By Ruth A. Ringelstetter
I don’t remember the first time I saw a picture of the Star Barn in Pennsylvania, but right then, I knew that I had to see it in person some day. I love barns, so I can see the beauty in most of them, but this barn was gorgeous! I had to show Joann the pictures of the barn, and she was as excited as I was to actually stand in front of it and to photograph it.
Soon after, Joann and I began planning a trip to Pennsylvania. Our starting point for exploration in Pennsylvania was going to be Harrisburg, so right away I had to find out how close that would be to the Star Barn. Score! The Star Barn was only a short distance away, and would be the first stop of our inaugural week-long photography trip.
This was well before our trusty GPS Irwin, and this barn complex is now in the middle of the city, next to an expressway. The expressway passes right by the back side of the barn, but you can’t imagine how you will possibly get to it. We had some vague directions that I had found, and a map I had printed from the Internet to assist a little, but we still had to sort of feel our way there. Our persistence paid off, and we made it to the dead-end street where the barn sat proudly, but sadly unused.
The history of the farm predates 1778, and it passed through several hands in the next 100 years until John Motter purchased the farm in 1872. The farm at that time consisted of 164 acres with a stone farmhouse and a bank barn. Motter hired a master carpenter named Daniel Reichert to transform the farm. Reichert designed all of the buildings in the Gothic Revival style.
The original bank barn was not retained, and was instead replaced with the current barn. The barn originally was a horse barn, as Motter was a horse trader.
The barn is a five bay frame barn with many decorative features. It has large ventilators in the shape of a star and a large steeple-like cupola. The ramp to the second story of the barn is built over a stone vaulted cellar.
The outbuildings are also in the Gothic Revival style on a smaller scale, including the signature star-shaped ventilators and large cupolas.
The chicken coop had originally been on the other side of the road behind the farmhouse, but was moved to sit with the other buildings when the farm was divided and the farmhouse was sold.
The carriage house was built to allow a wagon or carriage to be pulled inside and stored. The side walls of the carriage house were built as corn storage, so they include the evenly spaced boards for ventilation of the corn.
The farm passed into the Nissley family in 1925 and was converted to dairy farming. It was at this time that the milk house and silo were built.
We spent several hours that day walking around the complex and puzzling over some of the buildings and what their use might have been, and marveling at the workmanship in the design.
The Star Barn complex is listed as a National Historic Landmark with the National Register of Historic Places. It was constructed in 1872 and includes a large barn, pig barn, carriage house, chicken coop, grain silo and milk house. The buildings remain on 3.6 acres of the former farm and are surrounded by development.
The Star Barn complex is now owned by Agrarian Country, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving Pennsylvania farmland and farm buildings. Their plan is to move the complex to a site near Grantville, Pennsylvania, where it can be useful once again.
If you’re ever in Pennsylvania, see if you can find the Star Barn. It is well worth the trip!
Happy Shunpiking, even if it does take you into the city on occasion!