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.

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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:

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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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Discoveries Made While Salvaging Wood: The Story of the Henderson Barn

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When you do barn restoration and construction in the mercurial seasons of Vermont, the work in the wintertime differs greatly from what we do all summer long. Oftentimes, we spend winter months restoring beams indoors or lining up projects for the warmer months.
Recently, on one cold January day, we went to visit a father-son slate roofer team in Bennington, Vermont. We were there, as we often are, about an old barn. But this time, we weren’t actually interested in restoring the early 1800s barn. Rather, we wanted to purchase the disassembled barn so we could restore and use the beautifully aged beams in other timber frame projects.

Parts Barns: Salvaging Wood from Historic Homes

During our restoration process, we frequently have to source replacement parts to compensate for the toll that leaky roofs and unstable foundations have taken over the past two hundred years on our restoration projects. Whenever possible, we like to use matching vintage wood from similar aged and style barns. In order to get these replacement parts, we purchase “parts” barns. Most often, it is a barn that has not fared well and sadly is beyond the restoration stage. We salvage the sound elements of these frames in order to use them in full restoration projects.

A Remarkable Barn from Bennington

The parts barn that we purchased this January was particularly fascinating and, along with the wooden beams, we found stories of a family and their amazing history! While the frame was beyond repair as a unit, the remaining sound elements are incredible. The rafters were hewn, and the posts were 14 x 14-inch hand hewn oak.

Bennington Vermont Circa 1800

The barn dates from before 1800 and was built by the Hendersons, a family boasting a longstanding history in Bennington, Vermont.  At some point in history, the Vail family is in the story of this property as well, and this is another deeply embedded family in the town and its history. Today’s owners shared this map with me;  on it, you can see how the land parcels in the area were divided among families back in 1800.
1800s Map_Bennington VT Map

1800s Bennington VT land map showing the parcels

If you read through the names on each parcel, you can see that there were many Harmons on this hill and many of these families played a significant role in the events surrounding the Battle of Bennington in 1777.  It is so fascinating to see how the families started out with large tracts of land and then subdivided their tracts to keep family close.

Meet the Barn Owners

We purchased the barn after disassembly from a father/son team of expert slate roofers who live about 1/4 mile from the old Henderson property. The barn was going to be torched, and they couldn’t bear the thought of that history going up in ashes. So, since winter is a tough time to do slate roofs, they took on the tall task of disassembling this frame. They clearly gave great care to this task, as the beams and boards are unharmed, de-nailed, and washed.

Photos: Clues to the Barn Home’s Past

Here are a couple of old photos, dating from the first decade of the 1900s, that show the stately Henderson house. You can just see the barn in the background behind the horses head.
Henderson historic barn home_Vermont_1900s

1900s photograph showing Henderson home in the background

In the next photo, you will see a healthy maple tree next to the couple. It gave me chills to see the dissipating stump of this tree when I looked at the property, and to imagine all the life that has happened in this spot, and in the barn, before and after these photos were taken.

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1902 Wedding Photo in front of the Henderson House

The father and son made an incredible discovery when they were disassembling the barn. Underneath the three-inch floor of the barn, they found a civil war era rifle! Imagine the possible stories behind this weapon being hidden there!
We hope to honor the early settlers of this property who crafted the barn, those who used it for two hundred years, and also the neighbors who invested enormous effort and time into making sure that these beams can stand true again in another historical structure.

Do you have a barn home worth salvaging?

Contact us by email or call (802) 774-8972.

Dutch Cape House from c. 1800

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One early morning, before dawn in November, two brothers were readying for an early morning deer hunt. Hunting culture in rural Vermont dates back to the original residents, and continues still. On this particular morning, breakfast was cooked, weapons readied, and excitement no doubt was rising!

I can imagine that the black of night began dissipating, and the hunters hurriedly finished their planning and headed out into the breaking daylight. A chair had been left too close the roaring wood stove and a couple hours later, a passerby saw smoke billowing from the house. Fortunately for those young men, for Green Mountain Timber Frames, and for the future owner of this beautiful timber frame, the fire was put out and the house survived!

