Saving the Barns of Daniels’ Farm: A Journey to the Northeast Kingdom
The Green Mountain Timber Frames crew has just returned from week three in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. We are continuing to disassemble 4 old barns on a historic farm. While this past week was not as dramatic as the take-down of the corn crib that was featured in our last blog, we did make incredible progress as well as some discoveries. We even made some new friends in the area.
Removing the siding and roof from a 26×50 barn
One of the largest barns on the property was once a magnificent cow barn. Unfortunately, the posts have rotted to the point that we cannot restore this barn. It is rare for us to turn down a “save and restore” opportunity but in this case, the choice became very clear as we removed the siding and discovered vast rot in the posts.
Here is what we discovered underneath the vertical siding boards:
The walls had been packed tight with wood shavings and sawdust. The Daniels Farm, where this barn resides, had a sawmill on the premises at one point in its history. It must have seemed like a good idea to use the shavings for insulation. However, the end result was that the sawdust held moisture and rotted the frame.
Cows living on the inside of the barn created a lot of moisture through their living and breathing. In the cold weather, this warm humid air moved through air gaps in the shavings, hit the cold exterior boards of the barn, and condensed into water. The sawdust acted to hold this moisture.
A sawmill turned…apple-crusher
An interesting fact we learned about the Daniels’ sawmill was that when it came to be apple picking season each year, the workings of the sawmill were converted to power a giant apple crusher. Apparently, the Daniels and their neighbors made a great deal of apple cider when they weren’t busy making sawdust!
Surprise friends at the Daniels’ fawmill
Early in the week, we met some residents of this barn while removing the siding. And oh my goodness, it was cuteness overload!
We built a ramp down from the wall cavity where this family of 3 baby raccoons was living and then left the area alone for the rest of the day. I was so worried that we had scared the mother away. However, at the end of the day as we were getting into the truck to leave, Andy looked back at the barns. To our surprise and relief, we could see the profile of the mother raccoon perched in the peak of the barn. She had never left at all! Thankfully, we saw little footprints at the bottom of the ramp we had built when we returned in the morning. Mother had led them out to a new home.
While this barn is not restorable, it is certainly salvageable. We will use the roof boards, the siding, and many of the sound beams on future restoration projects. We will even use the nails and the metal roofing.
Speaking of roofing…it was quite a project to remove it all on a hot afternoon!
Next, we removed the roof boards. They have beautiful patina and will be a perfect match for replacing some of the boards on the other barns on the property that we will be restoring.
Next, we lowered the rafters to the deck.
We wrapped up our work on this barn by popping the pegs out of the sound braces and timbers. When we bring in a machine in a couple of weeks, we will be able to hoist the heavy beams safely down to the ground.
We came across an incredible piece of nail artwork while we were pulling the rafter tips apart. Cut nails were used, and some of them were made from fairly soft steel. Isaac discovered this incredible shape:
The nail had split apart lengthwise as it was hammered into the rafter. One piece of the nail went straight in, and the other curled up to form this beautiful profile!
This unique nail was one of many thousand nails that we have pulled over the past weeks. They range from large to small, and from hand forged to machine-made square nails. While pulling and de-nailing boards, we keep two five gallon buckets on hand: one for the nails that we can re-use, and one for the bad nails and other scraps of metal that we can recycle. We filled many buckets this past week!
We will soak the nails that are in good shape in vinegar, which will loosen the corrosion. A quick cleaning after that, and these old nails will be as good as new.
At GTMF, we are dedicated to preserving the historic architecture of New England. We restore old barns and build timber frame homes. Using nails like these and the wood beams salvaged from barns like the ones on the Daniels’ Farm, we are able to create historic homes built to last for centuries to come.
If you’re interested in learning more about our work, building a timber frame barn or owning your own barn home, contact us.
Disassembling the Waterford Corn Crib
Last week we began to disassemble the first of four barns that we will be removing from a property in Waterford, Vermont. All have fallen into disrepair, and the property owners have chosen to see us remove and save the old barns rather than have them deteriorate further.
