Discoveries Made While Salvaging Wood: The Story of the Henderson Barn

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When you do barn restoration and construction in the mercurial seasons of Vermont, the work in the wintertime differs greatly from what we do all summer long. Oftentimes, we spend winter months restoring beams indoors or lining up projects for the warmer months.
Recently, on one cold January day, we went to visit a father-son slate roofer team in Bennington, Vermont. We were there, as we often are, about an old barn. But this time, we weren’t actually interested in restoring the early 1800s barn. Rather, we wanted to purchase the disassembled barn so we could restore and use the beautifully aged beams in other timber frame projects.

Parts Barns: Salvaging Wood from Historic Homes

During our restoration process, we frequently have to source replacement parts to compensate for the toll that leaky roofs and unstable foundations have taken over the past two hundred years on our restoration projects. Whenever possible, we like to use matching vintage wood from similar aged and style barns. In order to get these replacement parts, we purchase “parts” barns. Most often, it is a barn that has not fared well and sadly is beyond the restoration stage. We salvage the sound elements of these frames in order to use them in full restoration projects.

A Remarkable Barn from Bennington

The parts barn that we purchased this January was particularly fascinating and, along with the wooden beams, we found stories of a family and their amazing history! While the frame was beyond repair as a unit, the remaining sound elements are incredible. The rafters were hewn, and the posts were 14 x 14-inch hand hewn oak.

Bennington Vermont Circa 1800

The barn dates from before 1800 and was built by the Hendersons, a family boasting a longstanding history in Bennington, Vermont.  At some point in history, the Vail family is in the story of this property as well, and this is another deeply embedded family in the town and its history. Today’s owners shared this map with me;  on it, you can see how the land parcels in the area were divided among families back in 1800.
1800s Map_Bennington VT Map

1800s Bennington VT land map showing the parcels

If you read through the names on each parcel, you can see that there were many Harmons on this hill and many of these families played a significant role in the events surrounding the Battle of Bennington in 1777.  It is so fascinating to see how the families started out with large tracts of land and then subdivided their tracts to keep family close.

Meet the Barn Owners

We purchased the barn after disassembly from a father/son team of expert slate roofers who live about 1/4 mile from the old Henderson property. The barn was going to be torched, and they couldn’t bear the thought of that history going up in ashes. So, since winter is a tough time to do slate roofs, they took on the tall task of disassembling this frame. They clearly gave great care to this task, as the beams and boards are unharmed, de-nailed, and washed.

Photos: Clues to the Barn Home’s Past

Here are a couple of old photos, dating from the first decade of the 1900s, that show the stately Henderson house. You can just see the barn in the background behind the horses head.
Henderson historic barn home_Vermont_1900s

1900s photograph showing Henderson home in the background

In the next photo, you will see a healthy maple tree next to the couple. It gave me chills to see the dissipating stump of this tree when I looked at the property, and to imagine all the life that has happened in this spot, and in the barn, before and after these photos were taken.

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1902 Wedding Photo in front of the Henderson House

The father and son made an incredible discovery when they were disassembling the barn. Underneath the three-inch floor of the barn, they found a civil war era rifle! Imagine the possible stories behind this weapon being hidden there!
We hope to honor the early settlers of this property who crafted the barn, those who used it for two hundred years, and also the neighbors who invested enormous effort and time into making sure that these beams can stand true again in another historical structure.

Do you have a barn home worth salvaging?

Contact us by email or call (802) 774-8972.

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Dutch Cape House from c. 1800

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One early morning, before dawn in November, two brothers were readying for an early morning deer hunt. Hunting culture in rural Vermont dates back to the original residents, and continues still. On this particular morning, breakfast was cooked, weapons readied, and excitement no doubt was rising!

I can imagine that the black of night began dissipating, and the hunters hurriedly finished their planning and headed out into the breaking daylight. A chair had been left too close the roaring wood stove and a couple hours later, a passerby saw smoke billowing from the house. Fortunately for those young men, for Green Mountain Timber Frames, and for the future owner of this beautiful timber frame, the fire was put out and the house survived!

