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Sanford Friends continue to preserve history

Tuesday, May 20, 2014 - Updated: 10:20 AM


TOWN OF AMSTERDAM -- On a small parcel of land fronting Route 30 sit several deteriorating barn structures that appear almost out of place with the retail plazas surrounding them, yet they tell a story about Amsterdam that is fading into history.

The buildings are what is left of a legacy started accidentally by carpet manufacturer Stephen Sanford in the 1870s and turned into one of the largest thoroughbred breeding facilities in the nation -- Sanford Stud Farm.

Today, only a few of the original structures remain and the Friends of Sanford Farm hope to preserve history by restoring three of the original barns.

"Stephen Sanford was considered the father of Amsterdam and he helped build up the city from 2,000 people to more than 12,000," Sam Hildebrandt, a member of the not-for-profit Friends, said. "He was instrumental in the promotion of horse racing in New York state as well as along the East Coast."

Restoration of Hurricana Farm has been a 10-year project that has involved stabilizing sections of the barns to keep them from collapsing, restoring some of the interior structure, and other improvements.

The latest restoration projects began last week in the smallest of the barns, using $50,000 in grants received this year.

"The whole thing was leaning so we are reinforcing it with plywood on the inside to give it some rigidity," Hildebrandt said, adding that the improvements also include replacing some of the windows at a total cost of $16,000.

The remainder of the funds will be used in the broodmare barn to install utility lines for water, sewer and gas for the eventual use of a bathroom and kitchen facility.

The purpose, Hildebrandt said, is to create a visitors center as well as a functional venue that can be rented out for different occasions.

When walking through the barn, once gets the sense of traveling back 100 years -- from the cathedral ceilings and high windows down to the woodwork in the stalls. The downstairs holds the eight or so stalls that were used for the mares about to foal and a small veterinary office; the tack room which was used for the saddles and equipment; the kitchen and adjoining rooms that housed the cooks; and the oat room, which contains the original oat grinder.

Upstairs, the building begins to show its age. Originally used as a dormitory for the 40 or so employees and jockeys, the floors have begun to sag from water damage and need to be replaced. Hildebrandt said next year's project is to replace the roof.

The third structure on the parcel is the jumping horse barn, which is smaller than what it once was. According to Hildebrandt, the end of the building extended beyond where the access road to Walgreens and the Price Chopper Plaza now stand.

However, inside, there is no sign of damage and the remaining barn stalls, made from cherry wood, are in excellent condition.

Hildebrandt said the goal is to use this as office space. While the original barn structure would be preserved, Hildebrandt said the idea is to turn the stalls into offices and open a space at the end for a conference room. The walkway in front of the stalls would be a viewing gallery and display artifacts from the barn.

Upgrades would also include insulating the barn and installing a heating system.

"We have to look at this and realize that we have to generate money rather than relying on grant funds and donations so it can support itself," he said.

Hildebrandt said the restorations have cost $250,000 so far, which have been funded through several grants and donations made by the community and members of the Friends of the Sanford Farm, which formed in 2006 to oversee the preservation of the farm.

The remaining farm is also listed on the National Register of Historical Places, a designation awarded in May 2013 and makes the group more eligible for grant funding for future projects.

"This is a long-term project," Hildebrandt said, adding he expects another $250,000 to be invested before the restoration is complete.


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