Saving a Giant of a Barn: the Benson Timber Frame

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We are now two weeks into the careful dismantling of a beautiful timber barn – for sale –  that dates from around 1880. This timber frame is not as old as many of the structures that we take down and restore here at Green Mountain Timber Frames, but the high quality of the frame more than justifies our efforts to save it. At 34 x 48 feet, this wonderful vintage frame is a big one!

evening light on old barn for sale in benson | green mountain timber framesThe barn’s foundation, roof and sills are deteriorated, and would be very difficult and costly to repair in place. We have purchased the barn and now it is in our court to take down the frame, restore it, and find a new home for this majestic and historic building.

(Let us know if you are interested in seeing the barn!)

Taking Down the Timber Frame Barn: Step by Step

Our first step was to remove an enormous amount of hay from the inside of the building. Thankfully, we had some pitchforks handy. removing hay from the benson frame | green mountain timber framesThe hay piled inside the barn had been hiding a very interesting feature of this barn. The smallest bay, which is where the animals were kept, had built in wooden gutters for removing manure.

Discoveries in an Old Barn

The clever system had two trap doors that could be opened, allowing the waste to be dropped into wagons or carts below for spreading on the nearby fields. There was also a trough in front of the animals where they could be fed. It is really amazing to see the wear marks on the floor from hooves. We can tell where the antsy cow lived many years ago! cleaning out cow stalls in old barn for sale green mountain timber framesWe made another discovery while opening up the walls of this barn. Between layers of siding, honey bees had built a hive at some point in the past.discovering an old bee hive in the benson old barn for sale green mountain timber framesWe collected the brittle wax comb, and I am excited to make candles out of it. Once we find a new home for this barn and re-erect it, I can imagine a celebratory meal in the restored frame- lit by the wax of this bee hive. honey comb in the wall of benson barn for sale green mountain timber framesAs we removed the wide hemlock wall boards, we labeled each one so they can be installed back in the same location. Many of the timber boards are over 15 inches wide, and the patina on them is spectacular.

We can’t wait to wash them, but the temperature will have to get up above freezing for that process to take place and winter really seems eager this year in Vermont. wide vintage boards for sale | green mountain timber frames

Removing the Slate Roof

Once we had the barn cleaned out and many of the siding boards removed, we went on to remove the roof system. This barn still had its original roof- large purple slate from the nearby quarries.

Here we are removing the slate piece by piece.

It was unusual for us to be removing the original roof from a building, as most of our older frames went through at least two, and often four, generations of roofing material before they come under our care. Much of the slate is still good and we will set it aside with the frame for future use. removing slate and roof boards benson barn for sale In order to be as safe as possible, we built a temporary second floor in the barn. This allows us to do most of the board and rafter removal from this deck rather than from the top of the roof or from long ladders. This barn is so large that it took fifty sheets of plywood to create this safe work platform! how to take down an old barn safelyThe effort building the deck paid off, as we removed and labeled each roof board.removing roof boards from benson barn for saleLet me share a couple more interesting features of this barn:

All farmers know how hard it is to keep large barn doors on a building. Inevitably, it seems, they get caught by a gust of wind and torn off the building. Well, it must have been someone with life experience who designed this structure. They built a giant pocket door system and hung the 13-foot-tall doors on tracks on the inside of the barn.

In order to create this space for the doors, secondary posts were added in the doorway bents. In this way, gusts of wind could not get at the doors when they were opened. giant pocket door old barn for sale A good luck horseshoe was nailed to one side of the door opening. horseshoe for good luck benson timber frame barn for saleIt was exciting to get lots of light on the upper queen system. These timbers support the rafters at mid-span, making the roof strong enough to carry the weight of all that slate as well as Vermont’s winter snow. There is a unique and beautiful scarf joint that was used to get the queen plates to span the whole 48 feet.queen system in benson old barn for sale green mountain timber frames

Here is a close-up of the scarf joint:scarf joint  | green mountain timber framesWhile the queen plate is made out of two timbers, the main top plate that creates the eve of the building is not. Incredibly, these hand-hewn timbers are the full length of the barn at 48 feet and 2 inches! Imagine the size of the old-growth tree that was required, as well as the difficulty of getting these beams in place without the use of modern equipment.

These 48-foot timbers are a testament to the skill of the timber framers who crafted this barn, as well as to the strength of a community that would come together to hoist such a barn into place. We are honored to now be the caretakers of this structure.48 foot hand hewn timber | green mountain timber frames

You can see drawings of the barn here on our site.

This old barn is for sale!

If you are interested in this barn, or another timber frame structure, let us know!

 

 

Dunlap Barn Restoration, and Discoveries about a Civil War Veteran

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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.

A Day-Trip to Waterford, Vermont…and 2 Surprises Behind a Barn

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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.

Gunstock barn home for sale green mountain timber framesWe 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. gunstock timber frame for sale green mountain timber framesWe 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. decrepit farm silo green mountain timber framesThere, 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. interior of woodford silo and stone foundation green mountain timber framesThe 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. a tree grows in the silo green mountain timber framesUnlike 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. antique corn crib for sale green mountain timber framesI 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

pulleys and wheels in a corn crib machine shop green mountain timber framesinterior of timber frame machine shop and corn crib green mountain timber framesThe 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. corn crib interior green mountain timber framesI 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.