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Since that early morning fire, this little house has served the farming community well. When the local grange had to move out of a nearby building, the family that owned this cape generously offered the space. After many community work days, the grange moved in for weekly meetings and community events. The National Grange of the Order of Patrons and Husbandry is a national organization that began shortly after the Civil War. The group works to promote community bonding and education around agriculture.

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This frame dates from around 1800, when Vermont was still a young state. It was placed in a little hollow between knolls with a stream nearby and land was cleared around it for farming. The house was built using oak, chestnut, and beach trees- no doubt the very trees that were cut down to begin opening up fields for livestock.

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This frame has four bents and stands true even after 200+ years and a close call with fire!

It is fascinating to get to study so many local timber frames and ultimately to get a sense of who built these structures many generations ago! This particular house is a Dutch style of timber framing. The bents are close together and the floor joists are built strong enough to span the whole 24 feet of width.

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A clear span of 24 feet makes this an open canvas for future room design.

This little building measures 24 feet by 26 feet. It is perfect for a small cabin or house, for an addition onto another building, or as a small storage or animal barn.

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The posts and top plate are 10 x 10 inches – a solid little house!

A Spacious Second Floor

One of the reasons we fell in love with this structure, and just had to save it, was the spacious second floor. The posts extend quite far above the second floor, creating a tall “knee wall.” There is plenty of head room upstairs.

The rafter system has a five sided ridge beam with braces to the rafters. Unfortunately, the rafters and ridge beam were damaged by the close call with fire and by subsequent roof leaks over the years. We will be replicating the original roof system however and it will once again be strong and beautiful.

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The posts extend up beyond the 2nd floor, creations a spacious second floor living area.

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Here you can see braces strengthening the structure.

The Ingenious Basement

The ingenuity and creativity of the builders of this home are demonstrated in the basement of the house. Underneath the floor system, we discovered a very rugged food storage room or “root cellar” built with rough hewn logs, stone, and brick.

I have no doubt that it was filled with ice from the nearby river before the spring thaw, and that it was filled with squash, potatoes and other vegetables in the fall! Surely, it also was an excellent place to make and keep that hard cider that Vermonters loved (and still do)! It also doubled as a very strong foundation for a wood stove on the second floor. Imagine the original residents filling this little room with the fruits of their labors, and then relishing the food during the bitter winters.

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Let’s keep those garden vegetables and root crops good all winter!

Once again, we consider it such a privilege to cross paths across the span of generations with the pioneers, carpenters, farmers, and families who have built and dwelt in this structure. We are also grateful to the family that saw the historical value of the house and allowed us to disassemble it once it could not be kept up in its original location. The restoration of this timber frame will take place over the future months and it will once again be ready to house future generations.

Interested in this timber frame or another historic property?

Contact Green Mountain Timber Frames at
luke@GreenMountainTimberFrames.com, or
802.774.8972

 

From Fatigued Old Barn to Beautiful Great Room

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Meet the “Fatigued Old Barn”

It was a frigid Vermont winter day when we first visited this old barn back in February of 2015.  It was too cold, even for us seasoned Vermonters. With more than two feet of snow on the ground, I wished I had brought my snow shoes.

Here’s a glimpse of how the barn looked – on the left – when we first met.

Original Restored Barn_Green Mountain Timber Frames_Before (800x601)The owner had called us to ask if we could dismantle this aging barn and restore it as a new Great Room, attached to their home. The barn, built originally in the 1850s, was indeed a perfect match for the house, a two story country home also built in the 1850s. 

Original Barn and 1840s Home_Green Mountain Timber Frames_Before (800x601)

Original barn beside 1940s barn with wooden silo.  House is in the back ground, on the right.

Dating the Barn

Judging from the 43 foot hand hewn beams, I concluded that the barn must have been built in the middle of the 19th century. Tall trees were still being hewn by hand into long square timbers. Shorter timbers, such as posts, were sawn at a local mill. During that time, sawmills could accurately saw up to 20 feet of timber, so the hand hewing guys were called in for the longer timbers. I often wonder if those guys – the “old school” timber framers – must have felt like horses when automobiles started to become more prevalent.