Below is a beautiful photo taken in the late 1800s in front of the group of barns on the historic Daniels Farm:
How I would love to know the occasion that led to this photo being taken!
The farm was once a thriving scene, with over 1500 acres in agriculture. Removing this many barns far from our home base is quite an undertaking, so we decided to start with the smallest of the structures.
You can see our early 1800s corn crib in the far left of the next photo, nestled in back of the two larger barns:
This fantastic timber frame structure was originally built to dry and store the corn that was grown on the property. Our first clue to this early history was the classic corn crib siding- narrow vertical strips that have gaps between them in order to allow ventilation for the corn stored within.
In the next photo, you can see one of the corners of the building with the siding still in tact.
We received affirmation of the original purpose for this barn when we looked up at the roof trim. Do you see it?
Over the frame’s early years, critters were enjoying the nicely dried corn on the cob. It was probably raccoons that dragged corn up into the eves of the building for their evening meal. I am sure they were very grateful for all that good ventilation to keep their corn dry!
Removing the Roof Boards from the Barn Frame
Once we had the barn cleaned out, we began to remove the roof boards, labeling each one so that it can go back to its original home on the hand hewn rafters.
We also labeled all the beautiful siding boards. As is common with many of the old barns that we restore, some of the boards were replaced about one hundred years ago. We were noticing the uniquely strong circle saw marks on these boards when an older neighbor stopped in to chat.
He explained that there was an early water saw just down the hill, and that he had dug up old wooden water pipes in his field that had channeled water to the sawmill. It was so wonderful to hear some of the local knowledge about the story of this farm and the barn!
Once the roof boards, rafters, and siding had been removed, we set to work popping out the ash pegs that have held the joinery in place for so many decades.
Here is a view of how tightly the trees have grown up around the unused structure:
Due to disuse, wet ground, and trees growing so close to the barn, the sills have almost disappeared into the ground. We will have some work to do in repairing these post bottoms, but it will be well worth it to give this gem another life-span.
Carpenter Ants Leave Their Mark on the Frame
We received a surprise when we exposed one of the post top tenons. In the first of the photos below, you can see the incredible sculpture that carpenter ants created, much to my chagrin! They have chewed away all but the thinnest of strips- just enough to not collapse their own home. This post will be replaced from our inventory of hand hewn timbers. The second photo shows one of the healthy tenons in the barn. Now that is how a two hundred year old tenon should look!
In the next photo, we are lifting the top plate off of the posts.
When we return next week, we will lower the bents to the ground, label the posts and ties, and finish cleaning up the site.
This Old Barn Is for Sale!
This 16×20 corn crib, with its full second floor, will make an incredible little cabin or garden shed once we have restored the timbers.
Aside from wanting to start our large project in Waterford with the most manageable of the four barns, there was another important reason to delay the disassembly of the largest- a 32×42 gunstock timber frame. There is a family of Eastern Phoebes nesting under the eve. We learned that, incredibly, it takes only 16 days from when a Phoebe egg hatches till the birds will take flight from the nest! We will make sure they have flown before we begin disassembly of this magnificent barn.
When I stepped into the gunstock barn on Friday, I realized that the phoebes were not our only winged friends making use of the space. This little fellow had flown down from a nest and was taking a rest on a beautiful antique bow saw.
It seems the family of robins is already on the move! Stay tuned for more information on this large gunstock barn that has been home and habitat to so many over the last two hundred years- from farmers to pheobes.
Do you dream of living (or working) in an old barn?
An Ode to Farmers: The Incredible Ingenuity of Past Barn Repairs
Today, Matt and I were visiting barns on behalf of the Green Mountain Timber Frames team. I am constantly amazed by the creative ingenuity of New England’s early farmers. These brave souls were—and are still—truly a backbone of the beautiful and communal aspects of our local New England culture.
