Day 11: In the hope and restoration business

12 Days of Christmas… with a twist

Day 11: “He was born in a stable, the Lamb of God, and laid in a manger with shepherds the first to see Him. Understanding the significance of Jesus’ birth will be part of The Star Barn’s future… God is into resurrection and restoration, and that’s what we’re going to do in order to use these buildings to be shared with others.”– David Abel.   Read on to learn how restoration and hope bring together The Star Barn, Ironstone Ranch and Brittany’s Hope

By Sherry Bunting, Reprinted from Farmshine, December 5, 2015

ELIZABETHTOWN, Pa. — If you’ve traveled from anywhere in the U.S. to the Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, you’ve no doubt passed The Star Barn — one of the most painted and photographed barns in the U.S. This historic landmark has languished and deteriorated for years in a quest for funds for a proper restoration of the icon from the 1800s.


Enter David and Tierney Abel of nearby DAS Companies Inc. who have purchased The Star Barn and will use their own money — no grants or tax dollars — to restore it all, after first moving it to their Ironstone Ranch, 10 miles away as the crow flies in Elizabethtown, Pa.


David and Tierney Abel (left) and Mark and Jamie Shoemaker

The former dairy farm, turned fruit farm, turned Christmas tree farm, is now an “events with a purpose” reception venue that will be the new home for all nine buildings of the original John Motter Star Barn — including a rebirthed replica of the original farm house, pond and springhouse that were removed in the early 1970s when Route 283 was built right through the property on which they sat.

My connection to this story began when our middle son Ryan Bunting married our new daughter-in-law Vanessa Rice — daughter of Vernon and Jeanette Rice of Strasburg — at Ironstone Ranch on October 12, 2015. The bride and her attendants prepared for the big event in the original 1812 farmhouse the Abels first restored on the 150-acre farm.

The wedding was in the orchard with two roaming miniature donkeys photo-bombing the ceremony. IMG_0730xAnd the reception was held in the beautifully restored 1860 pine and brick barn original to the premises. While in the orchard doing family portraits between the wedding and reception, I learned from my 95-year-old grandmother Dorothy Jacobs, who still lives just across the street from the Ironstone Ranch at the edge of town, that my grandfather Bernard “Ace” Jacobs, a friend of an earlier owner, hunted there every year. Yes, it’s a small world.

As the wedding party, which included 12 children — the largest number of children ever in the four years of 80 weddings per year at Ironstone — prepared for their grand entrance, the farm’s manager Mark Shoemaker told wedding guests about Ironstone Ranch and its mission.


Children are at the center of Brittany’s Hope Foundation, which receives all net profits from Ironstone Ranch. These 12 children in the Bunting-Rice wedding party in October received the royal treatment from the folks who run the reception venue and ranch. In fact, chief operating officer Mark Shoemaker handed a cowboy hat to Connor Messner, 6, (my grandson) for instant confidence as he escorted Lydia Rice, 8, as the lead-off pair in the reception at the 1860 pine barn restored on the premises.

With a skeleton crew of seven full time and two part time employees, a stable of carriage and pleasure-riding horses, a few Longhorn cattle and the mascot miniature donkeys along with 250 acres of grazing, hay ground and wooded riding paths, 100% of the net profits from weddings, corporate events, and other meetings and entertainment are funneled into Brittany’s Hope Foundation.


Named for the daughter the Abels lost in a car accident 16 years ago, Brittany’s Hope facilitates adoptions of primarily special needs children from around the world and also funds orphanages in many locations, especially Viet Nam, Kenya and Ethiopia. To-date, Brittany’s Hope has facilitated over 900 adoptions. David and Tierney, themselves, have 17 children in their blended family, 12 of them adopted.

So what has this to do with The Star Barn? Plenty.

“My wife saw The Star Barn and reached out to the preservationists,” said David. “We’ve evolved into barn chasers. I thought, if this goes through (buying The Star Barn), God definitely has a plan for it.”

There were plenty of hoops to jump through from the purchase and permits to the logistics of moving, and even getting permission to keep The Star Barn on the historical registry at its new location.


The Ironstone Ranch is currently completing the restoration of an old 1812 barn moved there from nearby Bainbridge.


At the DAS Company warehouse, home of Stewardship Missions a few miles away, the dismantled iconic 65-feet-tall, post-and-beam 1819 antique barn with its Cathedral architecture that sat for centuries along what is now Fruitville Pike near downtown Lancaster, lies bound in cataloged clusters under a coverall waiting its turn for restoration at Ironstone Ranch.

But the focus right now is The Star Barn. The work to bring the 9-building complex to its new home for restoration began October 27, when the cupolas came down, the main cupola weighing 13,900 pounds! They are being restored to their former glory, with the main cupola expected to take 18 months, including hand-forging of new weather vanes as they were in the 1800s by craftsmen in Rhode Island.


This 13,500-lb cupola is the distinctive main cupola of The Star Barn and will take 18 months to restore, including the hand-forged weather vanes being recreated in Rhode Island to their original 1800s design.

