Old Amherst barn with link to poet Robert Frost may be torn down

Last modified: Monday, September 24, 2012

AMHERST - The owner of a century-old barn at 290 Lincoln Ave., next to a home Robert Frost visited periodically during his time in Amherst, will be permitted to tear it down.

The Historical Commission voted unanimously not to exercise its use of the demolition delay bylaw, which could have required property owner You-Pan Tzeng of Longmeadow to wait a year before removing the structure. Members found the barn is not a historically significant building. Still, they chastised Tzeng for seeking to destroy it.

"The commission admonished the applicant for filing for a demolition permit to remove an accessory structure that was in good condition, since these types of structures are becoming rarer and rarer in Amherst and its demolition alters the streetscape of an historic neighborhood," said commission chairman Michael Hanke.

The home and barn were built in the early 1900s by Warren Brown, an Amherst businessman who also wrote a book titled "Attractive Amherst." Brown was a friend to Frost, but there was no indication the barn was used as an artist's studio until claims were made by a real estate agent in recent years.

"There was considerable discussion about the provenance of the barn, and it could not be established that Robert Frost composed poetry there," Hanke said.

Associate Planner Nathaniel Malloy said the barn also didn't meet other conditions of significance, such as for its style or its association with the Brown family. Some argued that its significance could be derived from having a female architect, though that, too, was dismissed, Malloy said.

Tzeng told the commission that he believes the 28-by-48-foot, 1½-story barn poses a liability for his tenants.

But Hanke said the barn is considered to be in excellent shape, and not in jeopardy of collapse.

For residents who live near the property, like Jennifer Taub of 259 Lincoln Ave., the commission's decision seems rushed.

"To see the barn come down at 290 Lincoln, an especially charming, historic and unique part of the neighborhood, is truly heartbreaking," Taub said.

She said in the short time she has lived in the neighborhood, less than a year, at least one house per month has transitioned from single-family residence to student rental, many of which exceed the town's limit of four unrelated roommates.

This year alone, limited liability companies run by Tzeng have purchased additional properties at 321 and 328 Lincoln Ave., as well as 42 Shumway St., 300 West St. and 695 to 697 Main St.

Laura Lovett, of 35 McClure St., said whether or not Frost used the barn, it has become a narrative for the site. It is evident, she said, that Frost's friendship with Brown brought small-town stories and a New England tradition that framed much of Frost's poetry.

"I think that had the town given the community a little more time to weigh in on this demolition, there would be a number of people who would not want to see this important piece of town history torn down," Lovett said.

Malloy urged neighbors to petition for a local historic district in the area as a means of protecting the streetscape from future changes. As things stand, he said, a subdivision could be filed and another home built, or the current residence could be expanded, or the site could be used for parking.

The town only has one local historic district, along Main Street, established at spring Town Meeting. North Amherst residents are seeking to create one in that village center.

Even without such a district, Malloy said, piece-by-piece demolitions could raise more questions for the commission considering tear-down requests.

Meanwhile, if the barn comes down, trees on the property could be affected.

Hope Crolius, chairwoman of the Shade Tree Committee, said eight trees in the public way are associated with the property.


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