The Barn that Almost Wasn’t

In my last blog, I wrote about the Ira, Vermont 1770s timber frame barn that I am currently working to restore. Here is the tale about how this barn did not burn down 85 years ago.

Ira Vermont old barn_ timber frame barn homes

A twice-saved barn

What follows is a true story, recounted to me by the gentleman whose family owned the Ira barn for generations. The picture below shows his grandmother, Lila, as a young girl, in about 1906. When the fire took place, she would have been about 35. 

Grandmother_Former Owner of Old Barn in New England that survived Historic Fire

About 85 years ago, his grandfather, Grant, was working in the barn during a torrential spring thunderstorm. A bolt of lightning struck the metal manure track and ignited the  southeast upper corner of the addition’s loft and then traveled along the wall.

In the picture below, you can see where the lighting hit the side of the timber frame structure.

Lightning strike on historic old barn

Loft – floor removed

Farmer Grant sprinted 100 yards to the house, cranked the wall phone twice and called for help. In those days, a double crank would connect with every household in town, and important information could be spread. The message went out, “Our barn’s on fire – bring buckets!”

Crank Phone_19th Century Barn Fire

Crank Phone from around 1930

There were no ponds or hydrants nearby. But miraculously, it was still raining hard and the town road next to the barn was full of potholes. The neighborhood fire crew formed a line, scooped water from the potholes and passed the buckets to others who had scrambled into the smoking barn loft.

One bucketful at a time, the town of Ira pulled together to save this barn from burning down. Notice the charred timbers. Imagine the smoke! (There must not have been any hay in the loft.)

Opposite end of old barn where fire stopped

Opposite side of old barn where fire was stopped

We are very fortunate that the community helped to save this old barn in the pouring rain. Without the rain, the potholes would not have been full, and the barn certainly would have been lost.

Fire damage on historic barn

Loft – floor still in place

       After the fire, Farmer Grant decided that lighting rods might be a good idea,!

Lighting Rod on Timber Frame Barn

Original lightening rods with glass balls

Meanwhile, restoration is under way here in Vermont on this beautiful timber frame!

Despite the visible charring on the timbers, the old barn frame itself is not structurally damaged. We are going to sand blast the big timber and reuse it; the sand blasting will take off the char. It seems important to include these timbers in the restored frame, as this story is part of its history.

Want to come see the barn in person or visit some of the other timber frames we have here at our shop in Middletown Springs? Please let us know!


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