Family gives new life to old building

Observer Reporter | August 1, 2004

As reported by Harry Funk, in the Observer Reporter  August 1, 2004:

” The item in the newspaper looked inviting enough: Free barn.

‘We saw this ad and said, ‘Let’s take a look at it,’ Dale Tudor recalled.

The barn, which for decades stood off Weirich Avenue in Canton Township, looked to be in pretty good shape. And if someone didn’t speak up for it, the venerable structure was targeted for demolition.

So the Tudors – Dale, wife Marcy and son Nigel – figured they’d step in and save it.

‘The three of us took that building down, piece by piece,’ Dale said.

Several years and 15 miles down the road later, the barn is up and running again. Instead of housing livestock, this time around it serves as guest suites for the Tudors’ Weatherbury Farm in Independence Township.

The Livery, as they call the restored barn, fits right in at the 104-acre farm, which the Tudors bought in 1986 with the intention of opening a bed and breakfast.

‘Very soon, we segued into doing farm vacations,’ Marcy explained. ‘The whole bed-and-breakfast industry was going upscale, and we didn’t want to do that.’

As Dale said, ‘That’s not us. The idea is, you come here and you experience a farm.’

When the Tudors first opened Weatherbury – named after the setting of Thomas Hardy’s novel ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’ – guests stayed in rooms in the original farmhouse, parts of which date back to around 1830. Several additions were made throughout the 19th century, and a kitchen was built about 1915,

Prior to that, members of the Murdock family, who owned the farm through 1929, cooked in an outbuilding known as the summer kitchen. The Tudors renovated that building and in 1998 opened it as a pair of guest rooms, upstairs and downstairs.

The Livery is the latest addition to the guest quarters, with three bi-level suites featuring the old hayloft converted into a series of bedrooms.

The nicely appointed suites are a long way from the condition of the barn when the Tudors started dismantling it in 1997. They’d place the lumber in a pile, and periodically a friend with a box van would pick it up to take it to Weatherbury Farm.

They broke ground for reconstruction in November 1998 and finished in time for Memorial Day weekend this spring.

‘A lot of the floorboards were so cupped out from the horses standing on them that we had to flip them over,’ Dale said.

Added Nigel, ‘It was a lot of work because the wood was very rough-cut. It varied up to half an inch from the thickest to the thinnest pieces.’

Nigel, who is a working metalsmith, helped the effort considerably by providing items such as bars and railings for stairways, along with installing wood trim fashioned as a local mill.

‘The result is much nicer, substantial-looking molding than you’d find elsewhere nowadays,’ he said.

His parents appreciate his efforts.

‘Nigel very kindly postponed his blacksmithing career to help us for the better part of two year.’ said Dale.

The Livery is furnished with plenty on antiques, including clawfoot bathtubs in each of the suites and such touches as an old-fashioned Murphy bed, which folds out of a cabinet. Gas fireplaces provide heat when necessary.

With a few exceptions, most of the structural elements have been reused.

‘We salvaged everything except for the vertical two-by-fours and the roof joists,’ Nigel said. ‘Almost all of the lumber in the barn was used in one way or another.’

The lower level of the barn serves as a kitchen and dining room, where breakfast is served. A door to the dining room is of particular interest, according to Marcy. It is from an old house in near-by West Middletown where George Washington is said to have stayed when he was surveying in the area.

Three windows from that same home went into renovating the summer kitchen. Also of note in that building is the original fireplace used for cooking in the 19th century.

The Tudors live in the main house and still maintain one guest room there. Since buying the property, they have worked on restoring much of the farmhouse’s original appearance, including stripping off layers of wallpaper and removing wall-to-wall carpeting to reveal the 2-inch pine floor boards. The family also rebuilt the front porch based on a mid-20th century photograph provided by a woman who used to live in the house.

The Tudors still have plenty of work to do in maintaining Weatherbury Farm, but they can breathe a sigh of relief for now, especially with the opening of the Livery.

‘We should have made an account of how many hours it took us,’ Marcy said. ‘But it would probably make us crazy to know how many hours it took us.’ ”