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Save our Heritage receives "Save America's Treasures" grant to restore Barrett's Farm


Boston Globe -- NorthWest section

Sunday, December 24, 2006


300-year-old walls, restored, will talk

By Jennifer Fenn Lefferts, Globe Correspondent

CONCORD -- With only hand tools and elbow grease, three timber framers chipped away at two white oak logs, covering the ground with bark and exposing the raw wood.

In the 300 years the Colonel James Barrett farmhouse in Concord has been standing, the owners were never much into home improvement. But with last year's purchase of the house by a preservation group and a recent infusion of local and federal money, emergency repairs are in full swing, and those two oak logs will soon become the frame of a new wall.

"The weather was getting in, so it wasn't a second too soon," said James Cunningham, the Barrett Farm project manager for the preservation group Save Our Heritage.

When work is complete, the home will provide visitors a glimpse at how people lived at the start of the American Revolution in 1775, said Anna Winter, the group's executive director.

"This house is a wonderful way to let us know more about these incredible, diligent, hard-working and inspirational people who were responsible for forging our independence as a nation," she said.

The house, built in 1705, has historical significance because so much of the original work remains, she said. It also played a role in the American Revolution, serving as a home base for Barrett, a leader of the Middlesex Militia who was also responsible for overseeing provisions such as food and weapons for the army.

On April 19, 1775, British troops marched to Concord searching for stolen cannons. They searched Barrett's home, but never found the weapons his sons had buried in the field behind the house. Those troops later set out for the North Bridge, where Barrett and the Minute Men were waiting and the " shot heard ' round the world" was fired.

The Barrett family lived there until 1904, when the house was sold to the McGrath family.

Save Our Heritage has been eyeing the property for years, Winter said. The group bought 3 1/2 acres of land surrounding the farmhouse for $800,000 in December 2003 and last year acquired the house and the surrounding acre of land from the McGraths for $790,000. The farm is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is certified as a nationally significant site.

Michael McGrath moved out of the house in November 2005 and now lives in a house that Save Our Heritage built for him in an adjacent lot.

In the property he left behind, the yard had been overtaken by brush and weeds. Windows were broken, and vines were growing up the house and inside the windows. The back wall was hanging from the attic, and each room was filled with piles of belongings that had accumulated over the years.

The lack of maintenance, however, has turned out to be a blessing, said Winter.

"It gives you a remarkable window into the past," she said. "The two families that lived here did very little to alter it."

Today, the house is empty as workers tend to the repairs and historians pore through its contents looking for clues to the past.

Traditional Framers, a Massachusetts company of three men that specializes in the repair and restoration of historic timber frame buildings, is handling the renovation. The meticulous handiwork is being done so the finished product resembles the original construction, said Chad Mathrani, who specializes in frames.

"Everything is cut by hand because the appearance is critical," he said.

Save Our Heritage also hired Frederic Detwiller, an architect and preservation planner, to conduct a historic analysis.

"What's amazing is how much original work is left," said Detwiller. "Even in Minute Man National Park, there are not as many houses this well preserved.

It's remarkable considering what this house has been through. Historically, it's incredibly important."

Because there have been so few alterations, Winter said, there is an opportunity to re-create how the house looked at the time of the Revolution.

Figuring out how each room was used and how it was furnished will require much detective work, she added.

Workers will remove wallpaper and analyze the plaster, the woodwork, and the paint.

They have already found one clue about the beds because an old bedrail was used as a stud in another part of the house. Also, there are holes in the ceiling of the master bedroom showing where a bed canopy was placed.

"We're hoping to find enough fragments to put it back together," Winter said.

Cunningham said the group is checking with museums, auction houses, and family members to track down as many original furnishings as possible.

Eventually, Save Our Heritage hopes to turn over the Barrett house to the Minute Man National Historic Park, where the building can become a museum.

In the meantime, Winter said, the group is hoping for more money from Congress and private donors.

Save Our Heritage recently received a $220,000 federal grant and preliminary approval for $200,000 in Community Preservation Act funds from the town. But it still needs to raise between $1 million and $1.5 million for renovations and to show the federal government that the entire community is behind the project, she said.

"The walls can talk here," Winter said, "and we need an opportunity for them to be heard."

Information about the project available at

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company ==========

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