An Ode to Farmers: The Incredible Ingenuity of Past Barn Repairs

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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.

vintage timber frame barn home | green mountain timber frames

Unfortunately, the barn abutting this one was in much worse shape, and I felt quite deflated and heartbroken to see it.

collapsed vintage barn | Green mountain timber frames

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.

chestnut timber truss vintage barn | Green mountain timber frames

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!

giant chestnut timber frame truss Green mountain timber frames

Here is a close-up of the ingenious repair, recycling no doubt a farm implement that’s use had gone by the wayside:

wagon wheel repair to chestnut timber | Green mountain timber frames

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.

sprine repair on vintage timber frame chestnut beam | Green mountain timber frames

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!

splined repair to chestnut timber frame

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:

strength of a single peg in vintage barn

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:

creative concrete forms green mountain timber frames

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!

 802.774.8972

 

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

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Welcome to the heart of spring in Vermont!

Last week in Pomfret, Vermont, beneath a canopy of new leaves and apple blossoms, we tipped up another beautiful timber frame barn.  Below, you can see the barn as it originally stood in Benson, Vermont.

Old Barn home_Original LocationThis hand hewn frame, made of pine timbers, stood 21 feet wide x 30 feet long and was originally a meadow barn, built in the 1840s. We took it down a few years ago, restored the structure and erected it at our workshop. We used it to store materials until recently, when it was chosen to fit the needs of a new owner.

The goal of this barn restoration project is to erect the restored frame and finish the exterior and interior walls with seasoned barn boards. The owners want this “new” barn to look as if it has called the Pomfret site its home for at least 100 years.

It’s no easy task to restore a timber frame, but the work is exciting and rewarding. This past week, the crew of seven experienced timber framers made good progress each day, intent on creating “visual drama” for the new owner, and getting the job done.

Step 1: Dismantling the Old Frame

Here we are dismantling the previously restored frame to re-erect it in Pomfret.

Dismantling of timber frame barnOnce the frame was dismantled, we loaded it for transport to its new location in Pomfret.

Step 2: Re-erecting the Frame

3pm_historic timber frame from 19th century

We were able to put the 175 year old beams back together in our first day’s work.

Step 3: Putting up the Roof System

The next step was to put up the roof system and roof boards. Since this frame stands 25 feet tall, we had to install a temporary work platform to reach the roof peak.

green mountain timber frame vermont home construction
Setting up the roof system

From our safe perch on the temporary floor, we carefully set the roof rafters and applied the roof boards.

Timber frame barn home construction
Restored barn frame with roof boards applied

Step 4: Putting on the Red Roof!

The next step was to put on a recycled red roof. For this project, we took the roofing from another barn project we also have in progress.  I love it when we are able to salvage old wood or materials from one job and use them on another. One person’s trash is indeed another person’s treasure in my line of work.

Below is our third day of progress.

newly applied red roof historic wooden beamsRestored barn home with red roofStep 4: Applying Exterior Siding

On the fourth day of our efforts, we started applying the vintage siding. We’ll show the finished product in our next blog. Stay tuned!

Pomfret restored barn frame with siding———————–

Every dreamed of living in a centuries old barn? Want to save a piece of New England history? Let me know!  I’d love to hear from you!
— Dan McKeen

The Prohibition Barn, and Other Tales From the Northern Islands

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Today’s blog is written by a guest blogger and master carpenter, Luke Larson.

The 1780s Prohibition Barn

“My grandfather went to jail because of this barn.”

I was standing in the spacious interior of a beautiful and well-kept barn dating from the 1780s. “Is that so?” I asked, and the gentleman continued his story.

Prohibition Barn Home Vermont

We were on the Lake Champlain island of North Hero, only about fifteen miles from the Canadian border with Vermont. I was there to look at the barn because the owner is considering selling it. I leaned against a twelve foot beauty of a hewn pine post as the story continued…

Map of North Hero Island Lake Champlain

Map of North Hero Island – Lake Champlain

Prohibition lasted in the United States from 1920 until 1933. The manufacture and sale of alcohol was prohibited, which gave rise to a healthy black market with whiskey runners smuggling alcohol south from Canada. As the story goes, friends of the barn owner were involved in this trade and the authorities were hot on their tail. They sped a car full of liquor into the wide eve door of the barn and quickly threw hay down from the loft to conceal the vehicle and its clandestine contents. Unfortunately for my friend’s family, the cops discovered the car under the hay and the owner of the barn (this man’s grandfather) spent time in prison.

But year’s later the barn still stands, remembering those decades ago when it was used to smuggle liquor to Vermonters thirsting for the hard stuff!

Below is an interior photo of the Prohibition Barn. This would make an incredible loft living space!

Loft Living Space Potential

Imagine the hay being hurriedly cast down from this loft to cover the contraband almost 100 years ago!

The Prohibition Barn was the second barn I was to visit on the island. The first barn, on my trip up north, was the Hero Barn and the two barns had a lot in common.

Both barns date from the time of the heroes for whom the Island was named: Green Mountain Boys, Ethan Allen and Ira Allen, among others. Incredibly, both barns are twenty-six feet wide by thirty-six feet long, and both have hand hewn chestnut braces. While it was common in that era to build barns with hand hewn vertical and horizontal timbers, I have come across only one other barn in my work where even the diagonal braces were hewn. It is a good clue as to the very early construction of these barns, and makes me wonder if both might have had the same builder.

