The Star Barn
James Crouch (1728-1794) was born in Virginia and came to Middletown, Pennsylvania when he married Hannah (Brown) on September 22, 1757. Here they bought 1,000 acres and built their beloved stone farm house which they called "Walnut Hill. Some locals still refer to the farm as, "The Walnut Hill Farm" or “The Crouch House”.*
Their youngest son, Edward Crouch and his wife Margaret, inherited the farm and the Crouch-Jordan descendants resided on the property from 1778 to 1872.
In 1872, John Motter (1822-1901) bought the farm at auction for $19,310. John Motter made his fortune selling horses and mules to the government for the Calvary regiments of the Union forces during the Civil War.
John Motter hired architect Daniel Riechert to update the farmhouse and who designed a Tuscan column porch with cast iron grillwork and two life-size iron lions. He also designed the Star Barn in the architectural style of Carpenter Gothic Revival. The Star Barn was then built by John Z. Grove & son from Hummelstown. Motter had the out buildings re-designed and built additional ones as well. All with cross gables, pointed arch ventilators, trefoil brackets, and spire-like cupolas.
The farmstead included the large Star Barn, a pig barn, carriage house , grain silo, and a milk house. The Star Barn itself is a five bay barn with a forty-foot cupola atop a cross-gable roof with the famous star vent on the front. It had three threshing floors. It also included a 56 foot vaulted stone tunnel below the bank side. The Star Barn is 106 feet long, 66 feet wide, and 80 feet high.
Motter died on August 25, 1901, and his eldest daughter inherited the farm. She held on to it until 1903. In 1925, Walnut Hill and the rest of the farm was sold to the Nissley family who changed the lower level of the barn into a dairy barn.
In 1940, Aaron J. Hoffer purchased the now 164 acre- property and it remained in the Hoffer family for many years. Sometime during the Hoffer ownership, the original weathervanes were removed. In the 1980’s the property changed hands to Ereno Lewis Jr.
By 1986, Walnut Hill was no longer a working farm and fell in disrepair. Lewis sold 20 acres, the Star Barn, and outbuildings to the Dayspring Ministries Church. Only the house remained in the Lewis family until it was sold in 2014, along with seven acres, to Tom and Christine Minnich.
The 1990’s saw a community campaign to save the once iconic Star Barn which was on the edge of deterioration. In 1992, the Star Barn was added to Preservation Pennsylvania’s list of most endangered historical properties. Around 1998, the church sold it to the Millport Conservancy and Preservation Pennsylvania, who had formed a partnership to buy the Star Barn and three acres of land. The Star Barn was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2000.
In 2007, Robert Barr, who was a member in the local chapter of Preservation Pennsylvania, bought the barn in hopes of making it an agricultural education and exhibit center in Lebanon County but he couldn’t raise the funding.
Although, it had several owners over the years, it remained in Lower Swatara Township until 2014 when the historic barn and outbuildings were purchased from Robert Barr by David and Tierney Abel.
The Abels saw the potential of the historic buildings and had them carefully dismantled and moved to Stone Gables Estate in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania. Over the July 4th weekend in 2017, they had volunteers help raise the Star Barn on site with a finalized grand premier in 2018 bringing the Star Barn and its additional farm buildings back to their grandeur for all to appreciate once again.
The Star Barn's dismantling from Middletown, Lower Swatara Township
The rebirth and barn raising at Stone Gables, Iron Stone Ranch, Elizabethtown
The Star Barn today at Iron Stone Ranch
*The stone farmhouse can still be seen at 203 Nissley Drive, Middletown, PA and occasionally, the Minnich Family have shared their home as part of the Holiday Home Tour.