An Ode to Farmers
Having grown up on a working dairy farm, I have witnessed the challenges that face farmers on a daily basis. Thinking of my father, my mother, and my grandfather as they strived to keep a farm running, I pondered the necessity for creativity and tenacity when it comes to getting that hay bailer or tractor running when it is desperately needed. I believe the same principle applied to the ways in which early farmers dealt with their timber frame barns.
Today, as we assessed one particular barn, we discovered some very clever repairs made to the frame over the years. We were inside an incredible 32×52 hand hewn timber frame barn that is badly fatigued and in need of help.
Unfortunately, the barn abutting this one was in much worse shape, and I felt quite deflated and heartbroken to see it.
This collapsed building still has a few vintage boards and timbers that can be salvaged.
But let’s return to the happier prospect of the barn we had come to see.
52-Feet of Chesnut Timbers
It was built very early, and has many American chestnut timbers. The rafters are hewn, and the posts are massive at 11×11 inches. Of the four timbers that span the length of the building, 3 are an incredible 52-feet of continuous hand hewn chestnut, with the fourth having a scarf joint to join two timbers together.
Imagine that: 52 foot American chestnut timbers that were shaped with a broad axe and an adze- and lots of spirit and grit.
Incredibly, one of the bents is a clear-span 32-foot timber truss. This means it was built strong enough to not need any interior posts, allowing the farmer to move a wagon and animals around inside with ease. In the next photo, you can see the two chestnut timbers that create the truss. They are tied together in the middle with a vertical timber, creating a remarkably strong system.
What about the clever repairs?
It seems that at some point in the history of this barn’s use, the lower timber, which measures 11 x 18 inches by 32-feet, developed a split. Matt and I were studying the repair that was done in the past, and we realized that it was made using the metal rim of an old wagon wheel!
Here is a close-up of the ingenious repair, recycling no doubt a farm implement that’s use had gone by the wayside:
We also discovered a wonderful thing for us modern timber framers to see: a likely mistake made by our mentors who lived two hundred years ago. In a way, it is refreshing to see that even those incredible craftspeople from the past occasionally made an error like we sometimes do!
One of the 32-foot timbers did not have a typical tenon. It sure looks like someone cut this timber too short. We have all been there who have cut mortise and tenons time after time. It is a big “whoops” when it involves an 11 x 18 inch by 32-foot American chestnut timber that was cut and hewn by axe and adze!
In the next photo, you can see where a spline was added to the end of the girt, essentially adding back the section that was missing. If you look carefully at the underside of this massive timber, you can see where a 2-inch plank was let in, and then pegged thoroughly.
This ingenious repair reminds me of a saying given to me by a wise builder when I was starting out as a framer:
“The sign of a great carpenter is not whether you make mistakes or not; rather, it is about how creative you can be about fixing your mistakes when they happen!”
I am trying to remember what error I had made as a 22-year-old to earn me that old “chestnut” of wisdom. I don’t remember what it was, but I am grateful for the lesson that was imparted to me that day, and I remember it still. Well, the repair in this barn held up well. Approximately 210 years, and holding strong!
Speaking of holding strong, we saw a real example of the strength of a single oak peg, or trunnion, used in the old days to fasten the timber joinery together without the use of nails. As I mentioned earlier, this barn is struggling, and due to a leak in the roof, one of the 32-foot girts that span the building has rotted completely away.
Incredibly, the 12-foot post that used to be supported by that missing timber is still in the air as part of the queen system supporting the rafters. Here it is:
It is amazing to me how these well-crafted barns can hold together in spite of serious distress! Just one peg. Hm, that seems like a possible metaphor for what each of us humans can do for holding together the values that we treasure in our communities. I will save that musing for later. But think about it- a single one-inch peg holding up that 12-foot hardwood post. Incredible.
Just a couple miles from this grand old barn, there stands another. Unfortunately, the main structure is beyond restoration. But when I climbed into the icy basement, I was amazed by a support for the barn that was added sometime in the first half of the 20th century. Clearly, the floor system had been sagging, and a clever farmer knew just how to form up a support for the beams.
