Old Shed Falls Down – March 24, 2010

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Kevin L. Hoover

Eye Editor

Q STREET – For decades, maybe a hundred years, the sturdy, nondescript building stood straddling Janes Creek, for most of its life playing a role in the Arcata Bottom’s booming dairy industry.

Designed as a “storm shed,” the building protected cattle from the weather until they could be herded into the adjacent barn for milking.

In what would today be an unthinkable decision, it was built over Janes Creek so the cows’ manure would be washed away into the bay.

This 1947 aerial photo by Merle Shuster show the storm shed – the long building next to the big barn – in its prime, standing strong as a working farm building. Photo courtesy HSU Library Humboldt County Collection

After Gil’s Creamline Dairy closed in the 1970s, the storm shed fell into disuse. Late last year, the combination of lack of maintenance, storms, earthquakes and plain old age took its toll, and the noble old farm building collapsed.

The shed and its sister structures are now part of the Cypress Grove Chevre cheese-making complex. Operations Manager David Estes said he first noticed something amiss following heavy rainstorms last November. Looking out his office window, he saw that the shed’s roof had collapsed.

“It looked like a saddle on a horse,” he said.

The weakened building’s final blow came in January, when that month’s earthquake reduced it to a pile of old lumber.

Estes said that Cypress Grove owner Mary Keehn would have preferred to restore the shed, but costs are prohibitive. “In Mary’s perfect world, she would have the money to rebuild it in place,” he said.

Unlike the shed, Estes said, the two neighboring barn buildings had considerable documentation as to their history. The shed’s origins aren’t clear. Keehn has had the barns re-roofed.

The Design Review Commission pondered the shed’s fate in February and March. As a nonconforming structure in environmentally sensitive habitat, the shed “posed a unique situation,” according to Senior Planner Mike Mullen.

The DRC approved a demolition permit for the shed, but even that will require considerable expense – $23,000, according to Estes.

A builder with reclamation experience inspected the shed, and determined that no good structural elements remain intact enough for salvaging. Some smaller lumber can be pulled out though – pieces suitable for creating siding and picture frames.

As girls, Marla Daniels and Rayelle Niederbrach lived and played on the dairy farm in the 1950s.

“We played in the barn,” Rayelle remembers. “I remember milking cows by hand. That was a job.”

Eventually, milking machines were installed, relieveing the family of the arduous labor.

The family farm put out a wholesome, additive-free product. “It was good milk,” Rayelle said. “Nothing in it.”

No date has been set for the shed’s demolition.

Marla isn’t particularly sentimental about the old building, or sad for its demise. “It was just a shed,” she said.

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