Last week we began to disassemble the first of four barns that we will be removing from a property in Waterford, Vermont. All have fallen into disrepair, and the property owners have chosen to see us remove and save the old barns rather than have them deteriorate further.
Below is a beautiful photo taken in the late 1800s in front of the group of barns on the historic Daniels Farm:
How I would love to know the occasion that led to this photo being taken!
The farm was once a thriving scene, with over 1500 acres in agriculture. Removing this many barns far from our home base is quite an undertaking, so we decided to start with the smallest of the structures.
You can see our early 1800s corn crib in the far left of the next photo, nestled in back of the two larger barns:
This fantastic timber frame structure was originally built to dry and store the corn that was grown on the property. Our first clue to this early history was the classic corn crib siding- narrow vertical strips that have gaps between them in order to allow ventilation for the corn stored within.
In the next photo, you can see one of the corners of the building with the siding still in tact.
We received affirmation of the original purpose for this barn when we looked up at the roof trim. Do you see it?
Over the frame’s early years, critters were enjoying the nicely dried corn on the cob. It was probably raccoons that dragged corn up into the eves of the building for their evening meal. I am sure they were very grateful for all that good ventilation to keep their corn dry!
Removing the Roof Boards from the Barn Frame
Once we had the barn cleaned out, we began to remove the roof boards, labeling each one so that it can go back to its original home on the hand hewn rafters.
We also labeled all the beautiful siding boards. As is common with many of the old barns that we restore, some of the boards were replaced about one hundred years ago. We were noticing the uniquely strong circle saw marks on these boards when an older neighbor stopped in to chat.
He explained that there was an early water saw just down the hill, and that he had dug up old wooden water pipes in his field that had channeled water to the sawmill. It was so wonderful to hear some of the local knowledge about the story of this farm and the barn!
Once the roof boards, rafters, and siding had been removed, we set to work popping out the ash pegs that have held the joinery in place for so many decades.
Here is a view of how tightly the trees have grown up around the unused structure:
Due to disuse, wet ground, and trees growing so close to the barn, the sills have almost disappeared into the ground. We will have some work to do in repairing these post bottoms, but it will be well worth it to give this gem another life-span.
Carpenter Ants Leave Their Mark on the Frame
We received a surprise when we exposed one of the post top tenons. In the first of the photos below, you can see the incredible sculpture that carpenter ants created, much to my chagrin! They have chewed away all but the thinnest of strips- just enough to not collapse their own home. This post will be replaced from our inventory of hand hewn timbers. The second photo shows one of the healthy tenons in the barn. Now that is how a two hundred year old tenon should look!
In the next photo, we are lifting the top plate off of the posts.
When we return next week, we will lower the bents to the ground, label the posts and ties, and finish cleaning up the site.
This Old Barn Is for Sale!
This 16×20 corn crib, with its full second floor, will make an incredible little cabin or garden shed once we have restored the timbers.
Aside from wanting to start our large project in Waterford with the most manageable of the four barns, there was another important reason to delay the disassembly of the largest- a 32×42 gunstock timber frame. There is a family of Eastern Phoebes nesting under the eve. We learned that, incredibly, it takes only 16 days from when a Phoebe egg hatches till the birds will take flight from the nest! We will make sure they have flown before we begin disassembly of this magnificent barn.
When I stepped into the gunstock barn on Friday, I realized that the phoebes were not our only winged friends making use of the space. This little fellow had flown down from a nest and was taking a rest on a beautiful antique bow saw.
It seems the family of robins is already on the move! Stay tuned for more information on this large gunstock barn that has been home and habitat to so many over the last two hundred years- from farmers to pheobes.
Do you dream of living (or working) in an old barn?
We recently took down another beautiful corn crib from circa 1850. This structure has a fascinating history, and when we moved it six weeks ago, it wasn’t its first journey across the fields!
In the photo above, I discuss the frame with the current property owner. We are grateful to him and his family for wanting to see this historic barn frame saved.
History of the Barn
This photo shows a beautiful farmstead in Hartford, New York. In between the large barn and the house, you can see our little corn crib peeking through. I have been learning some of the history of the area from a wonderful little book published in 1896. As I delve into the history, I find that this corn crib has a complicated story- one that brings up both sorrows and joys in the story of this area.
A Bit of History from Hartford, NY
May 2 of 1764 first saw the lands of what would become Hartford given by grants from the English Crown to officers of the New York Infantry after they had served in the French and Indian wars. This land had previously been hunting grounds for the Iroquois tribe. The family who owns the land now tells me that they have found many stone arrowheads in the cornfields around the barns.
In the Revolutionary War section of the book shown above, Samuel Bowen mentions that one of the combatants in the war hailed from Hartford. His family was an early owner of the property where this timber frame barn once stood.
On March 12 of 1793, the town of Hartford was established. It was named after a tribal group who had been pushed out of Hartford, Connecticut, and who had taken up residence in the area.
Here are a few details that caught my eye and imagination from the town records:
- In 1794, just one year after the town was officially formed, it was decided at a town meeting that the grazing of sheep and swine on the town commons would no longer be allowed. In addition, it went into the notes of the meeting, which was held at the house of David Austin, that a lawful fence be no less than four and a half feet tall.
- In 1803, a special town meeting was called at the Baptist Church to take measures to slow the spread of smallpox. A committee of 11 was appointed to find ways to minimize the terrible effects of the disease.
