Saving the Barns of Daniels’ Farm: A Journey to the Northeast Kingdom

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waterford gunstock frame_historic old barn

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:

wood shaving insulation on historic barn

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!

baby raccoons hiding in historic Vermont old barn

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!

removing metal from roof of waterford barn

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.

GMTF team removing roof boards waterford old barn

Next, we lowered the rafters to the deck.

Green Mountain Timber Frames crew removing half-round rafters

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:

curled cut nail art_antique nail from historic Vermont barn

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!

buckets of salvaged nails from timber frame projects

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.

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

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!

antique vermont timber frame outhouse

Exterior view of a fine looking Vermont wooden outhouse

timber frame outhouse in vermont

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.