Once again, a derelict symbol of past farming practice was recycled. Just take a look at this:
Old wooden barrels, no doubt leaky or just no longer used, were stacked up with the bottoms cut out. After that, it was as simple as pouring in the concrete! The wood of those barrels is long gone, but their “fingerprints” left no doubt how this impressive pier was created.
Here is to all those who have worked creatively to sustain and stabilize these majestic structures from the past, and also to all in our communities who desire to see our cultural farming heritage preserved for the future!
May those of us dedicated to preserving these structures be as creative, industrious, and as dedicated as those who have come before us.
Interested in one of our old barns for sale?
Give us a holler!
The Trappers Cabin and its Shared History in Post-Colonial America
We recently took down another beautiful corn crib from circa 1850. This structure has a fascinating history, and when we moved it six weeks ago, it wasn’t its first journey across the fields!
In the photo above, I discuss the frame with the current property owner. We are grateful to him and his family for wanting to see this historic barn frame saved.
History of the Barn
This photo shows a beautiful farmstead in Hartford, New York. In between the large barn and the house, you can see our little corn crib peeking through. I have been learning some of the history of the area from a wonderful little book published in 1896. As I delve into the history, I find that this corn crib has a complicated story- one that brings up both sorrows and joys in the story of this area.
A Bit of History from Hartford, NY
May 2 of 1764 first saw the lands of what would become Hartford given by grants from the English Crown to officers of the New York Infantry after they had served in the French and Indian wars. This land had previously been hunting grounds for the Iroquois tribe. The family who owns the land now tells me that they have found many stone arrowheads in the cornfields around the barns.
In the Revolutionary War section of the book shown above, Samuel Bowen mentions that one of the combatants in the war hailed from Hartford. His family was an early owner of the property where this timber frame barn once stood.
On March 12 of 1793, the town of Hartford was established. It was named after a tribal group who had been pushed out of Hartford, Connecticut, and who had taken up residence in the area.
Here are a few details that caught my eye and imagination from the town records:
- In 1794, just one year after the town was officially formed, it was decided at a town meeting that the grazing of sheep and swine on the town commons would no longer be allowed. In addition, it went into the notes of the meeting, which was held at the house of David Austin, that a lawful fence be no less than four and a half feet tall.
- In 1803, a special town meeting was called at the Baptist Church to take measures to slow the spread of smallpox. A committee of 11 was appointed to find ways to minimize the terrible effects of the disease.
- 1818 saw the imposition of a new tax that would raise $300 for the support of the poor, and also for a town-run home to support the needy.
- In 1846, Hartford took a vote to decide on the sale of “spirituous liquors.” Of the three hundred and two votes cast, 151 favored a liquor license, with the exact number of voters opposing the town-sanctioned sale of liquor! One year later, the mood had shifted, and the licensed sale of liquor was approved in town by a majority of 92 votes.
And right around the time that Hartford voted to allow the sale of liquor, a wonderful little corn crib was crafted.
About the Hartford Corn Crib
The barn was built to house the corn that was grown on the Hartford farm. It measures 14 x 20 feet. Classic corn crib siding was installed, which allowed for excellent ventilation that would keep the corn drying after it was harvested. Wide boards were sliced so that air could flow through the gaps, but rainwater would be unlikely to enter and spoil the corn.
The barn stood in the farmyard for over 100 years, right next to the large barn where animals were kept, and also where militia members were once housed during a conflict with Native Americans in the area.
The Corn Crib Makes Its (First) Move
Our little corn crib saw a big change in the fall of 1968. No longer needed for corn storage, the barn was moved from the farmyard out to the woods behind the fields. The structure was moved with the use of a bulldozer.
When the corn crib was moved, the family discovered a hand made mortar and pestle under the floorboards. It seems that one member of the Bowen family was a physician, and he likely used this tool to smash and mix early medicines.