Later this year or early in 2016, the barn itself will be moved to Ironstone Ranch. Piece by piece, it will be taken down and cataloged, then pegged together and raised manually with gin poles just as they did in the 1800s. Tickets for this event are expected to be available on a limited basis for those who want to see The Star Barn raising.

This story gets even more interesting.

David Abel explains how The Star Barn cupolas have the fleur-de-lis pattern, representing the Trinity and the sovereignty of God over every building. Furthermore, the stars on the barn were placed there as a sign of hope for the nation after the Civil War.

“God is into resurrection and restoration, and that’s what we’re going to do in order to use these buildings to be shared with others,” he said.

The nine buildings of The Star Barn complex will be placed as in their original setting with the three-fold purpose of being a working farm, an event venue raising funds for Brittany’s Hope, and a living parable for visitors to visualize many of the agriculture-based parables of Jesus.

“He was born in a stable, the Lamb of God, and laid in a manger with shepherds the first to see Him. Understanding the significance of Jesus’ birth will be part of The Star Barn’s future,” David explained. “Shepherds would know when a lamb is born. The living parables will help people understand why shepherds know and search for the Lamb. There are a vast number of parables, and we are compiling them all. So often, Jesus used agriculture to teach us God’s beautiful truths. We want to bring that to life, and The Star Barn will be a key part of that.”

It will include a thrashing floor, oxen, sheep and goats, a vineyard and 1800 time-period antique farming equipment the Abels have begun to accumulate for working the land.

“People will see in the thrashing floor the separation of wheat and chaff. In the vineyard, they will see the unpruned vine growing wild and beautiful onto itself with no fruit, and by contrast, the vine pruned by the Master’s hand beside it bearing fruit,” David explained. “We’re doing this for a purpose. People will come to see it and learn why Jesus used farming, trees, stones, vines, livestock, in His parables. We can share this gift and tell the story. Everything we do with the restorations must be God-honoring.”

Not to mention, when all the barns they are in the midst of restoring are completed, Ironstone Ranch will become a destination where visitors can see 1800s German agriculture practices and architecture with historical and biblical significance.

The Abels anticipate the process of restoring the entire Star Barn complex to take two years, including the re-creation of the original pond, farmhouse and springhouse. For these portions of the complex, they will use pictures and time-period catalogs to make replicas of the original structures. The house will become a 12-bedroom structure to provide lodging for special events.

Mark Shoemaker and his wife Jamie once operated a hay and horse farm in Schuylkill County. Today, they manage theIronstone Ranch.

“When Mark and Jamie came into our life, they made it their goal to make the property beautiful. It’s ours to share with others. God put us together and they’ve put their heart and soul into this,” said Tierney.

“God is weaving a tapestry here,” David added as they talked about their plans for the ranch, the Star Barn and Brittany’s Hope. While the Ironstone Ranch is set up as a for-profit corporation, all profit after operating costs goes to the non-profit Brittany’s Hope Foundation, created in January 2000 for the purpose of advocating for orphaned special needs children longing for the love of a family.

In starting Brittany’s Hope, the Abels reflected on their daughter’s dream of helping children with special needs “come home to loving families.”

“Out of death, comes life,” said Tierney. “The gift of Brittany’s life has not ended. Through this foundation, she touches so many lives.”

And there’s more in store…

At the 100th Pennsylvania Farm Show in January, Ironstone Ranch will have a booth near the butter sculpture where they will display The Star Barn 1/12th scale model layout for the “living parables” farm.

“God gives each of us gifts, and one of David’s is vision,” said Tierney.

“We see what can be accomplished when we cooperate with God in the unfolding of His vision as it grows and is unveiled and then confirmed by circumstances and people along the way,” David added with a smile. “We’re just walking out the vision He has for us here.”

David Abel started DAS Companies in the late 1970s with $200 selling stereos and CB’s at Lancaster County’s Roots and Green Dragon markets from the back of his father’s station wagon and the garage of his grandmother’s home. Today, DAS Companies is a global supply chain with many lines of products in truck stops all over the country. The business fuels the stewardship and mission they have undertaken.


Horses graze in mid-November at Ironstone Ranch. This hayground will become the new home for all 9 buildings of the original Star Barn. It will remain on the National Registry of Historic Places at its new location, which has its own historical significance. During the Civil War, this was a staging area for troops, and after the war, the Liberty Bell traversed the land on its way back to Philadelphia from Harrisburg, as did President Lincoln’s funeral train as it passed between the two cities.

Ironstone1100xMichael Kleinhans, project manager, talks about The Star Barn’s future at Ironstone Ranch and the booth near the butter sculpture at the 100th Pa. Farm Show in January where a scale model of the plans for the 9-building Star Barn relocation, restoration and “living parables” farm will be on display. Photo by Sherry Bunting

A Christmas event at Ironstone December 5 raised thousands for Brittany’s Hope and the Water Street Rescue Mission. Stay tuned for more on The Star Barn from the 100th Farm Show in January.