“So, you’re the people who save things.”
Bob McDaniel was looking for exactly those kind of people because this lifelong resident of Santa Ysabel, California, was on a mission to save a barn.
Not just any barn, but the Dutch-style redwood Hoover Barn that had been a fixture in San Diego County’s backcountry since 1890.
Yes, Bruce Coons said, he was one of those people, and he was “shocked” at the letter McDaniel pulled out of his pocket.
Coons is executive director of California’s oldest continuous preservation group—Save Our Heritage Organisation, which began in 1969—and at that moment in 2011, he was still celebrating the group’s latest purchase. They had closed the deal to buy and restore the Santa Ysabel Store, originally owned by David Leonard Hoover and once the end-all-and-be-all for the agricultural area that had begun as a Mexican land grant in 1844.
Coons had big ideas for the 1884 store. “This store had been cut up like swiss cheese over the years,” he says. The first job was to return it to its 1800s splendor. It would then resume its old life, this time with heirloom and artisanal food and gifts and books for naturalists and cultural tourists.
But here, just a few days after they sealed that deal, was a town neighbor showing Coons a letter from the county declaring that the Hoover Barn next door was about to be burned to the ground.
“The barn had been used by the agricultural department, with pesticides mixed and used out of here, and the county decided it was a nuisance,”Coons says. He called the county to stop the burn.
Coons found out that the county did not realize the barn was historic, and officials agreed to fund a study to see if the barn was worth preserving. The answer was yes; the Hoover barn was eligible to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“This is one of the few very large 19th-century barns left,” Coons says. “We’ve lost the rest to development and backcountry fires.”
The one-and-a-half-story, wooden H-frame barn has four bays that were divided into horse stalls and storage space for carriages and harvesting machinery.
“It’s a landmark for this beautiful, oak-studded valley,” Coons says. “You come over the hill, and you can’t miss the barn.”
The county agreed to clean up any pesticide residue and sell the barn for $30,000. The deal was finalized in October 2015. By the end of this year, Coons expects the barn to be restored—to the tune of $100,000—and ready to join the store in revitalizing Santa Ysabel.
The barn will house historic vehicles, like the heritage group’s Concord stage, which is used for public stagecoach rides and special events such as festivals, antique shows and weddings. And its 126 years of service to the community will continue.
Arizona’s Journalist of the Year, Jana Bommersbach has won an Emmy and two Lifetime Achievement Awards. She also cowrote and appeared on the Emmy-winning Outrageous Arizona and has written two true crime books, a children’s book and the historical novel Cattle Kate.