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    Preserving History — Winter 2013 | Out Here Magazine

    Unique recycler gives old barns and buildings new life

    Michael Watson
    Part historian, part environmentalist, Michael Watson gives old structures new life.
    Out Here

    By Hollie Deese

    Photography by Mark Mosrie

    About four years ago, Michael Watson was out looking at an old barn near Murfreesboro, Tenn. The owner wanted it removed and Watson thought it was just what he needed to do an extension on his own barn down the road.

    So he made a deal with the owner and began carefully disassembling the turn-of-the-century structure.

    “And as I was taking it down I started listening to the history of the barn,” Watson says. “And then I really started looking at the inside of it, and it was really beautiful.”

    So instead of using it on his own barn, Watson decided to make a couple of tables from the historic lumber. And that was the start of a new business, Eagle Reclaimed Lumber.

    “I just decided after looking at it and being a history buff and listening to the stories about when (the barn) was built, and how it was built, I knew this was something I wanted to do,” he says.

    Watson, who spent 20 years in the environmental and recycling business, has an agriculture degree, and, to him, repurposing barns past their prime seemed like a natural fit.

    Keeping Memories Alive

    Since Watson and his wife Carla started the business, the trend for designers to use reclaimed wood has grown by leaps and bounds as people look past price and focus on history and character from saw marks, worm holes, and more.

    “It is something you probably walk past every day, but you don’t know what beauty lies beneath,” he says.

    Watson now takes down about 70 structures a year, including farmhouses, and thrills each time he removes a wall to find 80-year-old newspaper clippings or dovetailed cross beams.

    Environmental sustainability is important to Tractor Supply, and we applaud others who feel the same way. That's why we're regularly featuring some of our customers and friends who are good stewards of the land. For more information on our Stewardship Program, click on "Environmental Sustainability" at the bottom of our home page.

    Each structure is cataloged and photographed before it comes down, and Watson documents as much of the history as he can find so he can pass it on to the person who ends up buying the wood.

    “There are barns that were built during the Civil War and the stories that go with them, the little nuances that each one of them have, that is what can really excite me because now all of the sudden it’s personal,” he says. “And we all have stories about when we played in the barn as a kid, and we remember the barn, whether it was a dairy barn or livestock barn or tobacco barn, and we all have fond memories of that.”

    Watson pays for about 60 percent of the structures he takes down, sometimes in money, but many times in a piece of furniture built from the structure so the owner can always have a piece of it. The rest of the barns and old farmhouses, Watson removes for free or in some cases charges because they are too dangerous to enter.

    “They understand that they are not going to be able to maintain the barn but they just don’t want it to go to waste,” he says. “Burning it or bulldozing it is just not a suitable end to it. So we really give it a new beginning.”


    Watson doesn’t limit how far he will travel to get his wood, but likes to stay within the Southeast. Consequently, his wood is a lot of oak, beech, ash, walnut, and chestnut.

    “They built these barns with the natural resources that they had, and a lot of them would just bring a sawmill to the land and cut the trees for the barn,” he says. “Whatever was available is what they would use and that’s why barns have so many different types of wood in them.”

    He also has gotten to know the variety of styles used across the Southeast as well, and notices trends throughout small communities.

    “When you get inside a general area, you can see the same type of craftsmanship and style,” he says. “One barn that we did just outside Maryville, Tenn., going toward the (Smoky Mountains) was built sometime around 1905,” he recalls. “And throughout the community you can see the same style of barn, probably built by the same craftsmen over and over in different sizes, which was just really interesting.”

    Customers who head out to Eagle, tucked by the railroad tracks behind shady trees and stacks of planks in Murfreesboro, can learn about it all as they look for the perfectly imperfect material for floors, decks, wall board, furniture, frames, or even just a plank perfect enough to hang on its own as art.

    Not only will they find it, they will be able to give new life to a material once destined for rot and ruin.

    “We don’t care if you buy a stick or you buy a truckload,” Watson says. “We are a sucker for small family projects because that’s what this wood was made for. It was made to be looked at. It means something to me to go out there and preserve history. And this is a little way that we are doing it.”

    Hollie Deese is a Gallatin, Tenn., writer.

    The trend for designers to use reclaimed wood has grown by leaps and bounds in the past few years, as people look past price and focus on history and character from saw marks, worm holes, and more, Michael Watson says.
    examples of reclaimed wood on the left side, Michael working with one of the pieces on the right side

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