Interested in old barns? Contact us to chat.
– Luke Larson

Time Is Running Out…Can You Help Us Save This Beautiful, Historic Barn?

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Here at Green Mountain Timber Frames, we are trying to find a new owner to help us save this beautiful 1800s barn for saletimber frame barn for sale green mountain timber frames

The barn dates from the 1880s. It is a remarkably well-built structure, and we are getting down to crunch time. This antique barn has to be taken down in November, and we are eagerly trying to find a home for it. Can you help?

Antique barn for sale_ Green mountain timber frames benson vermont

A tall and magnificent structure, the historic barn stands 34 X 48 feet. The frame has beautiful color and it would make an incredible barn home, hay barn, or horse barn. It could also become an incredible event space or restaurant in its next life.

With a steep roof pitch, the interior is majestic and cathedral-like.

Antique barn interior_Vermont barn for sale

The patina on the wooden beams has been created by approximately 140 years of light, oxidization and aging. These colors just cannot be replicated on new wood.

partial floor joists in timber frame barn for sale

The frame had a partial loft originally, and more loft could be added during restoration, renovation and rebuilding.

The Stories Barns Can Tell

I had a remarkable visit recently with the matriarch of the family. The same family has lived on this farm since the beginning of the 1900s. As we stood by the faded clapboard wall of the structure, she told me stories about growing up on this farm.

Now well into her 80s, her memory is sharp. She told me stories passed on to her about tough times during the depression. Her father had a mortgage on the farm, and could not make the payments when the economy was poor and money was scarce. He went to the local Vermont bank and secured an agreement that if he could keep up with the interest payments on the loan, the bank would delay the regular payments until times improved.

Even this was a challenge, so the family planted one of the cornfields to cabbages. From the middle of a summer through the following winter, the farm truck was loaded with cabbages every weekend, and the family drove to the nearby town of Brandon to sell the cold crops for cold cash. Armed with perseverance, and with the help of cabbages, this family made it through.

Can We Preserve This Piece of History?

Now it is our turn to preserve this worthy barn. If your vision for the future can include caretaking this structure, or if you know of someone who needs a barn, please pass on the good word. Help us preserve our New England heritage. Thank you.


NOTE: We first blogged about this historic barn back in 2014 when the family asked us to help us find a new owner who would love the structure and restore it.

Want to help us save this Vermont barn?

Please contact me with any questions. (802) 774-8972
Luke@GreenMountainTimberFrames.com

What Is One to Do with an Antique Slaughter Wheel?

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This antique slaughter wheel came out of an old Vermont barn for sale, built in the late 1700s. The barn has been taken down, and Green Mountain Timber Frames recently purchased the timber beams, as well as this beautiful antique.vintage slaughter wheel from Vermont barn home
The barn that housed this magnificent wheel was on the Henderson/Vail property in Bennington, Vermont. The family played a significant role in the Revolutionary War.
David Harmon, a key figure in the town’s history, built and operated Harmon’s Tavern around 1770, which was located about 1/4 of a mile from the Vail house. On August 14, 1777, General Stark had breakfast at Harmon’s Tavern on his way to the Battle of Bennington. He likely marched past this barn on his way to the significant battle.
The barn is just visible behind the trees and between the couple in the next photo, taken around 1900. (Read more about this timber frame barn.)
henderson historic barn home in vermont
The slaughter wheel we have just brought home and cleaned was mounted in the center bay of the barn. This was a common practice in the 18th century. In our work restoring old barns, we have come across many of these hoists, forgotten between the bents of ancient barns. Sitting 12-14 feet in the air and just inside a large barn door, the hoists often emerge from the darkness above our heads as our eyes adjust from the bright outdoors to the solemn twilight of an aging barn interior.
hoist of antique slaughter wheel green mountain timber frames
Remarkably, both ends of the log were still able to spin. The doweled ends sat in a cradle on top of the girts, which are the 30-foot timbers, spanning the width of the barn. A rope was wrapped around the large wheel and held in place by hand-forged metal brackets. A second rope passed through a hole in the middle of the round log.
The large size of the wheel in comparison to the diameter of the log gave tremendous leverage to an individual hauling something up into the air. It is an ingenious and simple method that functions much like a pulley system.
antique slaughter wheel green mountain timber frames
The wheel was used for cleaning slaughtered animals or for lifting the end of a wagon in need of repairs. This particular wheel is notable in that it is crafted out of a black walnut tree. The walnut boards that were needed to cut the four curved sections must have started at about 28-inches wide. It is 13 feet long, and about six feet around.
antique hoisting slaughter wheel green mountain timber frames

So what do we do with such a beautiful artifact of our Vermont farming heritage? A client of ours is considering using it as a giant chandelier in his 1780s timber frame barn home that we restored for him. I can just imagine the dinner party conversations that would ensue as guests look up at this slaughter wheel and discuss its past!

