Old Alpine County barn finds new purpose as a home

One of Alpine County's historic barns is now the home of Ed and Sara Groenendyke of Gardnerville. Tracing the barn's history, lovingly restoring each piece of timber, and erecting a striking architectural wonder around the barn's frame was Ed's project for many years. 

The original barn was a Dutch design, which is distinct in this area because most of the barns were designed and built by Germans.  Although the barn was first claimed on tax records by Lyman Barber in the 1870s, barn specialist Paul Oatman discovered that one section of the barn had a New England barn company's stamp and that other sections of the barn probably date back to 1850s. Perhaps the barn was erected in one place, relocated, and remodeled when the Barber family purchased property in Alpine County.  

The property owner was Lyman Barber, from the famous Carson Valley ranching family of Ben Palmer, his sister Charlotte Barber and husband. According to Grace Dangberg's Carson Valley, Ben and his sister bought their way out of slavery in Missouri. Ben came to Carson Valley in 1853, and soon after Charlotte arrived with her husband, who was a white man.

In the 1850s the Carson Valley was described as a "paradise of quadrupeds." The grass in the alluvial fields reached head high, and thousands of wagon trains followed the Carson Emigrant Trail, bringing immigrants and their livestock to the area.

Dairy stock from the immigrants and crossbreeds of every kind were brought to the area. Dairy and beef products were in demand due to the increasing populations of miners and other seekers of wealth in Virginia City. Ben Palmer drove 500 head of cattle to the valley from, and 1,500 head from Seattle. The Lyman-Barber wealth and reputation for hospitality were renowned.

With an abundance of grass hay and cattle to feed during the winter, ranchers and dairymen needed barns to store hay and to milk cows. The number and quality of old barns still standing in the valley is a testament to fine workmanship and to maintenance.  Lyman Barber developed a successful ranch in Dutch Valley.  Assessment records in Alpine County for 1876 show Lyman claimed "a tract of land in Dutch Valley, a wagon, harness, farming tools, 7 horses, a colt, 3 tons of grain, a ton of hay, furniture, 36 poultry, firearms, and a part interest in a water ditch."

Improvements and acreage were added to the records, totaling 320 acres and many cattle, horses, and equipment. The Dutch barn he used was made of hand-hewn pine and oak, with beams measuring 14 inches square. Construction was mortise joint and tenon.

After Lyman's death in 1899, ownership of the barn and estate transferred to his brother Thomas. The barn changed hands twice more before the Bruns family obtained it, first to the Vallem family then to the Springmeyer family. The Bruns family, who are still ranchers in Alpine County, carefully maintained the property and barn.

When Ed and Sara Groenendyke acquired ranch property in 1996, they asked barn specialist Paul Oakman to assist in finding a still-standing barn for making into a home. The Lyman Barber barn was still standing but was not for sale at that time. Since the Groenendyke heritage is Dutch, that particular barn was especially appealing to them.

Some years later, Bruce Bruns negotiated the sale of the barn to the Groenendykes and the five-year project began.

Groenendyke admired the simple shape of the barn and had a vision to combine form and function.

"The barn was dismantled and each piece of wood was hauled in a semi-truck to Paul Oatman's place in Pioneer," Groenendyke explained.

Architects, engineers, and Tom Smith's TGS Construction Company were put to task using the original beams to build the interior of the home. "The main part of the house is an exact replica of the Dutch barn. All of the visible beams are authentic and true to the architecture of the original barn. There are load bearing walls outside of the interior, most of the original beams are not weight bearing," Groenendyke said. "One of the biggest challenges was the upper structure because we had to use a 45-foot long steel beam along the ridge line and install insulation between the corrugated roof which is interior and the exterior roof."

Laughing, Groenendyke added, "There were many challenges building the house, but each morning it feels like we have our own cathedral in the Valley."

The barn home is unique. It is an eclectic blend of materials, all supporting the integrity of the barn's architecture. Modern art on wall space is combined with original hay farming utensils suspended from the ceiling.

"Most people say that they find something new almost every time they come to the house," Sara added.  

Some of the house exterior is painted bright red, and the name of the property is fittingly The Red Barn Ranch, which is located on Foothill Road. There are two other old barns on the property, both of which have been restored and are in full use. One barn, dating from the 1920s, is for the horses they board and those they own. The other barn, built in 1889, is for hay storage and office use.

The Groenendykes are still researching the history of the barn and would appreciate more information about the builder and/or owners of the original barn. Ed and Sara may be reached at The Red Barn Ranch at 551 Foothill Road in Gardnerville.


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