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Preserving New Hampshire history, one barn at a time

  • Owners Christopher (left) and Charlie Adams and barn assessor Oliver Fifield (right) stand inside the oldest portion of a historic barn on Colby Farm in Tilton on Sept. 15, 2017. The barn, about 20 feet by 40 feet, was a two-story in-town horse barn from the 1900s, built over and completely enveloping a smaller 1800™s hewn timber frame. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz / Monitor staff

  • The remaining foundation of a long-gone dairy barn abuts a smaller barn at Colby Farm in Tilton on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Owner Charlie Adams (left) and barn assessor Oliver Fifield look at old photos of Colby Farm in Tilton on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Barn assessor Oliver Fifield takes a closer look at a post inside a historic barn on Colby Farm in Tilton on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017. Ceramic artwork by owner Christopher Adams adorns the walls. Elizabeth Frantz / Monitor staff

  • Barn assessor Oliver Fifield (left) and owner Charlie Adams take a closer look at a gunstock post inside a historic barn on Colby Farm in Tilton on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017. Ceramic artwork by owner Christopher Adams adorns the walls. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Barn assessor Oliver Fifield walks around a historic barn on Colby Farm in Tilton on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Barn assessor Oliver Fifield walks around a historic barn on Colby Farm in Tilton on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Barn assessor Oliver Fifield takes a closer look at the sill plate of a historic barn on Colby Farm in Tilton on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff



Monitor staff
Wednesday, September 20, 2017

From the road, the home of Christopher and Charlie Adams looks like a classic New England farmhouse featuring a main house, “little house” and barn. But a look inside revealed a layered puzzle for barn assessor Oliver Fifield.

“It is unique. There’s no other building like this building. That’s for sure,” Fifield said of the white two-story barn on Colby Road in Tilton.

The epiphany struck about 90 minutes into the assessment. The barn, about 20 feet by 40 feet, was an in-town horse barn built in the 1900s, which had completely enveloped a smaller 1800s hewn timber frame. The origins and early use of the older frame remained a mystery, but it was clear it was not just a jumble of salvaged old wood.

“The whole frame is still there,” Fifield said. “This section of the building is the gem.”

When Christopher and Charlie Adams bought their home five years ago, they inherited an invaluable written and photographic history of the property handed down from owner to owner.

The Colby Farm was historically known as “Colbydale,” and was established in 1822 by Benjamin Colby. The existing homestead was constructed about 1865, and the farm stayed in the family until the 1950s. The land was originally settled by Deacon Nathaniel Tilton, a forefather of the acclaimed Charles E. Tilton who built the town’s Memorial Arch and suggested the surname of his ancestors when his newly independent town was looking for a name in 1869.

Aside from the farmstead, not much of the farm is left on the 4 acres now owned by the Adams. But the stone foundation of a large dairy barn that, according to accounts, housed the first Guernsey cattle brought to the state of New Hampshire, is prominently featured. A few apple trees, including a still-producing giant that could be the biggest of its kind in New England, hint at the vast orchard that once existed. Confirmation of the tree’s potentially record-setting trunk – 155 inches around – is still pending.

It’s histories like this that the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance does not want forgotten, which is why it launched a campaign aimed at preserving barns across the Granite State called “52 Barns in 52 Weeks.”

“Once these historic structures are gone, they are gone forever and they are such a part of our heritage,” program director Beverly Thomas said.

The campaign is raising money in hopes of helping at least 52 individuals move forward with a barn preservation project through educational offerings, promotion of tax incentives and assessment grants. The matching grant program gets historic barn contractors to help owners figure out just what they have and the repairs they need.

“We find a lot of these barn owners are new owners of these historic barns and really don’t have a good history on how the barn has been maintained and what it needs. Some of them are new to barns in general, so it’s a really good opportunity to have a one-on-one with a barn contractor on site,” Thomas said. “These people just want to do the right thing for their barns, yet they don’t know where to start.”

The barn on the Adams property, currently being used as a ceramics studio, chicken coop and storage space, has been decently maintained, but Charlie Adams, an architect, had his concerns.

“I’m a little worried about it structurally, though it’s in very good condition aesthetically,” he said. He came across the Preservation Alliance grant program by chance while searching the Web for professionals familiar with timber-frame structures. He applied, was approved, and was contacted for an assessment by Fifield, a traditional carpenter who specializes in barn restoration.

He looked at the roof, the windows and the foundation. He looked for structural damage, rot and clues about the building’s history. Everything looked okay at the moment, but 10 years from now is a different story, he said. He suggested a variety of projects to address long-term moisture and water runoff damage around the exterior of the structure, as well as repairs to the foundation, all at a ballpark cost of $7,000.

“It’s not an official estimate or proposal,” Fifield said. “It’s so that the homeowner can budget for the future.”

New Hampshire Preservation Alliance has long had a small number of historic barn assessment grants and educational resources available to owners, but the one-year 52 Barns campaign significantly expanded programs and increased those numbers this year. So far, 41 grants have been awarded – double than what the program expected – and an outpouring of funding has allowed the program to reopen grant applications for a fourth time. Those applications will be accepted through Nov. 1. The campaign ends after that, and the Alliance will return to awarding fewer grants in the years to come.

Charlie and Christopher Adams want to maintain their home for themselves, but they also feel obligated to preserve the property for the larger community. They said they are trying to get Colby Farm nominated to the National Register of Historic Places and want to “keep it going for another 150 years.”

“One of the great things about driving and walking around New England is the agricultural buildings one sees on the back roads and how that is part of the fabric of our history and our lives,” Charlie Adams said. “If they all start disappearing, then I think we’ve lost something.”