Connecticut's New Historic Barns Trail Showcases Agricultural Treasures

 

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Levine estimates there are easily 10,000 barns in Connecticut. The website connecticutbarns.org includes more than 8,500 in its database, with photos of most of them.
The enhanced public awareness engendered by the site and trail is a boon to historic preservation, but the bottom line is that it takes money—and often, legislation—to save old buildings and to effect their adaptive reuse.

Since 2008, the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation has awarded $400,000 in grants to 100 barn owners throughout the state. The grants, ranging from $1,500 to $8,000, are designated for condition assessments; reuse feasibility research; and construction and repair. Levine says the grants have leveraged some $6 million in economic growth, as most barn owners spend about $4 for $1 given to them.

Last year, the trust backed a bill that would offer additional tax relief to homeowners who took steps to preserve the barns on their property. The bill didn’t pass, but Levine says he’s hopeful it will be reintroduced next year.

Ed Cady of Roxbury has been saving barns in unique fashion for more than half a century. A carpenter and contractor, he established East Coast Barn Builders in 1960 to preserve English- and Dutch-style barns by moving and transforming them into custom homes. It seems there’s a serious market for upscale barn-style homes—Cady (and his two sons) are now the largest movers of antique post-and-beam frames in the country—but they don’t come cheap. Cady barns are priced well upward of $1 million.

When aging barns are fortunate enough to be restored, they most often find new life as residences, says Levine. Other common uses include art studios, museums, office space, pool houses, even theaters—and in the case of dairy barns, ice cream shops, of course.

Mapping the Trail

The Connecticut Barns Trail map features both primary and secondary stops along seven routes, based on the state’s tourism regions. A primary site is one that is open to the public; visitors are invited to set and stay awhile in these barns as many of them have been repurposed into commercial ventures, including farm markets, shops and museums. Secondary sites are private barns listed for historic and photo-op purposes only; sightseers are advised not to trespass or otherwise disturb their owners.

Following are highlights of the seven routes:

• The Northwest Hills: This is a long, scenic loop that starts and ends at the Bellamy-Ferriday House in Bethlehem, wending its way past the Bunnell Farm in Litchfield, the Wildlife Foundation in Goshen, Old Farm Nursery in Salisbury and finally, the Hunt Hill Farm and Sullivan Farm in New Milford.

• Fairfield County and the Western Shore: This route zigs and zags from its start at the Museum of Westport History past barns in Weston and Wilton, over to the Keeler Tavern Museum and Garden House in Ridgefield, down through Easton’s Sherwood Farm and up to the Jones Family Farm and Winery in Shelton.

New Haven and the Shoreline: Beginning at the Brewster Estate in New Haven, this trail takes you over to Rose Orchards in North Branford, down to Madison and over to Guilford, whose sites include Dudley Farm, Lakeside Feed and Llamas and Bishop’s Orchards.

The Connecticut River Valley South: This route starts in Wethersfield at the Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum, then heads south along the river through Glastonbury to several historic houses in Old Lyme and up to the Deep River Historical Society.

• The Connecticut River Valley North:  This long, jagged trail starts in East Hartford at the Burnham Blacksmith Shop, heads upriver to a rare brick barn in Windsor Locks, over to the Luddy/Taylor Connecticut Valley Tobacco Museum in Windsor, down to The Garlic Farm in West Granby Garlic, along several homesteads in Simsbury and finally, to Hill-Stead Museum in Farmington.

Thames River Valley and New London County: Starting in Stonington at the Denison Homestead Farm Market, this route heads to a cider mill in Groton, turns north to a farm tool museum in Ledyard, the Heritage Trail Vineyards in Lisbon, then due west to the Zagray Farm Museum in Colchester and up to Lebanon’s Wadsworth Stable.

The Quiet Corner, Northeast Connecticut: This lovely route enjoys a fairly direct northeast route, from the Nathan Hale Homestead in Coventry, to the UConn barns and Dairy Bar in Storrs, up through Buell’s Orchard in Eastford, and finally to Roseland Cottage in Woodstock.

Todd Levine was vetting the Connecticut River Valley South route when he discovered Lyme’s Ashlawn Farm, now home to a coffee-roasting facility—and its Lilliputian café. While it isn’t on the printed map, Ashlawn did make the iPhone app, and that’s a good thing, because not only are the barns a delight, but the coffee is delicious.

“That’s the beauty, the adventure of this trail,” he says. “We wanted people to be able to take daytrips, make discoveries. The thing about Connecticut is that it has so much history, so much depth. You never know what you’ll find.”

Find out where to get a trail map, download the iPhone app and learn more about Connecticut’s barns at connecticutbarns.org. For information on preservation efforts throughout the state, visit cttrust.org.  
 

Connecticut's New Historic Barns Trail Showcases Agricultural Treasures

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