We have had a very special project for Green Mountain Timber Frames in the works for over a year. Despite some delays in light of the current coronavirus outbreak, we are moving forward with raising the barn that will become our very own craftsman workshop!
The Reuben Waite Barn
Last year, we became aware of a barn that needed saving. It was in very rough condition on the outside when we first visited it. The family that owned it had done what they could to keep it standing and shedding water, but it had no foundation to speak of, and it was beyond the possibility of being repaired in place.
As rough as it appeared, we were blown away by the beauty and craftsmanship when we stepped inside!
After I purchased the barn, my family and I began digging into the history of the barn and it’s people.
With the help of kind folks at the Galway Preservation Society as well as the resources and help from the wonderful Brookside Museum in Ballston Spa, we learned that the barn was most likely built by Reuben Waite. He and his son, whose name was also Reuben, began farming the land in the 1780s or 1790s. They are listed in early census data as being farmers, coopers, and basket makers. We found and visited the resting place of the family less than a mile from the farm and barn.
One great gift was the opportunity to meet much of the family who had been the caretakers of the barn since the early 1900s. We were able to hear stories about growing up playing and working in the barn from the lovely 104-year-old matriarch of the family!
Reuben Waite did beautiful work-worthy of a cooper-which is the art of making wooden buckets! Even the braces on this frame are hand hewn.
The timber frame has an ingenious groove in the gable and eve beams, which received the beautifully chamfered siding boards. This method both ensured that water would be shed away from the building, and also reduced the number of nails needed to install the siding. This is significant because nails were hard to get or make in the 1700s.
A low percentage of the original boards were salvageable, but the ones that did survive the centuries are remarkable!
Last fall, the Green Mountain Timber Frames crew, with additional help from my family, dismantled the barn and brought it back to Middletown Springs. First we cleaned it out and created a safe working deck at loft height.
Then we removed the metal roof, the older cedar shingle roof, and the wide roof boards. Next was removing the wooden pegs that held the joinery in place for so very long. A few of the pegs gave us stubborn resistance after living so tightly in place for at least 220 years! But we eventually got them all out, and saved the pegs that survived the ordeal.
Restoration of the Reuben Waite Barn
Throughout this spring and summer, we have been working on the restoration of the timber frame. We washed the beams and the wide boards.
Water had leaked through the roof at some point, and we had to make careful repairs to the 42-foot top plates. We made a canoe out of one section of the beam, and then glued in a new hardwood core to make it sound once more.
Once repairs were made, we assembled first the 42-foot plate walls, and then the 30-foot bents on sawhorses. This allowed us to check the joinery and peg holes.
Now the frame is ready to be erected, and we could not be more excited!
Building a Stone Foundation
We want the Reuben Waite barn to fit into our life aesthetic and appreciation of hand-crafted, people-powered, and communal crafting. We also wanted to avoid making more of a longterm impact on the land than necessary, and to express our gratitude to the land for all of its gifts. In light of this, we decided to collect rocks right from our shop property and to put the barn back on a stone foundation. So, this spring we went to work collecting rocks! By the way, they are plentiful in our fields and gardens! (Rocks are one of Vermont’s best crops, a fact to which local farmers can attest.)
Ethan Bodin is a remarkable member of our restoration crew. He is also a talented stone mason, and is part of Vermont Landscaping and Stonework. He and Jeb went to work laying out the stones to create the new foundation.
They created a set of steps, as well as two traditional ramp entrances to what will be the large eve door openings. It turned out beautifully!
How Will the Reuben Waite Barn be Used?
After decades of restoring vintage barns for clients, we are now restoring this one to keep as our permanent craftsman workshop! Once closed in, the barn will serve as a space for traditional hand-tool woodworking. There will be a long L shaped workbench that incorporates a low interior beam original to the barn. There will be a loft library for our large collection of books about traditional timber framing and woodworking. The barn will house our collection of vintage tools, and we can’t wait to see family, friends, and community members using the space to explore some of the old and wise ways.
And music. Of course there will be lots of music played in this space!
I am convinced that it is the history of this barn, starting with the old-growth trees from which it was crafted, and continuing through all the generations of people that have lived and worked inside it, that will lend grace and beauty to the space. I am so grateful and excited to see this dream coming to fruition, and I look forward to sharing photos from the barn raising very soon.