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Historic Shelburne barn named to Seven to Save list

The historic Aston-Lessard barn in Shelburne has suffered dilapidation throughout the years, and the current owners hope to save it. It was a music hall where big acts performed during the Big Band era. (Courtesy Photo) (click for larger version)
November 22, 2017
SHELBURNE — The Aston-Lessard barn in Shelburne has a rich history. It was originally part of a luxurious vacation getaway in the late 1800's. Later on it was an inn and then a dance hall for big acts of the Big Band era. Unfortunately, the barn is in rough condition and needs saving. Current owners Carl and Jen Lessard hope to find investors to save it.

The New Hampshire Preservation Alliance selected the historic barn last fall for the 2016 "Seven to Save" list. The West Stewartstown County Barn was also chosen. The two properties are viewed as part of New Hampshire's agricultural landscape.

The Aston-Lessard Barn resides on Route 2 in Shelburne. The county estate was built in 1888 for William Aston, a former Shelburne land owner. It was part of the Wyndym Villa estate. It was originally used for livestock and hay. The property was sold in the 1920's and the main house was used as an inn and restaurant and it burned down in 1960.

The barn became the destination for musical acts in the Big Band period. Locals and travelers from all over came to see popular musical acts such as Louise Prima, Bob Crosby (brother of Bing), Rosemary Clooney (aunt of George Clooney), Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Duke Ellington, Glen Miller, and Harry James.

The barn later became a dance hall and a roller skating spot with a Berlin/Gorham shuttle service. It closed in the 1960s. The Shelburne Inn Dance Hall was also known as the Shelburne Pavilion.

The current owner, Carl Lessard, said that the structural construction changes made to the barn for the purpose of transforming it into the dance hall and skating rink led to the dilapidation of the barn. The frame was originally made out of timber and measures 110 by 40 feet. Interior posts and tie beams were removed to make room on the floor for dancing and skating, but, unfortunately, this caused structural problems. Repairs to the frame, the roof and other parts are estimated to be over $300,000. Truss rods were installed in the 1940s for structural support, but have not stood the test of time. Lessard said he has been working on finding new investors to help save the barn. Last fall, he had stated that the roof could cave in very soon, and a 40 foot section did last winter due to an accumulation of heavy snow. Carl Lessard has since put up some tarps to try to prevent further damage.

The barn has history with the locals and the Lessards hope the barn can once again become a community asset and hold events.

For more information, visit the Aston-Lessard Barn Facebook page. To contact the Lessards, email them at astonlessardbarn@gmail.com or write them and send to Carl Lessard, 991 State Route 2, Shelburne, NH 03581.

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