Historic Loss

A Vermont landmark by R. H. Robertson, the Old Dairy Barn at Shelburne Farms, destroyed by fire

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The Old Dairy Barn, seen in the foreground. (Via Shelburne Farms)
The Old Dairy Barn, seen in the foreground. (Via Shelburne Farms)

Vermont lost one of its agrarian and architectural landmarks this weekend when the historic Old Dairy Barn at Shelburne Farms was destroyed by fire.

The 1891 landmark at 989 South Gate Road in Shelburne was a key part of the Shelburne Farms complex designed by the noted architect R. H. Robertson.

According to a message posted on the Shelburne Farms website by president Alec Webb, the cause of fire most likely was lightning from an early morning storm on Sunday. The building burned to the ground.

“This is an incredibly sad loss to the historic fabric of this place,” Webb wrote.

Shelburne Farms is a non-profit educational organization located on a tract formerly owned by the Webb family. Its campus is a 1,400-acre working farm, forest, and National Historic Landmark.

Shelburne Farms acquired the Old Dairy Barn, the nearby Breeding Barn, and surrounding land in 1994 from the adjacent Shelburne Museum, according to its website. “The Barn has been structurally stabilized with a new roof, foundation, and beams,” the site states.

Robert Henderson Robertson (1849-1919) was born in Philadelphia and designed numerous houses, institutional buildings, and churches, many in partnership with William Appleton Potter. His work included summer cottages in Newport, Rhode Island, campus buildings at Brown and Princeton, and tall buildings in New York City. His 1899 Park Row Building at 15 Park Row, for August Belmont, briefly held the title of being the world’s tallest building.

Other Robertson commissions include: the Brown University Library; Witherspoon Hall at Princeton University; Alpha Kappa Lodge at Williams College, the Commodore Charles H. Baldwin House in Newport; the American Tract Society Building at 150 Nassau Street in New York; Engine Company 55 firehouse at 363 Broome Street in New York, and the main lodge at Camp Santanoni, a national landmark near Newcomb, New York.

Shelburne Farms, his most comprehensive farm complex, includes Shelburne House, the Breeding Barn, the Farm Barn, and the Coach Barn. He also designed the Shelburne Railroad Station.

Megan Camp, vice president and program director of Shelburne Farms, told the Burlington Free Press that the Old Dairy Barn was being used to store lumber and Shelburne Farms planned to renovate it to house educational programs.

“Losing one of these buildings is like losing a family member,” Camp was quoted as saying. “You don’t replace a building like this.”

Webb said in his message that all activities and programs at Shelburne Farms will continue as usual except for a historic barns tour on Monday, which was canceled.

“We are very fortunate and grateful that no animals or people were harmed in the fire,” he wrote.  “It will take a while to assess the full impacts of the loss of this amazing building.”

For more on the blaze, as well as images of the fire itself, see this Burlington Free Press article (page may have advertisements with noise).

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