Friday, February 22, 2008

Wilmington Historical Society: Preserving our heritage.

The Wilmington Historical Society is searching for a way to save a historic barn on their Lisle Hill Road property.
Like just about any old barn, the historical society’s barn has seen better days. The mid- to late-nineteenth century barn has rapidly deteriorated since the society purchased the historical Barber House in 2005. Although the historical society has taken some steps to stabilize the structure, they’re concerned the building may be in danger of collapse. The roof, the foundation, and even some of the timbers need repair.
"We’re lucky it didn’t fall in this winter – at least the slate roof still sheds snow," says historical society president Julie Moore.

The barn sits across the lot from the main house, and at an angle that almost seems to welcome visitors to the property. But the toll time has taken shows clearly on the building: the classic red paint is faded and worn, the roof is sagging, and bits of rotted wood and decay are visible along the eaves. The society has posted signs on the building warning would-be trespassers the building is dangerous, and to keep away.
Since the historical society purchased the Barber House, they’ve concentrated their efforts in renovating and restoring the main building. They’ve refurbished two rooms, refinished the kitchen, and have carried out numerous small repairs and improvements. "All things that add up in money," Moore says. "And we still owe money on the house."

Moore says society members applied for a Vermont Preservation Barn Grant, but competition for the grants is fierce and, she says, priority is given to barns that are visible from main roads. Now the historical society has few choices: watch the building collapse, sell or give it to someone for salvage, or find a donor (or donors) who wants to help them save their barn.
"In an ideal world, we’d like to have the barn restored and have it for storage and displays," says Moore. "But we just can’t afford to do that. Right now we’re open to any suggestions or feedback from anyone."
Society member Harriet Maynard says there are no records indicating when the barn was built, but she and other members believe the barn was built sometime between 1850 and 1899. Some hardware in the barn appears to be hand-forged, indicating an early construction date.

"The main house was built first," Maynard says, "and a shed was built behind it. The house and the shed were eventually connected with the addition of the kitchen. The barn may have been added at that time."
The construction date of the house is thought to be 1835, although Maynard says there’s no written evidence of anyone living on the site until 1853. Society member Lenny Chapman says there is some evidence indicating the house was moved to its present location from the site of the original village, at the top of Lisle Hill.
Barber family photos from the early 1900s clearly show the barn.
Maynard says the barn probably wasn’t built for an agricultural enterprise, but for the use of the household. "They would have had horses, and there are stalls in the barn, and storage for hay upstairs," she says. "There may have been a place for chickens in the barn, although later there was a chicken coop near the barn."

In the 1930s, the horses were gone, and the barn was renovated to accommodate an automobile. The original sliding barn door was removed and a spring-loaded garage door was installed in its place. "It was serviceable for many years," Maynard says, "but even when we bought it, I don’t think it had been used in quite a while."
Chapman, who has experience in building and with a barn of his own, says the society is also considering whether it may be in their best interest to sell the barn for salvage before it collapses. Salvaging the barn would be less expensive than cleaning up the debris from a collapse, and would eliminate the danger. "The slate on the roof and some of the beams are worth some money," he says. "We may be able to find someone who will take down the barn and clear the lot for nothing – or even give us a little money."
But Maynard says although the barn may appear ready to collapse, there may be life left in the old building. "It’s still holding together, and we’ve had much more snow some years, even more than this year."For more information or to make a donation to the Wilmington Historical Society, call them at (802) 464-0200, or contact Moore at (802) 464-3004.