In its new location on the edge of the woods, our little cabin was transformed from corn storage to trapper’s cabin. Here is what the 2nd floor loft looked like when I first got to visit it:
The Trapper Cabin and the Fur Trade
This time period was the height of profitability in the fur trade. The family that now owned it was involved in purchasing pelts from trappers, and then curing them to be used in the making of clothing. We pulled hundreds of these wooden stretchers out of the cabin, some with notes on successful trapping trips dating from the 1940s through the 1980s.
When the Green Mountain Timber Frames first viewed the cabin, it was in distress. The roof had leaked and it had not been inhabited for decades other than by porcupines and birds. Like the dry storage of corn cobs, the trapping industry was a thing of the past. We decided to take on the project of saving this barn, and finding a third purpose for the worthy structure.
Dismantling the Trapper’s Cabin
We moved onto the site in early February and tackled the clean-out of the barn. Once we got down to the structure, we removed the slate roof as well as the original cedar shake roof that was underneath. The siding was next. The boards on this little structure are impressive!
Some of the loft floorboards are also remarkable, and we know from our history book that these most likely came from local water sawmills that were in operation on the East Creek, not far from the cabin location.
The interior of the trapper cabin originally had a full loft and a staircase. There were bins on the 2nd floor for storage of grains, and we presume that bins existed along the eve walls for the drying of corn. In the next photo, you can see one bin remaining on the fall gable wall, as well as a bin on the 2nd floor.
We popped the pegs from the joinery, and disassembled the frame. Each wooden joint was labeled. In the next photo, you can see Isaac working on removing one of the oak pegs that holds the top plate in place. Andy seems to be helping to hold the barn up!
We had a great crew for the tip down of this adorable frame. Here they are standing on the 2nd floor of a gable end:
The braces that the guys are holding have a unique detail on them. I am intrigued by the “swoop” cut into the edge of the braces. It is gorgeous, and not something I have come across often in braces:
The floor joists and floor boars in this frame are wonderufl. Here is a view from the interior after we stripped the siding boards:
We made a fascinating discovery on one of the interior boards that came from this corn crib. In the next photo, you can see multiple inscriptions scratched into the surface of a pine plank:
This daisy wheel is an intriguing mark that we occasionally find in barns. Many theories abound about the meaning, ranging from a geometric blueprint for the structure, to the more superstitious theory that the mark was a “witch hex,” meant to ward off the presence of evil spells and the people who cast them.
This frame was built at a time not that far removed from the dark history of the witch trials of New England, and it does seem plausible that secret markings were used to protect food from imagined curses.
What is next for this timber frame structure?
For the second time in its story, the corn crib turned trapper cabin has been carried across the cornfields to the original Hartford site, and now back to our shop in Middletown Springs, Vermont. Because the farm road was impassible by truck and trailer, we brought our tractor over to carry the disassembled barn back to the main road.
We have now restored the timber frame structure, which included replacing one post with a similarly colored and aged timber, as well as other more minor repairs. In the next photo, we have one cross-section, or bent, of the barn assembled in our shop during the restoration.
We are now looking for a new home for this cabin and the stories that it tells. It would make a remarkable woodland or meadow cabin retreat with a half loft. Here is one last photo that shows the 2nd floor of the cabin.
This barn is for sale! Interested in learning more about this antique corn crib?
From Japan to Arizona and Back Home to Vermont…Grand Entrances Abound
Gates, doors, and entryways play a large role in the way that humans organize meaning. Consider that prayers, linguistic expressions, and literary expressions heavily lean on the symbolism of doorways.
The Power of Entrances (Architecture’s Way to Make a First Impression)
A beautiful entrance can literally frame the stance of a home, garden, or barn towards the outside world. I have been thinking a lot about doors lately and want to take this opportunity to share images of some of my favorite entrances…from the very large to the very small, from those above my doorstep to those much farther afoot.
