Visitors to and residents of New Paltz may be familiar with the red barn on Butterville Road, also known as Studley barn, which adds a decidedly rural element to the picturesque scenery west of the Wallkill River. The building was slated to be repurposed as part of the Open Space Institute’s (OSI) River-to-Ridge Trail, but a thorough inspection has led to a pivot from repurposing to preservation, as the barn is leaning and will certainly fall if nothing is done.
Records about barns specifically are somewhat lacking in the Haviland-Heidgerd Historical Collection maintained at the Elting Memorial Library. According to Carol Johnson, who both oversees the collection and serves as a town historian, barns were not typically considered noteworthy when they were initially erected, so it’s not clear when this barn was first constructed. It was sold to OSI by Julian Studley in 2013, which is why it’s referred to as the “Studley barn” in documents from that organization. Many of the barns in the area were likely built in the 18th and 19th centuries, but some are of more recent construction.
“I am sorry to report that the initial structural engineering report on the barn and the prospect of repurposing the building is not promising,” wrote capital projects and design manager Peter Karis in December. “Although it’s tough to notice from the road, the building is leaning significantly to the east and is shifting off of its foundation. According to our consulting structural engineer, the integrity of the barn is severely compromised, including inadequate wall and column foundations, leaning structural columns on both barn levels and weak roof framing. We were advised that the barn is in the process of failing and to not use the structure for any purpose.”
What happens next depends on what is revealed through additional reports being prepared on behalf of OSI. Communications strategist Eileen Larrabee said that “we are obtaining information pertaining to costs and feasibility of both stabilization and building replacement.” According to Karis, the options being explored include “embarking on an extensive stabilization project,” replacing the structure entirely and “letting nature and gravity take their course.”
Barns tend to make more news when they come down than when they go up. The New Paltz Times has occasionally reported on a barn falling due to the march of time or a weather event, such as when the 120-year-old barn at Jenkins & Leukens Orchards was pushed over by strong winds. The historical collection has many articles about barns that were destroyed by fire over the past 50 years, as well. In contrast, only one article could be located that discussed the raising of a barn.
Larrabee explained that simply allowing the barn to fall is a scenario they hope to avoid, as it would make safety near the barn uncertain during the weeks, months or even years that it might take to collapse. Instead, she said, OSI officials anticipate having a plan of action finalized within a month or two. The site has been posted, “and we will revisit fencing should changes be warranted,” she advised. When fences appeared on OSI-owned lands in the flats along Route 299 West in November, a mini-controversy erupted with residents complaining that they were unsightly, or lamenting that the space was not, in fact, open any longer.
Stabilization of historic buildings can become a prominent characteristic of the structure; the east wall of the Jean Hasbrouck House on Historic Huguenot Street was supported by trusses until it was rebuilt in 2007. Larrabee said that “we are sensitive to potential visual impact and are pursuing information pertaining to interior stabilization for the failing structure.” If the barn is successfully stabilized, it could yet become some kind of a stopping-point along the River-to-Ridge trail, or simply a landmark; its fate won’t be clear until the final reports are in.