From Ruins to Redemption Barn Success Story in Lee, NH

The roof and walls of the original barn collapsed after a heavy snowfall.

The roof and walls of the original barn collapsed after a heavy snowfall.

When the weight of a record-breaking February snowfall collapsed the center of Charlie and Anne Jennison’s beloved barn in 2015, the owners and community members felt like much more than a roof and side walls had been lost. The barn had been in Charlie’s family for six generations and stood on a designated scenic road. While Anne and Charlie are not active dairy farmers as their forefathers were, they are gardeners and have made regular use of their barn. Beyond the damage to the barn, the family lost historic family photos and documents that had been stored in the barn.  “Losing the barn and the family history felt like losing a member of the family,” said the Jennisons.

Thanks to their hard work and dedication, and some assistance from the Preservation Alliance, their family farmstead has a new lease on life. We are showcasing this place as one of our 52 Barns in 52 Weeks to recognize the Jennisons for their impressive stewardship and to provide information and inspiration to others.

Preservation Timber Framing team repaired the barn frame in their shop in Nottingham.

Preservation Timber Framing team repaired the barn frame in their shop in Nottingham.

The Jennisons called the Preservation Alliance for advice after the collapse, which led to an assessment by Arron Sturgis of Preservation Timber Framing, Inc. Sturgis confirmed that much of the barn was a complete loss, and he helped the Jennisons negotiate their successful insurance claim to rebuild the barn.  The new old barn was re-erected on a new foundation using an appropriate frame from South Berwick, Maine and the old barn. [Both frames have hewn timbers and exhibit the English tying joint; more info on the barns’ history and contruction here. ] Formerly called the Piper Farm, now the Hummingbird Farm, the original barn was built in 1803 with an addition in 1849 that nearly doubled its size. The Jennison/Piper family acquired the property in 1888 and operated it as a commercial dairy farm from 1888 - 1968.

The new old barn was raised by Preservation Timber Framing during the 250th anniversary celebration of Lee.

The new old barn was raised by Preservation Timber Framing during the 250th anniversary celebration of Lee.

This visible local landmark has meaning not only for the Jennisons, but also for their friends and neighbors.   “Many of our neighbors in Lee contacted us when our barn roof caved in, to express their sympathy over the loss.  These same folks have followed, with interest, our progress throughout the entire process of reconstructing our barn – many coming by to visit on the day in May 2016 when the repaired and reconstructed barn frame was raised up on site,” said the Jennisons. “And we’ve had neighbors who live further down our road, whom we had not yet met, stopping by to introduce themselves and tell us how happy they are that we were able to rebuild the barn,” they said.

This year, the Jennisons took another important stewardship step. With the encouragement from the Preservation Alliance, they applied for the barn tax incentive program under RSA 79-D. RSA 79-D authorizes towns and cities to grant property tax relief to barn owners who can demonstrate the public benefit of preserving their barn or other older farm buildings, and agree to maintain them throughout a minimum 10-year preservation easement. The program started in 2003 and now has 89 municipalities participating with over 500 barns enrolled. In May of this year, Anne and Charlie were pleased to get the news that the Lee Board of Selectmen had approved their application.  

The Jennisons’ new old barn in Lee

The Jennisons’ new old barn in Lee

Charlie and Anne are both educators and performing artists.  Charlie is a performing jazz musician (saxophones and keyboard) and jazz educator who also teaches music at Phillips Exeter Academy, while Anne is a professional storyteller who specializes in giving performances of Native American stories.  Anne also demonstrates how to make various northeastern Native American crafts on Fridays at Strawbery Banke Museum in Portsmouth.  Future plans for their new barn run the gamut from more prosaic use as storage for their organic gardening tools and supplies to making plans for future use of the space as a three-season venue for music lessons, storytelling workshops, and “the occasional house concert”.   

This barn is the first in the seacoast to be highlighted as part of the Preservation Alliance's 52 Barns in 52 Weeks campaign. The goal of this 2017 initiative is to help at least 52 barn owners across the state with assessment grants, assistance in securing tax relief, and educational opportunities to help save their historic barns. Throughout the year, barns and their owners will be showcased by the Preservation Alliance to celebrate good work and offer practical information and inspiration to others. 

We are grateful to all of our donors to date, and encourage others to add their support with an investment in the 52 Barns in 52 Weeks campaign so we can do more!