Henry Miller’s big red barn has never looked this good, or been this sturdy, since it was built in 1891.
The old mudsill foundation was replaced with concrete throughout. More rafters have been constructed to brace the structure. In addition, the rotted siding has been replaced with fresh lumber, and the formerly leaky roof was completely renovated.
The “Cattle King of California” probably never imagined his barn, which stored hay for cattle and later was used to process stone fruit, would have ADA-accessible doors, or that a small group of people would raise more than $1 million to preserve it.
But 130 years later, that’s exactly what happened.
On June 8, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors approved the Miller Red Barn Association’s request for a $333,635 Historical Heritage Grant to go toward preservation work for the barn as well as developing historical exhibits.
This is on top of the nearly $600,000 the association received from two county grants in 2019 and 2020, as well as the $80,000 raised through special events and private donations since the group was formed in 2014.
Miller Red Barn Association Vice President Gary Walton said he is reminded of a quote from Margaret Mead when looking back on the barn’s recent history: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world.”
The city-owned barn located on the Ranch Site of Christmas Hill Park, used most recently as a storage space for the Gilroy Garlic Festival, was slated for demolition in 2013.
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.
“It was a small group of committed people who made it happen,” Walton said.
Walton added that many people have been involved in the project, such as Mark Garrison with MG Constructors and Engineers, who provided a structural analysis plan pro bono, and Reid Lerner, who developed architectural drawings for the project, also pro bono. Structural engineer Stuart Scott also provided his services.
Carpentry work inside the barn is expected to wrap up within the next few weeks, Association President Richard Perino said, and then the focus will turn to adding electricity and constructing a concrete patio outside for ADA access.
Research on the story boards, which will be located inside the barn and tell the agricultural history of Gilroy, is planned to conclude in December and move into the design phase, according to Perino.
Once construction is complete, the group will turn its attention toward ways to make the 5,000-square-foot barn an asset for the city.
“Finishing the barn is not the end game,” Walton said.
In May, a dilapidated house and trailer that stood vacant for decades next to the barn were demolished, and the association is now looking at ways to incorporate that area for future events.
The group is also seeking an event planner for the space so it could be used as a wedding venue or other special gatherings.
The Miller Red Barn Association is in need of volunteers who are passionate about history to help develop exhibits and other programs for the future. Stories, as well as high resolution photos, of local farming ancestors are also sought.