Historical society members had originally hoped to save the old barn, which had probably been on the property since the house was built. By the time the historical society purchased the house, the barn had been neglected for decades. The roof was sagging and the underpinnings of the barn were crumbling. Society members applied for a Vermont Barn Preservation grant, but the state prioritizes barns that are visible from main roads, and competition for the grants is fierce. The historical society also sought donors to save the barn, but eventually society members were forced to sell the structure for salvage. “It would have been nice to save it,” says Wilmington Historical Society President Julie Moore. “But it was in sad shape and would have been just too costly to do the work.”
Since then the society’s collection of local artifacts has continued to grow and, despite the size of the society’s museum, Moore says there isn’t enough room to display all the items. Some of the pieces in the society’s collection are too large to be displayed in the house or stored on site. Historical society member Lenny Chapman, who owns what’s claimed as the largest barn in Windham County, has provided storage for some of the larger items, including the society’s sleigh and a doctor’s buggy that belonged to a local physician and was donated by Honora Winery.
Chapman says the doctor’s bag is still with the buggy. Another interesting find is an acetylene gas generator, a unit that produced the gas from carbide and water. The gas was used for home lighting before electricity. Chapman says he’s looking forward to getting the historical society’s equipment out of his barn to make room for his own projects – including the restoration of a fancy 1809 enclosed horse-drawn coach.
Hoping to bring the artifacts home to the society’s headquarters on Lisle Hill and show them to the public, historical society members recently voted to construct a building where they can store and display the items. “When we get these items donated, it’s nice to have them out where people can look at them,” Moore says. “It’s nice to be able to show them and give credit to the people who donated them.”
Chapman, a builder turned antique dealer, provided the basic design for the 8-by-16-foot carriage house, a saltbox shed with 12-over-12 windows and two sliding doors that open to reveal four bays. “The whole back wall will be windowless so we’ll have space to hang old tools and other artifacts in there,” Chapman says. “We have so many things, including old saws and sugaring equipment in the (existing) shed that we can’t display now.”
Chapman, with his building experience, will act as clerk of the works for the project. The society plans to put out a call for bids this month, finish the permitting process, and have the building completed before winter.
And donors are already lining up to fill the carriage house. A Maine resident recently contacted the society about donating a carriage that, according to markings on the frame, was made in Wilmington. “Tons of people want to donate stuff,” Chapman said. “The school wants to donate the old school safe.”
Although Moore says the historical society is on better financial footing than when they struggled to deal with the crumbling barn, they’ll still need to raise additional funds to pay for construction. Moore says they’re soliciting donations and have other fundraisers planned.
When completed, the building and displays will be open to the public during the historical society’s regular hours on Saturdays, 10 am to 3 pm, from Saturday, July 5 through Labor Day weekend. “I think it will be a nice attraction for visitors to our museum,” Moore says, “one more thing to get people to stop in.”
For more information or to make a donation to the carriage house construction fund call the Wilmington Historical Society at (802) 464-0200 or contact Moore at (802) 464-3004.