- 1818 saw the imposition of a new tax that would raise $300 for the support of the poor, and also for a town-run home to support the needy.
- In 1846, Hartford took a vote to decide on the sale of “spirituous liquors.” Of the three hundred and two votes cast, 151 favored a liquor license, with the exact number of voters opposing the town-sanctioned sale of liquor! One year later, the mood had shifted, and the licensed sale of liquor was approved in town by a majority of 92 votes.
And right around the time that Hartford voted to allow the sale of liquor, a wonderful little corn crib was crafted.
About the Hartford Corn Crib
The barn was built to house the corn that was grown on the Hartford farm. It measures 14 x 20 feet. Classic corn crib siding was installed, which allowed for excellent ventilation that would keep the corn drying after it was harvested. Wide boards were sliced so that air could flow through the gaps, but rainwater would be unlikely to enter and spoil the corn.
The barn stood in the farmyard for over 100 years, right next to the large barn where animals were kept, and also where militia members were once housed during a conflict with Native Americans in the area.
The Corn Crib Makes Its (First) Move
Our little corn crib saw a big change in the fall of 1968. No longer needed for corn storage, the barn was moved from the farmyard out to the woods behind the fields. The structure was moved with the use of a bulldozer.
When the corn crib was moved, the family discovered a hand made mortar and pestle under the floorboards. It seems that one member of the Bowen family was a physician, and he likely used this tool to smash and mix early medicines.
In its new location on the edge of the woods, our little cabin was transformed from corn storage to trapper’s cabin. Here is what the 2nd floor loft looked like when I first got to visit it:
The Trapper Cabin and the Fur Trade
This time period was the height of profitability in the fur trade. The family that now owned it was involved in purchasing pelts from trappers, and then curing them to be used in the making of clothing. We pulled hundreds of these wooden stretchers out of the cabin, some with notes on successful trapping trips dating from the 1940s through the 1980s.
When the Green Mountain Timber Frames first viewed the cabin, it was in distress. The roof had leaked and it had not been inhabited for decades other than by porcupines and birds. Like the dry storage of corn cobs, the trapping industry was a thing of the past. We decided to take on the project of saving this barn, and finding a third purpose for the worthy structure.
Dismantling the Trapper’s Cabin
We moved onto the site in early February and tackled the clean-out of the barn. Once we got down to the structure, we removed the slate roof as well as the original cedar shake roof that was underneath. The siding was next. The boards on this little structure are impressive!
Some of the loft floorboards are also remarkable, and we know from our history book that these most likely came from local water sawmills that were in operation on the East Creek, not far from the cabin location.
The interior of the trapper cabin originally had a full loft and a staircase. There were bins on the 2nd floor for storage of grains, and we presume that bins existed along the eve walls for the drying of corn. In the next photo, you can see one bin remaining on the fall gable wall, as well as a bin on the 2nd floor.
We popped the pegs from the joinery, and disassembled the frame. Each wooden joint was labeled. In the next photo, you can see Isaac working on removing one of the oak pegs that holds the top plate in place. Andy seems to be helping to hold the barn up!
We had a great crew for the tip down of this adorable frame. Here they are standing on the 2nd floor of a gable end:
The braces that the guys are holding have a unique detail on them. I am intrigued by the “swoop” cut into the edge of the braces. It is gorgeous, and not something I have come across often in braces:
The floor joists and floor boars in this frame are wonderufl. Here is a view from the interior after we stripped the siding boards:
We made a fascinating discovery on one of the interior boards that came from this corn crib. In the next photo, you can see multiple inscriptions scratched into the surface of a pine plank:
This daisy wheel is an intriguing mark that we occasionally find in barns. Many theories abound about the meaning, ranging from a geometric blueprint for the structure, to the more superstitious theory that the mark was a “witch hex,” meant to ward off the presence of evil spells and the people who cast them.
This frame was built at a time not that far removed from the dark history of the witch trials of New England, and it does seem plausible that secret markings were used to protect food from imagined curses.
What is next for this timber frame structure?
For the second time in its story, the corn crib turned trapper cabin has been carried across the cornfields to the original Hartford site, and now back to our shop in Middletown Springs, Vermont. Because the farm road was impassible by truck and trailer, we brought our tractor over to carry the disassembled barn back to the main road.
We have now restored the timber frame structure, which included replacing one post with a similarly colored and aged timber, as well as other more minor repairs. In the next photo, we have one cross-section, or bent, of the barn assembled in our shop during the restoration.
We are now looking for a new home for this cabin and the stories that it tells. It would make a remarkable woodland or meadow cabin retreat with a half loft. Here is one last photo that shows the 2nd floor of the cabin.
This barn is for sale! Interested in learning more about this antique corn crib?
Parts Barns: Salvaging Wood from Historic Homes
A Remarkable Barn from Bennington
Bennington Vermont Circa 1800
Meet the Barn Owners
Photos: Clues to the Barn Home’s Past
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.
Do you have a barn home worth salvaging?
Contact us by email or call (802) 774-8972.
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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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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We’ve named it the Meadow Barn.
This beautifully kept timber frame barn, hailing all the way from Northern Indiana, was built amidst the prairies and the corn fields.
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.
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.
In the picture below, you can see the full length, hand hewn timbers.
The following picture showcases the soft, warm colors of the hardwood.
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.
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
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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:
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:
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.
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.
As 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.
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.
We 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…
Coming up next…
Stay tuned for a future blog on the amazing and artistic labeling system on this gambrel frame!