What's in your barn?: 'My folly to fool around with'
Editor's note: Berkshire County is filled with barns, filled with treasures. In the series "What's in your barn?" we'll be asking county residents that exact question. We hope to find not only interesting items, but stories about our neighbors, their homes and the things they treasure.
STOCKBRIDGE — What's in Terry and Jane Shea's barn? The simple answer: History.
The more complicated one involves a flow chart of ancestry, tracing the Stockbridge barn — and the property it sits on, along with the house — through more than 150 years of single-family ownership. One family can collect a lot of things over the course of 13 decades.
"This barn was just filled with junk," said Terry Shea, who bought the 1822 barn and its adjacent house, built in 1824, in 1980 with his wife as a second home for the family when they wanted to get away from Manhattan. "You couldn't walk much past the door."
Today, the barn is close to immaculate, with its assortment of antique tools, farming equipment, baskets and general old household items displayed with an eye for detail and appreciation for history. The wooden walls are covered with displays of tools or antique signs, resting on nail heads perfectly spaced apart in floor to ceiling designs.
"It was my folly to fool around with it," Shea says with a smile as he opens the large wooden door, ushering this reporter into his two-story barn, turned historical showcase. To the immediate right, an impressive display of antique augers — the hand drills that dug holes into wooden beams for post and beam construction before power tools could more easily do the job. The tools rest of nails in the wall, creating a complex wagon wheel design.
"Jane and I have kids in Rochester, N.Y., and when we'd go visit them we'd stop at antique barns, shops," he said. "We started buying any augers we could find that were less than $8. It became like an addiction."
When asked how many of them he had on the wall, he replied "no idea."
That theme carried on throughout the tour of the barn, which at one point in its history was called "The Brown Barn," and was a store run by members of the Field family, who owned the property before Shea. There's an assortment of odds and ends — the front of a coal-burning stove removed from the house, a sewing machine and an antique bike rack sit among the odd pots and pans, lamps and collection of metal stencils.
There are tops to antique fence posts and a fretting saw, powered by feet.
"It's just bizarre, what we found in here," Shea says, walking through the L-shaped barn and peaking into the stall area, where the family keeps lawn chairs stacked against the three stalls where horses once stood. "There was no collection of anything, rather they just didn't throw anything out."
And really, it appears the Field family didn't. The house and barn were built by David Dudley Field and his wife, Submit Dickinson Field, and it's where they raised their 10 children, many of whom went on to become famous names in American history. Sons David Dudley Field, Jr. (1805-1894) was a U.S. Congressman and Stephen Johnson Field (1816-1899) was an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. The house, and its contents, were passed down through generations until the Sheas bought it from Field's great, great granddaughter, paying a little extra, according to Terry, a retired investment banker, to purchase it as it was, lock, stock and barrel, or should we say, barrels of things.
"There were nine trunks, alone, filled in the attic," he said. "It took us years to go through it all."
But Shea, who is active with the Stockbridge Library, Museum and Archives, seemed to treat it a bit like a treasure hunt, with the four-bedroom house and the barn both filled with original items. Along with his poster board-size chart, detailing the Field family's famous lineage and how it lines up with the history of the house, Shea has a binder filled with paperwork, old Brown Barn receipts and photographs.
"Here, have a card," he says, handing this reporter an original business card for The Brown Barn, "Treasures for Connoisseurs."
After spending an hour with Shea, it's clear this treasure went to the right connoisseur.
Shea points to a chimney on the side of the house and the small windows that abut either side of the chimney, as if the bricks sprouted up through the window, dividing it in two. That chimney isn't original to the house, he says, there was once another window there. Of course, he still has the original window — a large arched Palladian window that was put in the barn.
"We found it in the wall, just like this," he says of the beautiful window, plainly lending light to the dark barn in what appears to be a random corner.
So what will you not find in this barn? A car.
"We seldom park the car in here," Shea said. "We mostly come out here to work on projects."
But in the middle of the barn is one addition from the Sheas, a nod to the kind of family space they hope to create out here as their four grandchildren grow — a large table with two benches they had made special for the space in the hopes of hosting more family events in the barn.
But if you're worried it doesn't have a trace of history from the house ...
"We made it from the large Norway spruce outside the barn we had to cut down," Shea said. "It didn't feel right to just get rid of the wood."
Lindsey Hollenbaugh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and at 413-496-6211.
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