An Old Barn Gets a New Life as The Wells Barn at the Franklin Park Conservatory
It’s a big week for cultural institutions in Columbus. First, the Columbus Museum of Art celebrated the opening of their new wing, and now, Franklin Park Conservatory is opening The Wells Barn, an outreach and education facility. It’s the first project of the Franklin Park Conservatory’s Master Plan 2.0, and there will be grand opening celebrations all week.
“Opening The Wells Barn has given us a lot of doors to expand in a way that people want us to,” says Lori Kingston, Director of Marketing and Visitor Experience for the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. “It allows us to offer more participatory class space, and to host more groups.”
Interest in the cooking and plant education classes offered by the Franklin Park Conservatory continues to grow, while the space to accommodate those classes has not.
Executive Director Bruce Harkey notes the opening of The Wells Barn as a “pivotal moment for the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens,” saying “the community’s interest in our programs has grown so exponentially that we must now dedicate our second largest structure to outreach and education.”
The new barn will provide 12,000 square feet of space, over two levels. The first floor serves as a large event space, and the lower level is split into several classroom and meeting spaces and a guest/bridal suite.
“We had a couple book the space for their wedding based on seeing the renderings alone,” says Kingston. The Franklin Park Conservatory hosts about 180 wedding ceremonies and receptions each year across their venues. With the barn, there are now five venue options. The barn’s rustic charm and historical look adds a new option unique to the inner city location.
Doug Morgan, owner of the Mount Vernon Barn Company -a company dedicated to saving and bringing new life to Ohio’s barns and early log houses- pegs the barn at around 200 years old.
“These old barns are obsolete for modern farming,” says Morgan. “Many times, insurance companies will no longer insure the farmers who own these properties.”
Morgan receives so many calls and requests to take down old barns that his company has enough inventory for several years of preservation projects. Most farmers do not have the means to keep up with the maintenance and repairs that these old barns require, and many fall into disrepair. Although there are some that are able to restore their barns.
“I always thought a big barn could serve a lot of purpose here,” says Morgan of the Franklin Park Conservatory site.
The barn chosen for the Franklin Park Conservatory project came from the Garber Family, located in Richland County. The triple stacked tie beams is a building style that Morgan had not seen before, and he has seen many of Ohio’s old structures, estimating there are about 25,000 old barns remaining around the state.
“There are a lot of unique features in this barn,” says Morgan.
The barn is built using precise mortise-and-tenon joints, each beam scribed with glyphs to indicate its position in the framework. Quite a few varieties of wood -oak, chestnut, beech, walnut, cherry, and red elm- showcase what the surrounding forests would have been like during the time the barn was built. The substantial beams, exposed for all to see, show off the craftsmanship of precise and careful builders. The structure of soaring height could withstand hundreds of years of heavy use.
“It’s that workmanship that makes it remarkable,” he says.
The $5.7 million project included all of the work with the barn, the worksite, utilities, gardens, and landscaping. The barn was reconstructed as it originally was built, giving the Franklin Park Conservatory the chance to educate patrons on early barn construction throughout Ohio. Kingston had a chance to pound in one of the pegs, which she described as an exhilarating experience. An extension was added to each end, one to provide storage space, and the other to add a classroom sized kitchen, as well as an elevator to make the barn ADA compliant. A cupola was added in the center that provides architectural interest and adds light. The flooring was cut from old heart pine timbers.
Inside the barn, in addition to the kitchen, there is a floor to ceiling fireplace, a bar and food service area, chandeliers, and ceiling fans. Technology was included as well, with a couple of televisions installed tastefully along the kitchen wall, and a projector and screen available for use. Doors open onto a wide porch, leading onto the ScottsMiracle-Gro Community Garden Campus.
“Adding this barn really tied the spaces together,” says Kingston referring to the main building, the ScottsMiracle-Gro Community Garden Campus, and AEP Foundation Education Pavilion.
The landscaping around the barn is a collection of 80% native plants selected by Amanda Bettin, the Horticulture and Design Supervisor at Franklin Park Conservatory. She worked with Karen McCoy, Principal at landscape architecture firm MKSK, on the designs. Miles-McClellan Construction served as the general contractor and DesignGroup served as the architecture firm. Splash blocks for the downspouts were hand cut by Mount Vernon Barn Company from old stones.
On Saturday, October 31, the first class will be held at The Wells Barn, a fall harvest-themed demonstration and dinner led by Chef Doug Miller ($65/$55, pre-registration required, call 614-715-8022). The Conservatory is also hosting a community open house this weekend, October 31 and November 1, where the public is welcome to tour the building and sample the programs and activities that will be housed in the new barn. Activities include cooking demonstrations, a family activity, garden tours, and presentations by Ohio Wildlife Center, Ohio History Connection, and Doug Morgan from the Mt. Vernon Barn Company.
For information, visit fpconservatory.org.