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Colonial Barn

This Old Barn: Holliston Historical Scoiety Seeks Funds To Finish Landmark Restoration

Metro West Daily News, December 2005

Holliston - Twenty-first century workers are carving their own legacy into a 19th-century town landmark, as the historical society restores its Washington Street barn. "It seems everywhere I go, people know the building. It's the most beloved building in town," said Peter MacMurray, as he stood among the nearly 200-year old boards and beams of the Holliston Historical Society's barn.

"It's a landmark. "

The society's $70,000 restoration is probably the first time the structure has received such work in its history, MacMurray said.

Built by Asa Whiting in 1817, the barn once housed cows and horses from the worst New England weather. Since much of the hand-hewn original white oak structure stands today, the signs of past centuries remain.

Dates are inscribed in some walls, the corners of beams rounded smooth by years of touch. Even the shape of an old doorway dominates one wall while railway spikes remain wedged into the wood.

"These old barns are typically over-built," he said. "They're very robust in nature. "

The private, nonprofit historical society bought the barn in 1967, where it has been rented out for weddings, receptions and even dances.

"We packed the house," he said of an October barn dance. "It was great. "

But time caught up with the barn: some hills began to rot, and repairs were needed for the newer additions such as the kitchen and concrete floor. In 2000, MacMurray began an inventory of the society's buildings and started a restoration campaign which began with the neighboring house.

But more than a quick trip to Home Depot was needed to patch up this barn.

"We want to keep it as is," he said. "Our facility renters like the rustic look of it. "

Workers from Bolton-based Colonial Barn Restoration, which specializes in custom repair work of vintage buildings, used white oak and many tradition construction techniques to restore the barn's original appearance.

"They did a beautiful job," said MacMurray. "It's almost invisible. "

The society is still seeking money to cover half the project's $70,000 price.

Earlier this year, the historical society received Town Meeting-approved grant money from the Community Preservation Committee, which covered half the project's cost. Funds are still needed to cover the remaining $35,000.

MacMurray said the society is seeking grant money and private donations to cover the restoration.

Meanwhile, volunteers - including local Boy Scouts from Troop 14, plus members of the Holliston Newcomer's Club and the historical society - helped build other parts of the project.

Bill Hodge admires the craft of the original barn builders, and noted it would have taken a team of 20 to 30 people to complete it.

"With the amount of lumber in it, you could build a barn twice its size," he said.

Hodge, who moved from Duluth, Minn. , with his partner Stewart Wohlrab, are co-caretakers of the society's property. Both managed hotels in historical buildings in the Midwest. He said New England is special having so many historical buildings compared to the rest of the country.

The society's records show at least 100 historical places in Holliston alone.

Hodge said he treasured the opportunity to be part of the restoration.

"It's really exciting to be part of this," said Hodge. "It's a hands-on outfit on the part of everybody. "

"It seems everywhere I go, people know the building. It's the most beloved building in town."

Peter MacMurray, Holliston Historical Society - John Hillard

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