NY Family Business Sells History in Reclaimed Barn Wood

2/9/2013 7:00 AM
By Paul Post New York Correspondent

LAKE GEORGE, N.Y. — Tyler Russell can’t save the family farm, but he’s helping preserve its history.

Last spring, the 29-year-old Lake George resident, his brother, Garrett, and their father, Whitney, founded a business called StoriedBoards.

Scouring the landscape, they look for old barns near the point of collapse and salvage their siding, beams and floorboards so they can become rustic elements of new home construction and remodeling projects throughout upstate New York and New England.

With each project, they also research the barn’s origins, which might date back to the American Revolution. One chapter in the barn’s life is about to end, but another is just beginning.

“We’re not just selling lumber,” Russell said. “We’re telling a story and we’re keeping these stories alive. Nobody else does that. It’s much easier not to do that.”

Each customer that buys StoriedBoards wood is also given a booklet that details its history. Russell said he’s researched immigration papers and genealogical records, and interviewed town historians and family members to get accurate stories behind each barn.

“We want to know who built it, when and why, how they did it and what they used,” he said. “The key is getting a name as far back as possible from a landowner.”

For homeowners, there’s nothing like showing off some of this wood and the history that goes with it. For example, if dinner guests come over and admire the hardwood kitchen floor, the owner can proudly tell them the wood comes from a barn built by a patriotic hero.

So far, StoriedBoards has harvested wood from five different barns and plans to acquire more this spring. One reclaimed barn dated to the 1770s, built by John Watson in Canaan, Conn. Another, in Schroon River, N.Y., was constructed in the 1830s.

Last year, the Russells reclaimed an 1880s barn in Ryegate, Vt., that belonged to the Symmes family. They salvaged thousands of board feet of beams, flooring and siding.

Tyler Russell immediately went to work on the genealogy and developed a 10-page booklet for those who purchase the wood, complete with pictures of the family on their home’s porch next to the barn and details about the builder’s service as a Civil War soldier.

Tyler, a Lake George native, was working in New York City for Deloitte Consulting LLC when his father — a state field engineer — came up with the idea for a new venture. After drawing up business plans, Tyler decided the idea had merit and they got under way with help from a Small Business Administration loan in late 2011.

At first they worked nights and weekends, before making it a full-time venture last April, although Whitney is still employed by the state.

Tyler is the firm’s business manager, but all three have hands-on roles.

“We take barns apart one nail at a time,” he said. “It isn’t demolition. We don’t go in with a wrecking ball. It’s deconstruction.”

They seek out barns that, for one reason or another, aren’t cost-effective for their owners to repair and have become expensive, unsightly “lawn ornaments.”

“A lot of barns are no longer used for agricultural purposes, but people don’t like to part with them,” Tyler said. “Once the roof goes, it’s just a matter of time before the rest of it goes downhill. We aren’t in the business of saving them. We’re interested in barns where that option isn’t available anymore. We are giving them a new use.”

The Russells primarily sell wood to contractors and interior designers who suggest its use to clients of their own.

For example, a woman in Schoharie County, N.Y., lost her home to devastating floods from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee.

Erika Gallagher, of Plum & Crimson Fine Interior Design in Saratoga Springs, used some of StoriedBoards wood for the woman’s new home.

“This woman appreciated something with rich history,” Gallagher said.

To the Russells, that’s the kind of reward that makes their painstaking work worth the effort.

“We’re providing a service,” Tyler said.

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