Or, this wheel hoist may just end up residing in the upper beams of our shop where we could use it to lift its contemporaries- beams from the same time period that we restore.

Have an idea of what we should do with the slaughter wheel? Or simply interested in learning about the barns we have for sale?

We would love to hear from you.

802.774.8972 or luke@greenmountaintimberframes.com

The Old Brick Church and its Barns

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I recently stopped on my countryside meanderings at a favorite historical place: an old brick church located not far from our Vermont timber frame shop.

Old brick church green mountain timber frames

Matt was with me in the truck, and we both were struck by the calm and peace in the air when we stepped out. The church sits on a very quiet intersection of two farm-lined roads.

A Testimony to the Past
All was quiet at this 1826 church, but there were plenty of signs of past bustle, living and dying, and a way of life that revolved around the local community. The sky was amazing on this mid morning, and I imagined the lives that were centered here nearly two hundred years ago, many of whom no doubt now rest in the cemetery behind the church.

Old brick church graveyard green mountain timber frames

Looking carefully around the yard of the church, Matt noticed the faint sign of the horse and buggy drive that circled from the side and across the front of the church, now grown over in the neatly trimmed grass, but showing the shadows of days past. We commented that we could almost hear those horse hooves and the sound of parishioners greeting each other as they tied up their horses for the service.

The Timber Frame Carriage Barns
Beside the church, there are two amazing carriage sheds, and these were the original impetus for us to stop and visit this site. They are remarkable timber frame structures from when the church was built in 1826, and they have drawn my eye for years because of their simplicity, pragmatic purpose, and their beauty.

old timber frame carriage barn green mountain timber frames

The carriage barns sit on the hillside between the church and the cemetery and were once used by churchgoers to “park” their horses and carriages while at services.

The historic barns‘ hand-hewn timbers are mixed species, but the majority are pine. Chestnut was used for some of the timbers closest to the ground, no doubt chosen for its rot resistance.

timber frame carriage barn green mountain timber frames

It was amazing to see how the timbers have survived for nearly 200 years, despite being open to the weather for so very many decades. Of course, the beams are weathered, but thanks to the density of old-growth timber, and the structural shoring up that has been done over two centuries by the community, they stand strong and true.

old barn timber frame joinery green mountain timber frames

Matt and I were so inspired by the simple elegance of the construction, and our imaginations went right to wondering when the last carriage had been backed into one of these stalls.old new england carraige barn green mountain timber frames

Why I Love Timber Framing
One element in the design of these carriage sheds spoke straight to the source of my passion for timber framing. The craftspeople who put these buildings in place were seeking to work with nature – not to change it or overly manipulate the natural materials. As a visual example of what I mean, notice the flow of the carriage barn in the next photo as it relates to the land on which it sits.

vintage new england carriage barn green mountain timber frames

The land went downhill, so the framers simply adjusted the post lengths in order to achieve a level eve and roof.

This concept speaks volumes to me about the character and world-view of the framers who put these old timber frames together. Our historic barns here in New England have survived centuries because of this approach taken by the craftspeople of yesteryear. Timber frame structures, sitting on stone foundations, can breathe and move with nature, and I am grateful that they have lasted to teach me life lessons beyond my craft.
~ Luke Larson


At Green Mountain, we have a passion for restoring historic timber frames and we’ve got some sweet, old barns for sale
We would be happy to answer any questions you have. You can email or give us a call at 802.774.8972

 

Kestrel in the Barn!

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About six years ago, we restored and erected this early New England timber frame.

timber frame barn for sale

The frame is a classic size at 30 by 40 feet. The interior of the barn is “clear span,” which means that the 30 foot timbers are so big that no center posts are necessary inside the barn, making it perfect for storing cars.

timber frame barn_Vermont

The timber frame barn sits nestled at the bottom of Mount Equinox here in Vermont, and wildlife is abundant here. Our client had been seeing American Kestrels in the area, and had the idea of building a nesting box for this smallest of North American raptors. A decline had been documented in the New England population of these birds.

Why not build a box right into the barn?

old barns for sale_Vermont

I have heard that early New England farmers would sometimes cut little bird doors into the gable ends of their cow barns for the swallows. Why? Because barn swallows are so incredibly beneficial for keeping the fly population down in a barn full of livestock. One of my favorite local timber frame barns came to mind, and we chose to copy the style of cut-out from this little gem: timber frame barn with barn cut outsWhen we sided our barn using vintage boards, we cut six holes in the upper section. Copper flashing was used to keep water from going in. Five of the doors are faux, and the sixth has a hole that leads into a nesting box.

timber frame barn with barn swallows

Well, five years past with no kestrels. But this spring a pair moved in! And here is the evidence:

kestrel-house-in-a-vintage-barn-garage-green-mountain-timber-frames.png

Kestral in a vintage barn Green Mountain Timber Frames

We are so delighted that this idea came to fruition! It is remarkable to imagine the spring journey from far south, and perhaps even central America, that brought this pair of birds right into the gable of this beautiful vintage barn.

Now the only question is, who is going to climb up into that high gable when fall comes to clean out the nesting box?

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