The Transformation Begins

Step 1: Dismantling

Once the snow melted, we traveled to Cavendish, Vermont to begin the careful process of dismantling the barn. The barn looked far more inviting during spring.

historic wooden barn with red roofIn three weeks, a team of six men dismantled the 30 x 43 foot barn and shipped it to the Green Mountain Timber Frames shop in Middletown Springs.

Cavendish Historic Barn before restoration _Green Mountain Timber Frames

Barn being dismantled, starting from the top.

Step 2: Restoration at the Shop

Once at the shop, we carefully washed all the timbers. We then laid them out in their new configuration of 21 x 35 feet and did a lot of joinery work. Next we assembled the roof structure, de-nailed the roof boards, gave them a solid washing, made them straight again, and finally re-applied them to the roof rafters. We made sure everything was well labeled, and then shipped the restored frame back to the Cavendish house site.

You can see much of the process in the pictures below:

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Laying out the restored hand hewn beams into the new design.

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Roof rafters re-adjusted and fitted, waiting for original roof boards

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Rafters with restored roof boards applied and then labeled

The Great Room is Born – in Two Days

Because we had done the restoration work at our shop, re-erecting the frame for the new Great Room was a pretty straightforward task that took only two days.

In weather that was a far cry from the snowdrifts of February, we reassembled the frame under hot August sun with a team of four men and a mighty Lull (lift machine).

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Re-erecting the restored frame (the Lull is in orange)

Day One: Getting the Frame Up

During the first day, we spent about ten hours at the site. By day’s end we had most of the structure up, thanks to the help of the Lull and an experienced crew.

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Frame is up by the end of day one with a few roof rafters

Day Two: Raising the Rafters

Day two was even more fun as we placed all the roof rafters – always an exciting part of a barn restoration project – and experienced the structure taking its final shape. After hundreds of hours of our labor, the refurbished frame went together like a Lincoln Log set.  It’s gratifying each time to watch new life breathed into a formerly very distressed timbered, old barn.

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Finished frame. The roof is protected by tar paper, ready for the next stage.

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View from beneath the roof of the restored frame, with our friend the Lull behind.

The plans to complete this barn frame include a fireplace, large glass doors, a screened porch and a mudroom entryway. Truly it will become a GREAT room.

Coming Up Next:

This was a challenging and rewarding restoration project. Our next blog will feature a stunning new timber frame boat house, designed and built by Luke Larson and his crew. Stay tuned!

Restoration of a Hand Hewn Pine Barn Frame, c. 1840 – Part II

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Remember this hand hewn frame, made of pine timbers, that we highlighted in last week’s blog? Old Barn home_Original Location Well – the good news is – restoration is complete! After 8 days of focused work with a superb team of seven, the barn is fully restored and in use. Restoration of new england barn home At 21 feet wide x 30 feet long, it spent nearly 175 years protecting hay in a meadow in Benson, Vermont. This barn has had quite a journey since 1840.

We became involved a few years ago when we took down the barn, restored the structure and erected it at our workshop. It was put to good use there, protecting building materials, while we waited for a new owner; and in time the right family came along.

We’ve spent the past two weeks restoring the frame for the new owners in Pomfret, VT. In last week’s blog, I wrote about the process of dismantling and re-erecting the antique timber frame in Pomfret.

I also showed how we applied the roof boards and started on the siding, using materials from another historical barn.

Getting the Arches JUST Right
One of the challenges of restoring this barn was making sure the arched doorways looked just right. The picture below shows the process of creating the arches. Forming the arch on a historic barn_Green Mountain Timber FramesAnd here are some of our talented crew members pondering the arches to make sure they are just right! Green Mountain Timber Frames _Professional Contractors in VermontHere you can see the nearly completed results! Forming the arch on a historic barn_Green Mountain Timber Frames2Applying the Siding
Last week, we put on two layers of siding, one ½ an inch thick and the second one 1 inch thick. We put the two layers on, overlapping each other, to keep the driving rain and snow from seeping through the cracks.

restored siding on historic barn

A close up look at the restored siding

As always – we love to recycle! For this project, we used exterior siding from four different barns and the door is also on its second life. You can see the original barns here on our available frames pagevermont scenic view with historic barnIn the view above, you can see the recycled red roof taken from another barn project we also have in progress.

