Built in 1901, the East Monitor Barn in Richmond is one of the largest barns in the state. The years have not been kind to this former dairy barn, visible to many people who drive by its Route 2 location on the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps campus. Over time, the barn has been pushed forward by the adjacent hillside, putting the building at risk.
Eliot Lothrop of Huntington-based Building Heritage is passionate about saving old structures. He's the lead restorationist of a multiyear project to rehab the barn — something he's dreamed about for 22 years. He has a special connection to the majestic structure: From 2001 to 2003, he lived in the East Monitor Barn's milk house, a building that was formerly attached to the barn, while helping to restore the nearby West Monitor Barn.
The current project is a major undertaking. In order to stabilize the foundation, the barn — all 500,000 pounds of it — was jacked up on cribbing towers and steel I beams. The structure is currently levitating roughly eight inches in the air.
Seven Days senior multimedia producer Eva Sollberger visited the barn on July 8 to tour the work in progress. About 10 members of the Timber Framers Guild were on-site for the week, shaping beams. Eventually the restored space will house the administrative offices of VYCC, which will increase the housing capacity in the West Monitor Barn for young adults learning about conservation and sustainable agriculture.
There was minimal flooding at VYCC during the catastrophic rains of July 10 and 11. The barn restoration continues, and the timber framework is almost complete. In September, the structure will be lowered onto a restored foundation.
Sollberger spoke with Seven Days about filming the episode.
Why did you pick this story?
I met Lothrop through a mutual friend in 2019, and we made a video about two barns in Richmond, one being lovingly restored and one falling to ruin. Vermonters have a special affinity for the barns in our state, which connect us to our agricultural roots. Lothrop's passion for restoration is inspiring, and I was excited to get a look inside the massive East Monitor Barn.
Sounds like the floods derailed this video?
We met up on July 8, a hot Saturday that was threatening rain. I planned to air the video the following week, but the floods of July 10 and 11 changed my plans. I crowdsourced footage from around the state and made a video about the heartbreaking devastation across Vermont's small towns that week.
The only other time I've bumped a story like this was after Tropical Storm Irene. It is strange to edit a video that was filmed over a month ago. But this restoration project will be ongoing for years, so it will continue to be relevant. My next video will focus on the flood recovery efforts, which have been amazing.
This barn is so striking.
Many people are familiar with the East and West Monitor Barns, which were built for brothers in the early 1900s and are visible from both Route 2 and Interstate 89 in Richmond. I am ashamed to admit that I never noticed the barns until I talked to Lothrop about this story. But now I always turn to see them when driving past. They really do anchor the hillside and bookend one another.
What is your connection to barns?
My family lived in an old farmhouse in rural upstate New York when I was growing up. Across the road was a barn that we renovated into a living space. I have such vivid memories of the damp smell of the hayloft, the fieldstone patio with fossils embedded in it and the rough feel of the barn board. We spent hours playing in this ancient space, and I hope it's still standing. My current house dates back to the 1890s, and it's true what they say: They just don't build them like this anymore. It can be costly to restore old structures, but preserving their history is worth it.
It's wild seeing this giant barn floating in the air.
Yes, it is truly astounding. I saw photos on Facebook before I got to see the barn in person. But the images don't totally convey the size and mass of the structure. Even after Lothrop explained it to me about 10 times, I still don't quite understand how they are doing it. The amount of planning and expertise that went into this project is staggering. People can follow the barn's progress on the VYCC and Building Heritage social media pages. Lothrop does a great job of taking photos and drone footage to document the progress. I will definitely be watching over the years to see this barn come back to life.