Saving a Giant of a Barn: the Benson Timber Frame

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We are now two weeks into the careful dismantling of a beautiful timber barn – for sale –  that dates from around 1880. This timber frame is not as old as many of the structures that we take down and restore here at Green Mountain Timber Frames, but the high quality of the frame more than justifies our efforts to save it. At 34 x 48 feet, this wonderful vintage frame is a big one!

evening light on old barn for sale in benson | green mountain timber framesThe barn’s foundation, roof and sills are deteriorated, and would be very difficult and costly to repair in place. We have purchased the barn and now it is in our court to take down the frame, restore it, and find a new home for this majestic and historic building.

(Let us know if you are interested in seeing the barn!)

Taking Down the Timber Frame Barn: Step by Step

Our first step was to remove an enormous amount of hay from the inside of the building. Thankfully, we had some pitchforks handy. removing hay from the benson frame | green mountain timber framesThe hay piled inside the barn had been hiding a very interesting feature of this barn. The smallest bay, which is where the animals were kept, had built in wooden gutters for removing manure.

Discoveries in an Old Barn

The clever system had two trap doors that could be opened, allowing the waste to be dropped into wagons or carts below for spreading on the nearby fields. There was also a trough in front of the animals where they could be fed. It is really amazing to see the wear marks on the floor from hooves. We can tell where the antsy cow lived many years ago! cleaning out cow stalls in old barn for sale green mountain timber framesWe made another discovery while opening up the walls of this barn. Between layers of siding, honey bees had built a hive at some point in the past.discovering an old bee hive in the benson old barn for sale green mountain timber framesWe collected the brittle wax comb, and I am excited to make candles out of it. Once we find a new home for this barn and re-erect it, I can imagine a celebratory meal in the restored frame- lit by the wax of this bee hive. honey comb in the wall of benson barn for sale green mountain timber framesAs we removed the wide hemlock wall boards, we labeled each one so they can be installed back in the same location. Many of the timber boards are over 15 inches wide, and the patina on them is spectacular.

We can’t wait to wash them, but the temperature will have to get up above freezing for that process to take place and winter really seems eager this year in Vermont. wide vintage boards for sale | green mountain timber frames

Removing the Slate Roof

Once we had the barn cleaned out and many of the siding boards removed, we went on to remove the roof system. This barn still had its original roof- large purple slate from the nearby quarries.

Here we are removing the slate piece by piece.

It was unusual for us to be removing the original roof from a building, as most of our older frames went through at least two, and often four, generations of roofing material before they come under our care. Much of the slate is still good and we will set it aside with the frame for future use. removing slate and roof boards benson barn for sale In order to be as safe as possible, we built a temporary second floor in the barn. This allows us to do most of the board and rafter removal from this deck rather than from the top of the roof or from long ladders. This barn is so large that it took fifty sheets of plywood to create this safe work platform! how to take down an old barn safelyThe effort building the deck paid off, as we removed and labeled each roof board.removing roof boards from benson barn for saleLet me share a couple more interesting features of this barn:

All farmers know how hard it is to keep large barn doors on a building. Inevitably, it seems, they get caught by a gust of wind and torn off the building. Well, it must have been someone with life experience who designed this structure. They built a giant pocket door system and hung the 13-foot-tall doors on tracks on the inside of the barn.

In order to create this space for the doors, secondary posts were added in the doorway bents. In this way, gusts of wind could not get at the doors when they were opened. giant pocket door old barn for sale A good luck horseshoe was nailed to one side of the door opening. horseshoe for good luck benson timber frame barn for saleIt was exciting to get lots of light on the upper queen system. These timbers support the rafters at mid-span, making the roof strong enough to carry the weight of all that slate as well as Vermont’s winter snow. There is a unique and beautiful scarf joint that was used to get the queen plates to span the whole 48 feet.queen system in benson old barn for sale green mountain timber frames

Here is a close-up of the scarf joint:scarf joint  | green mountain timber framesWhile the queen plate is made out of two timbers, the main top plate that creates the eve of the building is not. Incredibly, these hand-hewn timbers are the full length of the barn at 48 feet and 2 inches! Imagine the size of the old-growth tree that was required, as well as the difficulty of getting these beams in place without the use of modern equipment.

