Introduction to Lime Mortar with Allen Cochran, June 3 - 4, Waterford, VA

Allen Cochran

Allen Cochran

On Saturday and Sunday, June 3 and 4, Allen Cochran, owner of Cochran's Stone Masonry, will conduct a two-day workshop in Waterford, Virginia, as part of the Waterford Foundation's Heritage Crafts School. Learn about the history, manufacturing methods, and correct uses of lime mortar, which is the material used by restoration experts such as Cochran.

The fee is $175 per two-day session with 12 hours of instruction: 9 AM–12 PM and 1–5 PM on Saturday, June 3, and 9 AM–2 PM Sunday, June 4. Lunch is included both days. No materials fee. Call 540-882-3018 or register online at

Waterford Craft School board .png

The Waterford Heritage Crafts School seeks to teach and preserve heritage crafts and trades by offering classes to the public taught by experts in each field.

Classes vary each session but include topics such as quilting, weaving, pottery, furniture-making, basket weaving, and blacksmithing. Classes in building arts also are provided, including traditional construction methods, old and historic building restoration, and adaptive reuse. Course material is designed for students ages 18 and up. Classes are held in the Waterford National Historic Landmark either in or around Waterford Foundation buildings.

The Art of Restoration: Stonemason Puts His Mark On Loudoun

By Margaret Morton, Loudoun Now, March 31, 2016

Allen Cochran of Cochran's Stone Masonry in his office in the historic Janney Country Store in Lincoln. (Photo by Douglas Graham/Loudoun Now)

Allen Cochran of Cochran's Stone Masonry in his office in the historic Janney Country Store in Lincoln. (Photo by Douglas Graham/Loudoun Now)

In today’s fast-moving high-tech world, it seems most work is done with hands on keyboards. But one Loudoun craftsman is finding his work with stone and timber in high demand.

The word ubiquitous, meaning “everywhere,” fits stonemason Allen Cochran well. You’ve likely seen his work in your daily travels around the county, including in one of Loudoun’s newest developments, a public park, the county’s courthouse, and a shopping center. Individually and together, these projects provide a connection between old and new Loudoun.

His latest project is more personal, but no less important. The old Janney Store in Lincoln has served the community in many ways over the years—a general store, a lawyer’s office, a coffee shop, an antiques outlet and a potting studio. Today, it houses the post office. And it is also the headquarters and showroom for Cochran Stonemasonry & Timberframing.

Since moving in last November, Cochran and his crew have been busy putting the lessons they’ve learned in rehabbing centuries-old buildings and barns around the region to work on their new home. There was a lot to do from taking the flooring up and insulating it, replastering the ceiling, to restoring the huge chimney, and building cabinets from salvaged materials.

“Almost all we do, and use, is salvaged or reused local stone or timber,” Cochran said

The Learning Process

Cochran, 51, got his start in stone masonry when he worked for one of his father’s friends, Craig Haggerman, during the summers. He was a good builder, who taught more by example than by giving “do this, or do that” instructions, Cochran said. “He inspired me. He sowed the seeds of attention to detail in me.”

In 1988, Cochran met stone mason Lewis Whitesell. Three weeks later, “I was up on the scaffolding.”

He worked for Whitesell for three years.

“He showed me what stone masonry meant, what a real corner is supposed to look like, how to rock the hammer—not everyone knows that today,” Cochran said.

As he gained knowledge, Cochran developed an interest in restoration work, repairing old buildings as well as building new structures using traditional stonework and timber framing techniques.

A hallmark of his work is the use of lime clay mortar. Modern cement doesn’t allow masonry to work the way it’s supposed to, he said. The clay mortar is more compatible with the stone, and he inserts the material between the stones to form a strong wall in the traditional method of old—a  technique that has brought him a number of preservation projects throughout the region.

The old construction mortar, according to Cochran, was made of weak lime clay—that allowed water to get in with ensuing erosion, also insects and reptiles.

“Then they started using a harder mortar—with a high lime basis that prevented water getting in and repelled rodents,” he said.

It took him a while to get the hang of it. “I goofed up. I learned a lot more about failing than succeeding,” he said.

Getting the Call

But success did come.

The buildings he’s worked on run the gamut—from two modern stone buildings for the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority, to Henry Harris’ barn in Digges Valley near Hamilton, to a conversion of a brick pre-Civil War barn to a house, to cite just a few.

The DC Water and Sewer Authority’s odor abatement building along the Potomac Heritage Trail at Algonkian Park. (Photo by Douglas Graham/Loudoun Now)

The DC Water and Sewer Authority’s odor abatement building along the Potomac Heritage Trail at Algonkian Park. (Photo by Douglas Graham/Loudoun Now)

Increasingly, Cochran is whom you call when you have a special project. The developers of Purcellville’s Gateway Shopping Center called him when they decided to take apart the Cole Farm barn on the property and use the material—including the silo—to incorporate the agricultural theme in the new retail development. And Cochran got the call from One Loudoun’s Bill May when the developer got the idea to relocate and rebuild an Ashburn barn as a centerpiece of the new community.

