Since 1877, the majestic Gothic Revival-style Star Barn has been a landmark on the Central Pennsylvania landscape and has been particularly visible by travelers passing within 50 feet of its bank barn side since Route 283 was added in 1970. Its towering cupola, four dominant louvered star ventilators, 56-foot-long vaulted stone tunnel, and other rare architectural features made it a cut above the standard Pennsylvania bank barn. Its associated structures; namely, a carriage house/corn crib, hog barn, and chicken coop were also created in the Gothic Revival architectural style with rare features and transcending appointments. Colonel John Motter was the visionary behind these historic treasures and The Star Barn, in particular, showcased his prize horses. In addition to his remarkable success with raising horses, thousands of which he sold to the U.S. Cavalry during and after the Civil War, Motter was a bank president, hotel owner, and had large agricultural interests.
The Star Barn Complex of agricultural structures stood strong through many stages in American history. It was a prominent site for supplying quality horses, housing chickens and hogs, storing hay and feed, storing corn, providing shelter for carriages and farm implements, and in the late 1920’s, it became a dairy operation.
Progress inevitably changes things. In 1986, dairy and farming operations at The Star Barn Complex ceased. In 1994, the 164-acre property was reduced to 3.68 acres which included the agricultural structures and barnyard. The Star Barn lost its economic function and faced challenges of encroaching development and the effects of a busy highway. This majestic landmark began to show signs of deterioration and neglect.
In the years that ensued, several historical preservation groups and other organizations held fundraisers and rallied volunteers to “save” The Star Barn from further deterioration. The efforts of these organizations, their associates, the community, and volunteers who donated time, talent, and money to make needed repairs and maintain the site resulted in an extension of life for this beloved barn. Unfortunately, this was not enough. The Star Barn needed a long-term solution; mainly, a sustainable economic function. Feasibility studies and discussions resulted in one determination – it had to be moved in order to be saved.
In the summer of 2014, an inquiry was made about The Star Barn Complex by a couple who looked beyond the challenges of acquiring, moving, and restoring the structures and envisioned the potential. This couple, David and Tierney Abel, and their business, DAS Companies, Inc., purchased The Star Barn Complex in October, 2014.
After a year of planning and meetings, West Donegal Township granted zoning approval for the historic 1877 Star Barn Complex to be moved from Middletown, Pennsylvania to Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania for integration into Stone Gables and existing Rural Heritage Meeting Center.
In October, 2015, DAS Companies, Inc. received official notice from the National Park Service that The Star Barn Complex would retain its registration on the National Register of Historic Places, even after its relocation to Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania.
Much progress has been made on the journey of giving The Star Barn Complex a new lease on life. The careful dismantling of the structures by skilled craftsman is complete, and after a short period of hibernation, the structures are being resurrected for a new life at Stone Gables and Ironstone Ranch. The Star Barn Raising Festival will be held in the summer or fall of 2017. Stay tuned for an announcement of specific dates for this event.
The Star Barn Complex at Ironstone Ranch will encompass approximately 30 scenic acres. Other structures will be added to complement the original Star Barn and its ancillary structures for an eventual total of 14 buildings. The complementary structures include: a hay barn (nicknamed, “Star Barn II”), a milk house, a spring house, another corn crib (“Corn Crib II”), a gazebo, The Star Barn Manor House, a summer kitchen, a privy (outhouse), a Quaker-style run-in shed, and a nut house.
After the structures have been restored or reconstructed, they will be repurposed for a variety of uses: weddings, corporate events, special occasions, an historic museum, a store, bridal quarters, honeymoon suites, guest lodging, dining facilities, and more. Several of the outbuildings will be used as part of a planned working organic farm.
The site adjacent to Ironstone Ranch significantly contrasts that of the 3.68-acre site from which The Star Barn Complex was moved. No highway noise exists; rather, it is a peaceful country setting with rolling hills, wooded acres, pastures, Lake Liberty, gardens, and much more. There will be over a hundred photo sites for weddings or other special events.
Beginning in 2018, seasonal public events are planned. Enjoy a tour of the blossoming apple orchard in spring, spend a summer day with friends and family during Heritage Days, select from pumpkins, apples, and other fresh produce during Fall Harvest Days, and enjoy a special Christmas event in December at The Star Barn.
The Star Barn Complex will hold activities for young and old alike. These activities include: horse-drawn hitch wagon rides, tractor and wagon rides, winter sleigh rides, bird sight-seeing trail tours, rodeos, canoeing, paddle boating, trap shooting, bird watching, and much more.
Although the restored and reconstructed Star Barn Complex and its aesthetic surroundings is going to be a spectacular achievement of architecture, function, beauty, and sustainability, the real “stars” or purpose for this project are thousands of needy children. Net profits from all Star Barn Complex events and activities will go to support Brittany’s Hope, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, dedicated to aiding abandoned children worldwide.
Follow us on Facebook as the “Star” settles into its new home at Ironstone Ranch, a part of Stone Gables Estate, in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania.