Saving the Barns of Daniels’ Farm: A Journey to the Northeast Kingdom

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waterford gunstock frame_historic old barn

The Green Mountain Timber Frames crew has just returned from week three in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. We are continuing to disassemble 4 old barns on a historic farm. While this past week was not as dramatic as the take-down of the corn crib that was featured in our last blog, we did make incredible progress as well as some discoveries. We even made some new friends in the area.

Removing the siding and roof from a 26×50 barn

One of the largest barns on the property was once a magnificent cow barn. Unfortunately, the posts have rotted to the point that we cannot restore this barn. It is rare for us to turn down a “save and restore” opportunity but in this case, the choice became very clear as we removed the siding and discovered vast rot in the posts.

Here is what we discovered underneath the vertical siding boards:

wood shaving insulation on historic barn

The walls had been packed tight with wood shavings and sawdust. The Daniels Farm, where this barn resides, had a sawmill on the premises at one point in its history. It must have seemed like a good idea to use the shavings for insulation. However, the end result was that the sawdust held moisture and rotted the frame.

Cows living on the inside of the barn created a lot of moisture through their living and breathing. In the cold weather, this warm humid air moved through air gaps in the shavings, hit the cold exterior boards of the barn, and condensed into water. The sawdust acted to hold this moisture.

A sawmill turned…apple-crusher

An interesting fact we learned about the Daniels’ sawmill was that when it came to be apple picking season each year, the workings of the sawmill were converted to power a giant apple crusher. Apparently, the Daniels and their neighbors made a great deal of apple cider when they weren’t busy making sawdust!

Surprise friends at the Daniels’ fawmill

Early in the week, we met some residents of this barn while removing the siding. And oh my goodness, it was cuteness overload!

baby raccoons hiding in historic Vermont old barn

We built a ramp down from the wall cavity where this family of 3 baby raccoons was living and then left the area alone for the rest of the day. I was so worried that we had scared the mother away.  However, at the end of the day as we were getting into the truck to leave, Andy looked back at the barns. To our surprise and relief, we could see the profile of the mother raccoon perched in the peak of the barn. She had never left at all! Thankfully, we saw little footprints at the bottom of the ramp we had built when we returned in the morning. Mother had led them out to a new home.

While this barn is not restorable, it is certainly salvageable. We will use the roof boards, the siding, and many of the sound beams on future restoration projects. We will even use the nails and the metal roofing.

Speaking of roofing…it was quite a project to remove it all on a hot afternoon!

removing metal from roof of waterford barn

Next, we removed the roof boards. They have beautiful patina and will be a perfect match for replacing some of the boards on the other barns on the property that we will be restoring.

GMTF team removing roof boards waterford old barn

Next, we lowered the rafters to the deck.

Green Mountain Timber Frames crew removing half-round rafters

We wrapped up our work on this barn by popping the pegs out of the sound braces and timbers. When we bring in a machine in a couple of weeks, we will be able to hoist the heavy beams safely down to the ground.

We came across an incredible piece of nail artwork while we were pulling the rafter tips apart. Cut nails were used, and some of them were made from fairly soft steel. Isaac discovered this incredible shape:

curled cut nail art_antique nail from historic Vermont barn

The nail had split apart lengthwise as it was hammered into the rafter. One piece of the nail went straight in, and the other curled up to form this beautiful profile!

This unique nail was one of many thousand nails that we have pulled over the past weeks. They range from large to small, and from hand forged to machine-made square nails. While pulling and de-nailing boards, we keep two five gallon buckets on hand: one for the nails that we can re-use, and one for the bad nails and other scraps of metal that we can recycle. We filled many buckets this past week!

buckets of salvaged nails from timber frame projects

We will soak the nails that are in good shape in vinegar, which will loosen the corrosion. A quick cleaning after that, and these old nails will be as good as new.

At GTMF, we are dedicated to preserving the historic architecture of New England. We restore old barns and build timber frame homes. Using nails like these and the wood beams salvaged from barns like the ones on the Daniels’ Farm, we are able to create historic homes built to last for centuries to come.

If you’re interested in learning more about our work, building a timber frame barn or owning your own barn home, contact us.

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

 

How Can an Antique Barn Withstand the Weight of All That Snow?

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Here in New England, we have to think about snow in relation to old barns and barn homes. In particular, we have to think about the tremendous weight that a sticky snowfall can deposit onto the roof of an old barn.

Snow weights a lot…

The expected snow load in Vermont can be as high as 65 pounds per square foot. On a giant old barn with a huge roof, that kind of weight can add up. We also live on the edge of the slate valley, so many of our barns have slate roofs. A slate roof adds eight to ten pounds to each square foot. That is some serious weight that the roof has to support!

Last weekend, we were blessed with 24 inches of snow in some areas and now we are getting heavy rain on top of that. So how did the master timber framers of the 1700s and 1800s build their roof systems strong enough to stay true in winter storm events?

The answer in many cases is the engineering brilliance of a queen system.
vintage barn restored queen system green mountain timber frames

In the barn shown above, which dates from the early 1800s and that we restored last summer, the queen system is the two full-length timbers and the posts and braces that support them. This method of construction cuts the effective length of the rafters in half, keeping them ridged under the forces of gravity.

Roof loading, caused by the weight of the roof system itself, the roofing material and the snow that collects on it, leads to two types of force. The first is a load directly down that can lead to sag or failure of the rafters themselves. A queen system supports them in the middle, thereby cutting down on the possibility of sag.

The second force is an outward thrust, meaning that the weight pushes outward towards the eves of the building. In an inadequate frame, this can break the joinery that holds the building together. In order to help with this outward thrust, queen posts are braced down to the horizontal girts. When the rafters are pinned to the queen beam, it reduces the amount of outward force that they can exert on the eve walls. historic barn rafter support system green mountain timber frames

Another way that timber framers keep the queen system and rafters from spreading under weight is the use of horizontal ties between the queen posts. This technique makes a ridged queen bent, and when the rafters are pegged down into it, they are held back from pushing the eves of the barn. Pre 1800s gunstock barn for sale_Green Mountain Timber Frames
The photo above shows a beautiful frame that we will be restoring soon. The pre-1800s gunstock frame has a queen system that looks like a stand-alone timber frame structure that provides rigidity to the roof system.

Another common style of queen system has the posts angled to meet the rafters at a 90-degree angle. When the posts are angled like this, large braces are needed to withstand the outward force.
1850s barn for sale restored on Cape Cod
The barn pictured above is an 1850s barn that we restored and re-erected on Cape Cod. And here is a photo of a very large barn that we did restoration work on in place this past summer. img_3058

Let it snow!

And, as always, contact us if you have any questions about queen systems in antique barns.

 

Time Is Running Out…Can You Help Us Save This Beautiful, Historic Barn?

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Here at Green Mountain Timber Frames, we are trying to find a new owner to help us save this beautiful 1800s barn for saletimber frame barn for sale green mountain timber frames

The barn dates from the 1880s. It is a remarkably well-built structure, and we are getting down to crunch time. This antique barn has to be taken down in November, and we are eagerly trying to find a home for it. Can you help?

Antique barn for sale_ Green mountain timber frames benson vermont

A tall and magnificent structure, the historic barn stands 34 X 48 feet. The frame has beautiful color and it would make an incredible barn home, hay barn, or horse barn. It could also become an incredible event space or restaurant in its next life.

With a steep roof pitch, the interior is majestic and cathedral-like.

Antique barn interior_Vermont barn for sale

The patina on the wooden beams has been created by approximately 140 years of light, oxidization and aging. These colors just cannot be replicated on new wood.

partial floor joists in timber frame barn for sale

The frame had a partial loft originally, and more loft could be added during restoration, renovation and rebuilding.

The Stories Barns Can Tell

I had a remarkable visit recently with the matriarch of the family. The same family has lived on this farm since the beginning of the 1900s. As we stood by the faded clapboard wall of the structure, she told me stories about growing up on this farm.

Now well into her 80s, her memory is sharp. She told me stories passed on to her about tough times during the depression. Her father had a mortgage on the farm, and could not make the payments when the economy was poor and money was scarce. He went to the local Vermont bank and secured an agreement that if he could keep up with the interest payments on the loan, the bank would delay the regular payments until times improved.

Even this was a challenge, so the family planted one of the cornfields to cabbages. From the middle of a summer through the following winter, the farm truck was loaded with cabbages every weekend, and the family drove to the nearby town of Brandon to sell the cold crops for cold cash. Armed with perseverance, and with the help of cabbages, this family made it through.

Can We Preserve This Piece of History?

Now it is our turn to preserve this worthy barn. If your vision for the future can include caretaking this structure, or if you know of someone who needs a barn, please pass on the good word. Help us preserve our New England heritage. Thank you.


NOTE: We first blogged about this historic barn back in 2014 when the family asked us to help us find a new owner who would love the structure and restore it.

Want to help us save this Vermont barn?

Please contact me with any questions. (802) 774-8972
Luke@GreenMountainTimberFrames.com

What Is One to Do with an Antique Slaughter Wheel?

