More than 200 people gathered in Northampton Saturday afternoon to pull a historic barn onto its new foundation, as part of an effort to transform the building into a hub for local history.
“They say to put your biggest treasure onto the firmest foundation possible,” said Elizabeth Sharpe, co-executive director of the preservation society Historic Northampton. “So we decided to put in concrete foundation, which required us to either jack the barn up or move it aside.”
The barn, located on Bridge Street in Northampton, was originally constructed around 1805 for what historians believe was either a business or storage building. The building was moved to its current spot sometime before 1853, Sharpe said, and converted into a horse-and-carriage barn. Now, the historical society is renovating the building to use as a cultural arts center and home for the town’s various artifacts, from neon signs to weather vanes.
“It’s a small performance space, but with local history flavor,” she said.
Sharpe explained that the choice to organize a community pull, rather than using hydraulics or heavy machinery like a tractor or bulldozer, was timber framer Alicia Spence’s idea.
“Everyone always seems hungry to jump in and play a part and be out there with their neighbors,” said Spence, who has organized hands-on construction projects for years. “It’s deeply satisfying to contribute to something so public, and people seemed really enthusiastic.”
As one of the communities “biggest artifacts,” Spence added, the building presented the perfect opportunity for community members wanted to be involved.
“I would’ve never thought you could bring out 200 people and pull a barn with ropes,” Sharpe admitted, “but it made the move special and it’s going to make the barn as a community space even more special.”
In addition to the four teams of 60 people hauling the barn along steel beams onto its new foundation, dozens gathered from as far as Boston and Worcester to chant and cheer in support of the big pull, Sharpe said. There were drumrolls for each pull, and a local cellist and vocalist who performed an original song to the tune of “She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain.”
Although weather was a bit of a concern, Sharpe said that this year’s “mild January was helpful to us,” allowing Historic Northampton to move forward on the pull without delay. And Spence is already planning a timber framing workshop for late January, so that neighbors can continue to help out with construction.
“It’s quite a rush to be pulling a rope and seeing a building move toward you,” Sharpe said. “But to do all this with the community has been truly fantastic.”