The 1840s Historic Home: Saving Precious Timbers

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We recently finished working on a small project dismantling part of an 1840s home. The residents were tearing down a section of their historic home to make room for a new addition.
historic home renovation_Green Mountain Timber Frames

The new addition honors the style of the original, and retains the stone foundation

Honoring the value of the vintage wood, they asked Green Mountain Timber Frames to help them salvage parts of the structure.
The answer? Of course!
While the frame itself was beyond repair, with careful disassembly of the timbers, we were able to save the vintage flooring, siding boards, and many of the hand hewn beams. The owners were very happy to know the materials are being recycled and some of the wood was even put to use in their new addition.
historic barn frame 1840 post and beam _Green mountain timber frames

The original wall sheathing is 1/2 inch boards

We look forward to working with these materials in future restoration projects. The beams, flooring, and siding will help us maintain the authentic, historic look and we are grateful to the owners for sharing them with us.
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The hand hewn beam shown at the top of the wall is 30 feet long

They even wrote us a lovely note and while we risk sounding immodest, it made us so happy that we wanted to post it here. We are so glad the owners share our love of history and facilitated our collaboration to recycle the beams!
Thank you so much for the caring removal of 1840s ell on our home. We are still so amazed that the work was done so quickly!  Thank you for sharing information on the way our post and beam addition had been constructed.  Our shadow box of various pieces of the ell will have a place of honor in the new addition, too.”
When springs finally comes to Vermont this year, we will be dismantling another historic building on their property to salvage the materials.

Do you have a historic property that you want to preserve? 

We would love to help.

802.774.8972

Restoring a 30 x 42 Barn Frame – Our Latest Endeavor

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Despite winter’s encroachment here in northern New England, we’ve been hard at work at Green Mountain Timber Frames.

For our most recent project, we have been restoring a beautiful 30×42 foot barn frame from New York state. Built in the 1790s, it is a fine example of a gunstock frame.

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Look at the handsome grain and joinery of this gunstock oak post

What is a gunstock timber frame?

This means that the upper timbers all come together at the same elevation. It is an incredibly strong method of construction.

img_4239 However, there is a drawback to gunstock frames: it can be challenging to install a second floor because the rafters start at the same elevation as the loft. It is not an issue for storing hay, but can be a challenge when designing a bedroom! The team, which includes a restoration architect, our client and ourselves, figured out a way to install a second floor in this particular barn. We used scarf joints to raise the height of each post, which allowed us to create a 20 foot loft area below the height of the upper horizontals.

Technical challenges of assembling this timber frame

It’s a good thing we love a challenge, because with this frame, (unlike most) we couldn’t make all the changes without assembling the frame. Why? Because of the angled “summer beams”-the large timbers that pick up the weight of the floor joists. (We will get to the reason for the splayed summer beams in a bit.) Doing compound joinery on a 220 year old structure is only possible if you erect that section allowing the joinery to be measured and fitted in place.

Creating the second floor

So how did we solve our little technical problem? We began by erecting half the barn frame behind our shop.

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This timber frame is predominantly white oak, so we wanted to match the original species of wood. We purchased white oak timbers from Ohio since white oak is hard to find in our area these days. Given the long span of these beams, we had to use 10×12 inch timbers. For the new posts, we used 10×10 inch timbers.

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White oak timbers

In order to help the new timber blend in with the old, we used the old method to create an authentic texture: a broad axe and an adze.

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Here’s a shot of Luke, hewing the new oak beams

Next, we created crooked joinery, because the heavy carrying timbers are splayed, rather than the typical perpendicular or right angles to each other. The only way we could be certain the timbers would join together properly and securely was to fit the timbers in place.

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We chopped and chiseled…made templates…and set the 1000 pound timbers in place.

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Chopping

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Chiseling

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Making templates

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Setting thousand pound timbers

This now creates a second floor that did not exist originally!

But why did we have to angle the carrying timbers? 

To maintain the original ladder we tightened up the two posts carrying the heavy floor girts. The ladder rungs will be set in the close pair of 10×10′ white oak posts. We have not placed the rungs between the posts yet.  That was the least of our problems…………

The end wall will have a 12 foot bay window between those posts.  Along with the owner and architect, we wanted the heavy summer beams, combined with the posts, to frame the large bay window in a fascinating way!

