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Oswego Neighbors Fighting to Save 'Historic' Barn

May 03, 2016 07:16PM ● By Shannon Antinori

This three-story barn was built in 1904 by local contractor and builder Fred Kohlhammer.

A group of residents is raising concerns about the impact an Oswego Public Library land purchase could have on the fate of a 112-year-old barn they say is tied to local history.

In February, the library district purchased a nearly three-acre parcel of property at 19 North St., located across the Waubonsie Creek from the downtown Oswego library branch. The property contains a three-story barn built in 1904 by local contractor and builder Fred Kohlhammer, as well as a small rental cottage built in the 1950s.

The barn, located at North Street and Route 25, served as the Kohlhammer family’s temporary home as construction progressed on their new home next door.

According to Library Director Sarah Skilton, the property was subdivided in 2000, with the larger house on one parcel and the barn and rental cottage on another. Today, the main house is owned by Oswego couple Pat and Cecelia McCarthy, who said they fear the barn could be torn down to make way for eventual development by the library district.

“It is a very unique barn,” Cecelia McCarthy said. “It’s more like a coach house,” she added. The structure has glass windows on all three floors, which is rare for urban barns, according to McCarthy.

“I would hate to see it destroyed,” added McCarthy, who said she and her husband have offered to purchase the section of property containing the barn in order to preserve it.

After speaking up at a library board meeting in February, McCarthy said she and her husband were invited to meet with library officials. At the time, officials told the couple they plan to eventually tear down both the barn and the cottage, McCarthy said.

Skilton said that right now, the district has no plans to tear down the barn or cottage – in fact, she said the library has no plans at all for the property, despite talk of the need for additional library parking.

Skilton said the library board purchased the property “as an investment for future library development.” It could take a while for those plans to develop, according to Skilton. At a March 23 library board meeting, board secretary Terry Tamblyn said the district has no plans for a parking lot or anything that could cause additional traffic on North Street.

In addition to her concern for the barn, McCarthy said there’s another reason she’d like to purchase the land.

“Our water and gas are on the property,” she said. “We’ve asked (the library) several times to sell us the barn,” she said. “It’s on a little sliver of property.”

Skilton did not comment on McCarthy’s offers to purchase the property, except to say that any potential land deals would require the library board’s approval.

Future plans for the site

Skilton said barn and cottage property owner Russell Breitwiser approached the library district about purchasing the land containing the barn and cottage in 2014. The property, which was sold to the library for $175,000, was also offered to the Village of Oswego and the Oswegoland Park District.

The library board issued a statement in March stating the district’s aim is to preserve the view of the Waubonsie Creek and the property surrounding the barn.

“Of all the neighbors to the property, the library district has the most vested interest in maintaining and preserving the view from the thousands of square feet of windows that overlook the creek and the property,” library members said in a joint statement. “We were concerned for the property, which is zoned residential, and would prefer that it not be developed in something inconsistent with the area.”

The site may be needed for future development as the library outgrows its current location downtown.

“We have maximized the use of our present site with our latest addition, but some future board may need the property to provide additional services to our patrons,” the board said. “ … If the time comes when the library board starts to think about the use of this property we will absolutely involve our patrons and neighbors in the planning process as we have done in the past.”

Historic significance

A March 23 comment by Tamblyn that the board found “no record of any historical significance” for the barn or cottage raised the ire of Roger Matile, director of the Little White School Museum, which is dedicated to Oswegoland history.

In fact, the property is one of six urban barns rated as significant in a 2009 Village of Oswego historic structure survey.

“I think the village should be a little embarrassed about that,” Matile said, adding that Oswego Historic Preservation Commission included the structure in a 2012 "Property of the Season" newsletter article on urban barns. According to the article, the Kohlhammer barn is one of just a handful of local urban barns eligible for landmark status.

Matile said he would like to see the McCarthys purchase and restore the barn.

“The library wouldn’t be losing anything by that,” he said.

“I think (the library’s) efforts are laudable to save the property from development,” Matile said, adding that the barn sits on just a small portion of the property now owned by the library.

“It’s just sad because I want to work with the library and save this piece of history and preserve it,” McCarthy said. “I would hate for this barn to be torn down and 10 years later it’s still a vacant piece of property.”