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Canterbury residents seek donations to save old barn in town center

Canterbury Barn. October 21, 2013.

(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

Canterbury Barn. October 21, 2013. (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

In Canterbury’s picturesque town square, with its bright white general store, a church and a one-room schoolhouse, one building doesn’t quite fit. On the right side of Center Road, just before the cemetery, sits a rundown barn, its white paint peeled enough to reveal dull grey underneath.

The barn was built in the 1700s and is one of the few early buildings left standing after a 1943 fire destroyed much of the town center. No one has used it for years, and owner Marcia Scarponi has been unable to sell the 14 acres it sits on because the barn is in such disrepair.

That changed, however, when Scarponi started talking about demolishing the barn last month. Now, a group of residents is working to form a nonprofit called Friends of the Barn to raise money to restore the barn and maybe put it back to use. The price tag on the project is $95,000, and a $5,000 donation has already been made.

“We’re certainly optimistic, because the town has supported similar efforts in the past,” said Bob Gewecke, the leader of Friends of the Barn. “We think that the town of Canterbury is interested in this and will make it happen.”

The barn and the 14 acres it sits on used to come hand-in-hand with the home across from it on Center Street. But Scarponi bought just the barn and the land in 1998 when the home’s new owners did not want it. After not finding her own use for the property, she began the difficult task of trying to sell it. After struggling for years to find a buyer, someone expressed interested in buying the barn to dismantle it and use the wood elsewhere earlier this year, Scarponi said.

She then had to put in an application for demolition with the town’s Historic District Commission, which has power over what happens to buildings in the town center. During public hearings, support materialized to keep the barn in Canterbury. Seeing the effort, Scarponi removed her request to demolish.

“It’s a historical piece of property that’s right in the center of town,” Scarponi said. “So if we can preserve it, that’s wonderful; that would be the best thing for everybody.”

As of now, the plan is to have the barn shored up over the winter, which will cost several thousand dollars. Gewecke said he hopes enough money is raised by March to start restoring the building, including putting in historically accurate windows and doors. (The barn has modern garage doors on its front side.) He would like to see it put to use, although no formal plans have been made on that front. Friends of the Barn is holding a Nov. 7 meeting at the town meeting house to discuss the project.

Toni and Joseph Halla, who work at the general store, said yesterday the majority of people who they’ve talked to about the barn don’t think restoring it is a worthwhile project, though it is not an effort anyone is upset about.

Ted Leclair, another Canterbury resident, said the project may be bigger than people realize.

“I don’t think (the organizers) have a sense of what it will take,” he said.

But Mark Hopkins, chairman of the Historic District Commission, is glad to see residents working to restore the barn. The barn itself has no compelling history, but it’s one of the few historical buildings left in the town center.

“We lost a significant number of important structures (in the fire), and that provides that much more reason to preserve what we have,” he said.

People wishing to donate to the project can mail checks to Friends of the Barn at PO Box 42, Canterbury, NH, or by emailing Bob Gewecke at rgewecke@comcast.net.

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or kronayne@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @kronayne.)

Legacy Comments1

Great plan, If the town folks want it fixed then donate the money and fix it up. I'm betting within a month we will read of plans to apply for state and federal tax dollar grants because the town folks really won't want to pay for it. "The barn itself has no compelling history". Of course once it is fixed up, Ms. Scarponi will have a much better chance on selling it. A better name for the non-profit would be Friends of Scarponi.

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