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This antique slaughter wheel came out of an old Vermont barn for sale, built in the late 1700s. The barn has been taken down, and Green Mountain Timber Frames recently purchased the timber beams, as well as this beautiful antique.vintage slaughter wheel from Vermont barn home
The barn that housed this magnificent wheel was on the Henderson/Vail property in Bennington, Vermont. The family played a significant role in the Revolutionary War.
David Harmon, a key figure in the town’s history, built and operated Harmon’s Tavern around 1770, which was located about 1/4 of a mile from the Vail house. On August 14, 1777, General Stark had breakfast at Harmon’s Tavern on his way to the Battle of Bennington. He likely marched past this barn on his way to the significant battle.
The barn is just visible behind the trees and between the couple in the next photo, taken around 1900. (Read more about this timber frame barn.)
henderson historic barn home in vermont
The slaughter wheel we have just brought home and cleaned was mounted in the center bay of the barn. This was a common practice in the 18th century. In our work restoring old barns, we have come across many of these hoists, forgotten between the bents of ancient barns. Sitting 12-14 feet in the air and just inside a large barn door, the hoists often emerge from the darkness above our heads as our eyes adjust from the bright outdoors to the solemn twilight of an aging barn interior.
hoist of antique slaughter wheel green mountain timber frames
Remarkably, both ends of the log were still able to spin. The doweled ends sat in a cradle on top of the girts, which are the 30-foot timbers, spanning the width of the barn. A rope was wrapped around the large wheel and held in place by hand-forged metal brackets. A second rope passed through a hole in the middle of the round log.
The large size of the wheel in comparison to the diameter of the log gave tremendous leverage to an individual hauling something up into the air. It is an ingenious and simple method that functions much like a pulley system.
antique slaughter wheel green mountain timber frames
The wheel was used for cleaning slaughtered animals or for lifting the end of a wagon in need of repairs. This particular wheel is notable in that it is crafted out of a black walnut tree. The walnut boards that were needed to cut the four curved sections must have started at about 28-inches wide. It is 13 feet long, and about six feet around.
antique hoisting slaughter wheel green mountain timber frames

So what do we do with such a beautiful artifact of our Vermont farming heritage? A client of ours is considering using it as a giant chandelier in his 1780s timber frame barn home that we restored for him. I can just imagine the dinner party conversations that would ensue as guests look up at this slaughter wheel and discuss its past!

Or, this wheel hoist may just end up residing in the upper beams of our shop where we could use it to lift its contemporaries- beams from the same time period that we restore.

Have an idea of what we should do with the slaughter wheel? Or simply interested in learning about the barns we have for sale?

We would love to hear from you.

802.774.8972 or luke@greenmountaintimberframes.com

Camp Moonrise…Or How Our Old Barn Home on Lake Champlain Found Its Name

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Steven KelloggToday’s guest post comes from the talented author and illustrator, Steven Kellogg. We so enjoyed working with him and are honored to have him write for our little blog! 

I am an artist who, for decades, on rambles throughout the northeast, has admired old barns. Recently, I have been thrilled with the acquisition of a rugged, hand hewn barn frame The barn itself had been slowly deteriorating on the abandoned farm it had once served, and then was subsequently rescued, and restored.

4

The historic gunstock frame stood tall and true on the Champlain Island of North Hero

It came into my life because, with our family grown and my wife having developed some health issues that required a residence that is handicap accessible, I decided to build a home with supportive features to accommodate those needs on a piece of property on the shore of Lake Champlain that we had owned for a number of years.

I envisioned a house with several spacious, wheelchair accessible rooms overlooking the lake, that, most importantly, would have an old barn at its core. The interior would be designed so that classic proportions, a richly-toned original ceiling, and sculptural, hand hewn beams would serve as the major architectural themes.

Window View_Steven Kellogg Timber Frame Home

The windows look out over the beautiful lake, and towards the barn’s original location

My search for just the right barn led me to Dan McKeen of Green Mountain Timber Frames, and then to his friend and colleague, Luke Larson, a master carpenter in Middletown Springs, Vermont. They had a number of impressive barn frames available in their inventory. Each one had been rescued from its original location on the farm where it had originally served. Each of these restored barn frames was like a rural cathedral with beautiful, simple, architectural lines, massive, hard wood beams, and magnificent notched and pegged construction.

Amongst these treasures, one of them stood out because of its superior details and appropriate size. I could picture it perfectly on our property. This particular historic frame came with added appeal: it was originally built around 1780 on one of Lake Champlain’s North Hero Island farms, not far from its prospective new home on our wooded knoll overlooking that very same lake.

When Luke and his skilled crew erected the barn frame on our wooded site, it seemed so harmoniously situated that it gave the impression that it had always been there.

