Decade-long rehab preserves Epstein family barn
Remaining vestiges of the Levi Epstein family presence in Sheffield aren’t as plentiful as they once were.
The longtime mercantile owner — and oil and gas operator — used to operate stores in both Warren and Sheffield. A small stone denotes the place where the Shefield store once stood and his home was destroyed by fire in 2007 amid a subsequent owner’s renovation attempt.
But the Epstein barn remains and a Texas man with local connections is now a decade into its preservation. He also has plans to take steps to ensure it remains in the public trust for years to come.
The barn’s legal address is 101 Crary Ave. but it’s best viewed off of North Street.
George Howe had been coming through the area for decades — family connections brought him through Sheffield often. For years the barn stuck out. Then it started to stick out for the wrong reasons.
Howe said he watched it start to fall apart and called up the owner and struck a deal. County assessment records show he purchased the property in January 2011.
While the Epstein home dates to the 1880s, the barn, assessment records show, was constructed in 1941. The property was in the hands of the family until 1995.
“Every year I come up and do something with it,” Howe said of the ongoing restoration work. He said the goal is to eventually transfer it to the Sheffield Depot Preservation Society.
He acknowledges the irony of driving past the structure for decades and it eventually becoming his own.
“I don’t want it to ever be sold or torn down,” he said. “I collect things. I want it to go to a good home.”
“I can’t take any money with me,” he added.
Dennis Sturdevant with the Depot Preservation Society said the family business in Warren was located near Gaughn’s Drug Store.
He remembers the Epsteins as “very frugal people.”
According to a history of Warren’s Jewish community, Epstein was an early member in the 1920s and was identified as a “peddler, oil fields, working men’s stores….”
But he was active in the community far before that. Schenck’s History of Warren County, published in 1887, notes that the Epstein clothing store was about two years old at the time of writing.
He and his wife, Anne, had seven children: Cyril, Harold, Samuel, Mordecai, Joseph, Phyllis and Beatrice. The last Epstein child, Samuel, died in 1987. Sources indicate he established the Samuel Epstein Foundation Trust which gives both to human service and Jewish organizations as well as scholarships limited to Sheffield High SchoolThe home, according to a Valley Voice article on the 2007 fire and provided by Sturdevant, was built for Epstein in the late 1880s.
“The Epstein family owned leases in the Valley, stores in Sheffield and Warren and investments in New York City,” that article states.
That report quotes Russ Andrews, then 94, who said he constructed the barn. That makes the 1940s date seem very likely.
The Voice reported that the newest owners were rehabbing the home, removing paint on the exterior with an electric heat gun when exterior boards caught on fire. Subsequent investigation revealed smoke and fire in the attic.
Sturdevant said he’s seen prom photos taken in front of the barn.
And the owner blesses that kind of use.
Howe said that for liability reasons he can’t have the general public inside but said people are welcome to stop by and check out the barn.
“There are so many historic buildings in Sheffield people need to take advantage of,” he said.