Reclaimed Wood versus New Wood
Economics and availability often come into play with a project, as reclaimed siding can be four times more expensive than new. In this case, the owners chose to use new siding on the back side of their barn. It is hidden safely from view and can not be seen from the house or the road. Give it another thirty years and it will look vintage, too.

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Rear view showing new siding

Now Let’s Step Inside…
From the interior of the barn, we can see the beautiful hand hewn timbers of the original frame.hand hewn timber frame wooden beams restored timber frame in new englandThe upper loft might make a wonderful overflow guest room in the summertime.

Loft view of restored historic barn home_Green Mountain Timber Frames_Vermont

The Loft

There’s a large, open main level with the relatively spacious half loft. Eventually, a modest stairway will replace the metal ladder that you see in the view below. Internal view of timber frame barnIt was, as always, a pleasure to save another barn – and create a new-old barn for another wonderful client. The point was to have it look like it has been there for one hundred years. Did we succeed? side view of post and beam barn homeThis year has been a busy one here at Green Mountain Timber Frames. We’ve dismantled no fewer than seven barns and houses in the last year and they are each in various stages of restoration.

Want your very own piece of American history? Think that barn living might be for you? Give me a call at 802.774.8972 or email Luke@greenmountaintimberframes.com.

Vermont’s Finest…? Outhouses

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In my meanderings across New England to look at old barns, I often come across unexpected treasures. Antique outhouses fit that category. While there isn’t much market for a renovated timber frame outhouse or modernized backyard latrine, these outhouses were a basic necessity for everyone in the past!

timber frame outhouse

Once while looking at an historic barn in Wells, VT, I came across this grand specimen;  perfect for the whole family to enjoy together.

old timber frame outhouse

Baby bear, Mama bear, Papa bear

Since I couldn’t very well take the commodes back home with me, I couldn’t resist taking a snap shot. This particular backyard bathroom stood approximately 100 feet from the house. Can you imagine how many clothes you’d have to put on in the winter to head out to the throne room?

Below is an outhouse that came from Pawlet, Vermont and was built around 1900. It stood out back behind another old timber frame barn I came to evaluate. This was one well-appointed little stall. It even came with corn cobs to use in a pinch. And do they ever pinch!

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Exterior view of a fine looking Vermont wooden outhouse

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Interior view of Pawlet outhouse

Below is a backyard beauty inspired by some of the “one holers” I’ve happened upon in my barn hunting. One of our daughters built it to accompany a timber frame cabin she constructed in our back field, with just a bit of help from ol’ Dad.

antique wood outhouse in vermont

I like how she added a special feminine touch.

Vermont timber frame outhouse - Copy

And now, while we’re on the topic, here’s a poem to ponder – Passing of the Back-House,” by James Whitcomb Riley:
(You can click on the picture to enlarge the text, or go to the link).

sign in vermont timber frame outhouse

If you are looking for a fine wooden outhouse (or regular timber frame house) made from the finest of Vermont restored wood, we can be your crew! Give me a call at 802.774.8972 or email Luke@greenmountaintimberframes.com.

Going – Going – Going … Gone!

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How do you dismantle a timber frame for restoration?
Here’s an overview of the process: 

Going… Before barn restoration_Vermont barn home Going… Historic timber frame in vermont Going… Dismantling timber frame for restoration and preservation GONE! fomer site of historic barn home Thanks to all of your help and support, this timber frame from Tinmouth, VT is now being restored at the Green Mountain Timber Frames workshop in Middletown Springs.

After carefully skinned the old timbered house, we took it apart, timber by timber, making sure to label meticulously along the way. Over the next two months, we will professionally restore the timbers, before reassembling the frame in New York. Look forward to the results in late summer, when we re-erect these historic beams for another 235 years! In the mean time, we hope you will stay tuned with our blog!