Society Gears Up For An Old-fashioned Barn Dance

By Patrick Cronin

Hampton Union, Sunday, May 9, 2004

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]
Ben Moore, left, and Chet Riley tear off shingles so they can check for the condition of timbers in the barn. [Photo by Jay Reiter]

HAMPTON - A historic barn from the 1800s was close to being lost forever and becoming a part of history.

But Bill Moore and the rest of the Hampton Historical Society couldn't just sit by and watch the barn across from Drakeside Road be demolished to make room for a new development.

Instead, they're gearing up for what could be a mission impossible.

They're planning on moving the 200-year-old structure piece by piece and rebuilding it at the Tuck Museum on Park Avenue.

The barn has to be completely removed from the property by May 27.

"There is no ifs ands or buts about it," Moore said. "A site plan for the new development wants to turn the area where the barn is at into a garden."

Volunteers are already coming out of the woodwork to aid in the efforts.

One volunteer is Chet Riley, who knows more than the average person what it takes to restore a 200-year-old barn.

Riley, who's also a member of the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance, restored his own aging barn to its former glory last year. In fact, he helped restore numerous barns throughout New England.

"Every year, we lose more and more barns," Riley said. "In the last six months, we have lost three barns. This is a part of our heritage. Anything that is over 200 years old deserves a little effort to try and keep it."

Riley said the barn is very similar to the barn he owns. He suspects the same person who constructed his barn also built the one across Drakeside Road.

Moore said several local companies have stepped up to aid their efforts, including Timberland and Methuen Construction.

Crane Construction also gave the Historical Society a good deal in renting a crane for a day.

Moore said they are looking for volunteers to help in taking down the barn. They plan on doing it May 13-16. The first few days will be spent ripping off the barn's shingles.

Then, Riley will be marking all the big pieces of wood to rebuild it at the new location.

"It's not like it is today," Riley said. "Each piece is different and they come together perfectly. We want to mark them so we know exactly which piece goes where."

According to the Historical Society, the barn was originally built in 1796 as an addition to a tavern owned by the Leavitt family.

The Leavitt family owned a tavern in North Hampton, but it burned in 1733 during Sunday church services.

Back then, residents came together to help the Leavitt family rebuild the tavern.

In 1751, residents persuaded the Leavitts to construct a new tavern on Lafayette Road. The Historical Society has a hunch Capt. Caleb Toppan, a merchant from Newburyport, Mass., built the barn, but research is ongoing.

Moore said the barn was not a working barn, but instead was used for housing a couple of cows, horses and a carriage.

In 1988, the house and barn was sold to the law firm of Sanders & McDermott, which in turn sold it in 2004.

Moore first heard about the historic barn from the Heritage Commission.

The developers of the new office building had to go before the Heritage Commission to have them sign a demolition permit because they wanted to demolish a structure older than 200 years old.

"The Heritage Commission can't stop a development," Moore said. "The reason why a demolition permit has to be signed is to give the commission an opportunity to document these older buildings so we at least know what they look like on the inside and what type of architectural features they have."

Moore said the owners of the property clearly wanted to lose the barn so the Heritage Commission began to search for an organization that would try to save it.

"For the Historical Society, this was a great opportunity," Moore said. "We are starved for space."

Moore said once the barn is restored next to the Tuck Museum, the Historical Society plans to use it to store its farm collection.

"We will also be looking to have community events in the barn," Moore said. "We could have a barn dance ... we will be trying to come up with different ways to utilize this space."

The only thing that is stepping in their way of turning that dream into a reality is money.

Moore said they will need to raise an estimated $60,000 to rebuild the barn to its former glory. They need the money for a new foundation as well as shingles and a new roof.

While the Historical Society conducts numerous fund raisers throughout the year, that money is already earmarked to help fund the actual museum.

"We want to raise as much as we can by just pure outright donations from residents," Moore said.

Saving the barn is saving a piece of history, Moore said.

"What would Vermont be without cows?" Moore said. "The reason why settlers came to New England is for fish and farming."

Anyone interested in making a donation should contact the Hampton Historical Society at 929-0781.