County gives aid to restore Miller Red Barn

Fresh off receiving the largest grant in its five-year history, a volunteer group is one step closer to realizing its mission of transforming a historic Gilroy barn into an educational resource.

The Miller Red Barn Association was awarded $297,008 by the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors in August on the recommendation of the Historical Heritage Commission, and is currently in talks with a local contractor to complete the restoration work.

The redwood barn, located on the north side of Christmas Hill Park in Gilroy, was built in 1891 by Henry Miller, the “Cattle King of California” at the turn of the 20th century and namesake of Miller Avenue. The cattle baron built the barn to store hay for his cattle and horses. It was later used for processing stone fruit grown on Miller’s property.

The barn is listed on the California Register of Historical Resources as well as the National Register of Historic Places.

According to Miller Red Barn Association President Richard Perino, the Historical Heritage Grant Program funds will be used to upgrade the mudsill with a concrete foundation, as well as other structural work and siding repairs. The foundation work will require the barn to be lifted in sections.

“We’re anxious to get going on this project,” said Gary Walton, vice president of the association. “The community has been very supportive.”

The work must be completed within the three-year duration of the grant, he said.

In 2019, the county had $590,000 to distribute in historic preservation grant funding to eligible applications. The Miller Red Barn’s application was one of three approved projects from throughout the county, receiving the largest chunk of grant funds.

Historical Heritage Grants are funded from the Park Charter Fund, which is administered by the Parks and Recreation Department.

Perino said commission members were impressed with the association’s plans for the barn, which include developing interpretive signage geared toward the ethnic groups that participated in the region’s agriculture.

“They really couldn’t believe what we are going to do with it,” he said. “They were so excited.”

The non-profit Miller Red Barn Association, founded in 2014, has so far raised about $100,000 through special events and private donations that goes toward preservation of the barn.

The association grew from a group of concerned Gilroyans who petitioned the city for a one-year reprieve to stop the demolition of the barn if they could come up with a plan to save it. Although the barn is located on city property, Gilroy is spending no money on the barn’s renovation and depends on the Miller Red Barn Association to raise the funds. The city has helped in these efforts by not charging fees for necessary permits, according to Perino.

In 2017, the first of four phases of restoration work was completed. That work included replacing the barn’s roof and cleaning the interior of toxic bird and bat droppings.

Walton said the grant award showcases the hard work and dedication of the association, whose board typically consists of six to eight people.

“This is a monumental achievement for such a small group of people,” he said.

He added that the barn, while it may not be architecturally unique, is significant in other ways, mainly because it was built by working people who contributed profoundly to the valley’s history.

“There were men that built this with their hands,” Walton said. “Out of respect for them, it needs to be saved.”

For information on the Miller Red Barn, visit themillerredbarn.org.

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