Nonprofit profile: Group saved historic Henry Miller Red Barn from demolition
Volunteers will host June 17 barbecue to raise funds to help restore barn
Published in the June 7 – June 20, 2017 issue of Morgan Hill Life
By Carly Gelsinger
Many Morgan Hill residents participating in the Gilroy Garlic Festival every summer have no doubt seen the old farm building at Christmas Hill Park but paid it little attention. That dilapidated rust-colored structure holds a lot of history — and serves as a reminder of the South Valley’s farming and ranching heritage. Despite all odds, the 126-year-old “Red Barn” is well on its way to being restored to the iconic community center supporters know it can be.
The solid, rough-cut redwood barn was built by ranching pioneer Henry Miller, “the Cattle King of California,” in the 19th century. Known to locals as “Miller Red Barn,” the structure faced demolition from the city of Gilroy in 2014 until a group of community members fought for its preservation. After two years of petition, the Red Barn earned its place on the National Historic Register. It’s now a federally protected structure, much to the joy of those who worked to save it. But the Red Barn Association isn’t resting on its laurels. There is still much work to be done, said Patti Perino, Red Barn Association board member.
“There’s a number of structural issues we need to tackle before we can restore it to its legacy,” she said.
What legacy Perino and the other five Red Barn Association board members envision is a multi-purpose public space celebrating the South Valley region’s agricultural history. Students from the Gilroy and Morgan Hill unified school districts will be especially welcomed to learn about the county’s farming history in a style similar to the Emma Prusch Farm Park in San Jose.
On a recent sweltering weekday, Red Barn Association Board Member Maureen Hunter surveyed the beloved barn she’s dedicated the past three years to saving.
“Barns are disappearing,” Hunter said as she walked around the barn’s 5,000-square-feet footprint on the ranch side of Christmas Hill Park. “They were part of our culture and the California landscape. Everyone grew up with barns around them, and now most of them are gone.”
The Red Barn, once restored, will honor the many immigrant groups that have made the South Valley what it is today, Hunter said.
“Each wave of immigrants, from the Spanish to the ’49ers to the Mexicans, have brought their culture with them, as well as their agriculture, being that this is the most fertile area. The Portuguese brought dairies, the Italians brought their vineyards, the Japanese brought garlic,” Hunter said.
The barn is boarded up and fenced off until it can be repaired. The corrugated tin roof is peeling back and rodents scurried around the structure as Hunter spoke.
Longtime local roofer Jimmy Shrull plans to replace the roof at only the cost of materials, Hunter said.
“We’ve had so much support from the community, it really is incredible,” she said.
The work has been carried by 100 percent volunteer efforts from the community without any taxpayer money from local government, she said.
“We don’t even take money for gas,” Hunter said, laughing.
Because of the barn’s location in the city-owned Christmas Hill Park, the infrastructure for future events such as parking and lighting already exists.
“It’s a perfect location for what we envision,” Hunter said. The Red Barn Association has dreams of planting a community garden outside the barn, working with local schools and the Future Farmers of America with various events and projects, and being a venue for endless uses for the community such as fairs, concerts, cultural events and beyond.
The barn was originally built from redwood lumber logged from what is now Mt. Madonna County Park in 1891 for Miller’s cattle storage. The site was on the route he would use take the cattle to the San Francisco slaughterhouse. The barn became a stopover on their trek. Later, the barn was used for processing the fruit and nuts that grew in the orchard on the property.
“It has a rich history that deserves to be honored,” Perino said.
The board is in need of members and is open to South Valley residents from Gilroy, San Martin and Morgan Hill to consider joining. Hunter specifically encourages college students or graduates looking for internships in event planning, nonprofit work or marketing to get involved.
From 4 to 9 p.m. Saturday, June 17, Red Barn volunteers will throw an old-fashioned barbecue, in the spirit of the annual barbecues Henry Miller threw at the barn a century ago. All South Valley residents interested in the region’s farming heritage are welcome. Proceeds will go to structural improvements. The night will feature square dancing, appetizers and dinner. Auction prizes include a trip to Maui, rare vintage posters of the Gilroy Garlic Festival and limited edition oil paintings of the Red Barn. Tickets are $50.
“It’s going to be a great night,” Perino said.
Information on all things Red Barn, including the upcoming fundraiser, can be found on their new website www.themillerredbarn.org.