A Place in Time spotlights a significant cultural resource - a district, site, building, structure or object - entered in the National Register of Historic Places.
The circa 1881 Melester Barn in South Middleton Township, Cumberland County. Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office

The circa 1881 Melester Barn in South Middleton Township, Cumberland County.
Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office

The Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office (PA SHPO) lists about 20 properties per year in the National Register of Historic Places. PA SHPO staff responds to nominations submitted by the public to recognize a particular building, site or district for its historic value and as a course to make it eligible for grants or tax credits to support the property’s restoration or rehabilitation. Recently, in an effort to identify gaps in the National Register in Pennsylvania, PA SHPO staff was given the opportunity to work with consultants to nominate properties for listing. A priority for selection was to increase the number of underrepresented communities and resource types. Although barns are often part of larger farms and historic districts that are listed, they have not been frequently recognized as a separate resource type apart from a farm landscape. One such stand-alone barn was recently listed as part of this initiative.

The circa 1881 Melester Barn in South Middleton Township, Cumberland County, is the sole extant building remaining from a farm that once included a circa 1820 house and multiple domestic and agricultural outbuildings. In 1875 Isaac Melester purchased the property, which at the time included nearly 60 acres and the house and outbuildings constructed by the previous owners, the Burkholder family. The Melester family produced corn, oats, wheat and hay at levels above the township average for the time, which is ample considering South Middleton Township had one of the highest production rates in Cumberland County.

The back of Melester Barn showing the entrance to the upper-level threshing floor from the back. Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office

The back of Melester Barn showing the entrance to the upper-level threshing floor from the back.
Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office

The barn is a fine example of a style constructed mostly between 1790 and 1900, classified as a Standard Pennsylvania barn but known also as a “bank barn,” because it was built into a bank, or hillside, making the upper level (used for storing and threshing grain) directly accessible at the rear of the building. Another feature of this style is the forebay, a projecting floor that can be seen above the ground level at the front that gives the barn symmetry on the gable ends. The Melester Barn has an intact open forebay. The foundation is made of limestone. The finely crafted features, including complex timber frame joinery, indicate the work of a highly skilled builder. The quality of finishes, such as the beadboards inside and outside, and the durable louvered ventilators suggest the barn was commissioned by a successful farm family, despite their owning a lesser amount of acreage than was typical for the region. The ground and threshing floor plans remain intact enabling their original function and use to be easily discernable.

The solitary barn readily retains the integrity necessary to reflect its function and convey its significance as an important example of an architectural type, incorporating standardized lumber and materials into an expert builder’s construction methods. In February 2020 the Melester Barn was appropriately listed in the National Register of Historic Places for its architectural merit.

 

Recent listings in the National Register of Historic Places include First United Presbyterian Church of Braddock, Allegheny County; Jacob Stover Farmstead, Upper Black Eddy, Bucks County; Melester Barn, South Middleton Township, Cumberland County; Provident Mutual Insurance Co., Philadelphia; and Wharton Street Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church and Sunday School, Philadelphia.

 

Elizabeth Rairigh is the division chief for Preservation Services and the National Register coordinator in the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office.