August 2013

Losing a Landmark

The fate of the most photographed barn in the Adirondacks

ja2013_pp14_webApproaching the intersection of Routes 73 and 9N in Keene it’s hard to resist a peek through the field toward Pitchoff, Cascade and Porter Mountains. Those who have passed by have probably noticed the picturesque red barn that anchors the view of these distant peaks. Unfortunately, this iconic Adirondack landmark faces collapse.

Two years ago in the middle of a clear summer night, my friends and I arrived at the pullout near the red barn. Our goal was to photograph the stars in the sky using the building as a foreground subject. Standing in the dark, finalizing technical details of the shoot, I couldn’t help but think of the hundreds of times I’d stood in this location with my camera: I had admired this scene for many years, at all times of the day and night and in every season. I had endured snow, rain and wind here. I had witnessed the surrounding field filled with flowers and the beautiful foliage that paints the distant peaks in the autumn. I thought of the many people I had met and spoken with while they stopped to capture or just admire this scene. It made me wonder why so many of us are drawn to this place.

Artists will tell you that a strong foreground subject strengthens a composition. In my opinion nothing is stronger than the red barn in Keene. This aging structure, framed by mountains and streams of clouds, helps connect the natural and manmade beauty you can find in the Adirondacks.

According to guidebook author Tony Goodwin, of Keene, the land on which the barn was built can be traced to Wallace Murray, a Keene-born philanthropist who used his prosperity to rebuild farms in the area. In the early 1900s he sold the land to Albert Jakes, who, Goodwin suspects, built the barn around 1920. Then Jakes sold the property to Jud Whitney. The Whitney family ran a snack bar there until the 1960s.

About that time, says Goodwin, the land was sold to New York State as part of a deal that allowed the state to widen and improve the intersection of Routes 9N and 73. In an informal deal between New York State and local farmers, the land could be hayed to maintain the pastoral landscape.

It is unknown if the barn was used to store hay, farming equipment or both. Keene historian Janet Hall believes that the barn was only functional for a few years, but the farmers may have continued to hay the field into the early 1980s. Goodwin says the quality of hay there began to decline and the collaboration was abandoned. The land—part of the Forest Preserve and under the jurisdiction of the Department of Environmental Conservation—has since been left to natural succession and the barn, deserted.

Today the barn is listing, the floor is buckling and the side walls and roof are crumbling—complete collapse is imminent. On trips to the Adirondacks I hold my breath as I pass the barn in hope that it is still standing. I wonder how many others do the same?

See Nick Palmieri’s Facebook page, Save the Keene Red Barn. It’s a forum for those who have ideas about how to restore the structure as well as a place to post photographs of it. Palmieri lives in Linden, New Jersey, and Wilmington.

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