Rochester University recently updated a historical barn, pictured here before the repairs, from the early 1900s that had fallen into disrepair.

Rochester University recently updated a historical barn, pictured here before the repairs, from the early 1900s that had fallen into disrepair.

Photo provided by Rochester University

Rochester University recognized for preserving historical barn, silo

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published August 20, 2019


ROCHESTER HILLS — The Rochester Hills Historic Districts Commission recently awarded Rochester University the Earl E. Borden Historic Preservation Award for preserving and restoring a historical barn and silo, which date back to the early 1900s.

Jaymes Vettraino, director of the Center for Social Engagement and assistant professor of business at Rochester University, said the restored barn and silo on campus will memorialize the deep historical role that Rochester played within the farming industry.

Prior to the university’s opening in 1959, its founders purchased the Lou Maxon Estate for a campus site. Officials said the adjoining 54-acre Henry Gierok Farm — which included a farmhouse, a barn, and some smaller farm structures that sit on the southeast corner of campus — was purchased in 1964 in an effort to increase the university’s acreage.

“(The barn) is from the early 1900s and it was a kit purchased through Sears, Roebuck & Co., so it’s really cool that it’s been on our campus for all these years — way before Rochester University was even a campus,” Vettraino explained.

In 1978, Avon Township, which later became the city of Rochester Hills, selected a number of structures — including the barn — for inclusion in its first historical district.

The barn, which has been identified as a “catalog barn” due to its light plank framing, was originally erected to be a horse barn, according to university officials.

Since the college has owned the land, the barn has remained on campus and has been used for storage and maintenance staff purposes. In the last few years, college officials said the structure — one of the last remaining barns in the former farming community of Avon Township — has really started to show its age.

“In the last five years, deterioration started to accelerate. It was hard to keep the weather out with the condition of the roof,” Vetrraino said.

Rather than demolishing the aged structure and building something new, university officials decided to try to preserve the historical barn for a cost of about $300,000.

“I think it’s fair to say traditional contractors kind of looked at it and said, ‘That’s probably served its purpose.’ … But with Oakland County’s Historic Preservation folks, and the encouragement of the Rochester Hills Historic District Commission, we found a gentleman who specializes in historical barn restoration,” Vettraino said.

To raise the funds needed to preserve the barn, the university launched a fundraiser through its development office and was able to secure the funds by 2018.

Tom Relinger, executive vice president of the university, said longtime Rochester Hills resident Beverly Rewold was instrumental in making the restoration a reality, accepting a lead role in preserving the barn.

“This was a barn that, as a teenager, the Rewolds, Bev and Roy, (visited). There were activities up here in this barn, and they had participated as teens up here in the farmstead that was here at the time. They knew the folks that were part of the farmstead, so when we were doing the farmstead we reached out to Bev. The Rewold family has always been great supporters of the university,” Relinger said.

Another key supporter, according to Relinger, was Gerry Isom, who lives out of state.

“Gerry has been a longtime supporter of the university,” he said.

To restore the historic barn, Rochester University hired Dean Sutton, with JDS Historical, who has been restoring barns for more than 35 years. He was named one of Michigan’s Barn of the Year award winners for 2018 and also worked on well-known barns and structures, including the Edsel Ford Barn, Maybury Farm in Northville and the Irish Hills Towers.

Sutton and his crew started the restoration project in the fall of 2018, and the project will be completed by late August, according to university officials.

“We’re really proud that we went the route of historic preservation,” Vettraino said. “You could have certainly gotten that much square feet for a number lower than that, but this is an important piece of our campus and of the community, as recognized by the historic district.”

The Earl E. Borden Historic Preservation Award was created in 1989 by the Rochester Hills Historic Districts Commission in honor of Borden, the first mayor of Rochester Hills. City officials said the award honors both Borden and award recipients who have “demonstrated their love of historic heritage by restoring, preserving and/or maintaining properties according to the principles outlined in the U.S. Department of the Interior’s standards for preservation and the city of Rochester Hills’ historic preservation ordinance.”

For more information, call the Rochester Hills Planning Department at (248) 656-4660.