The Barn Silo’s Tiles, Charm Restored by Fallingwater Maintenance Staff

September 14, 2021

As you approach Fallingwater’s entrance from the west along SR 381 in Mill Run, it is hard to miss the large brown, red and rust colored circular structure standing tall within the dense tree canopy. The terra cotta clay tiled silo that is part of The Barn at Fallingwater has been a Fallingwater landscape mainstay for nearly 80 years.

In addition to being tastemakers as department store owners, the Kaufmann family had varied interests and passions that included a deep appreciation for the outdoors, conservation and farming.

From the early 1940s to 1951, Edgar Sr. operated a dairy farm where he raised Jersey cows for fresh milk. To house the operations, Kaufmann purchased a nearby barn, which was built in 1870 as a part of Tissue Farm, and added a silo and milking parlor.

Fallingwater and The Barn were entrusted to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy in 1963. Under the Conservancy’s ownership, The Barn was transformed into a nature center in 1967 and, in 2002, it underwent significant renovations that preserved the historical context and character while modernizing some aspects of the space. Today, The Barn is a Silver Certified LEED U.S. Green Building home to staff offices and public meeting spaces.

During the renovations to The Barn nearly 20 years ago, engineers found the historic terra cotta-tiled silo, one of only a few remaining in the Laurel Highlands, to be structurally intact. Only exterior tile patching was needed for preservation and aesthetic purposes.

The silo tiles were manufactured by the Pittsburgh-based National Fire Proofing Company, which specialized in fire-proof structures and heavily marketed the benefits of the fire-resistant qualities of clay tile over the then more popular wood silos.

The silo was again assessed by a structural engineer in 2017, who determined that it was still structurally sound. “We learned that the silo was still in good shape, but weather had taken a toll on a number of the tiles,” says Mike Kuzemchak, director of operations at Fallingwater.

This spring and summer, Fallingwater maintenance staff patched the deteriorated clay tiles and Mike says using the skills of the in-house team was vital from a cost savings, time efficiency and project management perspective.

“It took three months to complete this effort. The work of patching each tile, matching the clay and shaping the patching material took time and great craftsmanship. Our crew did an outstanding job on this important project,” he says.

Maintenance staff used a specialized terra cotta patching material that was dyed to match the specific colors of the tiles. Hoisted on an aerial lift, staff patched more than 100 tiles on the silo.

“We are very pleased with the outcome and that we can continue to preserve this important piece of history and charm for our Fayette County community,” Mike adds.

Fallingwater maintenance staff continues their preservation and masonry work on the silo, as efforts are currently underway to rebuild the silo’s foundation.

Funding to restore The Barn silo was made possible by the generosity of the Richard King Mellon Foundation.