Historic barn presentation held at Woodbridge Farmstead

By Annie Gentile - ReminderNews
Manchester - posted Wed., Sep. 25, 2013
On Sunday, Sept. 15, the Manchester Historical Society presented a program on historic barns. Possibly the oldest barn in existence in Manchester, this historic dairy barn at the Woodbridge Farmstead was the site of the presentation. Photos by Annie Gentile.
On Sunday, Sept. 15, the Manchester Historical Society presented a program on historic barns. Possibly the oldest barn in existence in Manchester, this historic dairy barn at the Woodbridge Farmstead was the site of the presentation. Photos by Annie Gentile.

Agriculture has been on the decline in Connecticut for decades, and as farms have slowly disappeared from our landscape, so also have gone the barns that housed farm animals, equipment and produce. Recently, the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation has taken on a photographic project to save the images of these historic barns, documenting them for posterity.

On the local level, the Manchester Historical Society has also played a role in the photo project. On Sunday, Sept. 15, at the Woodbridge Farmstead on the Manchester Green, in what may be Manchester’s oldest agricultural barn still in existence, the Society provided a photographic presentation of the Trust’s project. Two Society members, Jim Snyder and Tom Quish, volunteered for what became a two- to three-week project photographically documenting the many barns still in existence in Manchester, which have since been made part of the Trust’s collection.

“A lot of the barns in this day and age have been converted into garages, homes and businesses. We tried to cover anything and everything that could have once been an agricultural use,” said Snyder. Snyder said they documented about 70 traditional barns in town, some of which were already dilapidated and torn down since the project was started.

Susan Barlow, who serves on the Event Planning Committee for the Society, provided an historical account of barns and their evolution in New England. “Barns are the largest working tool on a farm, and they have been used and abused,” Barlow said. “Their shape, size and configuration are related to what the barns were used for.”

Barlow said scholars called the earliest barns in the area “English” barns, notable for locating their entry doors on the eave sides of the structures.

“The 19th century was the era of change for barns,” Barlow said. In the 1830s, the main door was located under the gable end and this helped to guide precipitation away from doors. This also made it easier for farmers to enlarge their buildings. After the 1830s, Barlow said farmers started adding basements to their barns and introducing windows for light and cupolas for ventilation. By the mid-19th century, tobacco - a big new cash crop - arrived on the scene. Connected barns also became a popular style, tying together home, hearth, workplace and barn.

“The mid-20th century heralded the decline of Connecticut farms,” Barlow said, adding that as farms went out of business, their associated barns went unused, ending up being demolished due to weather and neglect. Barns also quickly disappeared from the landscape as many farmers sold their land to developments.

Barlow said the goal of the Trust is to both document Connecticut’s historic barns and to hopefully get in place historical protections, much like what is done for other historical buildings, before they all disappear.

It was fitting for the barn presentation to be held in the barn on the Woodbridge property. Gifted to the Manchester Historical Society by Raymond and Thelma Woodbridge in 1998, the Woodbridge Farmstead has been a part of Manchester for more than 200 years, and the barn is believed to have been built in the mid to late 1700s, around the time of the American Revolution. It originally served to support the Woodbridge family’s dairy operation until sometime in the 1940s when the government began requiring pasteurization in the milk production process. At that time, the family decided to get out of the dairy business.

“This specific barn is a privilege to be in, “said Dave Smith, curator in charge of collections for the Society. “A couple of winters ago when we experienced a lot of heavy snow, we feared we’d lose this barn,” he said. “The following spring we engaged a barn restoration expert to shore up the barn in case we had similar problems.” Smith said the Society has recently signed a contract with an architect/engineer to advise them how to restore the barn to how it appeared years ago, but adding electrical service. The Society then plans to apply for a large grant to restore the structure allowing them to use the barn more fully for future presentations.

For more information on local history, visit www.manchesterhistory.org.


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