March 14, 2013

Shepard's Barn

March 14 is called Pi Day for its numeric notation as 3.14 — a truncated version of the infinite but constant ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter. Here in New London this day marked the finite end of a truncated barn.

Shepard's Barn (original length)
The Shepard Barn has been a fixture on Main Street for 112 years, but its story begins 20 years earlier. The structure was built in 1881 by the New London Scythe Company. For the next six years it served as an axe-making factory located along the Blackwater River between Elkins and Wilmot Flat. After the scythe works closed in 1887, its assets were auctioned off and its buildings reused or recycled.

We do not know what happened at the 30' x 120' axe shop over the next decade, perhaps nothing, but in 1900 its frame was disassembled and hauled up New London hill to the former Sargent Homestead on Main Street. Charles E. Shepard had purchased the property in 1890 and was operating a carriage and livery business there. When the frame was reassembled, its roof was changed to a gambrel style in order to provide more storage volume for Shepard's hay and feed. Although gambrel barns are prevalent elsewhere, they are unusual in this area.

In 1947, James E. Shepard, II, removed over half of the barn. He took it down to Newport Road, where it became the New London Locker Plant, the modern version of his father's ice business. Within two years the venture failed, but it was soon reopened by Eliot Clemons, who sold groceries in addition to refrigeration services. That building, "a specially-designed and handsome structure" according to historian J. Duane Squires, was recently converted into the dental offices of Drs. Gutgsell & Phipps.
Wednesday, March 13 (4:50 PM)

Thursday, March 14 (9:15 AM)
Shepard's Riding School having closed, in 1947 the remaining portion of Shepard's Barn and 3 acres of land were purchased by Colby-Sawyer College for its maintenance department. Since that time the property has had several owners, none of whom found much use for the barn. Meanwhile, roof shingles started leaking. The foundation settled, bowing outward. The window frames racked and glass panes broke free of sashes. The trim and clapboards blew off in the wind. The barn had become a potential liability rather than the productive asset it once was.

Its days were numbered. Until today. Pi Day.