John Dolmas and Joe Polizzi leaned against their truck early Tuesday morning, smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee from a battered Thermos.
“They don’t make them like that any more,” Dolmas said, pointing to the 1800s-era dairy barn on Wallins Corners Road in Amsterdam.
They’re part of a small crew led by foreman Steve Swift charged with removing the barn piece by piece over the next few weeks. By summer, the old posts and beams will be reassembled as a million-dollar home in Cedar Creek, Ontario, and much larger crews will be digging up the Wallins Corners site to build an apartment complex.
“It was too good a structure to just tear down,” said land owner Joe Giardino.
He bought the land 15 years ago, and decided to pursue the development three years ago. He said Tuesday all the permits are lined up, but he didn’t want to bulldoze the barn to make room. Instead, he called in Heritage Restorations, a Waco, Texas, company specializing in old agricultural buildings.
Swift runs their takedown team from his Middleburgh workshop. He walked through the old barn as his crew fired up the cherry picker.
“These are marriage marks,” he said, describing how nearly two centuries ago, master craftsmen carved Roman numerals into each beam so it could be assembled without error.
He’s been disassembling barns in the Capital Region for 30 years, and said it’s a good business. Just last year, he took down 23 structures for Heritage. All the pieces are numbered and trucked to a shop in Waco to be power-washed and de-bugged, then it’s off to anywhere from Japan to Australia to Dutchess County, N.Y., as homes for well-heeled land owners.
There’s one very good reason for the demand: Old wood is a limited resource. Dolmas was right; barns aren’t made “like that anymore,” partially because it’s a lot of work, partially because there aren’t the materials.
“In the old days, forests were more dense,” Swift said. “There wasn’t so much light, so trees grew slower.”
Slow growth makes for tighter grain and stronger wood. A fresh-cut log today is weaker than one of the same size and species cut 200 years ago. Lumber harvested from the Wallins Corners barn comes in massive hand-hewn beams of oak and hemlock cut right off the property when the town was farms and woods.
“There are fewer and fewer of these,” he said, “Although, back in the day, every farm had one, so we’ll be in work for a while.”
Over the years, he’s loaded scores of structures from places like Glen and Canajoharie onto Texas-bound flatbeds. At some level, he’s shipping non-refundable history out of state, but he said the benefits outweigh the loss.
“There are definitely pros and cons,” he said. “I think about it as preservation. This might end up in Canada, but at least it won’t rot here.”
The crew started work three weeks ago, removing two additions to the original barn. Polizzi described how they have to start at the roof, taking it down a bit at a time, all the way to the foundation, so as not to break anything. So far, everything has been milled pine. What’s left standing is the real gem, the original hardwood structure. That will take another two weeks to bring down.
Some time in the summer, Giardino hopes to break ground on the first stage of his Maple Creek Estate development. Eventually, he plans to build a high-end, 200-unit apartment complex and 39 condo cottages.