State historian says Stowe barn is in good shape

A state historian says the Stowe barn in Milford is in good shape: proponents of selling the barn to a cooking school owner have argued the barn is deteriorating.
In a March 18 letter to Mayor Ben Blake, Todd Levine, a historian with the State Historic Preservation Office, said the overall condition of the barn is very good.

“The exterior sheathing is weather tight, there is a newer roof keeping the weather out and the foundation appears intact,” he wrote in his letter. “The biggest deficiency that I saw was the buckled floors on the main floor of the barn, but considering that the structure appears plumb, the condition of the floors are to be a result of moisture from the basement level and no water infiltration or rot. The setting of the barn is intact, an important component to the barn’s cultural agricultural context.”

Businesswoman Heide Lang, who owns the Fig Cooking School in Hamden, wants to buy the barn and property from the city to use as her cooking school. While a number of Walnut Beach business owners have rallied behind the plan, another group has organized to fight any sale, arguing that the historic open space belongs in the city’s hands.

Levine noted in his letter to the mayor that his office was asked to inspect the barn to determine if it was eligible for the State and National Register of Historic Places.

He concluded that the barn is eligible for listing on the State Register of Historic Places as part of the Thematic Barns of Connecticut program.

The State Historic Preservation Office is discussing whether it would be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

The history of the barn is interesting, Levine wrote, because of its association with the Stowe family and early Milford agriculture.

"Apparently the barn was a part of Stowe family holdings, which included portions of the Great Meadow on the town's west shore. The family owned and used property for agriculture for more than 250 years. The site is particularly interesting as a last remaining vestige of shoreline agriculture."

He discusses the architectural aspects of the barn and notes that the basement level once housed cattle, pointing out that the walls are white washed to protect against tuberculosis and there is evidence of a bull pen in the west corner.

John Poole,  a preservationist and architectural historian, also said several months ago that he thinks the main barn is in “very good shape.”

“The place seems dry, and the historic timber frame and foundation appear to be true, and in exceptionally good condition, with no obvious signs of any significant deterioration or damage, although a few sections of the original floor system had clearly been reinforced/replaced at some point with modern joists,” Poole said. “Also, some of the floor planks in the main bay are loose or spongy in a few locations. The small, attached apartment, on the other hand, is clearly in considerable disrepair. But the main barn impressed me, overall, as being very solid.”

Lang and others, including the mayor, have said the barn is showing signs of deterioration due to neglect and needs someone to own it and maintain it to prevent further decline.

City leaders have been discussing a sale to Lang with various Milford groups, according to Mayor Ben Blake.

The city bought the Stowe property in 2002 to save the barn and other structures from demolition. A local builder had bought the former dairy farm and planned to raze the old farmhouse and one-time dairy barns and build nine houses.

The goal at the time was to make the Stowe property a central part of a Walnut Beach art district.