Historical Society Raising Funds To Restore 18th Century Barn

Manchester Historical Society is raising funds to restore the 18th century Woodbridge Farmstead barn

The Manchester Historical Society is raising money to restore the Woodbridge Farmstead barn and turn the 18th-century structure into a museum.

The barn, which once belonged to the Woodbridge family, was built in the late 1700s and is believed to be the oldest barn in Manchester.

The structure was part of the family's 250-acre Meadow Brook Farm and was used as a dairy barn. Raymond and Thelma Woodbridge gave the barn to the historical society in 1998.

Dave Smith, the society's curator, estimates the barn's dairy production ended the 1940s or 1950s. That's when pasteurizing milk became necessary, but the process was too expensive for the Woodbridge family to continue business.

The red, rustic barn still contains relics of its past. Despite some work done over its hundreds of years, the barn retains its historical feeling.

There's a bottling room with milk bottles and jugs that date back to the early to mid 1900s, a large central room with an old family sleigh used for winter transportation and a rectangular room with stalls for the family's cows.

When it's turned into a museum, the barn will represent Manchester's agricultural history the same way that the Cheney brothers' legacy reflects the town's industrial history, Smith said.

"We want to get this restored so we can demonstrate what a dairy barn operation was like," Smith said. "We're trying to tell people it wasn't all about the Cheneys."

To reach that goal, the historical society must raise money. The society recently received a $78,000 historic restoration matching grant from the Connecticut State Historic Preservation Office. The society is now raising funds to match that total.

The Manchester History Center, located in the former Cheney Brothers Machine Shop, "represents the industrial part of Manchester," Smith said. "This is going to represent the agricultural part of town. That came first, and it's a big part of the town history. There's very little of it left to see."

Eileen Sweeney, the historical society's executive director, said the barn museum could help draw tourism to the town. The Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation created the country's first-ever barn trail not too long ago, she said.

"People come from all over the world to see New England farms and the landscapes," Sweeney said. "The barns are a big part of that. It really does show Manchester's progression through time."

Smith said the estimated project completion is sometime in 2016. The project should go out to bid soon, bringing in a total cost. Smith estimates the society will have to raise more than the $78,000 matching grant.

"The agricultural era was one of the four major eras of this town," Smith said. "There were the Native Americans, there was the agricultural with the farms everywhere, then the industrial period and then the bedroom and market town, which we are now."

The historical society will soon roll out a major fundraising campaign for the barn restoration. Sweeney said any donation amount helps the cause. To donate, contact the historical society at 860-647-9983.

"Whether it be $5 or $500, every bit helps," Sweeney said. "We have to match that grant dollar for dollar."

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