So the owner gets his ladder and his bay window and a very unusual design that makes this particular frame restoration much more interesting.

In order to check new joinery on other sections of the frame, as well as to store it safely until spring, we put the whole barn up and applied a temporary roof.

 

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Here’s the 30×42′ frame tipped up with a temporary roof.

 

Next steps in the restoration process

Our next step is to set all the hand hewn floor joists into these heavy carrying timbers using traditional joist pockets. But, for the moment, we have moved on to another outside project. With this structure standing and roofed for the winter, we will have plenty of opportunities to return to this task when it is raining or snowing! In the spring, we will label everything, disassemble, and ship the frame to its final location. It will be ready to stand strong and true for another 220 years.

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Note the incredibly wide original siding boards!

Stay tuned for a story on our next project: a timber-framed porch. We better get going on it, as we received our first heavy snowfall of the year this past week!

Have a blog idea for us?
A pressing question about historic timber framing? Let us know!

(802) 774.8972 or Luke@GreenMountainTimberFrames.com

The Amos Hodsdon House Needs a New Owner

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We at Green Mountain Timber Frames have a friend and fellow “restorationist” and we are very excited to be collaborating with him on a new project. It’s an incredible opportunity to preserve the “Amos Hodsdon House,” built in 1837.

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Ben’s story

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Meet Ben Heywood, center

Meet Ben – An Expert in Restoration

Ben Heywood moved into the area a few years ago after a career of preservation and restoration work in the Cape Cod area. Since moving to Vermont, he has become a friend as well as a consultant on some of our projects. He has aided us in assessing the fine details of houses dating from the 1800s. He has a wealth of knowledge regarding trim, window and door styles and the dating of buildings. He has done incredible work restoring original entryways, windows, and cupboards. On a recent weekend visit, I asked Ben how he got interested in restoration.

“I was born in Gardner, Massachusetts, in 1951. There were dozens of abandoned 18th and early 19th century houses in a 40 or 50 mile radius. In the course of many Sunday family rides in the station wagon, my father would drop me at these so I could snoop around. It was arranged that I’d be picked up about a half hour later. All kinds of different architecture… it was great! It took no time at all for me to understand the difference between the handcrafted specimens and the numerous postwar boxes popping up everywhere. I also bought and devoured all the Eric Sloane books by age 16. All this sent me in the preservation direction.”

Ben’s First Home Restoration

Ben moved to Falmouth and purchased his first “vintage” house in 1978 for the price of $1! It was a circa 1815 three quarter cape with a center hall and three fireplaces. It had the original doors, wainscot, finish trim and floors. As Ben told me, “I assembled some buddies and had it down in three weeks. I’ll never forget having to buy a liability policy from Lloyd’s of London as I was young and not yet firmly established. Insurance for four weeks cost me 500 times what I had paid for the house! Most everybody thought I was nuts at the time- until they saw the place restored!”

In the decades that followed, Ben disassembled and restored around 20 period houses. He did restoration in place on another 20!

Bodfish house cape house green mountain timber frames

Ben completed the restoration of the “Bodfish” house in 1982, which overlooks Cape Cod bay.

In 2008, Ben decided to find one last gem of a house that he would restore for himself as he moved to Vermont and into retirement. Enter: the remarkable house built by Amos Hodsdon in 1837.

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The Hodsdon house, built in 1837

Now, due to life changes and a desire to downsize his construction plans, Ben has decided not to use this house as his own. The beautiful historic Hodson House is available for sale!

And we at Green Mountain Timber Frames want to help our friend find a new family to make this house into their home.

About the Vintage House

After looking at many vintage buildings, Ben decided on a house in Carroll County, New Hampshire, named after Charles Carroll who died in 1832 as the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence. Carroll County was created in 1840 with Ossipee as its seat. Ben learned this history lesson after his search of Carroll County deeds came up empty. Eventually, he realized that the county lines had changed three years after the deed to the property changed hands from father to son, and so was filed in Strafford County!

