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A 'Heritage Village' in Woodbury?

Since Woodbury has been fast developing, there is not much left from the old timers who settled here in the early 1900s.

The Miller Barn, for example, is one of a handful of standing barns representative of how they were built back then. It remains a sturdy structure.

Located in the Valley Creek open space, the Miller Barn was built around 1910, but was bought by the city of Woodbury in 1999 as part of the Open Space Acquisition Program passed by a $5 million referendum in 1998.

The fate of the Miller Barn now lies in the hands of available funding sources that may help make it an educational opportunity as well as a museum-type place where history can be preserved.

The Woodbury Heritage Society is in talks with Woodbury city officials to figure out plans for a "Heritage Village" that would include the Miller Barn as well as the Community Club, formerly known as the Afton Road Baptist Church, located near City Hall.

"We're hoping to be able to use one of these as a vehicle for us for presenting some of the historical artifacts that we have," said John Seeman, president of the Heritage Society.

The city bought the Community Club in 2010 also as a part of the Open Space Acquisition Program, utilizing funds from a second $6 million referendum passed in 2005.

"The primary purpose of the Open Space Acquisition Program is to preserve significant areas of open space in the community for the development of parks, trails and to preserve natural areas," said Bob Klatt, parks and recreation director.

He added that many of the open space purchases in the city had structures on them that were mostly removed, but in the case of the Miller Barn, Community Club and some other houses, further discussion is needed to determine how to reuse and possibly renovate them.

The original Community Club dissolved when the church bought the building, but the history behind it is what makes the Heritage Society interested in making it part of the village, said Wayne Schilling, vice president of the Heritage Society.

The building was built in 1933 by a women's only group that got together to help soldiers in WWI by making blankets and other items.

"Men were not part of the club until 1948. And as far as we know, we don't know of another organization that was all women that had their own building, so it's very unique in that way," Schilling said.

Supporters of the plan say the club and the barn would make for good locations where demonstrations of how people in the 1900s went about everyday life, whether it would be focused on farming or general history.

An old tractor still around somewhere, old ovens, actual farming tools and the process of preserving food in the old days are just a few examples of what the Heritage Society hopes to the have in the village.

Seeman said the current Heritage House invites a group of third graders every year to see what it has to offer, from a full country kitchen to the small tools.

"They just love to see what it was like in Woodbury before it became a bustling city," he said. "It's really a big hit with the kids and we would like to be able to expand on this and do something bigger."

Klatt said it's possible to get some grants from state and private sources but it's unknown at this point what's available or how much it would take until there are more firm plans for the project.

"Development of a Heritage Village is a major one-time cost, but the operation and maintenance is an even greater ongoing cost that needs to be factored in before a project of this magnitude is considered," he said. "The ongoing operation and maintenance cost is a bigger hurdle to the development of a Heritage Village than the one time cost of development."

Schilling, however, remains hopeful and said the Heritage Society operates under the city of Woodbury and the organization understands the economic constraints it's under.

"There are many city officials who appreciate the history that we are trying to preserve," he said. "Without the city's support on either of these sites or both, it's difficult for us to go forward as just the historic society."

Woodbury City Council, Parks and Recreation Commission and the Woodbury Heritage Society, along with some city staff, will be touring various open space houses and buildings, Tuesday to discuss any potential uses to consider.

The tour will stop at the single family house adjacent to Kargel Park, former Afton Road Church/Community Club, Miller Barn, a single family house at the dog park on Dale Road and the historic house that was the location of the Victorian Tea Times restaurant on Bailey Road.

Riham Feshir
Riham Feshir is a reporter and photographer for the Woodbury Bulletin. Her coverage includes Woodbury City Hall, Washington County Board of Commissioners and business news.  Follow Riham on Twitter @RihamFeshir for the latest updates.