By Patrick Cronin
Hampton Union, Friday, May 14, 2004
HAMPTON - The on-again, off-again project to save a historic barn across from Drakeside Road was back on as of Thursday afternoon.
The owner, a real estate trust that had previously indicated it intended to raze the 200-year-old barn, now wants to save it.
This move came after a Wednesday night Heritage Commission meeting in which members charged that the owners of the property backed out of a deal to save the structure.
The barn is located behind a building that formerly housed the Sanders and McDermott law office.
While the owner of the property is listed in Hampton assessor's office as the 235 Lafayette Road Trust, the address of the house and barn, tax bills are being sent to Strategic Independent Agents Alliance (SIAA) on Rye Street in Portsmouth.
Paul Labonte, the chief financial officer of SIAA, said his company does not own the property but may be a future tenant.
Ben Moore of the Hampton Historical Society said his group approached the owners and made a deal with them on May 3. If they would give the society the $7,000 it would cost to demolish the barn, society members would in turn remove the barn from the property piece by piece and restore it at the Tuck Museum.
The only catch was that the barn would have to be removed from the property by May 27.
Although there was no written agreement, there was a handshake, said Moore.
Moore said the deal came unglued a week later after the owners demanded that an appraisal be performed on the barn for tax purposes.
"I told them that they can't do a tax appraisal until the wood is on the ground," said Moore. "The contractor told the owners who said the deal is off."
As a result, the historical society was left with its hands tied, Moore said. Arrangements to move the barn were canceled. Volunteers were called and told that the project was no longer a go.
Numerous phone calls made to SIAA officials by the Hampton Union resulted in a phone call from an attorney who represents 235 Lafayette Road Trust.
"I was given the charge to make this project work," said attorney Linda Connell. "The owners have decided to make a donation to get this project back up and running."
Connell said she contacted the Historical Society and is putting the final touches on an agreement to save the barn.
"The owners want to be good neighbors," said Connell. "They want to be good to the citizens of Hampton."
The owners have agreed to give the historical society more time to get the barn off the property, Connell said. The historical society now has until June 8.
Moore said he's been in conversations with lawyers, but an agreement has not been signed yet. While he said he's pleased about the owners' decision to move forward with the project, he's not getting his hopes up.
"They already changed their minds once," said Moore. "I'm not going to get excited about this until an agreement is signed."
Elizabeth Aykroyd, chairwoman of the Heritage Commission, said she is pleased that the project is going to happen now.
The Heritage Commission took a bold move Wednesday night by rescinding the demolition permit of the barn in order to save it.
The Heritage Commission is an advisory board appointed by the selectmen. Although it can't stop a demolition, anyone who wants to destroy a piece of property more than 50 years old must go before the Heritage Commission to get the demolition permit signed.
This gives the commission the chance to document the older buildings and the architectural features before they are lost forever.
Heritage Commission member Fred Rice said the board decided to rescind the permit because of new information.
The contractor, Paul Jambor from Abenaki Contracting, was hired by the owners of the barn and came before the board on April 10 to say the barn was not salvageable.
Jambor told the commission that there was extensive rotting and damage to the sills and posts of the barn, and because of the poor condition of the structure, there was no other option but to destroy it.
The contractor told the commission that the owner regretted that there was nothing that could be done to save the barn.
Rice said that since that meeting, the commission had a barn expert to review the barn.
Chet Riley, who's also a member of the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance, said although some beams were rotted, for the most part, the barn was structurally sound.
Riley, who restored his own 200-year-old barn and numerous others, said he was planning to aid the historical society in moving the barn.
Aykroyd said now that the project is back on track, the commission will probably vote again to sign the demolition permit.
Aykroyd said the contractor is not the bad guy and neither is the owner.
The owner has a right to do what he wants on the property he owns, Aykroyd said.
"I'm just glad that they are once again trying to help us," Aykroyd said.
According to the Historical Society, the barn was originally built in 1796 as an addition to a tavern owned by the Leavitt family.
The barn was not a working barn, but instead was used for housing a couple of cows, horses and a carriage.