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Since that early morning fire, this little house has served the farming community well. When the local grange had to move out of a nearby building, the family that owned this cape generously offered the space. After many community work days, the grange moved in for weekly meetings and community events. The National Grange of the Order of Patrons and Husbandry is a national organization that began shortly after the Civil War. The group works to promote community bonding and education around agriculture.

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This frame dates from around 1800, when Vermont was still a young state. It was placed in a little hollow between knolls with a stream nearby and land was cleared around it for farming. The house was built using oak, chestnut, and beach trees- no doubt the very trees that were cut down to begin opening up fields for livestock.

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This frame has four bents and stands true even after 200+ years and a close call with fire!

It is fascinating to get to study so many local timber frames and ultimately to get a sense of who built these structures many generations ago! This particular house is a Dutch style of timber framing. The bents are close together and the floor joists are built strong enough to span the whole 24 feet of width.

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A clear span of 24 feet makes this an open canvas for future room design.

This little building measures 24 feet by 26 feet. It is perfect for a small cabin or house, for an addition onto another building, or as a small storage or animal barn.

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The posts and top plate are 10 x 10 inches – a solid little house!

A Spacious Second Floor

One of the reasons we fell in love with this structure, and just had to save it, was the spacious second floor. The posts extend quite far above the second floor, creating a tall “knee wall.” There is plenty of head room upstairs.

The rafter system has a five sided ridge beam with braces to the rafters. Unfortunately, the rafters and ridge beam were damaged by the close call with fire and by subsequent roof leaks over the years. We will be replicating the original roof system however and it will once again be strong and beautiful.

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The posts extend up beyond the 2nd floor, creations a spacious second floor living area.

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Here you can see braces strengthening the structure.

The Ingenious Basement

The ingenuity and creativity of the builders of this home are demonstrated in the basement of the house. Underneath the floor system, we discovered a very rugged food storage room or “root cellar” built with rough hewn logs, stone, and brick.

I have no doubt that it was filled with ice from the nearby river before the spring thaw, and that it was filled with squash, potatoes and other vegetables in the fall! Surely, it also was an excellent place to make and keep that hard cider that Vermonters loved (and still do)! It also doubled as a very strong foundation for a wood stove on the second floor. Imagine the original residents filling this little room with the fruits of their labors, and then relishing the food during the bitter winters.

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Let’s keep those garden vegetables and root crops good all winter!

Once again, we consider it such a privilege to cross paths across the span of generations with the pioneers, carpenters, farmers, and families who have built and dwelt in this structure. We are also grateful to the family that saw the historical value of the house and allowed us to disassemble it once it could not be kept up in its original location. The restoration of this timber frame will take place over the future months and it will once again be ready to house future generations.

Interested in this timber frame or another historic property?

Contact Green Mountain Timber Frames at
luke@GreenMountainTimberFrames.com, or
802.774.8972

 

Spacious, Hardwood 1840s Timber Frame – For Sale

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We’ve named it the Meadow Barn. 

1_”34’x46’ hand hewn, hardwood timbered barn frame”

This beautifully kept timber frame barn, hailing all the way from Northern Indiana, was built amidst the prairies and the corn fields.

Former “meadow barn” surrounded by soybeans

Throughout the winter, the barn was used to store hay. The 34 X 46 foot structure stood far from the farmhouse itself, but strategically within the fields so that the balers wouldn’t have to transport the hay too far. Come springtime, the farmers could come back for the hay.

Who Built This Beautiful Barn?

The timber frame was likely built by New England timber hewers. Around the same period, in the 1840s, New England was adapting to water-powered saw mills. This meant the demand for craftsmen, who were skilled in creating square timbers using only axes and adzes, was on the way out. So the hewers headed west for new opportunities. 

What Makes This Barn So Remarkable?

While New Englanders had cut down most of the eastern hardwood trees and started building  with soft woods like pine, hemlock and spruce, Northern Indiana offered forests rich with hard wood timber. This frame was built from beautiful, first-cut red and white oak, beech, black walnut and ash.