The Gateways of Japan
Last year, I had the incredible opportunity to travel around Japan, viewing some of the largest and the oldest timber frame structures in the world. The craftsmanship was astounding and inspiring!
In the next photos, you can see a couple of entrance gates and I will start this reflection with these large doorways. The first massive entrance is a Torii gate, which signifies that you are entering a sacred space. The second is the entrance to a temple. Leaving the profane behind, and entering the sacred, is a theme signified in many religions.
While in Japan, I also got to view many garden gates- and these really spoke to me!
That gateway represents a remarkable invitation to enter nature!
Green Mountain Gateways and Gazebos
Speaking of spaces for reflection, the next photo is of a timber frame gazebo that Green Mountain Timber Frames founder Dan McKeen built a few years ago.
Not unlike the garden pictured above, the goal for the pavilion was to create a space of invitation- invitation to reflect and take in the view of the Vermont Green Mountains. Careful thought went into the layout and proportions of the entrances to this space.
The significance of doorways is often noted when we take that first photo of our new home, or of our children standing in front of the doorway as they leave for a first day of school.
We also put prayer scrolls, flags, and wise sayings on or over our doorways. The significance of stepping over a threshold is noted in so many literary and experiential texts.
Home Sweet Home
The next photo shows my partner and I standing in front of an 1820s corn crib that we have dismantled and will be re-erecting as our own cabin retreat in the woods.
A Timber Frame Porch for a Home in the Mountains
The Green Mountain Timber Frames crew recently built a timber frame porch as an addition to a barn home. The porch is 44-feet long, and I love the way the dormer frames the entrance to this lovely space. The steps leading through garden and grass to an off-center door present a beautiful entrance.
Here are a couple more shots of the timber frame porch:
We have come across beautiful barn doors as we do restoration work, and the granary that we are currently restoring at our shop is no exception. Note the beautiful hand forged hinges in the following photos.
We will be putting this building back up with a bell tower and have been carefully thinking about the best way to craft the new entrance, with the original hinges, into the space that will be a small chapel.
Here is our latest sketch of the entry and windows:
Here is a photo of a grist mill that I recently drove past. I love the doorway on this building!
I have had opportunities to construct a few doors that serve as the entrance to restored barn homes. I have always found it incredibly meaningful to handcraft the “gateway” into a home centered around a barn that we have restored. This next door was built out of maple, and a local artist crafted the bullseye glass.
In this photo and the next, you can see “hidden” doors that lead to outdoor closets on the right-hand side of the doorway.
Significance can also be found in the materials used for an entrance. When I built a timber frame sugar house on my family’s farm, we had to cut down a plum tree that had lived on the barn site. Out of respect for the tree, I used a branch of the plum to frame the top of the door opening.
Last week, we delivered two doors that will be installed as the entrance to a large timber frame that we recently constructed. Each door is 48-inches wide, so when both swung open on their strap hinges, the opening will be 8 feet. Significantly, the cherry boards that create the interior panels of the two doors are from a tree that was removed from the spot where the barn now lives.
First, the barn:
And here is one of the custom barn doors ready for delivery:
Now, since who doesn’t like a little potty talk, I better throw in a photo of one my favorite outhouse doors!
Good Things Come in All Sizes
Here at Green Mountain Timber Frames, we have also been fortunate to think about very small entrances. Some kinds of birds have long been considered healthy and happy to have around and in New England barns. For example, swallow doors were sometimes put in the peak of barns to encourage nesting inside. The benefit to the farmers and animals, aside from getting to watch the beautiful acrobats fly all about, was that the feathered friends helped to keep the population of flies in check.
Here is a photo of one of my favorite vintage barns.
Note the mini doors up in the siding:
We replicated this concept in a restored barn that we erected. Along with our client, we designed the opening and nesting box inside for a kestrel, which is a beautiful little raptor that has been struggling in Vermont. It took a few years, but a pair did eventually move in! You can read more about this restored barn.
Here is the barn:
And here is one of its residents!