Because our land is on the New York side of the lake, we resolved to honor the Adirondack tradition of calling rustic lakeside and woodland homes “camps” and giving them names. Prompted by the fact that the reconstructed North Hero Island barn faced our favorite monthly spectacle — the full moon lifting above the Vermont mountains and the lake — we decided it would henceforth be known as “Camp Moonrise.”

Interior View_ Steven Kellogg Timber Frame Home

The sign over the hearth reads “Camp Moonrise”

Now that we are happily putting down roots in this beautiful building and enjoying every hour of living here, we will be forever grateful to Luke, Dan, and their team of master craftsmen for their passion for old barns and their creative talents, which made this opportunity available to us.

Read more about the process of restoring this old barn in this blog.  For the Camp Moonrise project, Green Mountain Timber Frames partnered with the talented staff at Cloudspitter Carpentry and Hall Design Group.


More Images of the Beautifully Restored Barn HomeCamp Moonrise

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“Did a Farmer Build This Barn?”

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Since we inspect dozens of barns every year, and because we’ve got lots of barns for sale, we often receive this question. In the 18th century, who, exactly, was it that was crafting these beautiful structures that required such skill and attention to geometry, math, fine woodworking skills, and practicality?1790-barn-with-5-sided-ridge-beam

At times, we have heard the question asked in a mildly derisive manner, as if it was built by farmers rather than carpenters. At other times, we are asked in a tone of reverence for the broad spectrum of skills required and the appreciation of raw materials, motivation, communal commitment, and just plain hard work involved. It is in the latter spectrum that we solidly fall in our assessment of our New England structures and their creators from so long ago.

Our Latest Vermont Timber Frame Project

This week we spent two intense days disassembling a beautiful addition on a house in Tunbridge and Chelsea, Vermont. Two towns, you may be asking? Yes indeed-the town line ran right through the center of the property, and the house is in Tunbridge, while the addition was in Chelsea. While mid-stream on the addition dis-assembly, a town truck from Tunbridge came by, and the driver stopped. Leaning far out the window of the dump truck, he called to us, “What, moving out of Chelsea, eh?”

The joke was followed by much guffawing and laughter. I am not sure why that dump truck had been driven to the literal dead end of the road, but I am suspicious it may have been for the purpose of telling that joke- and I love it! News of renovations and changes travel fast in our small Vermont towns.

timber frame addition in the snow green mountain timber frames

The first time I looked at the addition, the snow banks were deep.

Early gunstock timber frame green mountain timber frames

What a difference a couple of months can make in Vermont! The house is a beautiful 1820s gunstock frame.

Let’s get back to the theme of “farmer built.” As someone raised on a Vermont dairy farm, and accustomed to the great joys and hardships of farming, I can not state strongly enough my appreciation for the barns and their builders of yesteryear. We at Green Mountain Timber Frames are so fortunate to get the insider’s view of many local barns, and we have been able to trace the progression of a master timber framer through our valleys by observing unique “signature” qualities of frames.

Recently, we noted a very unique rafter birds mouth detail for example that we have seen in only two local structures- which “happened” to be only 20 miles apart. Was this a case of farmers sharing ideas and techniques with their neighbors, or is it because a master builder traveled around the area coaching and aiding as farm families built their barns?

Hand hewn rafters green mountain timber frames

The rafters are beautiful petite spruce with a half-lap joint at the peak.

In the case of this structure in Chelsea/Tunbridge, we found an extra special clue that the addition was indeed farmer built. They used pieces from a split rail fence as collar ties to support the rafters!

split rail collar tie green mountain timber frames

I would love to have heard the conversation where they decided to grab some rails from the nearest fence! With the property being high on a mountain, it would have been a long trip to a saw mill, and the split fencing was right there. “Keep the job moving!” we builders like to say.

collar tie and hand made nails green mountain timber frames

Note the beautiful hand-made nails that hold the collar tie in place. The family for whom the country road is named were blacksmiths as well as farmers, and I am certain they made these nails themselves.

The posts of the addition had been devastated by carpenter ants, and the foundation was crumbling. Because of this, we will not be restoring the frame. Rather, we will use the hemlock roof boards and the beautiful rafters on the future restoration of another building.

vintage hemlock roof boards green mountain timber frames

The roof boards have beautiful color that only time can create.

We are grateful to the property owner for his desire to see the materials recycled. Just like the farmer who originally put this structure together, we want to recycle all that we can. In fact, we left those vintage pieces of split rail fence behind with the property owner, and I expect they may be put right back into the fence that is only thirty yards from the house to “live another day” back where they came from.

Are you looking for historic barns for sale? Want a new-old barn home?
We’d love to help! 

Luke@GreenMountainTimberFrames.com or (802) 774-8972