The building at John Jay Homestead that has served as a place to house horses, a shed for automobiles and a maintenance facility has undergone a major face-lift in preparation for its next role: education and visitor center.
Construction on the exterior of the Carriage Barn finished on schedule last week. Educational components will be installed between now and May 18, 2013—the day the center opens. The 1801 structure, which is centrally located on the 62-acre historic grounds, will give visitors a "bit of context," according to Heather Iannucci, historic site manager.
"We're looking at it as almost a reopening of the property," she said.
About 50,000 people spend time in the museum or on the property each year. In the past, there was no shelter for visitors who arrived early for a tour. They were forced to wait outside, or in their vehicles. The center, which will be open seven days a week, will eliminate that issue.
The benefits go beyond convenience. For tour guides and Homestead supporters, the Carriage Barn will provide a chance to expand the program outside of the museum, to focus on agriculture and John Jay's time as a farmer.
"It will definitely be a totally different experience [for people who have already visited]," said Wendy Ross, executive director for Friends of John Jay Homestead. "They'll be surprised with how many stories there are."
On the outside, the Carriage Barn's new look is nearly complete. It's gone from empty and somewhat rundown to rustic and cozy, thanks in part to a couple coats of deep, forest green paint.
Eventually, visitors will walk down a clear path, through a formal garden, and arrive in front of two glass doors. They will serve as the main entrance.
There, surrounded by warm yellow and deep charcoal walls, folks will have a chance to get to know John Jay a bit better, by examining maps and photos, and taking advantage of multimedia presentations via touch screen computers kiosks. Staff members plan to seek volunteers, too, to act as "ambassadors" for the site.
"People come to us with an unfortunate lack of knowledge about John Jay," Iannucci said of the Founding Father who held a variety of roles: president of the Continental Congress, U.S. Secretary for Foreign Affairs and New York State governor, to name a few.
The contract for the construction portion of the $1.4 million project was awarded in late January, coming after years of research, planning and fundraising between the Friends and New York State.
The Friends' fund-raising efforts for educational components of the project are ongoing.