Pic 2_Gable end wall, loft space possible in roof rafters

Wonderful White Oak Roof Boards

Because hard woods were still prevalent in Indiana, even the roof boards on this barn are hard wood. In fact, the white oak boards are so beautiful, the new owner could use them to make stunning flooring.

White Oak Roof boards restored by Green Mountain Timber Frames.JPG

In the picture below, you can see the full length, hand hewn timbers.

Pic 4,_Loft space evident

The following picture showcases the soft, warm colors of the hardwood.

Lovely color of hardwood hewn timbers

Standing the Test of Time – An Old Barn in Excellent Condition

The frame itself is in excellent condition, with straight lines that have stood up to over 165 years of grueling winters and winds in the mid-western plains.

Picture 6_Simple geometry survives  165+ years of prairie winds

Endless Possibilities

Spacious and sturdy, this frame offers an expansive 1560 square feet of space, with the option for a second floor. We could easily add in a loft system in the rafters.

This barn frame could become a great room or a complete home. It could also become a restored barn, restaurant, studio or vintage vehicle storage.

Want to Call This Beautiful Frame Your Own?

Give us a call at (802) 774.8972 or email Luke@GreenMountainTimberFrames.com

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

From Fatigued Old Barn to Beautiful Great Room

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Meet the “Fatigued Old Barn”

It was a frigid Vermont winter day when we first visited this old barn back in February of 2015.  It was too cold, even for us seasoned Vermonters. With more than two feet of snow on the ground, I wished I had brought my snow shoes.

Here’s a glimpse of how the barn looked – on the left – when we first met.

Original Restored Barn_Green Mountain Timber Frames_Before (800x601)The owner had called us to ask if we could dismantle this aging barn and restore it as a new Great Room, attached to their home. The barn, built originally in the 1850s, was indeed a perfect match for the house, a two story country home also built in the 1850s. 

Original Barn and 1840s Home_Green Mountain Timber Frames_Before (800x601)

Original barn beside 1940s barn with wooden silo.  House is in the back ground, on the right.

Dating the Barn

Judging from the 43 foot hand hewn beams, I concluded that the barn must have been built in the middle of the 19th century. Tall trees were still being hewn by hand into long square timbers. Shorter timbers, such as posts, were sawn at a local mill. During that time, sawmills could accurately saw up to 20 feet of timber, so the hand hewing guys were called in for the longer timbers. I often wonder if those guys – the “old school” timber framers – must have felt like horses when automobiles started to become more prevalent.

The Transformation Begins

Step 1: Dismantling

Once the snow melted, we traveled to Cavendish, Vermont to begin the careful process of dismantling the barn. The barn looked far more inviting during spring.

historic wooden barn with red roofIn three weeks, a team of six men dismantled the 30 x 43 foot barn and shipped it to the Green Mountain Timber Frames shop in Middletown Springs.

Cavendish Historic Barn before restoration _Green Mountain Timber Frames

Barn being dismantled, starting from the top.

Step 2: Restoration at the Shop

Once at the shop, we carefully washed all the timbers. We then laid them out in their new configuration of 21 x 35 feet and did a lot of joinery work. Next we assembled the roof structure, de-nailed the roof boards, gave them a solid washing, made them straight again, and finally re-applied them to the roof rafters. We made sure everything was well labeled, and then shipped the restored frame back to the Cavendish house site.

You can see much of the process in the pictures below:

Antique barn Restoration_Green Mountain Timber Frames_Vermont_3 (800x601)

Laying out the restored hand hewn beams into the new design.

Antique barn Restoration_Green Mountain Timber Frames_Vermont_4 (800x601)

Roof rafters re-adjusted and fitted, waiting for original roof boards

Antique barn Restoration_Green Mountain Timber Frames_Vermont

Rafters with restored roof boards applied and then labeled

The Great Room is Born – in Two Days

Because we had done the restoration work at our shop, re-erecting the frame for the new Great Room was a pretty straightforward task that took only two days.

In weather that was a far cry from the snowdrifts of February, we reassembled the frame under hot August sun with a team of four men and a mighty Lull (lift machine).

