- Associated Press - Sunday, January 19, 2014

MANCHESTER, Conn. (AP) - Fresh pine timbers stand sentinel in a half dozen areas inside the old Woodbridge dairy barn, bracing up the roof alongside the original hand-scraped logs.

The past two winters have been particularly hard on the ancient structure, Historical Society curator Dave Smith says, and there is a real concern the Revolutionary War-era building could collapse.

“When we had that big snowstorm, we thought we might lose it,” he says, referring to the Feb. 8, 2013, blizzard that dumped more than 3 feet of snow on the state.

The building is listing to the east, he says on a recent tour while pointing to the roofline. Inside the northwest corner, the hayloft threatens to topple into the huge expanse and its corner timber spiked with wooden dowels that men would climb to gain access to the loft leans preciously downward by as much as a 5-degree slant.

“We need to make it vertical again,” he says. “But it can’t be done overnight. Something this old, it has to be done little by little.”

The temporary braces were added two years ago to shore up the barn, add strength, and prevent the bowed ceiling from falling in, he says.

Restoring the wood-shingled roof, which dips considerably, is the single most expensive item in a massive rehabilitation plan that’s expected to cost some $200,000 according to a 2008 restoration study conducted with a grant from the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation.

A fundraising effort has begun and grants are being sought to help with the renovation.

Plans call for turning the older English-style barn and its neighboring younger circa 1800 barn into an agricultural museum showcasing Manchester’s agrarian past.

Known as Meadowbrook Dairy and the Woodbridge farmstead, the property is in the Manchester Green area. It was a gift to the Manchester Historical Society from the late Ray and Thelma Carr Woodbridge, and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1999.

Tucked between a pizza parlor and an old mill building, the farmhouse sits at the confluence of Woodbridge Street, East Center Street, and East Middle Turnpike. The clapboard Greek revival house dates to 1830, but the first of two barns in the back yard is much older, built during the time when men were fighting to create a new country, says Smith.

“It may be the oldest barn in Manchester,” he says. “That were not sure of, but we think so.”

Red plywood T1-11 siding added in the 1960s or ‘70s covers an addition on the south side of the structure. That section was used as a workshop in later years, but originally held horse stalls. A low-hanging beam still bears the name of one favorite bay: “Bell” is hand-stenciled on a faded placard.

The center section of the old dairy barn is original and English-style as it has two large doors that slide open on opposite ends, creating a wide throughway for wagons and equipment.

A hinged 2-foot hatch about chest high runs the length of the east wall. It was lifted so the cows, lined up in tiny stalls on the other side of the wall, could stick their heads through and eat from a trough of hay.

Above in a rafter sits a one-horse open sleigh, complete with jingle bells, that legend has it as getting stuck in the old East Center Street trolley tracks and toppling a Woodbridge family member into the snow. The sleigh’s runner is still bent from the experience and was put up in the rafter around 1920, Smith says.

In the back milk shed where bottles were sterilized and filled, dairy permits are still stapled to the bead-board wall. Galvanized milk cans line a high shelf and bottle brushes are neatly put away in pegged holes, while crates and milking stools are tossed about, looking as if they’re ready for work.

Smith picks a few tins up from the floor and frowns.

“Squirrels,” he says. “They get in here and knock everything down.”

Scattered about the barn are much larger items: a horse-drawn carriage, a wooden machine that separated wheat from chaff, a corn husker, old hardware and hinges for the large sliding doors and other farm tools and harnesses, some of which was donated for display in the future museum.

The dairy was originally for the family and neighbors, milking about eight cows, Smith says. Later they expanded and built the second barn in the early 1800s. The so-called “newer” building was more modern and could hold up to 30 milking cows. Work became automated in later years with state-of-the-art milking machines, but the dairy stopped production somewhere between 1940 and 1950.

“That’s when the state required pasteurization,” Smith says. “And they didn’t want to spend the money to do that and so they got out.”

The two silos that stood between the buildings are long gone, but the concrete circular footprints remain.

“And this area was used by a fellow known as J.B. Williams,” Smith says, pointing to the rear of the older barn, an excited smile lighting up his face. “He started right here in this building making soap.”

Williams sold his Yankee Shaving Soap in the post office general store - now the pizza parlor - before it became popular and moved to Glastonbury where they are still in business, making Aqua Velva aftershave for men.

The formal fundraising campaign will launch soon, Smith says.


Information from: Journal Inquirer, https://www.journalinquirer.com



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