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.
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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.
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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.

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