The West Monitor Barn Today (Photo by Lou Borie)
The West Monitor Barn, Prior to Dismantling (Photo by Tom Visser)
Around 1900, a unique pair of large dairy barns was built in Richmond amidst more than 1,000 acres of prime agricultural lands, wooded hillsides and three prosperous farmsteads. At the time of their construction, these barns represented a major advance in barn architecture. Their roofs featured "monitor" designs which, by aiding air circulation throughout the structure, improved the health of the cows within and the economics of the farms they supported.
Over the years, as the surrounding landscape became dotted with houses, the barns remained. The farmsteads remained largely intact, though, and local farmers continued to grow crops on the land. But the dairies at the site closed and the once-magnificent barns fell into disrepair.
In 1997, with the support of the landowners, the Richmond Land Trust (RLT) launched a multi-year program to preserve these historic barns and restore them to productive use, while also conserving the three farmsteads and the fields and forests surrounding them. Funding would come mainly from private sources, with grants won from Federal and State agencies primarily used to get the project underway.
The first step was to dismantle the West Monitor Barn. Looming over Route 2 and with its roof open to the elements, it threatened to collapse any day. The Vermont Farm Bureau provided a three-acre, more accessible site for the barn about 200 yards away. Grants paid for taking down the old barn, conserving its salvageable parts and also purchasing a conservation easement on 44 acres of Farm Bureau property adjacent to the barn. In late 2000, just before the winter snows, the barn was carefully taken apart. Many of the main timbers were found to be reusable and were moved to the new site, although many others, along with the slate roof, sheathing and flooring, were too badly deteriorated to safely use. Fund-raising continued to move the project to the next stages.
VYCC Comes on Board
Around that time RLT learned that the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps (VYCC) was looking for a new headquarters. RLT explained the project to VYCC leaders and they immediately saw the possibilities for their organization, which helps young people develop their senses of personal and community responsibility through work on important conservation projects throughout Vermont. The rebuilt barn would enable the VYCC to consolidate the many smaller, rented facilities it was using around the state, making the organization much more cost-efficient and thus able to extend its services to more young people.
The Richmond Land Trust and VYCC became partners in the project, working together to find the additional funding needed to finish the barn. In 2001, teams of VYCC young people helped lay the foundation for the new barn, and as contractors rebuilt the framework and installed utilities VYCCers played a major role in other construction tasks such as putting down the floors and nailing on the sheathing.
In 2002 the opportunity came up to purchase 229 acres of prime farm land, forest and wildlife habitat immediately behind the barn, gateway to a several-thousand-acre conservation project known as the Chittenden County Uplands. Local and state conservation organizations have been working on an effort to conserve this expanse of largely intact forests stretching from the barn to the peaks of the Green Mountains. Neighbors contributed approximately $50,000 to secure a purchase option to conserve the 229 acres, and RLT won grants and obtained a mortgage to cover the rest of the purchase price. In December of 2004 RLT transferred ownership of the barn and the land to the VYCC.
Because of the need to preserve the barnís historic design while conforming to the organizationís needs and modern building codes, VYCC built a connected annex alongside it. It accommodates offices, conference rooms, a kitchen, elevator and other facilities that could not go into the barn. The barn houses showers and locker rooms, tool storage rooms, offices and a large space for community events. A ropes training course is planned for the highest sections.
The VYCC moved into the barn in September of 2005. It subsequently purchased the adjacent Farm Bureau land, including the East Monitor Barn. Today, more young people than ever are using the property to learn about sound conservation and land management practices before setting off across the state on their crew assignments. VYCC has also been able to expand its services by providing area high schools with expanded options for their alternative education programs. A CSA now grows crops and raises chickens on the nearby fields. The public enjoys hiking and skiing in the forest. Hunting is allowed when crews aren't being trained on the land. Weddings, public concerts and dances, and other celebrations take place in the barn's spectacular interior. An adjacent solar power installation can supply 100 percent of VYCCís electric needs and put even more into the grid. Meanwhile, the Richmond Land Trust continues to work towards completing remaining parts of the three-farmstead project, including assisting VYCC in efforts to preserve the East Monitor Barn farmstead and conserve its fields and forest as well.