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Ben found the gravestone of Captain Amos Hodsdon

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Here is the deed showing the transfer of property from father to son

When Ben discovered the old Hodson place, the house was incredibly unaltered and in good “frame health,” for its age. It had been abandoned for ten years and had been occupied by an elderly couple before that. The kitchen had a typical cast iron sink mounted in what was surely a period dry sink. There was a rusty old spigot and pipe that ran into a tank heated by the wood stove! The last residents of the house had still been carrying water into the house from a six foot diameter dug well with a flat stone cover. Best of all… the house had never had a bathroom!

Ben assembled a crew and began dismantling the frame.

Hodsdon partially dismantled frame green mountain timber frames

The roof boards come off

Hodsdon rafter system vintage house

Here is a 46 foot purlin in the rafter system!

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The exposed frame

The Frame Awaits a New Owner

The frame is down, carefully stored and awaiting a new home. It is available as a complete package, including the beautifully restored trim work, original flooring materials, interior trim and wainscoting panels, the windows, and the entry. Even the staircase is ready to go back in!

Above you can see the tired entryway, and then the doorway after Ben’s incredibly meticulous restoration work.

When the house came into Ben’s caretaking, the decorative fan work over the entrance had been removed and flat boards had been nailed up. Ben studied the “shadow lines,” which are marks and weathering patterns on the wood, in an attempt to figure out through detective work what the original had looked like. Then, in a fortuitous turn of events, a friend discovered this old photograph of the house. It confirmed Ben’s guess at what had graced the entrance originally, and wait till you see what he created!

Cape House Green Mountain Timber Frames

This photo is the best rendition of the entranceway in the background. Oh, and the people in the foreground look fantastic too!!

Restored fan over entry Hodsdon house green mountain timber frames

Here you can see the incredible recreation of the decorative fan work over the doorway- all based on an early 1900’s photo!

Expertly restored windows Hodsdon cape house green mountain timber frames

Ben has even restored all the original windows!

This house boasts roughly 3,700 square feet of vintage living space. The crew at Green Mountain Timber Frames will do a complete restoration of the timber frame itself, and we are looking for someone who has always wanted to live in a beautiful New England style home!

Interested in this frame?

Know someone who may be able to help us find a home for this historical treasure? Please pass the word around that this wonderful structure is available and help us find a new “forever” location for this gem!

Contact us!

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

Cavendish Barn Restoration Update – The Grand Finale!

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We recently completed the restoration and renovation of an historic timber frame from Cavendish, Vermont.

 

The project kicked off when we first visited the frame back in the winter of 2015. We’ve written about this barn frame before, while in the thick of the restoration process, and wanted to deliver the coda now that the project is complete.

The Background

The owners of the frame wanted to save a barn on their property; it was in bad shape and needed to be taken down before it collapsed. We first visited the barn in the winter, dismantled it in the spring, and spent the summer restoring it at the Green Mountain Timber Frames shop.

In late summer, we erected the restored frame on a new foundation.

The Transformation of a Barn

In the pictures below, you can see the entire process – from start to finish. From a wintery day in February when the sagging frame looked tired and in need of some TLC, to the beautiful great room it has become today.

Vermont timber frame in winter_Green Mountain Timber frames

Our first look at the Cavendish barn in Feb 2015

Dismantling historic timber frame barn

Spring prevails, and dismantling begins!

green mountain timber frames restoration process in cavendish vermont

A look at the last timbered wall section we took down. Once on sawhorses, we popped out each vintage peg, labeled every joint, and disassembled.

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Restoration begins at the GMTF shop

The image below shows us adjusting the roof rafters to fit the new design of the great room. We pre-assembled the rafters, applied the original roof boards, carefully labeled each rafter and board, and then dismantled the roof before finally shipping the frame back to its home of origin.

restoring post and beam barn from 1850s

Restoration of new england barn from 1850s

Redesigned frame assembled on a new foundation about 100 yards from where it was first crafted nearly 200 years ago!

After the frame was firmly in place, another general contracting company  completed the project – The Severy Brothers  of Ludlow, VT. The next two pictures show how they used “SIPs” (structural insulated panels). The panels are fastened to the outside of the frame, which provides superb insulating value while showcasing all of the wooden elements on the interior. In the second picture, you can see the front entry taking shape.New barn home made from restored wood timber frame

Cavendish VT Barn frame with insulated panels

Exterior view of front entry with SIP panels

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The re-erected frame, pre fireplace. Note the beautiful ridge beam!

post and beam architecture in historic great room

The fireplace was created with stone found on the farm property

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Sliding barn door into main house

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Large sliding doors capture the beautiful Vermont landscape

Exterior of Cavendish Barn Frame with front entry_Green Mountain Timber Frames

Timber porch entry into the great room

It was truly a pleasure to work on this barn frame. We love it when the opportunity arrises to restore a frame while keeping on its original location! Do you have an historic barn on your property that is in need of attention? We would love to see it!