These 48-foot timbers are a testament to the skill of the timber framers who crafted this barn, as well as to the strength of a community that would come together to hoist such a barn into place. We are honored to now be the caretakers of this structure.48 foot hand hewn timber | green mountain timber frames

You can see drawings of the barn here on our site.

This old barn is for sale!

If you are interested in this barn, or another timber frame structure, let us know!

 

 

1790s Gambrel House Restored and Available for Sale!

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Two years ago, we began taking down a gambrel house from the 1790s. (We blogged about it here and here.) I am delighted to report that we have now completed the restoration of this rugged old timber frame! After the passage of that much time, it is all the more satisfying to be putting the timber joints, so masterfully crafted over two hundred years ago, back together as they are meant to be!

Here is what the house looked like when we first heard about it:

1790 Gambrel House_Historic_Green Mountain Timber FramesWhy did we take on this project?

The house was on the docket to be burned down by the local fire department. We are so grateful to the fire fighter who realized how old the house was and contacted Green Mountain Timber Frames! We just couldn’t stand to let it be destroyed.

A couple hundred hours into the process of gutting the house, which included filling two giant dumpsters with insulation, vinyl siding, sheet rock, plaster, and much other “sundry”, our hearts were sinking. But then we finally started to see the original frame. Here is the view after approximately 650 cold winter hours of gutting:

Original 1790 timber frameAfter a couple hundred hours more, we had the frame down and stored carefully under tarps. Now the frame is once again standing, this time in restored condition.

Restored historic timber_Vermont_Green Mountain Timber Frame_Larson FarmWhat does it mean that we have restored the frame?

The first step was to power wash each individual beam, brace, and board, as well as pull thousands of nails out of the timbers. Next, we went over each beam looking for fatigued areas that needed attention. Below is a “English scarf joint,” an incredibly strong joint that we used to replace the bottom of a post.

British Scarf Joint_Green Mountain Timber Frame_Larson FarmRestoration – with painstaking attention to details

The photo below shows a careful repair we did to one of the five beams that measure thirty-eight feet long. The beam had a very “tired” spot over this post due to a leak in the roof that must have persisted for years. We carefully removed soft areas, and replaced them with hand hewn material. Good for another 200 years! We were able to use materials from the original carrying sills of the house to make the repairs on the posts and beams.

Repaired Wooden Beam_Restored Timber Frame_Green Mountain Timber Frame_Larson FarmAs part of the restoration, we laid out each cross-section of the building, called “bents” and “plate walls,” and checked all the joints for tightness and the geometry for squareness. We built new rafters out of oak to replace some that had been too far gone for re-use.

In the following photo, we are laying out all the original wall boards on the ground to check our labeling system as we put the boards back in their original location.

Original Historic Wall Boards_Green Mountain Timber Frame_Larson FarmThe plaster lines from the eighteenth century construction even lined up on the interior! Many of the sheathing boards are over twenty inches wide!

20 inch wide Sheating BoardsWhy have we put this frame up on temporary sills?

Often, we are able to locate a vintage barn and keep it standing until a new owner has a chance to look at it and decide if it will meet the needs and dreams for a new house or addition. In some cases, we have to take the frame down immediately, as in the case of this gambrel in order to avoid its date with the fire department!

With gratitude to Larson Farm, where timber framer Luke Larson grew up, we are able to put the frame up both to check our work and to have it up so that anyone considering using it can walk through it and visualize what it can become.

Here are some highlights of this particular frame:

  • Pre-1800s and framed with American Chestnut, Beech, Oak, and Elm.
  • Gunstock frame on both floors! This means the posts grow in width towards the tops.
  • The gambrel profile creates a 22’x38′ wide open living space on the second floor. First floor is 28’x38′.
  • Original arched collar ties.
  • Original wide pine flooring boards are available.

The October brilliance of color in Vermont has made it a pleasure to work on this frame over the past weeks! This frame is currently available for purchase, and is now ready to stand strong and true again in a new location.

Historic Barn Frame for Sale_ Green Mountain Timber Frame_Larson Farm

11_Inside view of Gambrel Roof_Green Mountain Timber Frame_Larson FarmWe wish to thank the Larson Farm for their generous loan of space to put the frame up. Please visit the frame on its current location. You can learn more about the farm and its fantastic vision on the Larson Farm website or on Facebook.

