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.

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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Roofing Material: A Weighty Decision!

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I remember one time as a kid when a great-uncle told me about the historic New England turkey drives. As I listened open-mouthed, he told me that New England farmers of the 1800s used to join up in the fall to collectively bring all the turkeys they had raised down to Boston. It was before the days of the interstate and refrigerated trucks, and as he recounted, they would shepherd thousands of turkeys across the countryside over a number of days.

vermont-wild-turkeys

The turkeys would collectively roost on the ridges of country barns every night. “And that, my friend, is why so many Vermont barns have big sags in the ridge line – it was the weight of all those fat turkeys on their way to market!”

To this day I am not totally sure if he was pulling my leg completely about the “historic turkey drives,” but one thing is for sure: there are indeed many historic barns with saggy roofs. In our voyages around New England viewing barns, we very often find sway-backs. That is, buildings where the roof has sagged dramatically under the weight of slate.

The history of our slate industry

Green Mountain Timber Frames has its base of operation right on the edge of a slate valley and it is fascinating to think about the interplay of geography, geology and population movements as it relates to this industry. Slate first gained attention in our area around 1834. The first known barn to receive a slate roof in our area was in 1848. By the end of the 1800s, the slate industry in our valley was booming, bringing in groups of skilled quarry workers from Wales, Czechoslovakia, Poland and many other parts of the world where people had experience with slate.

Before this, our barns were roofed using hand-split cedar shakes.

handsplit-shingles-or-shakes_historic-roofing

Hand split shakes – image courtesy of http://www.nps.gov

Builders would cut cedar logs into 30 to 36 inch lengths and then split them into shingles using a tool called a froe. In some places where there were not readily available streams for early water powered sawmills, builders would forego roof boards completely. Instead, they would heavily brace the rafter system to make it ridged, and then would install strips of wood called purlins spaced up to 36 inches apart. They would then apply long hand-split cedar shakes directly to the purlins.

From cedar to slate

Cedar is a natural, light, and wonderful roofing. Like the planking on an old wooden boat, it would have large gaps when dry. As soon as the first rain drops soaked in however, the cedar would swell and shed the water beautifully!  However, cedar roofs last only a few decades. As the cedar started to fatigue on our earliest barns, farmers began to replace it with slate. What could be better than a local product that will last as roofing for 200 years? What farmer really has the time to replace cedar every few decades?

There was just one little problem…cedar shakes weigh about 400 pounds per 100 square feet. Slate, on the other hand, weighs as much as 1,000 pounds on that same roof surface! On a typical 30 x 40 barn, this means that the new roof weighed as much as 9 or 10 tons. For a barn designed for a lightweight roof, trouble came a-visiting, especially when the heavy Vermont snows also piled high on top of the slate.

before-and-after-barn-transformation

How does geography fit into this?

Here at GMTF, we have recently viewed a number of barns in northern Vermont. These structures were far from the slate quarries and were thus more likely to receive roof makeovers with multiple generations of cedar, followed by lightweight metal roofs (once that industry came into full swing.) We find that, unlike with slate, many more of these northern barns survived with roof-lines in tact.

How do we restore these barns?

There are several building techniques that we use to rehab a barn that was built for cedar rather than our modern heavier insulated roofs.

We find that the old barns with ridge beams faired much better over the past couple of centuries.

1790-barn-with-5-sided-ridge-beam

This 1790s frame received slate mid-life, yet look how straight the roofline remained because of the 5-sided ridge beam!

To further strengthen a ridge beam roof system, we sometimes add vertical posts going from heavy timbers to the ridge beam. This transfers the weight straight down and minimizes the outward thrusting forces that otherwise can push the eve walls out.

historic-timber-frame-barn_green-mountain-timber-frames

In this historic barn, there are posts going up to the ridge beam to further strengthen the structure.

 

As builders became aware of the weight issue, they often added a “queen system.” This is a structural system that picks up the weight of the rafters at mid-span and transfers this weight down to the heavy girt timbers and posts. On many of our oldest barns, we use vintage timbers to create this type of a system.

barn-featuring-queen-system-as-rafter-support_green-mountain-timber-frames

This  “queen system” helps to support the rafters.

queen-system-for-rafters-with-vertical-posts_green-mountain-timber-frames

Queen systems come in many shapes. This one uses vertical posts rather than angled.

Another method we use to beef up the rafter system is to add collar ties to the rafters. These horizontal timbers create a triangle within each pair of rafters, which is one of the strongest geometrical shapes in nature.

collar-ties-on-north-hero-vermont-barn

We installed these old-new collar ties to help stiffed the roof on this North Hero, VT frame.

How can we repair slate fatigue in place? 

On a recent project, we were asked to help prepare the structure of an 1860s house for a new roof. The builders had sized their rafters for a light roof and then installed slate. The sag was tremendous. We did not want to disturb the original plaster of the ceilings beneath the rafter system. Our solution, after the slate was removed, included first adding collar ties in the attic.

new-collar-ties-to-strengthen-rafter-system-in-old-vermont-barn

New collar ties stiffen these old, undersized rafters.

Next, we screwed 2 x 4 rippings over the top of the existing rafters and snapped straight chalk lines.

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We used a string with chalk on it to snap a straight line

Here is how it looked after we used this technique on all the rafters:

curved-shims-on-new-roof-system_green-mountain-timber-frames

Making all these curved shims made us consider going into the wooden boat building trade!