 

Want to see some other projects we’ve done at Green Mountain Timber Frames?
Check out our completed timber frame projects!

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

 

North Hero Barn Restoration: Before and After

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Remember that North Hero, Vermont historic barn we wrote about back in April of last year?

Luke Larson, of Green Mountain Timber Frames rescued this special barn from North Hero Island, which is smack in the middle of Lake Champlain and only a few miles south of the Canadian border.

Removing Roof of timber frame barn home

Dating back to the 1780s, the barn is a hardwood frame with hewn oak braces. While it was truly in very rough shape, Luke was determined to save it because it is such an old, rare specimen. Measuring 26 X 36 feet, it offers nearly 1000 square feet of space and is a gunstock post frame, a good indication it was built before 1800.

A New Beginning – Near The Frame’s Origins

The exciting news is that this beautiful restored timber frame will become a handsome “great room,” complete with a fireplace, for a new home that is being built on the New York side of Lake Champlain.

Understanding the Restoration Process

In the following Before and After photos, you can see the restoration process taking place at one of our shop sites.

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Above: Many of the beams needed repairs or replacement. One of the top plates was replaced completely during the restoration process. In the restored photo, all of the beams are once again sound.
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The ridge beam and rafter braces were one of the lovely features that caused us to love this barn!
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During the dismantling of the barn, we labeled all of the roof boards so that they would go back to the original location. In this “after” photo, we have put all boards back on the roof and used some replacement vintage material to fill in the gaps.
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The beautiful December sunset here in Vermont showcases the lovely detail where the rafters intersect with the ridge beam. In the restored version, we have made all the edges of the boards straight once again, so that the gaps between the boards are minimized.

Ever Dreamed of Living IN History?

At Green Mountain Timber Frames, we turn old barns into beautiful new homes, studios, offices, barns and more.

 

For details, please contact Dan or Luke:
802.774.8972
luke@GreenMountainTimberFrames.com

Green Mountain Timber Frames - Contact Us

Timber Frame Labeling – The Pragmatics and Beauty

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What is in a label?

When it comes to timber framing – a great deal!

The homes and historic barns that we disassemble have many individual pieces. A timber frame can easily have over two hundred different pieces of hand crafted wood and each piece has been carefully fit and adjusted to create a specific joint. Individual timbers and braces were scribed to each other. Braces in a building may look interchangeable, but they are not!

Roman Numeral Labeling in Timber Framing_Vermont_Green Mountain Timber Frames_4

We use the terms “bent” and “plate wall” to describe the two types of cross sections in a barn. There are two plate walls in every timber frame, which are the exterior walls where the roof comes down.

“Bents” are a cross section going in the other direction, creating the gable ends and supporting systems for the interior of the building.  A frame can have anywhere from two bents to six or even more, depending on the barn size. Here is a scaled drawing of one bent cross section of an 1840s timber frame. This barn has four bents. Multiply this cross section by four and you can imagine the four bents, usually similar but not identical. Labeling System_scaled drawing of one cross section_1840s timber frame_Green Mountain Timber FramesThere are also the two eve walls with multiple braces, which can’t get mixed in with the “bent” braces! Timber Frame Label System_Green Mountain Timber Frames_2So how does one know where to put each piece of wood?
The labeling system!

History of Labeling Timber Frames
In many of the older barns and homes, even the roof boards and floorboards were labeled! Long before a crew of framers, farmers and family showed up for a house raising, someone had carefully organized the materials and designated a spot for each piece. 

Why would it make sense to label even the roof boards?
One reason is that the boards were often still in the tapered shape of a tree trunk. In other words, they are wider at one end – the base of the tree – and narrower at the other. By switching the direction of the taper – board to board – as you moved up the roof, the framers could get the most width possible out of each board without getting too uneven before reaching the peak of the building. 

