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'This Old House' pays visit to historic Barrett's Farm in Concord

Posted by Derek McLean  July 26, 2011 05:33 PM

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Derek McLeant
Barrett's Farm played a key role at the dawn of the American Revolution.

PBS crews for ‘‘This Old House’’ were on location in Concord today, filming the restoration of historic Barrett’s Farm for an episode this coming season.

The segment will air nationally this fall as part of the series, which is focusing on a renovation project in nearby Bedford.

The 306-year-old house played a major role in the start of the American Revolution because it was where colonial munitions were located, according to Anna West Winter, executive director of Save Our Heritage, a nonprofit preservation organization based in Concord.

She hopes the home will eventually become part of the national park system.

‘‘You do not find a lot of houses like this that are pretty much never touched,’’ said Norm Abram, master carpenter for the television show. ‘‘To find a house that very few people know how historically important it was to the Revolutionary War makes it a pretty impressive project, and I am just so glad it got saved.’’

Through the 306 years, only two families have lived in the farmhouse, the Barrett and the McGrath families. The McGrath family sold the home to Save Our Heritage in 2004 and continued to live on the property in a separate building.

Colonel James Barrett was the head of the Middlesex Minutemen when Paul Revere made his famous ride. The home, according to West Winter, was a key objective for the British march to Concord on April 19, 1775.

West Winter said various munitions for the colonists were stored in the home. ‘‘General Gage, of the British military, wanted to make sure that everything was neat and tidy and that there was no cause for alarm, as far as his superiors were considered, about what was happening with the Patriots out here,’’ she said.

Gage ordered his troops to head to the farmhouse to try and find cannons and other munitions stored there.

After being warned of the British approach, the Barrett family hid the the munitions underneath planting beds on the property and in trees behind the house. ‘‘All the Barrett children and family members were involved in making sure the munitions were hidden,’’ West Winter said.

Mrs. Barrett held the troops at her house for around an hour, feeding them breakfast while they searched the home and property. In the end the British were only able to find one cannon carriage, which was destroyed.

‘‘It was a very lucky situation and a very brave family who stood their ground that day, thus the revolution began. It was the house that was the catalyst to, on many levels, the Revolution,’’ said West Winter.

When Save Our Heritage took on the home in 2004, its back wall and all of its sills were rotted. ‘‘It only had one year left, before the weather was going to take it down,’’ she said. ‘‘It really had very little time left before the back wall collapsed.’’

The home underwent some outside renovations in 1911, but the inside has remained the same.

The first step Save Our Heritage took to restoring the home was to fix all of the sills and the posts in the back wall. ‘‘You can imagine the centuries of wear and tear on a house, which luckily for us, did not undergo major restorations and renovations,’’ said West Winter. ‘‘But time was taking its toll.’’

‘‘It was all done authentically,’’ she said. ‘‘We went through the process that Barrett and his ancestors went through. When we took away the old members, we wanted to replace them with something that was done by hand.’’

‘‘The timber framers did an amazing job of dovetailing and using joints to get these posts back, but without removing all the historic detail that is so important to be able to see,’’ said Frederic C. Detwiller, Preservation Consultant to Save Our Heritage. The framing was done by Traditional Framers LLC.

Workers have also restored plaster, stripped paint, and restoring missing windows and trim.

There are three original stairwells in the house, which Detwiller said is extremely rare to find in a home this age.

Much of the preservation efforts have been funded by community preservation grants from the town of Concord and a grant from Save America’s Treasures, which is a national trust for historic preservation.

‘‘We have been very very fortunate in that respect, but we have also been able to match all of those efforts, with private donations,’’ said West Winter. ‘‘It is very costly and time consuming to do all of this work by hand.’’

Save Our Heritage paid $2 million to purchase the property. Renovations so far have cost around $1 million. West Winter said the organization still needs to raise around $500,000 more to cover the final touches.

‘‘We have an opportunity now as a TV show, to tie it into our current projects,’’ said Abram. ‘‘We are going to get to show people, they will have more interest and it will help Save Our Heritage receive more funds and visitors to open this place up.’’

‘‘It is an incredible house. It’s not just a structure, it is indeed a home and it tells so many stories,’’ she said. ‘‘With each layer of paint, there is a new dimension and a new window into the past.’’

‘‘What made a family decide to go up against the strongest army in the world to protect this new found freedom, that they had grown to love?’’ asked West Winter. “This is what built this country and that is why this landmark is such an essential piece of that history, for people to experience and learn from.”

The Barrett Farm episode of this Old House will premier during the show’s upcoming season, which begins on Oct. 6. Check your local listings for more information on the episodes premier or go here. For more information on Barrett's Farm, go here.

Derek McLean can be reached at

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