Camp Moonrise…Or How Our Old Barn Home on Lake Champlain Found Its Name

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Steven KelloggToday’s guest post comes from the talented author and illustrator, Steven Kellogg. We so enjoyed working with him and are honored to have him write for our little blog! 

I am an artist who, for decades, on rambles throughout the northeast, has admired old barns. Recently, I have been thrilled with the acquisition of a rugged, hand hewn barn frame The barn itself had been slowly deteriorating on the abandoned farm it had once served, and then was subsequently rescued, and restored.

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The historic gunstock frame stood tall and true on the Champlain Island of North Hero

It came into my life because, with our family grown and my wife having developed some health issues that required a residence that is handicap accessible, I decided to build a home with supportive features to accommodate those needs on a piece of property on the shore of Lake Champlain that we had owned for a number of years.

I envisioned a house with several spacious, wheelchair accessible rooms overlooking the lake, that, most importantly, would have an old barn at its core. The interior would be designed so that classic proportions, a richly-toned original ceiling, and sculptural, hand hewn beams would serve as the major architectural themes.

Window View_Steven Kellogg Timber Frame Home

The windows look out over the beautiful lake, and towards the barn’s original location

My search for just the right barn led me to Dan McKeen of Green Mountain Timber Frames, and then to his friend and colleague, Luke Larson, a master carpenter in Middletown Springs, Vermont. They had a number of impressive barn frames available in their inventory. Each one had been rescued from its original location on the farm where it had originally served. Each of these restored barn frames was like a rural cathedral with beautiful, simple, architectural lines, massive, hard wood beams, and magnificent notched and pegged construction.

Amongst these treasures, one of them stood out because of its superior details and appropriate size. I could picture it perfectly on our property. This particular historic frame came with added appeal: it was originally built around 1780 on one of Lake Champlain’s North Hero Island farms, not far from its prospective new home on our wooded knoll overlooking that very same lake.

When Luke and his skilled crew erected the barn frame on our wooded site, it seemed so harmoniously situated that it gave the impression that it had always been there.

Because our land is on the New York side of the lake, we resolved to honor the Adirondack tradition of calling rustic lakeside and woodland homes “camps” and giving them names. Prompted by the fact that the reconstructed North Hero Island barn faced our favorite monthly spectacle — the full moon lifting above the Vermont mountains and the lake — we decided it would henceforth be known as “Camp Moonrise.”

Interior View_ Steven Kellogg Timber Frame Home

The sign over the hearth reads “Camp Moonrise”

Now that we are happily putting down roots in this beautiful building and enjoying every hour of living here, we will be forever grateful to Luke, Dan, and their team of master craftsmen for their passion for old barns and their creative talents, which made this opportunity available to us.

Read more about the process of restoring this old barn in this blog.  For the Camp Moonrise project, Green Mountain Timber Frames partnered with the talented staff at Cloudspitter Carpentry and Hall Design Group.


More Images of the Beautifully Restored Barn HomeCamp Moonrise

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Geometry in Historical Frames – a guest blog

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This week’s guest blog is from architect and historian Jane Griswold Radocchia. You can learn more about her work in her personal blog. She writes here about her encounter with one of Dan McKeen’s barn restoration projects and how she could determine that the builder of this 1791 barn used geometry to build the original frame. 

“I invited myself to a Green Mountain Timber Frames barn dismantling earlier this fall. Of course I was glad I went.

Here’s what I saw:

Three historic barns from Hartford, NYThe three barns sat, connected in an L shape beside the road on the uphill slope of a valley. None of them faced the road, on their west and windy, side. Instead they faced south and east, creating a protected barnyard, a sun pocket. In the middle, protected from storms and wind, was the corn crib. Other farm buildings repeated the pattern, facing south, no doors on the west.

Hartford NY Historic timber frame corn crib

Hartford NY Corn Crib

The main barn also had a door on the north, directly across from the one facing south. It fronted on the farm road and looked at the house across the way. Two doors across from each other were for threshing and ventilation; a north-facing door was for bringing in hay and grain on the shady side of the barn in summer.

North side view of historic timber frame

North side view of timber frame

North side view of timber frameHow could I tell that geometry was used in building this frame?

After we had climbed up to the rafters, Dan McKeen handed me prints of the frame measured and drawn up by James Platteter. James Platteter is a master furniture maker and Dan was lucky enough to work with him on this project and have him dedicate his time to drawing up the detailed plans. (Do take a look at Jim’s beautiful work on his website.)

To have a sense of the building, I checked some of the dimensions. The framer really did make his barn 30’- 1” wide!  He also made it 42’-6” long. The diagonal of a 30’ x 30’ square will be 42‘-6” long. The shape of the floor for the barn is based on √2.

Both that extra inch and the √ are indications that the master-carpenter for this barn used geometry to determine its size and framing.

The carpenter had a pretty good rule! Over 30′ and his rule was only off by 1”. But how did he share his dimensions with apprentices if their rules differed from his?

He used geometry!
Geometry is a language, one most of us haven’t mastered. Our ancestors spoke (drew!) it well and used it for construction.

How did the farmer build his barn?

He probably hired a timber framer, a master builder. The framer knew about how big his barn should be and how it would be used. He began his design with a square with 30′ sides. This initial measurement of 30′ set the foundation for all the measurements of the barn.

How?

One side of the square would become the width of the barn. Then, the builder crossed the square with its diagonals – corner to corner – and swung his compass, extending the diagonal to meet the side of the square. The length of the diagonal became the length of the barn.geometric drawing of timber frame barn

square geometric corners of timber frameAbove, is the floor plan of the barn: 30′ wide, 42′-6” long.

The new rectangle on the end of the square was also a good height for the wall of the barn. So the framer drew a square on each corner. Using the diagonals for those squares he swung an arc to locate the ridge. You can see the squares and the diagonal in the diagram below.

Ridge location in timber frame barnThe framer may have used the barn floor for his layout just as carpenters today use the floor of a house to lay out rafters for the roof above. If so, it would have looked like this:

floor for raftersHere is the drawing of the end elevation showing that layout.

North gable end view of barnThe red x on the right is the original square. The dashed line is the arc locating the ridge. To locate the second intermediate post the framer used the side of the square, the height of his wall, as an arc.

Diagonal determines placement of the braceWhere it crosses the diagonal, he placed the post.

diagonal post placementThe north and south walls used the same geometry. The right end was laid out as was the end wall. The space for the door was a square. The left side was divided in half, as marked below by the diagonals. I enjoy finding that the braces followed the line of the diagonals. The barn door height was determined by the point where the arcs cross.

Final drawing of timber frame historic geometryThe east wall used the same geometry – first the square at its diagonal marking the right hand intermediate post; then the remaining space divided in half.

east wall timber frame geometry

The framer applied this same geometry as he laid out the roof, the braces and collar ties. The whole barn evolved from his first length: 30’-1”.

I look at this: so simple, so sophisticated. I am amazed! The geometry is there, but we have forgotten it. It is so beautiful!.

I will follow Green Mountain Timber Frames as they dismantle other pre-1800 barns and house frames for more confirmation of how early timber framers used geometry in structural design.”