Tonight: Party helps bring new life to old Dot barn

By 
Alex Owens, Special to the Reporter
Sep. 15, 2010

The Clapp family barn. Peggy Mullen photoThe Clapp family barn. Peggy Mullen photo

Editor's Note: The Dorchester Historical Society invites you to invest in the future of Dorchester by supporting its past tonight by attending the “Save Our Barn” Gala, 6 p.m. Tickets are still available. For more info, go to www.dorchesterhistoricalsociety.org

You would think that in the 380 years since the town of Dorchester was founded, the last vestiges of its early agricultural life would be found only in history books.

You would be wrong. At the Dorchester Historical Society property on Boston Street you can look out at the modern world through the creaky doors of a 150-year-old barn.

The Society’s barn— dubbed the Clapp Family Barn— is believed to have been built around 1850 by the Clapp family, one of the founding families of Dorchester, and used by members of the family until 1946 when, along with the Lemuel Clapp House and the William Clapp House on the same property, it was acquired by the Society to be used as its headquarters.

During its long history, the barn was the site of several new fruit hybridizations, including the Clapp’s Favorite pear. A sculpture of the Clapp pear is located just down the street at the intersection of Columbia Road and Massachusetts Avenue. The building is unique in that it has a basement — researchers think was probably for fruit storage — which was not a common feature of barns of its time.

These days the structure is covered with a blue tarp to keep rain from pouring through the many holes in its roof. The weathered exterior, while still painted, has several mismatched repairs on its surface.

According to Society staff, their priorities were to restore the older buildings on the property first.  Now they are hoping to restore the barn to its onetime glory.

“This barn is an important part of Dorchester’s, and Boston’s, agricultural history,” said Society president Earl Taylor. “I don’t think than many people realize that this kind of thing exists in the city.”
The interior is littered with archaic farm tools, including several plows, old rusty, digging implements and even outdated hemp processing tools, harking back to a time when it was legal to grow and sell cannabis and cannabis products, such as hemp rope.

The Society will be hosting a fundraising gala on Sept. 24, titled “Save Our Barn.” They hope to bring in enough to kick-start the drive to raise the $300,000 that restoring the building will cost . The work will begin with an $80,000 project to replace the building’s sills, the bottom beams of the building on which the rest of structure is built. From there, they plan to restore other structural elements, including the roof, several damaged supporting beams, and the siding. The Society expects to complete the restoration in about three years.

“We need an anchor where we can begin to show people part of Dorchester’s agricultural history,” said Taylor, who envisions the restored barn as part of a possible educational facility and museum, where tourists can get a feeling for the very different Dorchester of the past.

The restored Clapp houses feature numerous artifacts from Dorchester’s early days and, if all goes well, the barn will be joining their ranks in the near future. The barn is already open on the third Sunday of every month for viewing by the general public.

“We hope that restoring the barn might change the perception of Dorchester and reveal much of our history,” said Taylor.

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