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