Marvelwood's Red Barn
A Storied Past
After passing the Marvelwood sign and just past the garden and Case Farmhouse sits the red barn. It is a welcoming icon on campus. With its sturdy and home-like structure indicating that it was more than a traditional agricultural barn, there has been a lot of speculation and theories about its history. For many years, it served the school as a storehouse of sorts -- largely as a processing plant for campus recycling and as a storage facility for athletic equipment.
After shoring up the roof last year, we reached out to local organizations for help in identifying whether the barn was old enough to be of historical significance. Over the past year, Marvelwood has become associated with several local historical groups, including the Kent Historical Society and an organization called Connecticut House Histories, in an effort to identify the origins of the red barn.
Following several visits to the site, experts have concluded that the “barn” is, in fact, the original circa 1806 residence of the Goodsell family, who constructed not only the dwelling itself but a complete homestead comprised of the original house, a smokehouse, a general store and barn, an ice house, a well house, and a forge -- and later (around 1850) the adjacent large white farmhouse, their fancy Victorian replacement dwelling.
The fact that the gateway to Marvelwood is an intact 19th-century farm where one family across three generations struggled and succeeded and lived and died would seem to set it apart. Certainly, the possibilities for future study and student engagement abound. In an email to Head of School Blythe Everett P'14, '16, one of the historical experts imagined half a dozen topics right off the bat, including how to date a building by careful observation of the tiniest details. “The Goodsell barn complex is a thing of wonder; more of an agricultural cathedral, really,” he wrote with obvious enthusiasm. “How was it used? How did it evolve? In what order? And why? What explains the eccentric support structure in the ‘west barn’? It's highly probable that there are important below-ground resources on the site which a student-led archaeological survey, assisted by the Office of the State Archaeologist, might document. An examination of women's legal status in the early 19th century could be in order; they couldn't really own property, yet they were accorded very specific rights under the law upon the death of their husbands. Cornelia [Goodsell] had a whole roster of dower rights, including which buildings she was entitled to use and, of course, which bedroom was hers.” Needless to say, Marvelwood is pursuing the process of having the entire homestead listed on the Connecticut State Historic Register. Certainly, the Goodsell farm is a unique resource that has so much more to give, including the ability to further foster intellectual curiosity and critical thinking among Marvelwood's students and faculty.
We’re very excited to learn more about the Goodsell family and to help to preserve the history that is right at our doorstep. The project presents an array of ongoing opportunities for our student to become involved. This fall, Sydney ‘24 has been working with Science Department Chair Laurie Doss on an independent study project to tell the history of the property using historical maps and photos for the Connecticut StoryMap Competition, which Marvelwood students have participated in several times.
We look forward to sharing information and updates as they becomes available.