Dunlap Barn Restoration, and Discoveries about a Civil War Veteran

This past week, we finished the barn restoration of a structure from around 1850. The old barn stood next to a dirt road in Brandon, Vermont. Thanks to the commitment of the family that now owns the property, the barn, which was in very bad shape, is now restored and re-erected on the same land.

restoration barn home green mountain timber frames

Remembering a Civil War Veteran

In digging into the history of this particular barn, we found that a casualty of one war is tied to the history of the barn that we have just restored. Next to the original barn location, we found the burial site of William Dunlap. The gravestone tells that he was part of the Vermont 12th infantry and that he died July 31st, 1863, at the age of 25.

I would like to pause here and take this opportunity to thank our veterans for their service to this country. In particular, I want to acknowledge and express gratitude to one of our own team, Andy, who served in the army for eight years. So many have served, and the sacrifices are tremendous.

In the next photo, Andy and I were finally able to read the memorial stone for Dunlap. We had stopped earlier on a clear day, and could not decipher the faded engraving. However, something about the rain running down the stone on this particular day allowed us to read the words.

William Dunlap, Vermont 12th regiment green mountain timber frames

It was a surreal moment to be at his grave and to reflect on the life and death of this young man. He joined the 12th regiment that went into camp at Brattleboro on September 25, 1862. The group was mustered into United States service on October 4 and left Vermont on October 7 for Washington DC. It seems likely that William never returned to the hills of Vermont before his death. The Vermont 12th was near Gettysburg for that significant battle and was assigned to protect the corps train. Like so many in the Civil War, William died in a Virginia hospital of a simple disease just days after the Battle of Gettysburg.

William Dunlap 12th vermont regiment civil war veteran green mountain timber frames

It has been poignant to think about William. We reflected at his graveside on the likelihood that William spent his youth playing and working in this barn. While we have not been able to date the construction of the barn exactly, we believe it was built sometime between William’s birth and when he was a 12-year-old child. At the time of his death, the body was sent home to Vermont to be interred on the family farm.

While erecting the frame, we met another young man in his twenties. His grandmother has property nearby and he told us of swinging on the rope that was hanging in the hay loft of the barn. It is amazing to hear these stories—book ends on the story of this barn as it stood on its original foundation.

Now the frame stands again near the grave of William, and we are very grateful and proud of how the restoration turned out. I will take this opportunity to show some photos of the restored structure and the process of putting it back up.

Reerecting the Restored Barn

We erected the four bents first. These wall sections form the width of the building. The raising process took place during some very wet and overcast weather, and we even worked in falling snow on one of the days.

lifting a bent green mountain timber frames

Next, we set the 38 foot top plates onto the bents. In the next photo, Isaac checks the post tenon that is about to receive the top plate. In gunstock frames, the post has 2 perpendicular tenons at the top: one for the girt and one for top plate.

pegging a bent green mountain timber frames

barn raising top plate green mountain timber frames

A Modified Gunstock Timber Frame

The Dunlap barn is a style that is called “modified gunstock.” All gunstock frames had tapered posts that increase in size from post bottom to post top. These frames had this feature in order to provide increased bearing for the support of the upper horizontal timbers.

The posts get their name from the way in which they look like the upside down stock of a rifle. In a modified gunstock, the taper is oriented parallel with the eve of the building. The most important feature of gunstock frames is that the girt (beam going the width of the building) and the top plate (long beam going along the eve of the building) are at the same elevation. This makes an incredibly strong junction of timbers.

antique gunstock timber frame green mountain timber frames

The Dunlap barn has beautiful labels on the timbers and braces. These markings, sometimes referred to as “marriage marks,” were used to match each joint with its partner. Early frames were built flat on the ground before being erected, and each joint was scribed into its place. On raising day, the marriage marks ensured that each brace went in the proper place. We love studying these labels!

viewing vintage marriage marks on barn green mountain timber frames

Here are the marriage marks between a brace and its post:

marriage marks vintage timber frame green mountain timber frames

This frame had a couple of unique features in the rafter structure. First, the queen system that supports the rafters at mid-span had struts or braces that come from the posts down towards the center of the building. It was more common for these posts to be braced towards the eve in order to resist outward thrust of the roof load that could push the walls apart.

In a gunstock frame, where all the horizontal timbers come together at the same height, there is already incredible strength resisting outward thrust. For this reason, it was more important to these early craftspeople to install braces against the downward force or weight of the roof system and snow load that could push the queen posts in.

gunstock frame barn home green mountain timber frames

The second somewhat unusual feature in this barn is the way that the rafter system is braced to the five-sided ridge beam. In later buildings, there were often braces out on the two ends of the roof system. In this case, the timber framers installed a pair of braces right in the center of the roof.

vintage barn restored queen system green mountain timber frames

Installing the Roof Boards

We were able to reuse about 60% of the original roof boards and supplemented these with a few of the original wall boards as well as vintage material from our inventory. There were some beauties that went onto this roof! Imagine the size of the pine tree from which these boards were sawn.

beautiful barn boards green mountain timber frames

We are grateful that we had the opportunity to save and restore this vintage timber frame, and we are especially glad that it will remain not far from the resting place of William Dunlap, 12th Vermont Infantry.

May we respect and honor all our veterans as we work for peace in this world.

4 thoughts on “Dunlap Barn Restoration, and Discoveries about a Civil War Veteran

  1. Hello, oh my goodness! Now you guys are talking my language! :o) I love to see these old barns saved and this one doesn’t disappoint. I understand fully in reusing/recycling an old structure that must be taken down for one reason or another but I just wish that folks who own an old barn would research every avenue into saving it and seeing if it is financially feasible to renovate vs removing it. I live here in Missouri in an early log home with a two story oak barn that has the date 1907 etched in the front by the front sliding door. I see all too often land developers and “barn wood enthusiasts” taking down old barns and it saddens me to no end. These structures are an important part of our nation’s history, and when they’re gone – they’re gone.

    Thank you all for doing what you do! Even if it means recycling an old barn, it at least lives on and you all do these old barns an honor when you do reuse them just in the dedication to quality in your work. And what an honor for you when you are commissioned to save an old structure on it’s original site! Just to know that you are saving something that has lived long before us and now will live on long after.

    Thank you for sharing this story, very interesting and heartwarming all the same.

  2. Thank you so much for this wonderful story…this is why I love Vermont so much. You really touched my heart with this one. Thank you to the owners of the barn (and you guys) for saving the structure and its history. There is an organization in Richmond, VT. that, on a voluntary basis, restores and cleans Civil War gravestones. I recently met up with them here in Middlebury at our tiny little Veteran’s Cemetery where my husband is buried. If information is wanted, I would be glad to supply it. Their process is environmentally safe.
    Thank you GMTF.
    Janice

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