In 2004, a call came from the late Joe Rogers and his wife, Donna, when a microburst damaged an 1836 barn on their Hamilton farm. The barn is a rare survivor of the infamous 1864 Civil War Burning Raid that destroyed countless farm buildings in Loudoun, and Donna Rogers wondered how they were going to be able to repair it.

Cochran walked their farm with her, picking out suitable trees to use for the restoration. “A lot of the wood in the barn was poplar, and they had a lot of it,” Cochran said. He used the poplar for the upstairs work and found oak for structural timbers. “We couldn’t have done it without Allen,” a grateful Rogers said..

Sometimes buildings are put to better use elsewhere. Harris’ barn in Digges Valley is another example of adaptive reuse. It was an old 19th century bank barn, with a lot of original details, and Harris asked Cochran to see what was salvageable. It didn’t make financial sense to restore the structure, but the barn’s timbers, siding and foundation stone will be put to use in another project Cochran is working on. “We’re going to move all the structural members from Digges Valley to Bluemont, using almost all the salvageable stone for the foundation and the same siding.”

“That’s the stuff that we do,” he said of his team’s work.

Cochran points to the DC Water and Sewer Authority project in Algonkian Park. The DC Water Authority’s odor abatement building along the Potomac Heritage Trail at Algonkian Park as one of his most unusual and most rewarding undertakings.

When the authority built the Potomac Interceptor sewer line to serve eastern Loudoun, there were few humans living along the route—and the cows didn’t much mind the smell. But as the area was developed, residents began to complain.

“About five or six years ago, I was sitting at my desk, when I got a call from the engineer, who was in a panic. He’d presented plans for the odor abatement building at Algonkian Park to the county. But they rejected them and wanted something more scenic,” Cochran said.

The engineer’s call came after Loudoun County Preservation Planner Heidi Siebentritt advised him to call Cochran to see if he could help.

He did, writing specs for a stone building that were approved. Today, residents strolling along the Potomac Heritage Trail see a stone building that looks as if it could have blended with the landscape just as well a century ago.

A couple of years later, he got the same panicked call again, this time for a second odor abatement building near Great Falls. Cochran said the two modern stone buildings housing the deodorizing equipment are among his nicest projects.

Mike Shockey and Joe Reidel place a timber support beam in an old bank barn that’s being restored north of Hamilton. (Photo by Douglas Graham/Loudoun Now)

Mike Shockey and Joe Reidel place a timber support beam in an old bank barn that’s being restored north of Hamilton. (Photo by Douglas Graham/Loudoun Now)

Today, he’s converting a brick barn near Hamilton, built in the 1830s, to livable space.

“It’s fabulous,” he said of the project for the Vicks family. The interior brick gives off a warm feeling, and has a lot of salvaged materials.

Not all his projects are in Loudoun. Chuck Akre, who has a financial management business in Middleburg, asked him to build a barn at his property near Little Washington, where there is a 19th century Italianate-style house but no amenities. Madison Spencer Architects is designing a large bank barn that will include office space. The traditional-looking barn will have all concrete walls with a stone face.

“He’s exceptional. It’s rare to find someone so committed to learning a trade in the truly classical sense—something beyond building fashion,” Spencer said. “It was very clear to me when I first met him that he implicitly understood the fundamentals of working with stone and the artistry—so few people are schooled in these building arts.”

The Team

After all these years in the business, Cochran knows what to look for when he’s hiring.

“You’ve got to want to beat on rocks in heat and cold,” he said, not just want a job. Stonemasonry takes a lot of time to learn and to practice. He noted that Kelly’s Masonry was just voted top mason in the county. “He trained here,” he says proudly.

And he has a great team today, all Loudoun natives, Cochran said, calling them “his backbone.” His lead mason is William Brown, who has been with him for 18 years. Brown’s great-great grandfather times three was a Loudoun stonemason also. Stonemason Adam Shehan has been with him for eight years, plus stone apprentice Craig Hahn for four years. Lead timber framer Mike Shockey has worked for Cochran for 10 years, while apprentice Joe Reidel has worked for four years. Sue McDonough has worked as office manager “for ever,” Cochran says, calling them all “a super staff.”

That tribute is typical of Cochran, Madison Spencer says. “He treats them all as partners, not employees.”

Leaving No Stone Unturned

Story and Photos by Bill Snead, Special to The Washington Post, August 24, 2008

Allen Cochran in a barn outside Middleburg that his company built for Alan Croft over three years. The barn is a replica of a shed that once sat near the Dulles Greenway and the Route 7 Bypass. "As far as I'm concerned," he said, the barn is "our crown jewel."

