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Vermont Barn Restoration & History Preservation

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By J. Gregory Gerdel and Vicky Tebbetts

If Vermont barn walls could talk, they would speak of calves and foals; they would tell tales of hay, milking, the turn of the seasons, and generations of farmers working the land. They may also recount stories of weddings, parties, festivals, business events, performance and art spaces.

As agricultural life diversifies and evolves, a new face is emerging from Vermont’s quintessential structures. Investing in Vermont’s legacy and shaping its destiny, landowners, private benefactors, and the State of Vermont have worked together to restore Vermont’s barns through a grant program for more than two decades. As a result, stylish spaces expressing communities’ attachment to tradition and the environment that shapes Vermont have been created.

Where can you check out barn restoration projects?

The UVM Morgan Horse Farm in Weybridge

Experience a working agricultural treasure at the c.1870 barn at the UVM Morgan Horse Barn in Weybridge. Now under the stewardship of the University of Vermont and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Morgan Horse Farm raises champion stock, promoting America’s first breed of horse. During warmer months, daily tours of the elegant, three-story white barn are available.

Paying homage to the legacy of Vermont barns, a number of properties have chosen to build barns anew when creating their event centers. The rich scent of fresh timber pervades the recent and sophisticated Mountain Top Inn & Resort Barn in Chittenden, where a bride and groom may start their life together against a backdrop of the 750-acre Chittenden Reservoir, which fills the bowl of the Green Mountain National Forest.

In many of Vermont’s early villages, horsedrawn carriages played a critical role in the transportation of goods and services. Host to a vibrant flow of stagecoaches traversing the Green Mountains, the Grafton Inn was established in 1801 and continues to be one of the oldest continually operating hotels in the country. Where once visitors’ horses were kept for the night, you may now enjoy anything from a burger to a family bar mitzvah at the Phelps Barn pub and event space, named for brothers Francis and Harlan who bought the Inn in 1865 and cultivated the destination with money panned in the California Gold Rush.

Similarly, Shelburne Farms features a number of barns on its 1,400-acre working farm and campus and has turned its National Historic Landmark into a vibrant classroom and non-profit for learning, agritourism, and conservation. The vast grounds of Shelburne Farms were developed around the turn of the 19th century and include the elegant Coach Barn, the still busy Farm Barn, and the sprawling Breeding Barn which was the center of W. Seward Webb’s expansive horse breeding operation. The gothic-style Coach Barn hosts meetings, festivals, weddings, and fundraising events in its voluminous interior.

Nearby, the Shelburne Museum features an eclectic display of art and Americana. The historic collection ranges from the late 1800s within 38 exhibition buildings, 25 of which were relocated to the museum grounds . Among them is the iconic 1901 red Round Barn that was moved to the museum by helicopter from Passumpsic and now provides a spacious venue for exhibits. Open for events, the barn also houses an historic collection of carriages, coaches, and sleighs. South of Shelburne lies Charlotte’s Old Lantern Inn. Featuring a magnificently restored 1800s barn, its polished maple dance floor is the largest in Vermont. The dance floor has seen many pairs of happy feet celebrating. The Inn at Glimmerstone in Cavendish features a gorgeous barn and event space conveniently paired with the Inn.

Several barns have become popular venues for the arts. Standouts among these are the Inn at Round Barn Farm, Waitsfield, which hosts exhibits, concerts, weddings and community events in the storied barn adjacent the inn. Established more than four decades ago, the acclaimed Yellow Barn in Putney is an international center for chamber music.

Office and meeting space in a barn is altogether attainable in Vermont. Following a devastating fire a decade ago, the Green Mountain Club in Waterbury built a sustainable Visitors’ Center and upstairs meeting hall in a barn-style format. Wired with all the features of a Manhattan office, the Hall is decorated with vintage “packboards” used to carry supplies into camps. It features beautiful views of the Green Mountains and trail access on the Club’s 50-acre campus.

Built by the son of President Lincoln in Manchester, Hildene, the Lincoln Family Home was an impressive summer residence for Robert Todd Lincoln and his family. Old meets new when you experience a piece of history while touring the Georgian Revival home and historic carriage barn that once housed the family’s horses and carriages, then view the state-of-the-art solar-powered Rowland Agricultural Center at Hildene Farm that houses the farm’s herd of goats and cheesemaking operation.

Originally, Vermont barns were integral to providing sustenance and serving basic needs. Maintaining their connection to food, a number of Vermont barns are restaurants or culinary attractions. The casually elegant Tanglewoods Restaurant in Waterbury Center is housed in a renovated barn which encloses a cozy function room for rehearsal dinners, and Chef Huber’s creative American cuisine created from locally-farmed ingredients.

Boyden Valley Winery in Cambridge offers a variety of wines and spirits, including “Big Barn Red”, a bold table wine which gives a nod to all barns, including the 200-year-old barn at Boyden Farm. The Farm’s barn features hand-hewn beams and cathedral ceilings, is ADA accessible, and is available for events and concerts.

Stately and storied, Vermont barns are an enduring symbol of life in the Green Mountain State.

As a result of Vermonters’ dedication to these icons, our communities are now sprinkled with beautiful barns offering visitors the opportunity to love, laugh, learn, and create new beginnings in a setting that honors the distant past.

Greg Gerdel is the research and operations chief for the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing. Vicky Tebbetts tells Vermont’s stories through content marketing and integrated communications.

Main photo is courtesy of Renee Compagna/Shelburne Museum.

This piece was originally published in the Vermont Vacation Guide, which is produced by the Vermont Chamber of Commerce.