DeVeaux Woods Carriage Barn previously doomed; now Centerpiece of state Outdoor Recreation proposal

“There may have been a time when preservation was about saving an old building here or there, but those days are gone. Preservation is in the business of saving communities and the values they embody.” – National Trust for Historic Preservation

An emailed response by Western Region director and Assistant Deputy State Parks Commissioner Mark Thomas obtained by the Reporter would seem to indicate that, just like six years ago, the demolition of the DeVeaux Woods Carriage Barn has been put on temporary hold. What action the state agency intends to take in the immediate future to secure the historic building, which had its temporary tarpaulin roof blown off by a March windstorm, exposing the interior to the elements, is unclear.

In addition, both Mr. Thomas, and in recent conversations brought to our attention, Marketing and Public Affairs Manager Angela Berti, appear to be blaming citizens of Niagara Falls for the plight of the Carriage Barn. If State Parks, an Albany arm of the Cuomo administration, decides to eventually raze the storied structure, which was built during the Civil War and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it will be, according to the two State Parks administrators, our fault.

“… 6 years ago State Parks placed a tarp over the structure to buy time for the community to come up with a plan to stabilize the structure and look for an adaptive re-use for the structure,” Mr. Thomas wrote in his email.

“Since no action has come from the community, we are taking another look at the situation,” he adds, ominously.

A former Chautauqua County Executive who was cooling his heels when Eliot Spitzer plucked him from obscurity and installed him in the parks position, Thomas is a relative newcomer to the community he is not-so-subtly criticizing.

The tarp has been dangling off the DeVeaux Woods Carriage Barn for over three months. Hopefully State Parks will repair it so that future generations can enjoy this historic building (photo by Michael Federspiel).

The tarp has been dangling off the DeVeaux Woods Carriage Barn for over three months. Hopefully State Parks will repair it so that future generations can enjoy this historic building (photo by Michael Federspiel).

Several years ago a local group made a push to establish a school of horticulture in the buildings of DeVeaux Woods State Park. One of the first steps in such an undertaking is to form a “Friends of,” group, a necessary prerequisite for local citizens to participate in substantive activities that impact a park’s operation. Such “Friends of” groups exist all over the state, associated with numerous state parks. The request was stonewalled, making Mr. Thomas’ assertion that “no action” has been forthcoming from the local community somewhat disingenuous.

Councilman Ken Tompkins has worked hard to save the Carriage Barn, one of the few remaining historic Niagara Falls buildings still standing, putting the weight of his office behind his advocacy. As we reported last week, his efforts in reaching out to state representatives Senator Ortt and Assemblyman Morinello, as well as Mr. Thomas and the city’s Historic Preservation Commission, characterized by quick and decisive action as soon as the issue was brought to his attention, may have been the deciding factor in this happy, though possibly short-lived, outcome.

Another who warrants no less than the moniker “Hero of the Carriage Barn” is Christopher Puchalski, the man who was the driving force behind the rescue and subsequent enshrinement of the Old Stone Chimney, which now graces the upper Niagara River waterfront. Alerting leadership at the several Buffalo and Niagara Falls preservation organizations of which he is a member undoubtedly resulted in a number of discreet inquiries at the local Prospect Point office of State Parks.

Although Mayor Dyster apparently lectured the city council on the topic on July 10, we’re not sure what effect that had, since neither he nor the other four councilmembers released public statements on the matter. The minutes which may detail Dyster’s speech were not yet posted on the city website at press time.

In contrast to his veiled threats to flatten it, Deputy Commissioner Thomas later states in his email that “The (Carriage Barn) building is also listed as an option for adaptive reuse in the current Outdoor Recreation RFP,” referring to the June 30 document jointly released by USA Niagara, NYPA and State Parks towards the end of “establish(ing) an expanded program of outdoor recreational activities and associated real estate facilities” in Niagara Falls State Park and along the Niagara Gorge.

“Parks is consulting with structural engineers and masons who do that type of restoration work to determine what courses of action are possible,” said Mr. Thomas on Friday. And since the reports of such consultants are FOIAable (obtainable under the Freedom of Information Act) the public should, at some point in the near future, have a clear understanding of what steps need to be taken to restore the Carriage Barn and a good idea of what it might cost State Parks, or a potential developer.

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