History harvest: Northampton barn project unearths trove of artifacts

  • George Kohout cleans and catalogs an old sleigh in the Shepherd Barn, which is being renovated at Historic Northampton. At top, Sharon Mehrman looks over a water bucket and pulley, another of the items the group is cataloging as part of the renovation. STAFF PHOTOS/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Sharon Mehrman looks at a water bucket and pulley which is one of the items the group is cataloging as part of the renovation of the Shepherd Barn at Historic Northampton. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • A water bucket and pulley which is one of the items the being cataloged as part of the renovation of the Shepherd Barn at Historic Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • George Kohout cleans and catalogs an old sleigh in the Shepherd Barn which is being renovated at Historic Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • A shoe shine station built on marble which is one of the items the group is cataloging as part of the renovation of the Shepherd Barn at Historic Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Sharon Mehrman looks at a water bucket and pulley which is one of the items the group is cataloging as part of the renovation of the Shepherd Barn at Historic Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Sharon Mehrman looks at a shoeshine station built on marble, one of the items the group is cataloging as part of the renovation of the Shephard Barn at Historic Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • The restoration project for the Shepherd Barn at Historic Northampton is starting with cataloging all that the barn contains. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 9/12/2020 1:15:19 PM

NORTHAMPTON — A sleigh, a shoeshine station and a 12-foot-tall weather vane stand out among the hundreds of items in the Shepherd Barn at Historic Northampton that are being organized and cataloged.

The cataloging is an early phase of a larger effort to restore the barn, which it estimated to have been built in the early 1800s, said Laurie Sanders, co-director of Historic Northampton. It will be turned into a multipurpose space, including areas for exhibits and a classroom.

Sharon Mehrman, a historian and woodworker who makes handmade furniture, is leading an effort to sort through the items, catalog them, and create shelving, crates, and other units to use to safely store them.

Since June, she and a group of volunteers have cataloged more than 600 artifacts and have about two dozen more to go. Objects are being entered into a database to make them easier to access. “There are very few objects in the barn that are from the era of digitization,” she remarked.

The project will hopefully wrap up later this month, she said.

The furniture, farm tools and other items date back to the 19th and 20th centuries, Mehrman said. “There’s a fairly significant amount of agricultural tools and artifacts. I think that right now is a moment in time when we are seeing with other museums — not this museum — a lack of interest in collecting or preserving 19th-century agricultural artifacts, and Historic Northampton is committed to doing that. I think that it’s an important piece of history, especially in a place like the Pioneer Valley, which is still very agriculturally based, that we preserve that aspect of our history.”

In one area of the barn, there was a cabinet next to rakes, hoes and lawn equipment. “It looked like any old kind of cabinet,” Sanders recalled. “It turns out it was the original weights and measures cabinet for the city of Northampton. So that you could go and verify, I told you I’m selling you a pound of flour — am I giving away too much flour or am I [cheating] you?”

The city had donated the cabinet, which dates back to the mid-1800s, Sanders said: “Every single weight and measurement tool was in there.”

There’s also a large collection of signs in the barn. Their sizes vary, with some as large as 15 feet long, and Mehrman made a custom rack and shelving to store them. Signs include an old neon WHMP sign, a metal sign advertising Oleomargarine, and the most recent addition to the collection, the sign from Don Mueller Gallery, according to Sanders.

Sanders hopes the barn restoration project, which received funding from the Community Preservation Act, will be done by next year. “Our hope is 2021,” she said. “That would be our plan.”

She’s looking forward to opening in the future. “The stories the barn can tell in and of itself about the construction, about the materials, about the uses over time, about the lives of the people that used that space, and then the artifacts we choose to highlight, will tell a lot history of the town and the region and beyond,” she said.

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettnet.com.




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