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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Here are the marriage marks between a brace and its post:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
You 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!
It was a great crew that worked on this frame. Here we are, standing proud in front of the restored timbers.
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.
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.
I want to send out a huge thank you again to Sissy for letting us have all this fun, right in her yard!
Have more timber frame projects worth capturing on video? Let us know! We would like to hear from you!
We spent a few days at the end of this summer putting up a reclaimed barn at the back of my property for my daughter and her husband. We enjoyed beautiful late summer days and with a small crew of 7 people, we were able to re-erect the restored barn in a day.
It’s nice to be able to use my skill to help my family out – and of course there is nothing like having my grown kids nearby! On this project, I was also able to use some of the leftover timber and reclaimed wood from other projects. A great recycling project all and all, and one that makes for an eclectic, one-of-a-kind, beauty of a barn.
This barn comes from a two part structure from a farm in New York state. The oldest section was from the 1840s and has been sold to a customer. The barn in this blog was probably added on to the 1840 barn in the 1900s and was not finished with traditional joinery. As a historic piece it has little value, but the timbers are strong and sturdy and I knew it would make a fine shelter for the kids’ farm equipment and hay.
We dismantled the newer barn first and restored it with traditional joinery. (That means that we let in the bracing and tie timbers with mortise and tenon joinery, instead of just nailing things together.) While this takes a bit more time than using a hammer and nails, it gives the barn a much more authentic, historical and structural look.
Here we are putting up a bent (or side wall).
The recycled metal roof was screwed to the 2x4s.
The next step was to build a second floor which you can see (from below) in the next picture.
We’ve started the siding by using some newer recycled boards. We will have to cut three feet off the top to find the second floor, but it is doing the job for now. The remainder will be finished with older boards.
The ground level of the barn is for storing mowing equipment while the second floor is for storing hay. As you can see below – it’s already in use!
While the barn is highly functional and my son-in-law is pleased, this barn is still a work in progress. As we gather more siding from other jobs, we plan to wrap the frame entirely with siding that doesn’t make the grade for our paying customers.
Here’s how the frame looks today. We should have all the siding on by Thanksgiving.
Interested in having your own barn home or backyard barn? Let us know!
Here at Green Mountain Timber Frames, we receive phone calls about old barns all the time. Owners want me to come look at barns on their property to assess their value and decide whether or not they are good candidates for restoration.
One of the first questions I am invariably asked is: “How do you decide if an old barn is worth restoring?” And the natural follow-up. “If so…how do you price it? There are many factors that go into deciding whether a barn can be restored, if its roof or wooden beams can be salvaged, or if it has no value at all.
To explain some of the key factors that go into making these decisions, I want to present you with a little side by side comparison. Below are eight sets of pictures. The barn on the left in each picture is a rare, valuable gunstock timber frame from about 1750, very early by Vermont standards. The owner is interested in selling the barn because he doesn’t currently use it. On the right are photos of an 1890s barn that Green Mountain Timber Frames will not be restoring. The owner is concerned it will collapse and would like to salvage parts of the barn before this happens. He asked me to put a value on the barn “as is”.
Evaluating Two Barns: A Side by Side Comparison
1. THE ROOF
When I evaluate a vintage barn, I start off by taking a look at the roof. Having a straight, flat roof with no sagging says the upper timber structure has held together over the centuries. In our area, slate can create sagging roofs in earlier barns not designed for the heavy weight of slate. They were designed for wooden roofs, which, in the northeast, were mostly constructed from white cedar. 2. SIDING
Next, I look at whether the barn has vertical or horizontal siding. Vertical siding, as in the 1750s barn, may mean the barn dates from before 1850. Builders began to use horizontal siding around the Civil War era. 3. IS IT OVERBUILT?
Notice the large numerous beams on the wall section of the 1750s barn. Contrast this with the 1890 barn, which has smaller timbers and even smaller 2″ x 4″ nailers. This represents very light construction when compared to the 1750s wall section. The large beams we see on the left are more valuable. 4. GUNSTOCK POSTS?
Gunstock timber frames are always more valuable as they are very rare these days. Gunstock frames can be identified by their tapered posts. The posts start off 9″x 9″ square at their base and then taper to 15″ x 9 ” at the top, where they meet intersecting timbers. You can see this in the photo below of the 1750s barn. In the 1890s barn, the posts are very light, measure 6″ x 6″ and don’t taper. 5. ROOF RAFTERS
If a frame’s roof rafters are hand hewn square rather than “half round”, it indicates an earlier era. The 1750s frame has hewn rafters. In the picture the larger beams are the original rafters. The builder added in the smaller 4″ x 4″ rafters when they added the slate roof. Also, the 1750s barn has white oak roof boards, another indication of a very early frame. The 1890s barn has small, modern 2″ x 6″ roof rafters which are not valuable. However, because the pine roof boards are in good condition, they can be reused for other building projects. Most barns have softwood roof boards like pine, spruce or hemlock. It seems only the 1750 era frames have hardwood roof boards. I’ve come across only three hardwood roof board frames in the 30 years I’ve been doing this, yet another reason this 1750 barn is such a gem! 6. TIMBER FATIGUE
The dark area in the 1750s picture indicates water damage.The broken timbers in the 1890 picture is a bad sign. These are examples of timber fatigue. In pre-1800 frames, we can repair or replace damaged timbers. This 1890 frame has so much timber fatigue and the roof rafters are so “new” looking, that the building has value for parts only.
