Saving the Farmington Barn

LATEST: The “open house” to view the barn, scheduled for Sunday 2/11, has been cancelled due to a heavy snowstorm. It will be rescheduled, and we’ll post a notification when that date is set.

This is the saga of the social media blitz that’s saving the “Farmington barn.”

It started on January 26, when we got a call from Kate Knight at the Farmington Downtown Development Authority.

If you’ve lived in Farmington for a while, you’ll probably recall the former Ginger’s tea house, formerly Mrs. Lovell’s tea cozy, at 32905 Grand River. Look down the driveway, and you’ll see a large lavender-colored barn.

Recently, the property with the house and the barn was sold by Ginger Weichers (of Ginger’s tea house fame) to a developer who purchased both that lot and the former Grand Cafe building next door. Their plan is to turn the Grand Cafe into a sushi bar and eventually a Japanese steakhouse, and to turn the old Ginger’s property into a private parking lot for the restaurant.

Tearing down heritage buildings for parking? That’s not something historic preservationists like to see.

But there’s a positive side to this story: When Kate called on that January afternoon, it was to let us know that the new property owner was offering the barn free of charge to anyone who wanted to move it.

The catch? It has to be out of there by early March. And it’s up to the lucky barn recipient to foot the bill for the move.

Could we help spread the word? Kate asked. Absolutely! That afternoon, we took some photos, then posted them on our Facebook page with a memo outlining the terms. (Click over to the link, and you can see photos of the inside of the barn: the high ceiling, the loft, the feed chutes, the three stalls for horses, each stall with its own little window.)

OLD MICHIGAN BARN NEEDS A NEW HOME // PLEASE SHARE, we wrote. We hoped that would help.

Share they did, and the post went viral. We started getting messages and emails from the media, too. Farmington’s story of the “barn for free” got picked up by Patch, Farmington Press, Oakland Press, Farmington Voice, Fox 2 News, WWJ, ClickonDetroit/Channel 4, WXYZ/Channel 7, Curbed Detroit, and Detroit Free Press.

If you read through the links above, you’ll find some fascinating history on the property. For example: Did you know that someone died there? Or that it may have been used as a stagecoach stop?

As of today (2/10, two weeks later), the post that launched the barn to its 15 minutes of fame has been shared more than 800 times and viewed by nearly 120,000 times people.

And the messages came flooding in from prospective barn-movers, too. We had inquiries from as far as New York and Canada and as close as Brookdale Street, just a couple of blocks away from where the barn currently sits. We’ve had folks who want to refurbish it as a cute little house, and folks with a historic farm who’d love to use it as a home for their horses.

The feedback has been amazing. And it’s so encouraging to see how many people truly care about saving a bit of our heritage and giving it new life and a new use.

How does one move a 30-foot-tall barn? The property owners have lined up a contractor and a team of professionals to move the barn, and part of the agreement will be that the barn recipient will use those movers.

Due to the interest, the broker for the property decided to hold an “open house” on Sunday 2/11 so that anyone who was seriously interested in moving the barn and wanted to see it in person could do so.

That didn’t pan out: Farmington got hit with a snowstorm, and the open house got cancelled. It will be rescheduled, though, and the date will be posted on our Facebook page.

If you’re interested in following this story, you might want to take a moment and like our page so you get updates.

Important note: We at Preservation Farmington are *not* the ones making the decision about who will ultimately end up taking home this piece of Farmington history. That’s up to the property owners; we’re just helping spread the word.

That’s the story of the Farmington barn, in a nutshell. The barn will be moved (fingers crossed) in early March. The house is available to move too, if there’s interest, but it’s a lot easier to transport/find space for a barn than a house, so that’s where we’re focusing our efforts. And, as the chairperson of the Farmington Historical Commission has remarked, the barn is more significant and more intact, whereas the house has been “upgraded” numerous times and lost a lot of its historic value in the process.

When it comes to the day of the move, we’ll post photos and probably some live video as well. We’ll post photos of the barn at its new home, too.

And while our focus right now has been on saving the barn itself, we haven’t forgotten how important it is to address not only the issue at hand, but the root of the issue itself: things like the zoning that translates into tearing down buildings for additional parking, just to meet city code. For those of us who are frustrated with demolitions or disenchanted with the kind of development going up in and around our downtown, we need to remember that it’s not so much the businesse owners (like the folks demolishing Ginger’s for the soon-to-be sushi bar parking lot) or even the developers who we should be pointing fingers at. It’s the policy-makers who set the rules, or bend the rules and grant variances (whichever the case may be), and enable this kind of behavior in the first place.

Public pressure for policy change, coupled with saving what we can when the occasion arises, is how we can all make a difference in the city we love. As the story of the old Ginger’s tea house and the heritage barn continues to play out, we’ll continue the campaign to make sure that Farmington’s heritage—our older and historic buildings that make the city a one-of-a-kind place to live—are honored, respected, and cherished as they deserve.


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