Historic Clark Farm in Richmond changes hands: Should its 1795 barn be preserved?

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By Friday, Jan 12 Viewpoints  4 Comments
Ted Andrews
The historic 18th-century barn on the recently sold Clark farm in Richmond.
Richmond — After more than 150 years in the family, Richmond’s historic Clark farm on Route 41 at the Pittsfield/Richmond line sold Oct. 31,2017, to Christian and Donna Hanson. The Hansons currently operate the Balderdash Cellars winery on East Street in Pittsfield and intend to convert the farm to a winery. 
 
Controversy has developed about the value of preserving the property’s historic barn. While barns once were a common sight in the Berkshires, this is no longer the case. The Clark barn is one of only three 18th-century barns remaining in Richmond. Of the three, the Clark barn is the best-preserved in terms of overall original condition according to national timber-framed building expert Jack Sobon, who dated the structure to approximately 1795.
 
Some Richmond residents give paramount importance to the right of the individual property owner to decide how the property should be used, and resent the potential governmental and outside influence on the fate of a barn like the Hanson’s. 
 
So, in this view, a new owner with winery plans can do whatever they deem fit with structures on their property, even a classic 18th– century barn.
 
Gerry Coppola of Church Lane, for example, said: “It all comes down to: They [the Hansons] own that property and should be able to do whatever they want with the barn. If the historical commission, or someone like that, really wants it — sell it to them…and they can take it apart and do whatever they want to do.” Peter Cohen of Cone Hill Road has expressed similar sentiments: “I certainly am in favor of preserving whatever heritage may exist in town from its past, but there is a limit — the barn certainly is not visible to virtually anyone. It is their property and that they should be able to do what they want with it.”

The Clark farm barn in Richmond. Photo: Ted Andrews

On the other hand, its status as the best-preserved of the only three 18thth-century barns remaining in Richmond is of interest to preservationists. It has been standing in Richmond since approximately 1795, when the United States was still in its infancy. That very year, George Washington averted war with Britain by submitting the Jay Treaty to the Senate, which approved it. 

The fact that this barn does not meet the architectural requirements for wine-making equipment may make it a candidate for demolition. The new owners’ plans for preservation of the property’s historic buildings have not been made public, and the Hansons did not respond to a request to be interviewed for this article. 
 
In an Oct. 26, 2017, letter sent to the town, Preservation Massachusetts stated, “It is best preservation practice that historic buildings be preserved…on their sites in order to preserve their historical integrity…and broader landscape and community context.” 
 
The Richmond Historical Society has also commented with: “The RHS mission states, in part, ‘To promote and foster a greater knowledge and appreciation of the history of the Town of Richmond, Massachusetts, … through preservation of historical materials and sites…’ We consider it [the barn] to be an important part of the community’s architectural heritage and the first distinctive rural feature one sees coming into town on Route 41. We hope the interested buyer of Clark Farm will consider its importance to our community, and creatively re-purpose the building in the winery we understand is planned to be developed on the property.” A concerned citizen, Verne Tower of Firetower Lane, said: “Most of my professional work is in historic preservation. I would hate to see that barn razed; it is a part of the New England countryside that we look forward to seeing every day. All of these New England buildings contribute something to our quality of life here…and that is why we live here. Architecture is extremely important to our community and we do not want to lose our architecture. We have lost far too much of it already.”
 
But Peter Smith of Dublin Road may have an answer that leaves everyone happy. Smith likened the antique barn to an old bottle of wine. He said that one would not take a 200-year-old bottle of wine and pour its contents into a new bottle if the wine could be sold with its original 200-year-old bottle intact.
 
“So, if we can find a way to re-purpose a handmade building constructed 250 years old, let us pull out all the stops and find a way to make that happen. It is important to save the barn because this is the character of Richmond. I see development as a collaborative process — not an adversarial process between property owners and preservationists.”

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4 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Carl Stewart says:

    This is a very simple and basic legal issue. The owner of the property has an absolute right to determine the future of a barn or any other structure on her property unless some law or deed restriction applies.

  2. DB says:

    We have an historic dutch barn. We had it looked at by the Dutch Barn Preservation Society. It is in bad shape. The DBPS admonished us to not tear any of the 1700’s parts down….only the 1800’s additions,”if we must”, but save the 1700’s parts!
    Then we were told there are no preservation money or grants available.
    It is all on us.
    Everyone, myself included, loves to view old barns on the countryside. But, no one is available to help save them. It is really cost prohibitive. All the concerned citizens say, “than sell the barn to preservationists or folks who resell the timber”, but that’s a pipe dream. You might find someone to take it down and away, but if you want any money, you have to do that part yourself, then drive the materials to someone who will hopefully want it and pay for it.
    It is a dangerous and costly job to take it down and
    more so to fix.
    We have also been told to do fundraisers….we are too busy farming. Also, it is one thing to ask for money to preserve something belonging to the public, there’s much less incentive to donate to something that belongs to a private person.
    So, it seems that unless you are holding a sum of money to offer for the barn that clearly belongs to these folks, you really can’t have much to say. And even if you do make an offer, they have the right to refuse and do as they planned when they bought the farm.
    I wish them the best of luck and i do hope they find a way to save their barn. And if it has to come down, a thorough survey and photographs can keep it from disappearing entirely. A concerned citizen might pony up for that.

  3. Eric says:

    I wouldn’t want to be known as the vintner who destroyed a building that old, which was preserved by others who could also have torn it down on the pretext of its being inconvenient. Yes, business is business, but a commodity like wine depends very much on image and cachet. People don’t visit the Berkshires in order to see our pre-engineered steel buildings- they have plenty of other places for that. I suspect if it were a European vineyard, they’d find a workaround that kept the building and added to the character of the winery.

  4. Mike says:

    The new owners could repurpose the barn into a wine tasting venue, and have a positive outcome for all. Contrary to Peter Cohen’s statement in the article that the barn is not visible, just drive by the Clark farm on Route 41 and take a look for yourself. It is very visible from the road.

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