We also just finished taking down a wonderful little 14 x 22 barn. This structure was first used as a corn crib and later converted to a trappers cabin. Up at the gable peak is a cute little bird door, complete with a landing pad!
To end this meandering blog on entrances, I want to show you two beautiful natural doorways that I just encountered while backpacking in the Superstition Mountains in Arizona.
Judging by the beauty of this woven grass, I think it is possible that animals also value the aesthetic of a gorgeous entrance. Here is a bird’s nest, well-protected in the branches of a Jumping Cholla cactus:
And for someone with a bit of arachnophobia, I had to do some steady breathing to really take in the beauty of this spider hole! From my reading since the trip, it seems that some spiders will weave grass around their entrance to channel rain away. But given the beauty of this construction, I am personally tempted to think that they may care about the aesthetic as well.
What do you think?
Do you love little barn doors, antiques and all things quaint?
Take a gander at our barns for sale!
Dismantling the Rupert Granary
Here at Green Mountain Timber Frames, we have just finished dismantling a beautiful early 1800s granary.
This fantastic 18×20 corn crib was used to store the vitally important corn and grain that were grown on an historic farm in Rupert, Vermont.
This structure has tipped walls, meaning that it was purposely built with the eve walls tipped out to be wider at the top than the base. This technique was used in the 1700s and first decades of the 1800s to keep rain running away from the valuable contents of the barn interior. You just can’t be too careful about protecting the food that will get you through the next winter!
Come Inside this Historic Corn Crib
The barn was entered via this gorgeous door with hand wrought strap hinges. Once inside, there were high bins on either side. Hardwood 4×4 studs created the structure of the bins, which were approximately 3-feet wide and 9-feet high. The board walls of the bins had been removed before we arrived, but the elevated and slatted floors were still in place that kept air circulating all around the food that was stored in the bins.
Immediately to the left of the entrance door was a steep staircase up to a central loft. Ears of corn could be carried up and dropped down into the bins for retrieval throughout the long Vermont winters.
In the next photo, you can see some corn kernels that we found under the loft floorboards. I am so curious about the age of these corn seeds! They could be from a crop that grew 200 years ago so, of course, we saved them.
There are unique, full-length beams, which run the length of the structure. These hand-hewn timbers established the width of the bins for corn storage and also framed the edge of the central loft. In the next photo, you can see where this beam is lapped over the girt.
The care that was given to the chamfers in this joinery where it is notched over the center bent is spectacular.
We were also stunned by the beauty of the handcrafted rafter tails. They protrude out beyond the eve beams to create a gorgeous overhang that further protected the valuable corn from the weather.
Holding the Roof in Place with Rose Head Nails
At the dawn of the 1800s, iron was a valuable commodity, and it took a lot of work to forge nails by hand. In the next photo, you can see a few of the original rose head nails that were used to hold the roof boards in place.
In light of the value of nails when this frame was erected, the top plate (eve beam) was set with an overhang and carefully channeled to receive the top of the vertical siding boards. This was yet another detail that protected the interior from moisture. The top of the boards was carefully chamfered so that they would fit tightly into the groove in the beam. No nails were needed at the top of the siding boards because they were fit so tightly into the channel.
The Important Role of Hardwood Pegs
The main fastener used was, of course, hardwood pegs. These beautiful wooden dowels have held strong for over two hundred years, and it was an incredible experience to pop them out and contemplate the fact that they have not been touched by a human hand for so very long.
We have had so much fun discovering the particulars of this vintage timber frame, and feel so lucky to be involved in saving it to be enjoyed by future generations. In the next photo, Jesse and Andy stand next to one of the center bent posts.
After labeling and stripping the roof boards and siding, we started popping the pegs and disassembling the joinery. Here is some of the crew after we lowered the first bent to the ground.
Once the bents were on the ground, we disassembled them and labeled the individual beams and braces.
There were two extremely friendly maple trees that have been hugging the granary for many years now. We used one of them, along with a block and tackle, to lower the bents to the ground. In the following video, you can see how we did it with the help of that maple tree.
