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Sunday, November 27, 2016

Hollis nonprofit hopes to restore historic town cooper shop


Coopering - the making and repairing of casks and barrels - has a rich history in Hollis.

Many of the town's farmers had a woodshop that was often used during winters, after their crops were sold, as another source of revenue. ...

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Coopering - the making and repairing of casks and barrels - has a rich history in Hollis.

Many of the town's farmers had a woodshop that was often used during winters, after their crops were sold, as another source of revenue.

Recognizing the important role that cooper shops have played in Hollis' history and economy, members of the town's Heritage Commission are planning to rebuild an original cooper shop that was dismantled about a decade ago.

"Back in the day, there were over 100 cooper shops in town," said David Sullivan, the group's chairman. "It was an industry in itself in Hollis."

The cooper shop to be restored, which Sullivan believes was originally built in the 1840s, was previously owned by farmer Noah Dow. It stood at the corner of Broad Street and Van Dyke Road.

Over time, the shop's condition deteriorated. New owners who purchased the property in 2005 didn't want it, and planned to demolish it. Sullivan stepped forward, and with the help of others, took down the cooper shop, which he gave to the commission.

The foundation, beams and other parts of the structure are in storage. The commission is aiming to raise $18,000 for the restoration project; it has more than $10,000 in the bank.

"The mission of this commission is to maintain the history of the town and to educate people about that history," commission member Karla Vogel said. "So, there's an educational component to this. Part of that education is to foster some of these older properties that tell the story of the original settlers."

The cooper shop will be restored to its original size, 18 feet by 24 feet, on town-owned land at the Woodmont West Orchards property. It will become a part of a walking history complex - an ice house and gambrel barn have been reproduced on the property by the commission.

"The great joy of doing this work is that if you go to that particular spot, there are always people there, walking around the buildings, taking photographs," former commission member Doris Roach said. "It's such a joy to drive by and see young families or people walking their dogs."

According to another commission member, Honi Glover, who has written about coopering in town, shops on farms were generally equipped for the work of a blacksmith, wheelwright, furniture maker, cabinet maker, woodworker and cooper.

Craftsmen often made their own equipment and goods to sell, trade or use themselves. Money earned by selling barrels and other products brought farmers money to survive on through winters and to buy seeds and supplies in the spring, Glover said.

In addition to barrels and casks, coopers made pails, buckets and tubs. There were a variety of trees in town for makers to use. Barrels were produced in different sizes and shapes, and they were used to store and ship a variety of items, including grain, gunpowder, apples, potatoes and whiskey, Glover said.

"That was how a lot of the early farmers spent their winters making money," Vogel said. "When they couldn't be in the fields, they were making these casts and barrels. It was an alternative income for the early settlers. So, part of the mission of the Heritage Commission is to simply keep alive (this) history."

Commission members displayed a miniature replica of the cooper shop during Old Home Days to raise awareness of the project, and have been raising money through the sale of its own calendars.

"The goal is to use as much of the original material as possible, but it's obviously going to take some reinforcement," Vogel said of the old shop.

Sullivan said he hopes the structure's foundation will be laid down next year, a move that could generate more public interest in the project.

Supporters of the project hope the restored cooper house will house tools, receive visits by students on field trips and host coopering demonstrations for the public.

"Seeing older buildings restored is important to the older people in the town and the young people who really need to be made aware of the things that we have," Roach said. "I think it's important to all the citizens of Hollis."