7. HEWN DIAGONAL BRACES
As I continue my assessment of a timber frame, I next look to see if the frame’s diagonal braces are housed into the timbers. The diagonal braces on the 1890s barn are simply 2″ x 4″s nailed in. This was common practice for that time. In comparison, the 1750s barn bracing is housed or “joined” into the timbers. This is called mortise and tenon joinery. A wooden peg then holds the brace in place. This is the usual standard. The 1890 frame using 2″ x 4″s and nails was the start of the transition out of mortise and tenon joinery. The very early frames used hand hewn braces. I’ve only seen this twice in my career, both times in timber frames from the 1750s era. The braces are almost always sawn. The picture on the left below shows the fine craftsmanship of hewn braces.
8. LARGE GIRTS
In timber frame construction, girts are used to tie the walls together. Larger girts often mean an earlier era frame. The 1890s barn has very modest girts which may be the reason the timbers broke in the middle. The 1750 picture shows larger timbers being used as “girts,” while the middle girts have no center posts. No center posts are often a nice feature when reusing a frame for a home or shop area.
And What About Pricing?
When determining how to price a barn, I first think about how rare the frame is. A rare frame in good condition will always be worth more. I also consider the current market and how much folks might want to pay for something very rare. I will also calculate whether the barn is worth more as a whole or in parts.
Finally, I will discuss the options with the current barn owner. Some barn owners want to sell their barn for whatever value they can get. Others are tired of dealing with the maintenance costs or are fearful the structure will collapse. The price an owner is looking for will also have an impact on our pricing. It’s part of my job to assess how valuable a frame is, what condition it is in and how rare the construction is. With those things in mind, I can help the owner to determine a reasonable price.
The 1890s barn is not worth restoring, but the frame does have value as a parts barn. I can salvage the timbers for use on other restoration projects and reuse the roof boards, sawn beams, siding and slate. There are large labor costs to acquire the materials. This is where you have to balance the value of the material against the cost to dismantle. The 1890 barn may have an “as is” value of two thousand dollars. After all the materials are reclaimed, the barn site has to be cleaned. That often costs another two thousand dollars.
Labor costs can also quickly rise out of control. And the 1890 barn is a “liability” to the homeowner right now. With the costs of labor and cleanup, we really shouldn’t pay anything for this structure as long as we leave a clean site. But folks want to get something. I always work hard to be as fair as I can be to frame owners, without the salvaged materials ending up costing more than they are worth. The 1750s barn is a valuable find, a real diamond in the rough. To find a 1750s gunstock frame with post-medieval construction is rare in our area. This is the earliest kind of construction that took place in Vermont and to have such a frame is not only a blessing but an honor. It is definitely worthy of restoration and will make an incredible new home for a buyer who appreciates historic value. The current owner of the barn is asking 25 dollars a square foot for the frame. This may be what these very early barns are worth nowadays. The cost to dismantle, restore and
The 1750s barn is a valuable find, a real diamond in the rough. To find a 1750s gunstock frame with post-medieval construction is rare in our area. This is the earliest kind of construction that took place in Vermont and to have such a frame is not only a blessing but an honor. It is definitely worthy of restoration and will make an incredible new home for a buyer who appreciates historic value. The current owner of the barn is asking 25 dollars a square foot for the frame. This may be what these very early barns are worth nowadays. The cost to dismantle, restore and re-erect this 30 foot by 40-foot frame may be 85 dollars a square foot. But in the end, someone would have one of Vermont’s earliest structures to call their own! And, with a bit of restoration, it would last another 250 years!
Have more questions about old barns and timber frames? Want to know if you have a post and beam gem on your own property? I’d love to hear from you! Contact Green Mountain Timber Frames at Luke@GreenMountainTimberFrames.com or 802.774.8972.
We had a great time last week getting this vintage timber frame up in Manchester, Vermont. The post and bean frame with hand hewn wood was originally built around 1800, in Middle Granville, NY.
It was a beautiful week and we worked surrounded by the vibrant colors of near-peak foliage and under the watchful eye of Mount Equinox in the background. Thank God, the weather was perfect!
Here are some pictures showing the highlights:
Here we are installing the roof rafters.