Allen Cochran in a barn outside Middleburg that his company built for Alan Croft over three years. The barn is a replica of a shed that once sat near the Dulles Greenway and the Route 7 Bypass. "As far as I'm concerned," he said, the barn is "our crown jewel."

When Loudoun builder Allen Cochran recites that piece of history, the part about the burned barns, you realize it's a subject close to his heart. You can almost smell the smoke.

Cochran's livelihood revolves around barns. He builds, restores and salvages them, running his business from a barn next to his house just west of Hamilton. He was born and raised in Lincoln, just 1 1/2 miles down the road. He began his trade as an apprentice, laying stone for Louis Whitesell, whom Cochran calls "one of the best." Three years later, he started Cochran's Stone Masonry and Timberframing, "with a pickup and a bag of tools."

"We started out as masons . . . lots of period and traditional stone masonry. And we wanted our work to look like it did when things were constructed in the 18th and 19th century," said Cochran, 43.

He and his crew have worked on many projects in Loudoun and some outside the county, reconstructing barns and houses as well as erecting period buildings from scratch.

"We match the materials in the houses and actually go into the fields and pick stone up from fence rows, and we salvage buildings to get sedimentary stone, not the volcanic stone that's around here," he said. "I certainly don't want to be quoted as a geologist, cause I'm not," he added, "but I know rocks."

He also knows about 175-year-old beams, round or flat-sided and bigger around than telephone poles, which he has hauled from places such as West Virginia to use in restorations.

"We started out as masons, but we ended up doing basically any type of work a client would ask," he said.

After nearly 20 years in the business, he has a reputation for leaving things in better shape than he finds them. He was involved in repair work on the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery; the restoration of Montpelier, the estate of former president James Madison; and the extensive reconstruction of the building that houses the Loudoun Heritage Farm Museum in Sterling. He has worked on many projects in historic Waterford.

When Harry Middleton sold his family's dairy farm in Fairfax County and moved to Middleburg in 2002, Cochran's team disassembled a stone barn that had been built by Middleton's great-grandfather and incorporated the pieces into a new house and barn erected on the Middleburg property.

"Harry's great-grandfather Henry Bradley was a stone mason from England, and he actually cut some of the stones that we used," Cochran said as he showed images of the project on his computer.

Cochran installed some beams from the old barn in the ceiling of a large room in the house, and he built the room's huge fireplace using Bradley's stonework.

Middleton's historical roots also are found in parts of the flooring, which includes staves taken from the wooden silo at the old family farm in Fairfax. A photo on the wall shows Harry's father, as a youngster, with milk cans bearing Bradley's initials.

"He shipped his milk from Herndon to Washington, D.C., and that required a special permit even then," Middleton said of his great-grandfather.

Like Bradley's barn, Middleton's version is a bank barn set into the side of a hill. The design produces a natural shelter for stalls under the rear of the barn.

A photo of another barn popped up on Cochran's computer.

"Now," he said, "take a look at this barn. . . . We matched it architecturally with an old one that sat where the [Dulles] Greenway and Route 7 [Bypass] intersect, right down to the mortar. . . . Took over three years.

"As far as I'm concerned, it's our crown jewel."

Cochran was just getting warmed up.


© 2008 The Washington Post Company

Cochran's Stone Masonry Offers Nationwide Services for Historic Preservation

Updated August 6, 2008 press release

LINCOLN, Va./PRNewswire/ -- Cochran's Stone Masonry, a company specializing in the restoration and stabilization of historic properties, period inspired new construction, hand hewing, lime mortar and lime wash, relocation of historic structures, and construction using historically correct methods and materials is now available for selected projects nationwide.

Allen Cochran, founder and owner of Cochran's Stone Masonry, is a leader in the lime mortar renaissance and timber framing said, "We are passionate about maintaining the integrity of historic buildings and leaving a legacy of living history for generations to come. That objective can only be attained by the careful use of historic craftsman methods and materials." Cochran's Stone Masonry has been in the business of stabilization and restoration of historic properties for more than 25 years. The company has relocated many historic structures by documenting the building, photographing and cataloguing the components, disassembling, and relocating the structure to a new site.

Cochran's Stone Masonry is located in historic Lincoln, Virginia, and has completed projects all over the United States. Projects include Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Montpellier, and countless historic structures in many locations. Lime putty is manufactured onsite and is available for distribution. Salvaged logs and timbers to repair and replace damaged timber frames are also available and if new wood is needed, it can be milled to exact specifications. The company also builds wedged dove tail doors and mantels for the use in construction and restoration projects.

For more information, go to or call 540-338-1603.