A few weeks ago, Matt and I took a drive up and over to Waterford, Vermont. It’s in Caledonia County, and sits right on the border with New Hampshire. Waterford is a town I had never before visited. We were there to look at an old barn for sale.
We had been called because the foundation under a large gunstock timber frame is crumbling, and the property owners would like to see this barn saved and re-homed before it deteriorates further. This barn was worth the long drive from our home base. The posts and timbers are beautiful, and even the braces are hand hewn. We will be carefully disassembling this beautiful and worthy barn in the coming months, after which we will restore the timber frame. Stay tuned for more information as we get this structure measured, drawn to scale, and listed as an available frame on our webpage.
Exploring this Historic Barn
What we found when we walked around the back side of this structure stopped me in my tracks and struck my imagination. It was an immediate and poignant reminder of the days when this barn was used to store food from the land, and to house and feed the animals that sustained the New Englander’s lifestyle. There, next to the barn, was a decrepit old silo, with vines growing up the side. It looked like the turret of some old agricultural castle, and I pushed my way through wild grapes and wild cucumber vines to find the opening. The roof had collapsed and I could see vegetation reclaiming the interior. The old stone foundation was mossy and I could imagine the excitement of the farm crew many years ago as they laid these rocks in a neat circle to define the storage space for their crops- no doubt in between the daily chores of feeding the animals, tending the fields along the Connecticut River and milking the cows. Unlike most of the old wooden silos that have vertical boards held together with steel rings, this one had vertical studs with thin boards bent to match the radius inside and outside. A sumac tree had sprouted, and its upper branches were capturing the afternoon sunlight as I peered in. A single four pane window was in the top of the silo wall, and in the early days this would have let that same sunlight into the interior to illuminate for the farmer how much of the summer’s bounty remained as the winter months progressed. I am so glad we will be catching the large barn before it, too, is reclaimed by vines and trees.
Surprises Behind the Gunstock Barn
There was another surprise behind the large gunstock barn that we had come to see. As we looked out into the woods, we saw another abandoned structure literally cradled by the limbs of trees. I asked about the little barn, and was granted permission to explore it. The owners had not been in it for a very long time, and suspected it was nothing that would be of interest or that could be salvaged. I went in for a closer look.
Each gable rake of the little barn had a tree that had pushed right through the metal roofing. Undoubtedly, this barn must sway with the poplar, maple, and birch trees when the wind blows.
Climbing through the door, I was blown away by the interior. Like the silo, the uses of this structure were immediately apparent.
- First, it had been built as a corn crib. The slatted siding on the back gable wall gave me this clue. It had a beautiful stair case up to the loft and the stairs were designed with a half radius at the top and hand made hardware that allowed the stairs to be folded upward and out of the way.
- Second, someone had rigged a wood stove on the second floor and a little side table and chair indicated it had been home for someone-perhaps summer help on the farm.
- Third, this had been used as a machine shop in the 1800s and the first half of the 1900s. It is absolutely filled with gadgets, tools, hardware and belt-driven devices.
The incredible durability of old-growth timbers was apparent as I inspected the hand-hewn timber frame. In spite of the trees pressing in, the frame is worthy of restoration, and we agreed to purchase this 14×18 foot frame. Once restored and erected on a new foundation, it will make a remarkable cabin with sleeping quarters on the second floor. We will be listing this corn crib on our webpage soon.
Like many high quality corn cribs from the late 1700s and early 1800s, this barn has braces that go up from the posts to the girts, and also braces that go down from posts to the sills. I cannot wait to spend a day inside this barn with our dedicated team doing our best to decipher and document the creative web of belt-driven machines and jigs. We will then begin popping out the hardwood pegs, disassembling the timber frame joinery, and labeling all of the wooden joints. In time, this frame too will have a new home and a continued evolution of usefulness. The constant variable throughout these progressions will be the stout integrity of the structure and its aesthetic beauty.
Our day in Waterford was a good one, spent meeting new people who care deeply about saving the buildings of our New England farming heritage, learning about the farming practices of long ago, and acquiring two more vintage timber frames that are worthy of restoration.