This oil painting of an “old barn on Rockville Pike,” signed by K.L. Beck, was donated to the Historical Society in 1986. The donor (who was not the artist) said that in the 1970s she attended a slide-show lecture by our then-Librarian, and a photo of this barn was included in the show. …The end. Did the donor have a friend paint the barn for her, after seeing it in the lecture? Did she think, Hey, that’s the same barn that I have hanging in my house? Or did she come across the painting in a sale some years later and think, Say, I’ve seen that barn in a slide-show lecture! Sometimes a little bit of information is almost more frustrating than no information at all.

Until a few years ago, we knew only that it was a barn somewhere along the Rockville Pike. The slide referenced by the donor, which is in our photograph collection, had no location given; it was simply an example of barn, and so far no one had recognized it. Our painting is somewhat distinctive both for its style and for the barn itself, with its square cupola, center dormer, and extra shed on the side. The painting hangs on the wall of our office, so I see the barn almost every day. My job sometimes feels like a giant game of Memory, trying to match up paperwork, photographs, artifacts and locations. I’m actually pretty bad at the card game Memory – I know I turned over another picture of a boot, but where was the card?? – but in this real life game I have a computer, card catalogs, and colleagues to help me find whatever it is that I KNOW I’ve seen somewhere. In this case, while doing research for an exhibit at Peerless Rockville I came across a photo of the William Scherner farm and thought, Hey, look at that square cupola and center dormer! (Well, that’s not really what went through my mind; it was more like, “Hey, isn’t that the same weird little falling-down barn that’s in our office?”) Aha! Of such small triumphs is my job made.

The Scherner farm was located along Rockville Pike between Old Georgetown and Montrose Roads, where Mid-Pike Plaza is today. If you happen to be braving the Pike (not to mention the current Montrose Parkway configuration) as you do your holiday shopping this season, spare a thought for Mr. Scherner’s little red barn.