The Hero Barn  – A Gunstock Timber Frame

I love the stories that barns can tell, and all the history engraved in them. The gunstock Hero Barn, a few miles south from the Prohibition Barn, has the skeleton of a very early log cabin just feet from the barn. As settlers moved north, they would have quickly erected a structure to live in while constructing the rest of the buildings.

It was the middle of December as a great crew and I carefully disassembled this barn frame, and I quickly understood why the original dwelling was only feet from the animal barn with a covered passage between the two! Oh, the wind it was a blowin’!

Here is a photo of the collapsed log house, with the barn behind it.

Collapsed log house right next to the barn home This Hero Barn, which I now have in stock, is a gunstock frame made with oak and American chestnut. The term “gunstock” refers to the solid oak posts which flare at the top, providing more strong wood for joinery.

This barn has a ridge beam, which is a thirty six foot American chestnut beam in perfect condition.

Notice how the gable rafters are braced to the ridge beam.

This barn has a ridge beam, which is a thirty six foot American chestnut beam in perfect condition. Notice how the gable rafters are braced to the ridge.Below is a classic “signature” of the builders, a daisy wheel displayed top center on the roof boards. Elsewhere on this blog, you can read about the purposes of these daisy wheels. Notice that you can see the original cedar roof through the gap between the boards. The cedar was later covered with metal roofing.

Signature of timber frame builders etched in restored woodHere are a few photos of the process of taking down the Hero Barn:

Historic Barn removal photoRemoving Roof of timber frame barn homeThe photo below shows the gunstock posts and strong chestnut girts. The far post in the photo has rot on the top. I have now acquired another hewn oak gunstock post which I will use for the repair.

Historic New england barn frame for restoration

Collar tie on a gable rafter pair.  High quality joineryBelow is the weathered but strong collar tie on a gable rafter pair. The quality of joinery on this barn speaks to me of heroes perhaps less well known than the Allen boys, who put such quality craftsmanship into these two barns on the island.

High quality joineryAfter careful washing and restoration, this barn will be ready to tell its stories to a new family, and even begin to absorb new tales into its weathered and long history.

——

A tremendous thanks to Luke of Larson Carpentry for sharing this with us!
Contact Green Mountain Timber Frames if you are interested in learning more about either the Prohibition Barn Frame or the Hero Barn!
E: Luke@greenmountaintimberframes.com
P: 802.774.8972

You can read another guest post from Luke when he shared with us the details of a Gambrel barn home in Danby, Vermont. 

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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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.

Rare 1760s Gunstock Timber Frame Available – Your New Barn Home?

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I first wrote about this very early, hardwood timbered barn back in July and am pleased to announce that it is officially available for sale. This barn is a real gem and the right owner will appreciate living in such a unique piece of history. The post and beam barn is truly an extra fine example of “post medieval construction.” This kind of frame design is the same style that was used in building barns in the 1400s.

antique timber frame home new england

1760s gunstock timber frame

The vertical siding seen above is two layers thick. The barn frame was built using several kinds of wood, including beech, chestnut, pine, spruce and white oak.

Below, you can see an example of the antique wooden posts inside the frame. Note the gunstock posts which taper top to bottom. The posts are 9″x 9″ square at the base and then taper to 15″ x 9 ” at the top, where they meet intersecting timbers.

Gunstock post antique timber frame

Here is a view showing how straight the roof line is after 250 years and 7 tons of slate!
Vintage Barn Home 1760s

The potential barn home has elaborate, overbuilt wall and roof systems. The large beams indicate an early built frame.

5_Roof system is overbuilt

This picture shows the rugged construction of a gable (end) wall section:

Gable wall section of timber frame

Want to learn more about this beautiful piece of history? Contact us!

Consider turning this timber frame into your own barn home! This antique frame would make a beautiful barn home, carriage barn, studio or restored barn. To own this frame is to step back into medieval times!

Luke Larson
Luke@GreenMountainTimberFrames.com
Tel: 802.774.8972

The price for the restored frame includes erecting it on your foundation with roof boards applied. The siding boards are part of the package but would not be applied. The slate roof can be included, upon request.

Can you help save this old timber frame house from being demolished?

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This grand timber frame home will be demolished in February….UNLESS a new owner is found. Known as the Hod-Hepburn house, it has stood on a back road in Tinmouth, Vermont since about 1780.

Side view of historic houseThe two-story home is a great example of post medieval construction. It’s a trusty farm house that has weathered 234 New England winters. We hope to find a new owner interested in having Green Mountain Timber Frames take down and restore the hand hewn frame. This beautiful structure could be erected on the client’s site, with a custom layout to fit today’s needs.

The frame features rugged rafters as you see below.

gunstock timber frame post and beamHere is another shot of the principle rafter system:

timber frame roofWhen we visited the house, we found all sorts of treasures inside, including….

history found in old barn homethese magazines from the early 1900s and…storage in historic new england house…a TV from the 1960s!

We don’t know the exact date the house was built, but the house was referenced in local deeds from the 1780s, so we are assuming it was built by then. The truth is, it may be even older!

Here is a picture from the house taken around 1950.

Vermont Timber frame house 1950sHere is a nice winter shot of the back of the homestead:

Historic Barn Home in snowInterested in learning more about this “Vermont Republic” home and perhaps making it your own? For more information, please contact me!