Erecting restored timber frame_Green Mountain Timber Frames_Vermont_Day1

Re-erecting the restored frame (the Lull is in orange)

Day One: Getting the Frame Up

During the first day, we spent about ten hours at the site. By day’s end we had most of the structure up, thanks to the help of the Lull and an experienced crew.

Erecting restored timber frame_Green Mountain Timber Frames_Vermont_Day1_2 (800x601)

Frame is up by the end of day one with a few roof rafters

Day Two: Raising the Rafters

Day two was even more fun as we placed all the roof rafters – always an exciting part of a barn restoration project – and experienced the structure taking its final shape. After hundreds of hours of our labor, the refurbished frame went together like a Lincoln Log set.  It’s gratifying each time to watch new life breathed into a formerly very distressed timbered, old barn.

Erecting restored timber frame_Green Mountain Timber Frames_Vermont_Day2

Finished frame. The roof is protected by tar paper, ready for the next stage.

Erecting restored timber frame_Green Mountain Timber Frames_Vermont_Day2_4 (800x601)

View from beneath the roof of the restored frame, with our friend the Lull behind.

The plans to complete this barn frame include a fireplace, large glass doors, a screened porch and a mudroom entryway. Truly it will become a GREAT room.

Coming Up Next:

This was a challenging and rewarding restoration project. Our next blog will feature a stunning new timber frame boat house, designed and built by Luke Larson and his crew. Stay tuned!

Buried Treasure! Antique Loom Found in 1780s Timber Frame

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This week’s guest blog comes to us from our fellow builder and timber framer, Glenn Tarbell, who is currently restoring a 1780s timber frame from Tinmouth, VT. 

We found this loom in a 1780s homestead in Tinmouth, Vermont. It was in the attic of a timber frame house I was taking down to restore for future construction.
 18th Century Loom_Green Mountain Timber Frames_Vermont
This particular timber frame has a fascinating rafter system. When I first assessed the frame, I went upstairs to take a look at the construction of the rafter system in this house.
Rafter System Historic Loom_Green Mountain Timber Frames

Inside the attic of the frame

Rafter System Historic Loom_Green Mountain Timber Frames

Rafter system

The rafter system was really strong with horizontal ties and bracing, not what you would find in many houses that early. It must have been built with an eye to the future – when roofs were made of slate – even though the frame was likely cedar-shingled the day it was built. The house also stood on a hill which has strong winds. The strong bracing and ties may have been added to ensure that the house would be able to withstand the unforgiving winds of a Vermont winter on a barren hilltop.
Rafter System Historic Loom_Strong horizontal ties and bracing

Strong horizontal ties and bracing

It was during my trip upstairs that I first caught a glimpse of the loom. Immediately, I thought it was an interesting and exciting discovery.

Discovering the Loom

The loom was scattered about the attic amid old magazines, glass jars, Model-T car pistons, feather or thresh bed mattresses and other old things that get stashed in an attic over 200 years.
magazine and other discoveries in an old timber frame barn_Green Mountain Timber Frames

Magazines and other discoveries in the old timber frame

I gathered the pieces of the loom from all corners of the attic. The big massive log where the fabric ends up was tossed in one corner, while another piece was on the far eve side of the house. The frame of the loom was still together, standing right next to the chimney. What is most beautiful about the loom is the craftsmanship. It’s built like a proper timber frame, as if it were a piece of furniture, or part of the house itself.

Restoring the Loom

When restoring any timber frame, the first task is to remove all the contents from the house and then begin to dismantle the frame. Because the work of historic timber frames is so much about preserving history, we save what we think is valuable or interesting for the new owner of the restored timber frame house.
18th Century Loom_Green Mountain Timber Frames

Restored loom

In this case, the loom was put aside, washed, and stored in Vermont. It will be shipped and delivered to the new owner together with the restored frame next spring.
The loom cleaned up nicely! I know there must be more to the loom then what I found, and I would love to see the loom in working condition with fabric once more being woven.

Know anything about historic looms or colonial weaving? Let us know! We’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment below or contact Luke or Glenn:
Luke Larson
Luke@GreenMountainTimberFrames.com
Tel: 802.774.8972

Glenn Tarbell

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!