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History falls in Kemblesville

09/18/2013 12:54PM, Published by ACL, Categories: Opinion, In Print



By the time you read this, there will probably be a large empty spot where the J.G. West barn had stood for more than 286 years.

The barn, which loomed over the township building in the Kemblesville Historic District, was built by John Davis, who sold it to George Kimble in 1817. Dr. J.G. West bought the property in 1867 and owned it until his death in 1917. The building has been in the care of the township for at least 20 years, during which time it had been used for storage. For the past couple of years, there has been a debate about the fate of the barn, with preservationists on one side and three Franklin Township supervisors on the other.

The end result, begun last week, was the demolition of the massive structure. In its place will be essentially nothing -- a bare spot where road salt will be mixed.

It's a sad end for a building that has seen generations of Kemblesville residents come and go. And it's a testament to the fact that once a building has outlived its usefulness -- in this case, storing hay and sheltering cows -- it can be next to impossible to turn it into something else.

It takes vision, and no small amount of money, to refurbish structures as big as the J.G. West barn into places that meet all the mandatory building codes. Those who sought preservation of the barn had plenty of good ideas, and were advocating only halting the further deterioration of the barn while possible uses could be explored. Private pledges raised some $11,000, which was enough to put on a new roof and halt water damage inside.

Three supervisors have consistently voted to demolish the barn, and despite legal action to delay them, they won out. Board of Supervisors chairman John Auerbach said last week that the cost of making the barn a place where people could gather safely might approach $1 million, and he may be right. The barn, despite its handsome, well-preserved beams, needed basically everything done -- a new roof, walls and insulation, a few structural repairs, wiring, plumbing, windows, stairs and flooring. It was a lovely barn, but in the cold light of day, it was a historic shell with nothing inside.

There is some comfort in knowing that the barn's materials -- the hand-hewn beams, the sturdy board walls and the stones from the foundation -- will be salvaged and used elsewhere. The barn will live on, in a way, in other buildings.

But its place at the heart of Kemblesville is empty now, and that's a loss for anyone who enjoyed looking up and seeing it standing as the highest point in town. Preservationists have pleaded with the supervisors all along, "Once it's gone, it's gone," and now they're right.

It's gone.


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