For two centuries, give or take a few years, an enormous stone barn has occupied a patch of land now at the end of a winding Main Line driveway on Waterloo Road in Easttown Township.
In the township's historic archives, it is known as the Kennedy Barn. For residents in the area, it's Mrs. Rossi's barn; for years, it was part of the estate of Rose Rossi, one of the cofounders of ANRO Inc., a printing company.
But lately, it has been the central figure in the Battle of the Barn, pitting longtime Main Line residents against a builder of some of the region's largest and most luxurious residences.
The 10-acre parcel on which the barn sits is owned by Tom Bentley, chief executive officer of Bentley Homes.
Bentley wants to build an eight-house subdivision on the Rossi estate and has contended the barn is unmarketable. Leaving it intact and building a house on the same lot would violate zoning ordinances.
He has offered instead to demolish most of the barn, leave its ruins on the site, and erect a plaque on Waterloo Road explaining its historical significance.
On Tuesday night, the Easttown Township Board of Supervisors granted Bentley a demolition permit and permission to begin building his subdivision, with several caveats: He must take 120 days to market the barn, and if he sells it, he must redraw lot lines in the subdivision to comply with zoning ordinances.
Emotions ran high at the meeting, packed with locals concerned about the barn's future.
"You know who the president was when this barn was built?" asked Joseph Kohn, a Philadelphia lawyer representing a group of concerned citizens.
"And you want a plaque to read, 'Here stood a building that was here when James Madison was president'?"
Locals say the barn is a legitimate historical landmark, despite extensive renovations by Rossi, who used it as a storage building. The township historical commission voted, 3-2, in December to "accept a compromise to keep and maintain the . . . barn ruins with great reservation."
"Nobody on the commission wants to see that barn taken down," said Anna Sicalides, chair of the commission. Some members felt maintaining the barn's ruins was better than nothing, but "it's still not the right thing to do," she said.
Bentley said he had tried his best to maintain the barn. At Tuesday's meeting, he said he had consulted real estate agents and architects about the possibilities of preserving the barn or converting it into a house but thought that would ultimately be too expensive.
"I've tried to do everything," he said. "I've done the best I can."
Locals have cried foul, saying Rossi had already extensively renovated the barn. Kemp Littlepage, who lives across the street from the barn, offered to buy it from Bentley on the spot Tuesday night.
"I wouldn't sell it to you anyway," Bentley said.
Littlepage said he grew up playing in the barn and was alarmed when he learned this month that it could be demolished.
"I'm hoping in that 120 days someone might buy it," he said. "Our only goal is to save the barn, not to embarrass Mr. Bentley or be aggressive."
Bentley said he was open to trying to sell the barn and even offered to extend the board's suggested marketing period from 90 to 120 days.
"It's going to be somewhat of a hardship for us, but we're trying to keep everybody happy," he said.