By Christopher O’Donnell
Times Staff Writer
ODESSA — Not many barns are topped by a cupola.
Then again, not many barns were built by a Revolutionary War hero.
Gen. John Stark, whose portrait hangs in the White House, built the barn in the late 1700s on his family’s farm in Dunbarton, N.H. A veteran of the battles of Bunker Hill and Bennington, Stark was known as the "Hero of Bennington" and coined New Hampshire’s state motto: "Live free or die."
Inspired by this history, retired Odessa resident John Zumwalt III bought the barn at 6930 Lutz Lake Fern Road in 2013. Over a three-year period, the hand-hewn, post-and-beam barn was dismantled, trucked to Odessa and painstakingly restored and reassembled.
On Saturday, May 5, it will begin a new chapter as The Barn at Stark Farms, a "living history" education center and lodging house providing lessons in colonial-era crafts and farming techniques, the history of the Revolutionary War and the values of Americans who fought for independence.
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The transplanted structure, built around 230 years ago, might just be the oldest barn in Florida.
"It’s a little bit of treasure in Hillsborough County," Zumwalt said.
The idea for the history center arose when Zumwalt was sailing off Rhode Island with his wife, Martha Korman Zumwalt. She suggested a barn was just what they needed for a 14-acre site along Lutz Lake Fern Road that they bought in 2012.
So they looked online for barns for sale and found the Stark building.
They were intrigued enough to drive to Dunbarton to see it. The 49-by-90-foot, two-story agricultural shed was built by Stark for his son, Caleb Stark, who served with his father in the 1st New Hampshire Regiment.
Zumwalt, a former civil engineer and business executive, was hooked on the building’s history.
"I was in it for five minutes and I said, ‘We’ll take it," he said.
Most of the lumber was in good condition but the barn was sagging, he said.
It was dismantled into thousands of pieces and each was labelled for reassembly. Three trailers hauled the lumber to Odessa, in an area under consideration for incorporation as the town of Keystone to fend off urban encroachment.
The Stark barn is likely older than the site now recognized in the state’s inventory as Florida’s oldest barn — the Kingsley Plantation Barn/Stable/Carriage House in Duval County, built circa 1800.
But it’s unclear if the Stark barn would qualify for the list or for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
Structures that have been relocated are usually ineligible for historic designation, although some exemptions have been granted for buildings of special historical importance.
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Your blood pressure seems to drop the moment you step inside the central corridor of the Stark barn.
Almost 40 feet above, there’s an unbroken view of the arched ceiling and its intricate latticework of timbers. Each of the dozen rooms has an entryway made of wood paneling and aged timbers.
As much as possible, the Zumwalts furnished the barn with period antiques, many of them purchased in New Hampshire. There’s a washing tub with a mangle that squeezes laundry through rollers and a winnowing machine for separating grain from chaff. Historic maps and a portrait of President George Washington hang on the wall. A worn, upside-down copper pot with the bottom missing has new life as a lamp shade.
There are modern conveniences, as well, including insulation and air-conditioning. Electric lighting and a few discreetly placed televisions also are available for guests to use.
Five rooms, each named for members of the Stark family, are advertised through AirBNB.com from $100 per night. In addition to lodging rooms, there is a small chapel, an office, a kitchen and a dining area.
The back of the barn will be used as a workshop to teach mechanics and carpentry. Demonstrations on soap-making, braiding rugs, sewing and other crafts are planned. Visitors will be able to don period clothing. Hay rides and a petting zoo are planned for children.
Zumwalt estimates that he has put more than $1 million into the barn.
The building has worked its way into his family’s holiday traditions. On Thanksgiving and Christmas, they gather to celebrate and share their dinner on a 25-foot long table.
"We wanted it to be a special place," Zumwalt said. "Our family spends a lot of time here."
Contact Christopher O’Donnell at [email protected] or (813) 226-3446. Follow @codonnell_Times.