Roman numerals were the most common method for inscribing labels on the beams and boards:

Roman Numeral Labeling in Timber Framing_Vermont_Green Mountain Timber Frames_4

We recently completed the restoration of a 1790s gambrel home. (You can read about it in this blog.) This frame is a wonderful example of the way that craftsmen of the past insured that the timbers all ended up in the right place.

In the gambrel house we restored, there are four bents for a total of 12 posts on the first floor. There are 8 more on the second floor.Gambrel Barn Home_Green Mountain Timber Frames_3

But how do you designate which side of the building each piece will live on?
Each exterior post is a component of both an eve wall, and a member of a bent. Therefore, each of the joint sections must be labeled. When we cut a new frame or relabel an old frame, we use “B” for bent, and “P” for plate, or eve wall. On top of this distinction, we distinguish which of the two eave walls any given post or brace belongs to.

In the gambrel, the original builders added a diagonal line to the numbers in order to make this distinction. This line makes post #4 look like this:Labeling System_1840s timber frame_Green Mountain Timber Frames_5Note the four slashes, and the one slash with an additional diagonal cut. The opposite wall does not have the diagonal marking. 

Below is a label on a floor joist that had us stumped for a while. Then we realized – the framers were distinguishing the roman numeral 9- IX, from the roman numeral 11- XI. What if on raising day someone was looking at the floor joist upside down?

Joist Number Nine Drops Down_Green Mountain Timber Frames_6

Joist #9 drops into the “summer beam”, the central heavy timber that supports the floor system.

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Here is #11, not to be confused with #9!

We have not seen this marking before, but surmise that it meant 11. If anyone has seen this designation for 11 before, please tell us about it!

How do you designate that a post is a center post rather than located on an exterior wall?
Here is how they labeled an exterior mid post on the gambrel:

Exterior mid post on Gambrel Barn Frame_Green Mountain Timber Frames

Someone took artistic care with this inscription!

And here is the label on an upper post that supports the rafter system. Notice our modern (and much less attractive) label on the tenon where it will be hidden:Modern Label on Tenon_Green Mountain Timber Frames_9The gambrel has a unique system where the floor girts and joists went out beyond the eve to create an overhang. Heavy planks rested on the joist tails. Here is a photo of the labeling of those planks:Labeling System for heavy planks on joist tails_green mountain timber frames_10Another beautiful inscription was often placed on a central board in the ceiling. This photo is one of these daisy wheels:Daisy Wheels_Timber Frame Labeling System_11We re-label each joint as we take it down. Occasionally, in the excitement of disassembly, we miss a piece or even mis-label. When we are stumped, we often look for the original labels and figure out where it will be “at home.”

Pragmatic & Beautiful
These old labels are both useful and artistic. They were created using very sharp chisels, often of a “gouge” or cupped variety, as well as compasses. The labels add beauty to the finished space when visible. As with all aspects of vintage frames, much can be learned about the people who crafted the barns or homes by looking at their “handwriting.”

Some label inscriptions are flowery and large; others are more subtle and small, meant to disappear visually once the frame is up.

Below is a brace and post from the North Hero barn:

Labeling system for post and beam historic barns_green mountain timber frames

This builder used much smaller labels and a different marking

How did the framers come up with these markings, and are they universal? 

We do not know how the craftsmen from the past decided on the specifics of their labeling systems. The pragmatic aspect of the labels means that each frame contains its own logic. That is to say, it is a self-contained system that can differ frame to frame. We are just grateful when we see the labels match each other on each joint and we know we’ve put the pieces back together correctly! We like to imagine the framers carefully making the inscriptions generations ago, and we are grateful for the artistic care represented in these labels!

Here is one of my favorites – a label designating a second floor post and brace on the gambrel:Second floor post label_Green Mountain Timber Frames_11

Have you seen labels on pieces of your house? 

Please let us know what you might know about old labeling systems! In particular, we are curious if anyone has seen the representation of 11 that we’ve shown on the gambrel floor joist. We’d love to hear from you.


 

Green Mountain Timber Frames specializes in restoring historic timber frames and old barn homes. Interested in more information?
We’d love to hear from you!
(802) 774.8972
Luke@GreenMountainTimberFrames.com