Next, we put new plywood over the whole roof and it was ready for roofing!

new-plywood-roofing-on-vermont-frame_green-mountain-timber-frames

Ready, set, and on goes a new roof!

Restored slate roof by Green Mountain Timber Frames

The finished project has a much flatter and straighter roof.

Conclusion

It is so interesting, as we travel around New England looking at barns, to imagine the various economic, geographical and sociological forces that all played a role in barn designs! We are grateful to have learned from the craftsman of the past who figured out how to properly build roof structures to withstand the various forces that material and weather throw at them.


Want to live in your very own historic barn?
Let us know!

802.774.8972 or Luke@GreenMountainTimberFrames.com

  • To learn more about the fascinating history of slate, check out the fantastic Slate Valley Museum in Granville, NY.

The Bitter-Sweet of Mud Season Barn Restoration

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Mud Season – the bitter/sweet time of year.

While the temperatures have at long last inched their way above the zero mark, here in rural Vermont the ground is still solid. Timber framing in the famous mud of New England’s spring beats the challenge of working in snow squalls and sub-zero temps, but it’s still not for the faint of heart!

Sure, our winter coats and work gloves have been shed but now we must muddle through our work area.

Mud Season in Vermont Building restored barn homes

Proof that mud season has arrived

As more snow melts, the damp ground slowly releases the grip of winter, churning out a soft, murky surface under our feet that you can sink into up to the ankles.

Construction continues nonetheless, so we throw down a carpet of hay to make the work area easier to traverse. Timber Framing in the Mud Vermont

There is, of course, a wonderful silver lining. Not only is old man winter behind us, but best of all, mud season means the maple sap is flowing! Cold nights and warm days bring the sweetness of spring.

Sugar house in maple season_Stacy Birch Photography

Sugar house in maple season – Photo by Stacy Birch

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!

Saved! Historic Timber Frame Barn Home Finds New Owner

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here!

A few weeks back we wrote about this beautiful colonial American barn home that was
about to be destroyed.

Side view of historic house

Now, just two months later, I am pleased to share the great news that we have found a new owner for the Hod Hepburn house.

It’s hard to describe how grateful I am – how thrilling it is to know that there are others out there who share my passion for history and who are willing to invest in saving these beautiful pieces of America’s past.

If it wasn’t for the power of modern technology, and the wide reach of this very blog, I am certain that this house, built originally in 1780, would now be nothing more than rubble.

The house was built originally in Tinmouth VT but will be reassembled and restored in New York.

Tinmouth Vermont Old Barn Frame

Despite the cold weather and many feet of snow, we are already moving forward on dismantling the frame. The first step is to clean out the centuries of dirt, dust and artifacts from the large barn home. Here’s a glimpse of what the interior looked like before we got started:

Interior of barn frame

PreMucking out of timber frame barn

We’ve spent the last week cleaning up the house and opening up the plastered walls. This before and after shot will give you a good sense of what I mean:

Before and After Clean Up of Barn

Below you can see the rear view, before and after. Try to ignore the tar paper and note the post medieval roof system!

Before and after timber frame dismantling and restoration

Once “muck-out” is complete, we will move on to labeling all of the timbers and carefully removing them. We will restore each of the hand hewn beams at our local workshop. From there, we will ship the frame off to New York where we will reassemble the restored frame.

Below are some videos of the inside of the house. In this first one, we take a walk through the rooms of the home and see all of the treasures left behind from decades ago. There’s also an unusual, small stairway:

In this video, you can see the second floor, post-dismantling:

Check out the clip below to see how the attic looked before dismantling began.

And here’s the spectacular view from the roof, sans roof boards.

Thank you again for helping us save this post and beam house!

Know of another barn in need of saving? Looking for your own historic barn to call home? Contact us! We’d love to help.

Timber Framing: Captured on Video!

Green Mountain Timber Frames is now of video!

But before I show you the video, let’s take a look at this before and after shot.
Antique Timber frame before afterYou may remember back in 2013 when I wrote a few times about the timber frame we had restored and erected up at Sissy’s Kitchen in Middletown Springs. A gunstock timber frame, it was built over 250 years ago.

For this project, we erected the restored frame with help of the one and only Vermont Jeepgirl (otherwise known as Crane Operator extraordinaire, Sue Miller.) Luckily for us, she made a video recording of the raising day!

Hats off to Sue for capturing our madness!

Vermont Crane Operator_Vermont Jeep Girl

Vermont Jeepgirl Sue Miller

It was a great crew that worked on this frame. Here we are, standing proud in front of the restored timbers.

Construction experts from Green Mountain Timber Frames

Construction crew from Green Mountain Timber Frames

This frame – even before it became a new storage barn – saw a lot of good times! For a couple months, the erected frame stood on the beautiful lawn behind Sissy’s Kitchen in Middletown Springs, Vermont.

Test Barn Raising of Timber Frame Barn Home

Test Barn Raising of Timber Frame Barn Home at Sissy’s Kitchen

While we waited for the right buyer, the frame housed many a dinner party and afternoon tea, just around the corner from the workshop of Green Mountain Timber Frames.

Summer evening party at Sissy's under antique post and beam frame

Summer evening party at Sissy’s under post and beam frame

I want to send out a huge thank you again to Sissy for letting us have all this fun, right in her yard!

Timber framer Dan McKeen and Sissy in Vermont

Have more timber frame projects worth capturing on video? Let us know! We would like to hear from you!