scorecardresearch Skip to main content

In Essex, a museum strives to save historic barn

A 3,000-square-foot barn built in the late 1700s using a traditional English form of carpentry is being disassembled by the Essex Historical Society and Shipbuilding Museum, which hopes to relocate it near the group’s historic waterfront site.PHOTOS BY Essex Historical Society and Shipbuilding Museum

The Essex Historical Society and Shipbuilding Museum is nearing its goal of raising the funds required to save an 18th-century barn.

The organization needs to successfully conclude a $60,000 fund drive by mid-February to relocate the wooden barn, which faces demolition because it is on the site where Essex is building a new public safety facility.

The town’s general contractor, G&R Construction, last month agreed to postpone razing the structure to give the society time to save it. To date the group has raised about $46,000, including $26,000 in private donations and $20,000 from its own funds.

With that money, the society has been disassembling the barn, which because of its age and type of construction is a necessary prelude to relocating it. If the group raises the remaining $14,000 in the next several weeks, it can complete that work and proceed with moving the barn materials off site.

“We’ve been so pleasantly surprised by the outpouring of both funds and emotional support from townspeople to preserve the barn,” said Ted Watkinson, the society’s executive director, noting that the fund drive only began in mid-December.


The society’s tentative long-term goal is to reassemble the barn and add it to the group’s historic waterfront site on Main Street, where visitors learn about Essex’s historic shipbuilding industry. That will require successfully concluding a separate $750,000 fund drive the group plans to launch soon.

The 3,000-square-foot barn on John Wise Avenue was built in the late 1700s to store wheat for the farm serving Cogswell’s Grant estate, today an adjacent historic site maintained by Historic New England.

“The real historical significance of it is its method of construction,” Watkinson said of the barn. “It’s all hand-made post and beam and uses mortise and tenon joinery,” referring to a traditional English form of carpentry.


The barn was acquired about 1960 by Eleanor Raymond, a prominent architect who used it as a residence. It was subsequently sold but remained in use as a home until the town acquired it in a land-taking last year due to the public safety project.

Raymond had installed picture windows to the barn, and shingling and a new roof were later added. But all of the original barn framing remains intact.

If it completes the fund drive, the society intends to haul the disassembled barn materials on a flatbed truck to a private location in Essex where they will remain inside a protected structure until the society is ready to proceed with its future plans for the barn.

An existing building on the waterfront site used for conferences and an educational boatbuilding workshop is in need of an upgrade. Watkinson said once that building and the barn are restored — using the proceeds of the planned $750,000 fund drive — the conference facility and workshop functions would be divided between them, with the details yet to be finalized.

Tim Walsh, a preservation carpenter and a society board member, said in an e-mail that “barns, once ubiquitous throughout New England, continue to disappear from the landscape at an alarming rate. Handcrafted from the bounty of our indigenous forests, in many ways these common buildings most represent our cultural legacy and define a sense of place.”

“This barn has served the community for nearly 300 years, and with the outpouring of support from our friends and neighbors shall continue to do so far into the future,” he added. “It took many hands to raise this structure so long ago, and with the continued support of our community it will be raised once again.”


John Laidler can be reached at