and equipment donated by local farmers. Mr. McClure declined to say how much the barn cost.
The project drew a steady stream of onlookers, most with camera in hand, who came to marvel at the crew's industriousness, prowess, and craftsmanship.
"You don't want to blink, you might miss it," said Vincent Maciel, impressed by the speed of the workers.
Ann Howes of West Tisbury snapped photos as reference shots, so she could paint the scene later.
"It's beautiful and it smells so good - all that hemlock," said Suzanne Hammond of West Tisbury. "We're so lucky."
"It's an awesome way to do it," said Ag Society trustee Glenn Hearn, who was active in the community barn raising for the new Ag Hall. "I haven't seen any discussion or disputes. They all seem to know what has to be done, and they're working together."
"They're doing wonderfully," agreed trustee Billy Haynes, who also praised Katherine Long for arranging housing, transportation, and other logistics for the families.
By late Wednesday morning the barn was nearly all closed in. Several men stepped confidently along the sloping roof affixing shingles as others worked below. The builders hope to complete the project by Thursday night and have a day to explore the Island. A few children wandered the grassy fairgrounds and played quiet games. Women cared for the smaller children and prepared food for the group.
Along with their work, the Amish visitors are enjoying some Island hospitality. They are staying in guesthouses offered by Ag Society members and friends, and the women and children have visited the beach. Their schedule includes a festive clambake at the Ag Hall with society trustees, featuring dishes by Fella Caters and Slow Food Martha's Vineyard and possibly a beach cookout. They will depart early Saturday, taking home good memories and leaving behind a stalwart barn that will endure for years to come.