KATHLEEN -- A few years ago, Scott Durham had the idea of building a simple, small barn and workshop on his property in Houston County.
He overshot the mark -- considerably.
Durham, 52, an assistant fire chief in Warner Robins, ended up building a 4,400-square-foot building he calls the Legacy Barn at Durham’s Mill. It’s large enough to host wedding receptions and other get-togethers.
With a private bar called The Watering Hole just a few yards away, Durham has big plans for the property. The next phase will be a chapel, followed by two cabins.
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“It’s been a learning process for us,” he said. “We still have plenty of lumber. ... I’m going to retire in three years and build a pond out here. It’s going to be an ongoing thing.”
The project could end up being the ultimate “green” house. Nearly all the wood for the buildings came from pine trees planted by the family of Pam Durham, Scott’s wife. His in-laws helped with the labor, as did his “other” family from Fire Station 1 in Warner Robins.
“That’s what we do. We help one another,” Scott Durham said. “That’s another legacy we’re passing on. It’s what we try to instill in the young guys in the fire department.”
It all started with some pine beetles.
Durham was told by a forestry service agent that several old pine trees on his property would have to come down because of an infestation of pine beetles. Rather than having the wood hauled away, Durham and his brother-in-law, Bill Woodard, decided to use it as well as wood from a barn built by Woodard’s great-great grandfather.
The initial idea was to build a cabin for Woodard with the wood, followed by a work shed for Durham. They wanted to do as much of the work as they could by themselves.
“It used to be farmland out here,” Durham said. “But in the early ‘90s, farming was a tough business. When my father-in-law passed away, my mother-in-law put in trees for the tax break.”
It took Durham two or three years to learn how to cut the wood and get enough of it for a building project.
“I gave some of the wood to a friend who had a sawmill,” Durham said. “I then went to Newnan to look at sawmills and ended up buying one, even though I didn’t know how to use it. But I figured if (my friend) could do it, I could do it.”
Durham leaned heavily on YouTube videos that taught him most of what he needed to know.
Once he was ready to build his workspace barn, the plans changed thanks to an off-hand remark by his oldest daughter, Kayla.
She suggested she wanted to get married there after it was completed.
“That wasn’t the kind of barn I was building, but my wife said, ‘That’s a good idea!’” he recalled. “I just wanted something to put my tractor in. But we cut down so many trees, that’s when we started to build this.”
In addition to using the wood from the beetle-infested trees, Durham tried to find as much recycled material and handmade items as he could.
For example, he used bricks from an old store owned by Henry Cullen Talton, the father of the current Houston County sheriff, that dated back to the 1890s to build a fireplace inside the building. He picked up a lot of old wooden furniture from antique stores, in addition to some long tables he built with the excess wood.
All the kitchen cabinets were handmade, and the bathrooms were given sinks that resemble buckets with faucets to maintain the old-style feel. Only the kitchen appliances and toilets are new, he said.
Despite the size of the building -- the roof is 25 feet high -- Durham said he wishes he would have built it twice as large.
Construction took about a year, and he finished just in time to host a couple of weeks ago the first of what is expected to be many weddings on the property.
Ethan Singletary, a firefighter with the Perry Fire Department, and his wife, Alex, were the first couple to be married on the property.
“We knew the owner, who is a family friend, and it was (to be finished) at the right time,” Singletary said. “We pretty much knew we wanted something outdoors in a barn. When we first started planning, we checked it out first. It was awesome. It was extremely hot, but we knew it would be because it was a July wedding. It has a huge chandelier, a big grass area, a bar. It’s a really jam-up place, and they went above and beyond to help us set up.”
Though his daughter Kayla isn’t engaged, Durham said he wanted to leave her and her sister, Morgan, something they would remember.
The barn is located off Woodard Road, where many of his wife’s family lives, and several relatives contributed to its creation.
“This will be part of the legacy we leave to them that came from their great, great-grandfather,” Durham said.
In addition to Woodard, Durham also got help from another brother-in-law, Steve Hvizdzak, and some of Durham’s nephews.
Of course, Durham’s colleagues in the fire department also contributed to the project. Often, Durham would sketch out an idea, and they would make it a reality.
“We’re firemen,” he said. “We can do anything we put our minds to.”
Some of the work was delayed because Durham needed hip-replacement surgery. Despite the operation, he was back at work at the fire department just three weeks later, and he was back to building soon after that.
Jeff Lord, who works with Durham, handled much of the woodwork and built roughly 90 percent of the bar by himself.
“One thing I learned was how long it takes for real wood to get ready to use,” Lord said. “I wanted to help on it. It’s the kind of stuff I like to do.”
Lord and Durham said the quality of the wood is much better than the wood that can be purchased at a lumber yard. The downside is that it can take three to four months to completely dry out before it can be used. In addition, Durham said, the wood must be inspected and certified by an expert that it can be used in construction.
Johnny Clark, who has worked for the fire department about three years, helped with the plumbing but said he learned as much as he contributed. Clark said it wasn’t always easy because Durham’s vision for the building constantly changed.
“When the chief would talk about it, it was different during every shift,” he said.
Durham already has picked out a spot for the chapel, which will be able to seat 150 to 200 people and will be perfect for weddings. The chapel will resemble a stage with a roof, with a door in the back for the groom to enter, and a pathway through the woods serving as the aisle where the bride will walk.
The chapel will be followed by two small cabins that will be used by the bride and groom during a wedding weekend, or by family at other times during the year.
Meanwhile, despite all he has built and all he has planned, Durham is still missing one thing -- the storage barn he originally wanted.
“It’s on the to-do list,” he said.