Historic barns connect NH to its rural past

Sunday News Correspondent
December 23. 2017 5:33PM
Rick Kipphut talks about the historical and cultural significance of agricultural buildings in New Hampshire as he prepares to photograph the architectural features of a Center Harbor barn. (Bea Lewis photos/Sunday News Correspondent)

Hand-hewn beams with mortises are key components of many of the early barns built in New Hampshire and construction techniques and materials provide important clues as to their age. (Bea Lewis/Sunday New Correspondent)

CENTER HARBOR — As family farms continue to fade, a Lakes Region group is determined to identify and preserve historic barns that once stood at the heart of agrarian life here.

The Center Harbor Heritage Commission has partnered with volunteer Rick Kipphut to document every barn 50 years or older in town. The project is a joint effort with the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance’s “52 Barns in 52 Weeks” campaign to increase awareness of the need to preserve these symbols of the state’s rural roots.

Farmers built barns to shelter livestock and store hay and harvest. The structures evoke a sense of tradition and permanence, and embody the close connection the people who built them and worked in them had to the land, said Kipphut. He has surveyed 15 barns in Center Harbor already, has 20 more on his list and is on the hunt for more.

Recently, Kipphut documented the circa 1876 Longwood Farm barn on Route 25, next door to Camp Restaurant. It once housed a prize-winning herd of Guernsey cattle owned by Edward Sereno Dane. Kipphut also surveyed the 1903 Keewaydin dairy barn on Route 25B, a landmark that stands out for its unusual tile silo.

After making contact with barn owners via postcard, Kipphut makes arrangements to visit the property. On average, he spends three to four hours at a barn, making notes and occasionally answering questions the present owner might have about its construction, use or history.

Sometimes Kipphut is on the receiving end of information as owners regale him with their barn’s provenance and providence through generations.

“People have been very gracious. They are connected to their barns, their history, and are proud of them,” Kipphut said.

During the survey, Kipphut fills out a farm reconnaissance inventory that documents construction materials and features. He photographs each barn inside and out and the pictures are digitally embedded in the completed report, which is shared with the property owner and will be added to Center Harbor’s “Cultural and Historical Resources Inventory” as part of the update of the town’s master plan.

Kipphut also informs owners as to the resources available to help maintain their historic barn.

Signed into law in 2002, RSA 79-D authorizes municipalities to grant property tax relief to barn owners who can demonstrate the public benefit of preserving the structure and who agree to sustain it for a minimum of 10 years.

Kipphut graduated with a master’s degree in historic preservation from Plymouth State University in May. He came to historic preservation late in life after teaching business at Quinnipiac University.

When he’s not working as a staff member in the library at PSU, he puts his research skills to work, researching barns.

“Everything is online when it comes to deed research. It’s very helpful,” he said.

Before taking on the Center Harbor project, Kipphut surveyed the massive barn that is now home to one of the North Country’s most popular tourist spots and eateries, Polly’s Pancake Parlor in Sugar Hill.

Property owners Kathie and Dennis Cote approached selectmen with information from the survey and were able to prove the public benefit of preserving the circa 1886 structure. Following a public hearing, the couple was granted a tax break.

“It not only safeguards a historic structure but a shared landscape resource,” Kipphut said of RSA 79-D.

On a recent Saturday as he set up a camera and tripod, Kipphut said barns are so much more than a nostalgic remnant of a bygone era. They are a slice of history that’s uniquely New Hampshire and worth appreciating, he said. The landmark structures not only make the past present, they reflect changing farming practices, construction techniques and technologies.

The cultural value of a barn can’t be considered in isolation, Kipphut said. Many are intimately connected with the families who built them and are intertwined with the surrounding community.

Weathered wood siding, a grand cupula, cut granite blocks, hand-hewn beams, mortise and tenon joinery, plank flooring scarred by decades of use — it all contributes to the special character of a barn.

A barn crowded by suburbs is not a barn in the same sense as a barn in its natural setting, amid other farm buildings, or so says Kipphut. He gestures across the street where off in the distance a barn stands handsomely with a forest behind and a pond in front.

Preservation of barns can’t be divorced from preservation of the setting, he explains.

As part of his work, Kipphut climbs hayloft ladders and navigates steep narrow staircases, photographing every detail. He revels in unique features, a hay trolley, the telltale marks of a draw knife on hewn beams, square hand-forged nails. Each detail is a clue as to the age and history of the barn, he says.

If you own an old barn and would like additional information or would like to participate in the survey, you can contact Rick Kipphut at 726-0925 or via email at researchthepast@gmail.com. There is no cost. 

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