By Emma Castleberry | Photos by Camilla Calnan
A 106-year-old barn in the North Carolina section of Great Smoky Mountains National Park has received a full restoration, thanks to The Hands of Sean Perry Co. and Friends of the Smokies, an official nonprofit partner of the Park. This is the second restoration project in the Park to be spearheaded by Perry and his crew on a volunteer basis. “The connection I have to Great Smoky Mountains National Park is beyond words,” Perry says. “It is rooted in a deep sense of place and home. This is a way for me to spend seven or eight days at a time in the Park, connecting with my crew, growing bonds through passion and purpose and digging deeper into my research of old books, maps and place.”
Perry’s initial volunteer restoration project paved the way for the Palmer Barn restoration. In 2017, The Hands of Sean Perry Co. spent a week camping in the remote Little Cataloochee area, restoring the park’s 19th century Cook Cabin. Blue Ridge Public Radio aired a story about this project, which was heard by Rich and Leigh Pettus. The Pettuses were inspired to make a significant financial donation to Friends of the Smokies and earmarked those funds for the restoration of the Palmer Barn.
Every year, the Park works with Friends of the Smokies to create a list of priority projects called the Needs List. “We review the list with the Park, the board votes and those are the projects and programs we fund,” says Anna Zanetti, North Carolina director for Friends of the Smokies. The Palmer Barn was a priority renovation project for the Park and was on the Needs List when Sean Perry reached out about being interested in a second renovation project—a serendipitous coincidence. “It is great that our previous labor donation moved a couple to make a significant financial contribution to NC Friends of the Smokies,” says Perry. “Our Palmer Barn renovations brought this cycle full circle. It felt so good to be part of that cycle.”
From April 30 through May 5, Perry and his team went to work on the barn located on the Palmer House homestead. “The Palmer Place is important to the regional community for many reasons, but inside the house is an exhibition that provides interpretation to the history of the Palmer family site, complete with black-and-white photos of its past residents,” says Zanetti. “Projects like this preserve our cultural history for generations to come.”
While the Park has funded a variety of renovations to the homestead, including the addition of new paint, rot repair and a new roof, the barn was still in need of some attention. “The Palmer Barn dates back to 1902,” says Zanetti, “and it is a unique, three-story structure that sits near the Palmer House in Cataloochee, which is one of the most frequently visited locations in the Big Cataloochee area of the park.” The barn’s entry is on the second story, accessed by a 30-foot-long locust timber bridge. This bridge was a part of the crew’s focus for renovations, as well as a sill beam on the back of the barn. They also replaced several support posts and some of the barn’s siding.
“It is important to maintain these structures for our generation and future generations, to help preserve the story that is our local history,” says Perry, who plans to continue donating labor expertise to the Park on an ongoing basis. “Structures like this help tell the story of what was, and remind us that many families had to sacrifice their lands so that we may have the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.”
For more information, visit seanperryinc.com.