Nearly two decades ago, a developer in Fox Chapel who was turning farmland into a housing tract sent a fax to Richland Township Manager Dean Bastianini. One thing stood in the developer's way: an old hay barn.
It would have cost the developer quite a bit to tear the barn down. It also was a big, beautiful old place that he hoped someone would be interested in restoring.
Bastianini was interested right away.
at that time was home to a lot of ball fields but not much else. Bastianini already was trying to come up with ways to make it more of a gathering place. He went out to see the barn, and its potential struck him.
"One hundred years ago Richland was all farmland, and there were probably dozens of barns around here, but there were very few left in the 1990s," said Bastianini. "I thought something like this would be not only a space people could use but a link to our past."
The people who helped secure the barn's purchase are a virtual "Who's Who" of modern Richland: Supervisors Herbert Dankmyer and Raymond Kendrick, who still serve today; former police chiefs Don Lofgren and Jim Harper; Richland resident Butch Brown and Lee Geortz.
"Lee Geortz was Richland’s public works superintendent and he was on the job site every day. He was our contact with the Amish workers. He was responsible for overseeing the project and solving any problems that arose," said Bastianini.
Bastianini took photographs of the barn to present to the Rotary Club and the Board of Supervisors. Those pictures would later play an important role in the reconstruction of the barn.
With seed money that the Rotary provided, the work of moving the barn began.
Jim Harper suggested that Bastianini recruit the Amish. No one else knew barns nearly as well, they reasoned.
Getting in touch with them, however, was not so easy. Because the Amish do not have phones, Bastianini wrote to two contractors. Neither answered his letter, so, two days before Christmas in 1992, Bastianini drove to Grove City where the Amish were framing a house. There he met contractor Chris Hostetler who rode to Fox Chapel with Bastianini to look at the barn.
What he saw impressed Hostetler. The barn, which was build about 1930, was a spike barn that had been used for hay and farming equipment.
"Chris said some German had built it, because it was huge," said Bastianini. "He said he could convert it to a three-story house."
Hostetler and his crew began disassembling the barn in May 1993. It took three days. The pieces were transported to Richland and stored behind the old township building, which was torn down a few years ago.
In the meantime, Bastianini, with the help of his support group of Rotary members, township supporters and knowledgeable volunteers, had to find a place to put the barn in the park.
Once a location was decided upon, Butch Brown led the effort to clear the area and put in an access road. After the footer and foundation were poured, they were ready to rebuild.
Reconstruction of the barn began the next March. Snow was still on the ground and it was bitterly cold, yet the Amish climbed around the emerging structure without any supports or mishaps.
By this time, the workers had forgotten how it was supposed to go together, so the pictures Bastianini had taken the previous year came in very handy. The reconstruction was completed in 13 days.
Bastianini said the process was fascinating. The Amish built it almost as if it were a collapsed house of cards, one wall on top of the other. When they were done, a crane was brought in to lift the massive walls. Then framing began, and the team of Amish worked as if their moves had been choreographed -- stacked along the wallboards, nailing one section and then moving over and nailing the next.
For the most part, the barn was an exact reconstruction of the barn in Fox Chapel.
"We did lose some things," says Bastianini. "Half the siding was not salvageable, and we had to put in a new floor, but all the ribs and beams are original."
Changes also were made for safety purposes, and the cupolas, which are the originals, were sealed because the barn no longer needs airflow to aerate the hay.
The barn was officially dedicated on Aug. 3, 1994, Richland's first Community Day, and recently served as the central gathering place for .
Besides community day celebrations, this old barn has given Richland Township its money's worth. During the season when it is warm enough to keep the water on, the barn is almost constantly in use for parties, movies, church services, and, of course, the township uses it for its various celebrations, gatherings and sporting events. Bastianini said it's in use from May until after Thanksgiving.
It's also become a symbol of Richland Township. When the new on Dickey Road was designed, the architect drew his inspiration from the barn, Richland's most prominent symbol, to design the ceiling of the township building. You probably don't notice it unless you're aware of the link, but once you are, you can't miss it.
"This barn has more than fulfilled the vision we had for it 18 years ago," said Bastianini. "It provides a beautiful space for functions, gives us a sense of identity and link to the past and is a landmark for the park. "