One Man’s History, Another Man’s Treasure
By JOE TOPPE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
It was 1897, the same year Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” was published and a gold rush lured scores of prospectors to the Klondike.
Here in Otsego County, Rick Brockway’s great-great grandfather Jesse was driving the final nails into his West Laurens’ dairy barn.
Now, more than 50 years since the family used the barn for farming, only the structure’s frame is worth saving.
“It’s been used as a family storage unit since 1970, but that is no longer economical,” Brockway said in an interview.
“I wanted to refurbish the barn to its original look, but it was too expensive,” he said. “It was a difficult choice, but I talked with my kids and brother in New Mexico before making the decision.”
According to Brockway, it would have cost $100,000 to restore the barn to working condition, “so we tried to sell it, but couldn’t give it away, until we posted it on Facebook in hopes of finding someone interested in salvaging it.”
Originally, the barn cost less than $800 to complete, and required a master carpenter and 13 assistants with room and board to build.
The barn had three floors and an “overshot bridge” leading onto the third floors from the hill behind, making it easy to unload hay wagons. Hay dropped onto the second floor to feed 32 Jersey cows (later replaced by Holsteins) on the ground floor.
“My great-great grandfather decided to build the barn in 1896 when President McKinley was elected,” Brockway continued. “He was sure the election meant good times were coming.”
Originally from Connecticut, Brockway’s family moved to Township, near Stamford, and in 1802 to Oneonta.
The family house was in the vicinity of downtown Oneonta’s Westcott lot. Later, the family moved the farm to East Street, and in 1870 swapped that land for the plot in West Laurens, today’s farm.
Dan Shurmer, owner of Shurmer Construction in Oneonta and native of England, saw the Brockway barn on Facebook, and responded first.
A deal was reached: Brockway agreed to give the barn to the contractor in exchange for removing it from his property.
“There is a romance about having older things,” Shurmer said. “It is also a challenge. Building new is easy and boring.”
Shurmer moved to Otsego County in 2019 from Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of William Shakespeare in England’s West Midlands.
“Before moving here, my wife and I were on vacation in the U.S. and flew into Boston,” he said.
“We rented a car and went for a drive. On our way to Niagara Falls, we looked over the Mohawk Valley and it reminded us of the English countryside. We took the next turn and found Cooperstown.”
Shurmer plans to reconstruct the Brockway barn on his personal residence in Hartwick.
“I think my property will benefit from the barn’s addition,” he said. “It would be sad to see it go.”