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Tradesmen rush to save pieces of pre-Civil War barn
Structure was to be demolished after Irma damage
11182017 BARN 1.jpg
Jack Latimer, right, and Edward Hardman talk about the barn they're disassembling near Gillsville on Friday. The men believe the structure is more than 150 years old. - photo by Nick Bowman

Jack Latimer wants Hall County to know about a piece of history before it’s gone.

Latimer and Edward Hardman are taking apart an unassuming tin-roof barn that skirts the edge of Ga. 82 on the way to Jackson County. While it doesn’t sound like much, the barn is a bit of a mystery and could be one of the oldest structures standing in the county.

And in a few days, the pre-Civil War building will be gone.

Latimer, who has deconstructed antique and historic wooden structures in other parts of Georgia and the South, and Hardman both said they’re motivated to at least save the historic timber of the building on Holly Springs Road.

The property owner hopes to demolish the barn, which was damaged by Tropical Storm Irma.

Latimer, who has lived in the area for 30 years, has often driven past the structure but never stopped to ask about its future — until Irma hit. The storm blew portions of the tin roof into the road, prompting him to stop and ask what was going to become of the barn.

That’s when he found out it was going to be destroyed.

“Thank God I stopped about the tin,” he said. “You just don’t see this in Hall County anymore. Most of it’s been long gone.”

The barn was constructed with milled white oak timber finished with axes and handsaws. Its oldest nails are crude and rectangular, and while it now has a tin roof, its original roof was made from white oak shakes, a type of wooden shingle.

Using both his own knowledge of the area and Allene L. Porter’s book of local history, “I Remember ... Model T Days,” Latimer figures the barn was built soon after the land was handed over from the Cherokee tribe to Georgia to create Hall County.

The county was created in 1818, and the barn was built before the start of the Civil War in 1861.

“It was probably acquired by the Hancock family and this barn was built not long after because it was here when Mr. (Dick) Hancock went to the Civil War,” Latimer said. “... Back then, middle Georgia was more high-society cotton plantations. This was still settlers coming here and hacking out a living out of the woods.”
But with North Georgia still part of the American frontier in the early 1800s, it raises the question: How was the timber milled?

The property sits near the North Oconee River. Latimer thinks there was a water-powered grist and saw mill on the riverbanks that was used to saw the logs for the barn.

Glen Kyle, executive director of the Northeast Georgia History Center, said milled lumber would have been rare in Hall County in the early years of the 1800s, but it’s possible that a mill was established in the area between 1818 and the Civil War.

Given other features of the building — its hand-carved dovetail joints and wooden pegs that connect some of the timbers — the structure is likely more than 150 years old.

Latimer and Hardman are fascinated by the design of the old barn, from its dovetails to the slope of its original white oak shake roof (which is no longer on the building).

“For Hall County, that just don’t exist (anymore),” Latimer said. “There’s a few barns, but they’re not made like that. I’ve never seen anything like that pieced together except for in a national park museum.”

But with the owner hoping to update the property, the barn has to go. The pair of tradesmen are keeping an inventory of the timbers of the building as they deconstruct it. When the work is done, they plan to split the wood and build two new barns on their properties.

“Today, tomorrow or Monday this thing is not even going to have a roof,” Latimer said. “… All of this is fixing to be gone.”