Brooks Farm Complex


The Massachusetts Agricultural College stock facilities were originally called the College Barn and located at a farm complex that stood in the south central area of the core campus, in the vicinity of the current location of Curry Hicks Gymnasium and the Whitmore administration building.

In 1890, an outbreak of tuberculosis in the college cattle herd prompted the college to build a new stock facility just to the south and west of the small ravine of Tan Brook, where it runs west after leaving the campus pond (the main dairy barn was located where the current Campus Recreation Center parking lot now lies, near Grinnell Arena.) Prior to being destroyed by fire, the original College Barn on the ridge had already been abandoned due to fears of tuberculosis contamination in the soil and building. The original south barn was used for storage until it was destroyed by fire in 1894, the first of three major barn fires at MAC between 1894 and 1908.

Barn Complex 1 (1894)

Barn Complex 1

In 1893, the legislature of the Commonwealth appropriated funds for the construction of the new stock facility. Construction commenced later in 1893 and was completed in 1894 during the administration of Henry Hill Goodell. In the Jan. 1894 annual report: “Much care has been taken in planning them, and it is believed sanitary requirements will be much more fully met than in our old buildings. The new buildings when completed will afford storage for about 300 tons of hay, 325 tons of silage, several car-loads of grain, 144 tons of roots, and a large supply of absorbents and bedding for the stables. They will accommodate 100 head of cattle, 14 horses, 75 sheep and 80 hogs. They will provide convenient storage for vehicles and implements and contain a commodious tool-room and a repair shop. In connection with them, in one wing, we have accommodations for a dairy school, as well as for handling our large amount of milk. This wing is to contain a boiler-room, with coal and tool closets ; a room for ice, which will contain over 300 tons; a room for the operation of heavy machinery (separators, butter-accumulators, etc.); a room for churns, butter-workers, etc.; a room for Cooley creamers, a large lecture-room and a laboratory for the examination of milk and its products. I sincerely hope it may be found possible to equip the barn with electric power and lights, and I believe that in its large and substantial boiler and engine rooms should be generated electricity to supply all of our college buildings.” A very detailed as built description of the main buildings and wings can be found in the Jan. 1895 annual report.

The barns constructed under the original 1893 contract were made of wood and designed in the Queen Anne style. This agricultural complex (here called Barn Complex 1) consisted of a new horse barn, a very large storage barn, and classroom, laboratory and machine room, and also the large attached stable for cattle and a matching barn that housed sheep, bulls, and pigs. The facility was dedicated by President Goodell at the annual Alumni Dinner in 1894, which was held on the main floor of the new storage barn. At the time, the facility was hailed as a significant advancement in agricultural architecture, and “the most complete and convenient, in many ways, of any in the country.”[1]

The Farm Superintendent's house (1869) from the original MAC farm complex was moved to the site beside the Tan Brook ravine, just up the hill and east of the stock facility, where it continued to serve as the home and office of the Farm Superintendent. Now known as Blaisdell House, the building is now home for the Institute of Environment, formerly known as the Institute for Man and Environment. Blaisdell House and the adjacent Queen Anne-style horse barn are the oldest and most significant extant structures representing the agricultural history of UMass Amherst, and the barn was considered a major advancement in agricultural architecture.

On Nov. 16, 1905, a fire completely destroyed the storage barn, animal stables, and classroom/dairy/machinery building, though the horse barn and Superintendent's house were not effected. The Jan. 1906 annual report describes the fire.

Barn Complex 2 (1906)

The granite foundations of the first barn complex were not substantially damaged by the November 1905 fire, allowing for the reconstruction of the storage and dairy barn complex in 1906, along with a new large stables for cattle, and a dairy processing building. Special effort was made during the construction of the new complex to provide a fire wall between the storage barn and the cow stable complex, and a unit masonry semi-freestanding silage building was also constructed at the time using terracotta block and stucco exterior and interior surface treatment. The storage barn was also used for the adjacent storage of silage and hay and was therefore a fire risk. This planning paid dividends when the new storage barn burned in a fire on August 15, 1908, destroying only the large, wooden storage barn. The Cow Stable and Dairy Complex survived. A detailed description and plans of the building are included in the Jan. 1908 annual report.

Barn Complex 3 (1909)

In 1909, one year after the second fire, a significantly smaller storage barn was constructed to replace its ill-fated predecessor. This new building design adopted the fire-proof terracotta unit masonry and stucco construction used in the existing silage structure and cow stables. The combination of the reduction in size, fire-proof construction technique, and the decentralization of hay and silage storage appears to have been successful, breaking the string of storage barn fires. A description of the storage barn, smaller than its predecessors, and additional barn structures is contained in the Jan. 1909 annual report.

In 1911, the Grinnell Stock Judging Arena was added, followed by an abattoir slaughter house wing in 1929. The Milkers' Bungalow or Farm Bungalow was added in 1913, replacing (and adding significant space) to a small room for two farm students that was lost in the second barn fire.

The Brooks Barn Complex remained the center of livestock husbandry through the remaining years of Massachusetts Agricultural College, through the Massachusetts State College years (1931-1947), and into the University of Massachusetts era until 1960, when the University shifted away from its agricultural focus toward a broader academic profile. The university administration made the decision to relocate the agricultural facilities from central campus to property acquired along the Connecticut River in East Deerfield, Mass. With the construction of Commonwealth Avenue along the west side of campus, the first of the Brooks Complex buildings were removed, followed by more when the Mullins Center was built, and still more when the Recreation Center was erected in 2010. Only the Blaisdell House remains. The 1894 Horse Barn was moved to Wysocki Field in 2018 as part of the Agricultural Learning Center.

Young Stock Barn

With the last barn fire of 1908, the college decided to move more of the animal barns away from the highly incendiary storage barn. A young stock barn was built in 1909 for the bulls and additional cows about 200 feet west of the original storage barn (now the Mullins Center). Additional sheds were added to this area throughout the years. A silo was added in 1914. It was a gambrel-roof building with several ells on the south side. From the Jan. 1909 annual report: “About 200 feet to the west is a complete barn for young stock and bulls. It consists of a rectangular storage barn with stables in one-story wings on the south. The storage is 87 by 3Y feet; it has a gambrel roof, a truss frame, and no interior posts. The stables furnish stanchions for 18 head of cattle and 5 good-sized box stalls, also 4 box stalls with separate yards for bulls. The building is of wood, with slate roof and shingle siding. The cost of maintenance should be low.”

The original barn was later replaced with another gambrel-roofed barn rotated 90 degrees from the original. This barn and sheds held animals until its demolition around 1990 to make way for the Mullins Center.

Sheep Shed and Piggery

Besides the sheep barn that was part of the 1894 barn that was destroyed by fire in 1905, another sheep barn was built in the western pasture (near the soccer fields today) in 1912. A piggery was added near the sheep shed in 1914.

Machinery Barn

A machinery barn was added just west of the cow barn/stable and east of the young stock barn around 1910. It was built on the foundation of the old sheep barn that was part of the Barn Complex 1 that burned in 1905. It was eventually demolished to make way for Commonwealth Avenue.


The farm complex was named for William Penn Brooks, the professor of agriculture during the construction of the first barn.


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b/brooks_farm_complex.txt · Last modified: 2024/07/09 15:29 by awakefield
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