Restored Clark Polo Barn in Aiken a haven for horses, dogs

Sandie Nicolaisen knows she and her husband, Don, made the right move when they decided to buy the Clark Polo Barn and renovate it last year.

The brick structure is in the perfect location for Nicolaisen to enjoy two of her favorite pastimes, horseback riding and carriage driving. Surrounding the barn is an equine-friendly, historic neighborhood that has polo fields, paddocks and Thoroughbred training tracks. Hitchcock Woods also is nearby.

In addition, Nicolaisen’s four horses seem happy to be there, and her two dogs – an Irish Jack Russell terrier named Gidget and a Cairn Terrier named Toby – always are eager to pay them a visit.
“When I say, ‘We’re going to the barn,’ Gidget and Toby jump right in the car; they can’t wait,” Nicolaisen said. “They love it because it’s never dull. There’s a lot of activity with all the horses and carriages passing by, and there are squirrels for them to torment. They have a great time.”

Another indication that the Nicolaisens made the right decision is the Stewardship Award they received from the Historic Aiken Foundation in January. The honor is one of the organization’s Preservation Awards.

“It wasn’t something we were expecting,” Sandie Nicolaisen said. “This is a very high-traffic area, and it’s very visible; so maybe that’s why they noticed what we did. Maybe they were hoping someone would do this.”

Nicolaisen lives part of the year here and part of the year in New Jersey. She used to keep her horses at a farm near Windsor while in Aiken, but she wanted them to be closer to her Houndslake home.

“I had admired the Clark Barn for years,” she said. “I rode by it last winter several times and noticed that nobody was ever there.”

A friend told Nicolaisen that the barn might be for sale and suggested that she contact Suzy Haslup of Meybohm Realtors.

“It wasn’t really listed, but selling it had sort of been discussed,” Nicolaisen said. “I asked Suzy to talk to the owners, and she negotiated the deal.”

Built in the first half of the 20th century for horseman F. Ambrose Clark, the Clark Barn had 12 stalls and a covered walking ring. While the building looked impressive, it hadn’t received any tender loving care in a long time.

Grant Larlee, of Larlee Construction, was in charge of the restoration project. Work started late last March, and nearly all of it was completed by October even though there were major problems.

“It was beyond our expectations (of) what had to be done,” Nicolaisen said. “Both the walking ring and the barn needed new roofs, and the wood in the stalls had a lot of termite damage.”

Bricks were cracked, and tree roots had broken the sewer pipes.

In addition, Nicolaisen wanted to make improvements and changes that would transform the barn into a facility more suited for her use. Some of the stalls were turned into storage areas for hay, bedding and carriages.

What Nicolaisen thought had been a feed room became a kitchen and a lounge.

“The goal was to make it back into the landmark that it was meant to be originally,” Nicolaisen said. “It deserved to be restored in this way.”

Dede Biles is a general assignment reporter for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since January 2013. A native of Concord, N.C., she graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Preservation Awards

Each Tuesday, the Aiken Standard will publish a feature on a winner of the recent Historic Aiken Foundation 2015 Preservation Awards. The schedule is:

FEB. 24: Adaptive Use Award: Fusion Capital office

MARCH 3: Leadership Award: Whitney Polo Field pavilion

MARCH 10: Stewardship Award: Anne Thomasson for the Carriage House Inn

TODAY: Stewardship Award: Don and Sandie Nicolaisen for the Clark Barn

MARCH 24: Stewardship Award: Adath Yeshurun synagogue

MARCH 31: Wilds-Lipe Treasured Home Award: Heather Sargent for Newberry Cottage