Preserving the past

Developer offers historic barn free of charge

By Brian Ward
On February 4, 2014

  • The Yankee-style barn located at 35 Main St. is free to anyone willing to pay to relocate it; estimated costs are between $250,000 and $300,000. Brian Ward/staff

Have you ever been asked if you've been raised in a barn? Well, if you act fast, you may get your chance to say "yes." 

Orion Student Housing is giving away a 19th-century barn at 35 Main St. in the Durham Historic District for free. The only caveat? The barn is currently located on a site where Orion plans to build a new 52-unit student housing and commercial complex. 

So if you want the barn, you have to move it. 

John Porter works at the UNH Cooperative Extension and also serves on the New Hampshire Barn Committee. Porter says that the process of taking a barn apart and reassembling it in a new location is actually a long-time tradition in New Hampshire.

"It goes way back to the 1800s. Back then it was hard to find building materials," Porter said, "so if a farmer needed a barn and if another farmer had one they didn't need they would move it."

Porter said that, before the dawn of telephone poles and wires, people wouldn't even take a barn apart to move it. If the new site was nearby people would move the barn intact with teams of oxen to get it to its new home.

"Find a lot of instances of a barn in one location has a story where it used to be in a different place, so that's a common thing," Porter said. 

While rounding up some buddies and hauling off your new barn in bits and pieces might sound like a great time, the current estimated cost to have the barn professionally moved and rebuilt is between $250,000 and $300,000. That price tag is the reason most people have not taken up the barn offer. There was a local farmer who lost his barn in a fire and who was looking into the Durham barn, but backed off when he discovered the cost to move it was more than the price of a new barn.  

"I think we're all still hoping that something will happen; lower bid from a contractor, a joint agreement with the developer," Porter said. "The developer wants to see it preserved, everyone wants to see it happen."

According to Porter, the barn in Durham is a Yankee-style barn, which first started appearing in the 1850s and 1860s. Yankee-style barns were built as an improvement over the old English style of barns because their doors were placed on the side of the building that got less snow build-up in the winter. People who buy these old barns often renovate them and turn them into homes or simply keep them for "barning" purposes. 

Beverly Thomas is a member of the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance, which does a lot of work trying to find homes for old New Hampshire barns. Thomas said that she thinks it's great that developers at Orion are trying to preserve the barn and that the alliance has been working with them to try and find the barn a new home.  

"When there's a barn that needs a new home we reach out to our barn network to find them new homes, we're often successful," Thomas said. "[We try to] keep them in the state, they are such a fabulous link to the past."

Orion wants to get the area around the barn ready for development in the spring and Thomas said that they are still hoping someone will come forward in time save the barn. 

"[I] think it's a good example of a community being concerned about one of its resources and the developer has shown concern and real diligence," Thomas said.

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