This frame could be your home… 

If you are interested in turning this beautiful gambrel frame into your own historic property, learn more on our website or contact us at 802.774.8972 or Luke@GreenMountainTimberFrames.com.

Coming up next…

Stay tuned for a future blog on the amazing and artistic labeling system on this gambrel frame!

Labeling System_Restored historic gambrel home_Vermont_Green Mountain Timber Frame_Luke Larson Farm

Labeling System

Possible – Beautiful Barn Home from Benson, VT – Available Frame!

I am helping the owner of this finely crafted timber frame find a new owner. The frame, originally built in the 1870s stands a majestic 32 feet wide and 48 feet long.

1_Exterior view_original purple slate visible repairs noticeable from lighter slate color - Copy

The large barn is in good condition and could make a stunning barn home, restored barn, studio or gallery. With so much space, there are a lot of options. There is 1500 square feet of space with an additional 750 square feet of potential if we add in a loft.

5_Partial loft floor joists noticeable_ potential for 750 sq ft loft - Copy - Copy

Notice the partial loft floor joists – great loft potential!

One added feature is the slate roof. Since Benson is in Vermont’s “slate belt,” this frame boasts an unusual purple slate roof that is of the best quality that you can find in the region.

In the picture below, you can see the wide gable wall which stretches 32 feet. The roof pitch is 12-12. This is one reason it feels so big inside.

2_Gable wall is 32 feet wide_roof pitch is 10-12 - Copy - Copy

Both the roof boards and wall boards are in excellent condition and the frame features long timbers that are hand hewn. The posts themselves are sawn.

Some more interior pictures below. Notice the beautiful honey color and the well preserved vertical wall boards.

Timber frame roof boards

4_Interior color is honey brown_ nice vertical wall boards

historic post and beam home

Interested in living in a historic property? Have questions?

Please give me a call at 802.774.8972. This post and beam frame could really make a one-of-a-kind barn home and we are looking for just the right owner to preserve this beautiful frame.

Worth Saving? Assessing the Value of a Barn

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. 1_Roof Comparison on Old Barn HomesNEW 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. 2_Vertical or Horizontal Siding on Timber Frames3. 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. 3_Over Built or Crooked Old Barn FrameNEW 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.  4_Gunstock Posts on Timber Frame 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! 5_Roof Rafters on Timber Frame 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.

6_Signs of Timber Fatigue

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.

7_Diagonal Braces of TimbersNEW

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.

8_Girt TimbersFINAL

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.

In Summary…

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. 

Photo Recap of Restoring the Gunstock Timber Frame

(Or Sissy’s Frame as she now is known)

One great bonus of restoring this most recent frame has been the proximity to my house and “office.” In this panorama, you can see the restored gunstock frame in the center and behind the trees towards the right hand side is a view of a barn I have restored in my workshop – right next door!

Green Mountain Timber Frames and Sissy's Kitchen

Panorama showing Gunstock frame and Green Mountain Timber Frames’ Workshop

And here’s a shot of me and Sissy standing in front of Sissy’s Kitchen and a shot I love of the finished frame.

Old Barn for sale in Vermont

Old Barn for sale in Vermont!

Timber framer Dan McKeen and Sissy in Vermont

Restoring this frame has been a lot of fun, with no small credit due to Sissy for her culinary delicacies served with the love of home cooking. Lunch by Sissy's Kitchen Well earned Sissy's Lunch

Here the smiling crew raises the first wall of the frame:

timber frame barn raising

The happy timber frame crew

Smiling crew ready for Sissy’s lunch

By the way – we found an old-fashioned mower  – and sprinkler! Check out below and you can see Sissy mowing the lawn inside the restored frame.

Restored Gunstock Frame with oldfashioned Mower

Sissy mows the lawn

Old fashioned sprinkler in VT

The frame is only on display at Sissy’s – it’s still available for sale and inquiries are welcome!

Who wouldn’t want to take this old barn home with them…?

Interested? Send me an email!

Roof on Old Restored Timber Frame

This shot shows the roof we just finished.