Restoration Plans for the Rupert Granary
We will be restoring this adorable little frame over the coming month and we are excited about its future somewhere on a new foundation where many future generations of humans can enjoy it.
Speaking of enjoying and using this granary, here is a beautiful photo provided to us by the property owner of someone else who has enjoyed the Rupert Granary in recent years. When we pulled up the floorboards in this barn, we found many remains of dinners consumed there. It appears that chicken dinner was a favorite of the fox family that lived under this barn- much to the chagrin of the farmer!
Stay tuned to find out where this beautiful little granary is headed for its next phase of life and, as always, let us know if you are interested in restoring and preserving a barn of your own.
How Can an Antique Barn Withstand the Weight of All That Snow?
Here in New England, we have to think about snow in relation to old barns and barn homes. In particular, we have to think about the tremendous weight that a sticky snowfall can deposit onto the roof of an old barn.
Snow weights a lot…
The expected snow load in Vermont can be as high as 65 pounds per square foot. On a giant old barn with a huge roof, that kind of weight can add up. We also live on the edge of the slate valley, so many of our barns have slate roofs. A slate roof adds eight to ten pounds to each square foot. That is some serious weight that the roof has to support!
Last weekend, we were blessed with 24 inches of snow in some areas and now we are getting heavy rain on top of that. So how did the master timber framers of the 1700s and 1800s build their roof systems strong enough to stay true in winter storm events?
The answer in many cases is the engineering brilliance of a queen system.
In the barn shown above, which dates from the early 1800s and that we restored last summer, the queen system is the two full-length timbers and the posts and braces that support them. This method of construction cuts the effective length of the rafters in half, keeping them ridged under the forces of gravity.
Roof loading, caused by the weight of the roof system itself, the roofing material and the snow that collects on it, leads to two types of force. The first is a load directly down that can lead to sag or failure of the rafters themselves. A queen system supports them in the middle, thereby cutting down on the possibility of sag.
The second force is an outward thrust, meaning that the weight pushes outward towards the eves of the building. In an inadequate frame, this can break the joinery that holds the building together. In order to help with this outward thrust, queen posts are braced down to the horizontal girts. When the rafters are pinned to the queen beam, it reduces the amount of outward force that they can exert on the eve walls.
Another way that timber framers keep the queen system and rafters from spreading under weight is the use of horizontal ties between the queen posts. This technique makes a ridged queen bent, and when the rafters are pegged down into it, they are held back from pushing the eves of the barn.
The photo above shows a beautiful frame that we will be restoring soon. The pre-1800s gunstock frame has a queen system that looks like a stand-alone timber frame structure that provides rigidity to the roof system.
Another common style of queen system has the posts angled to meet the rafters at a 90-degree angle. When the posts are angled like this, large braces are needed to withstand the outward force.
The barn pictured above is an 1850s barn that we restored and re-erected on Cape Cod. And here is a photo of a very large barn that we did restoration work on in place this past summer.
Let it snow!
And, as always, contact us if you have any questions about queen systems in antique barns.
Dismantling the Benson Timber Frame: Timelapse Videos & More
(For more details about this barn, check out our last entry.)
Timelapse Video of Barn Dismantling
When removing the top plate timbers that form the eve of the historic barn, the crane delicately set them down in the tight quarters. We had attached a guide rope to one end, and we were able to spin and then hold steady as it was set down on the ground. In the next photo, you can see the second barn on the property. We are delighted that the owner is keeping this barn in place.
Lifting the Basement Wall of the Vermont Barn
This Vermont Barn is for sale!
Saving a Giant of a Barn: the Benson Timber Frame
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!
The 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. The 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! We 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.We 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. As 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.
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. 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! The effort building the deck paid off, as we removed and labeled each roof board.Let 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. A good luck horseshoe was nailed to one side of the door opening. It 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.
Here is a close-up of the scarf joint:While 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.
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!