ESSEX — The Essex Shipbuilding Museum is in some hot water with the town after it constructed a shed on its waterfront property without securing the necessary permits.

The shed is meant to house the timbers from the historic Cogswell Grant farm barn that once stood on 11 John Wise Ave. The town purchased the plot of land in 2019 as the site for its new public safety building and planned to have the barn removed. But the Essex Shipbuilding Museum successfully raised $50,000 to strip it down piece by piece and preserve it.

Currently, museum leadership do not know what they are going to do with the barn pieces. In January 2020, Museum Director Ted Watkinson said he hoped to reconstruct the barn somewhere on the museum’s property at 66 Main St. and use it to replace the shipbuilding shop and Waterline Center conference room.

“It is the museum’s intent that the legacy of this historic structure not to come to an end,” reads post on the Essex Shipbuilding Museum Facebook page, “and that — once the timbers are evaluated and repaired — the barn be re-erected and preserved here at the museum’s shipyard, where it can be used for much needed boatbuilding, educational programming, or interpretive space, and where the public can access and appreciate the craftsmanship and history of the structure for generations to come.”

For the time being, the museum decided to preserve the historic timbers in a custom-made, 50- by 20-foot temporary shed near by the harbor. It is unclear when its construction began. On Feb. 17, the museum shared pictures on Facebook of workers putting pieces of barn timber inside the completed shed.  

The town was reportedly blindsided by the shed project. Town Administrator Brendhan Zubricki said the museum needed to receive a permit from the Conservation Commission and sign-offs from the Sewer and Fire Departments before work began.  

“They never came before us for approval,” said Planning Board Chairman Westley Burnham. “We never approved the site.” 

On March 10, the museum received a stop-work order from town Building Inspector  Bill Sanborn. Sanborn could not be reached for comment on this story.

“His letter says that they either need to get all of the necessary sign-offs and permits and meet all building code and town bylaw requirements by May 31 or it needs to be removed by June 30,” Zubricki said. “I don’t know whether they can or can’t meet those standards.”

David Brown, vice president of the museum’s board, could not be reached in time to comment on this story.  

Michael Cronin may be contacted at 978-675-2708, or


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