By JEFF MEYERS
---- — PERU — They say it takes a village to raise a child, but it also took an entire community to save a historic structure in the Town of Peru.
Volunteers from just about every corner of this close-knit town have offered a helping hand wherever they could in a mammoth project to save and restore the Goshen General Store.
The building had been located near the intersection of River and Barney Downs roads but now sits on property owned by the Babbie Rural and Farm Learning Museum.
Goshen was one of the earliest settlements in Peru. Town Historians Ron and Carol Allen helped to place a historic marker at the location recently. A dam, bridge and two sawmills were also constructed at Goshen, though only some bridge abutments and stones from the foundations remain.
MOVED IN PARTS
The Goshen General Store building, which was used as a storage barn for the last several decades by Burrell Orchards and, more recently, Forrence Orchards, was transported in pieces last spring and is now being restored by museum founder Leeward Babbie and other volunteers.
“We’ve been working with Seth Forrence (who owned the barn) for some time,” said Roger Bonner, a member of the museum’s Board of Directors.
The Forrence family — like many area farmers — has saved historic artifacts that are of significance to the museum’s collection, Bonner noted.
“He was going through the old barn, and at some point, he decided that he was going to have to tear it down,” Bonner continued. “That’s when he went to Leeward to see if he (Leeward) had any interest in moving the barn.”
Babbie visited the structure and was interested in its potential. He approached the Board of Directors about the possibility, but board members felt it was too much for the museum to handle at the time, Bonner said.
But then Lincoln Sunderland, a local history buff and member of the museum board, suggested that the museum could not turn its back on such a significant piece of Peru’s history.
“It’s the only building I know of, the only business building from Goshen that still exists,” Sunderland said.
“The other thing of interest is that this is a very unusual structure. It’s not like the simple log house of that time period; it’s a complex structure, a big structure.”
Museum officials originally thought they might be able to move the structure across frozen fields during the winter months to the museum, which is also located on River Road.
“Once we were able to inspect the building more closely, we could see that this wasn’t an option because of the building’s deteriorated state,” Bonner said.
“We also thought about completely dismantling the building and reconstructing it at the museum, but that would be too time-consuming and expensive.”
The final option was to separate the top and bottom sections of the structure and haul it to the museum on flatbeds along River Road, an option officials chose in early 2012.
“A lot of people contributed time and money on this project,” Bonner said, noting that representatives from J. Hogan Refrigeration, Remillard Wood Harvesting, Luck Brothers Construction and Chip Blair Trucks and Trailers were some of the sources of support.
Now that the building is on museum property, Babbie and his helpers are replacing rotten sections of the original structure with lumber that was harvested from the area specifically for this project.
“Once we’re able to restore the building and put it back together, we would like to set it up as a display area depicting what it was like as an old country store,” Bonner said.
There is no clear idea of how long the reconstruction will take nor when the new exhibit may be ready for the public, he added.
Goshen General Store was built in 1801 along the edge of present-day River Road. A flood washed away the dam years later, and the store was actually moved for the first time up Barney Downs Road, where it stood until earlier this year.
“It was originally owned by Quaker settlers,” said Sunderland, who has authored or helped compile collections on the history of Peru.
“They had a tendency to build buildings that would last.”
Email Jeff Meyers: firstname.lastname@example.org