“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

 

Vermont’s Finest…? Outhouses

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In my meanderings across New England to look at old barns, I often come across unexpected treasures. Antique outhouses fit that category. While there isn’t much market for a renovated timber frame outhouse or modernized backyard latrine, these outhouses were a basic necessity for everyone in the past!

timber frame outhouse

Once while looking at an historic barn in Wells, VT, I came across this grand specimen;  perfect for the whole family to enjoy together.

old timber frame outhouse

Baby bear, Mama bear, Papa bear

Since I couldn’t very well take the commodes back home with me, I couldn’t resist taking a snap shot. This particular backyard bathroom stood approximately 100 feet from the house. Can you imagine how many clothes you’d have to put on in the winter to head out to the throne room?

Below is an outhouse that came from Pawlet, Vermont and was built around 1900. It stood out back behind another old timber frame barn I came to evaluate. This was one well-appointed little stall. It even came with corn cobs to use in a pinch. And do they ever pinch!

antique vermont timber frame outhouse

Exterior view of a fine looking Vermont wooden outhouse

timber frame outhouse in vermont

Interior view of Pawlet outhouse

Below is a backyard beauty inspired by some of the “one holers” I’ve happened upon in my barn hunting. One of our daughters built it to accompany a timber frame cabin she constructed in our back field, with just a bit of help from ol’ Dad.

antique wood outhouse in vermont

I like how she added a special feminine touch.

Vermont timber frame outhouse - Copy

And now, while we’re on the topic, here’s a poem to ponder – Passing of the Back-House,” by James Whitcomb Riley:
(You can click on the picture to enlarge the text, or go to the link).

sign in vermont timber frame outhouse

If you are looking for a fine wooden outhouse (or regular timber frame house) made from the finest of Vermont restored wood, we can be your crew! Give me a call at 802.774.8972 or email Luke@greenmountaintimberframes.com.

Can you help save this old timber frame house from being demolished?

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This grand timber frame home will be demolished in February….UNLESS a new owner is found. Known as the Hod-Hepburn house, it has stood on a back road in Tinmouth, Vermont since about 1780.

Side view of historic houseThe two-story home is a great example of post medieval construction. It’s a trusty farm house that has weathered 234 New England winters. We hope to find a new owner interested in having Green Mountain Timber Frames take down and restore the hand hewn frame. This beautiful structure could be erected on the client’s site, with a custom layout to fit today’s needs.

The frame features rugged rafters as you see below.

gunstock timber frame post and beamHere is another shot of the principle rafter system:

timber frame roofWhen we visited the house, we found all sorts of treasures inside, including….

history found in old barn homethese magazines from the early 1900s and…storage in historic new england house…a TV from the 1960s!

We don’t know the exact date the house was built, but the house was referenced in local deeds from the 1780s, so we are assuming it was built by then. The truth is, it may be even older!

Here is a picture from the house taken around 1950.

Vermont Timber frame house 1950sHere is a nice winter shot of the back of the homestead:

Historic Barn Home in snowInterested in learning more about this “Vermont Republic” home and perhaps making it your own? For more information, please contact me!

Timber Framing: Captured on Video!

Green Mountain Timber Frames is now of video!

But before I show you the video, let’s take a look at this before and after shot.
Antique Timber frame before afterYou may remember back in 2013 when I wrote a few times about the timber frame we had restored and erected up at Sissy’s Kitchen in Middletown Springs. A gunstock timber frame, it was built over 250 years ago.

For this project, we erected the restored frame with help of the one and only Vermont Jeepgirl (otherwise known as Crane Operator extraordinaire, Sue Miller.) Luckily for us, she made a video recording of the raising day!

Hats off to Sue for capturing our madness!

Vermont Crane Operator_Vermont Jeep Girl

Vermont Jeepgirl Sue Miller

It was a great crew that worked on this frame. Here we are, standing proud in front of the restored timbers.

Construction experts from Green Mountain Timber Frames

Construction crew from Green Mountain Timber Frames

This frame – even before it became a new storage barn – saw a lot of good times! For a couple months, the erected frame stood on the beautiful lawn behind Sissy’s Kitchen in Middletown Springs, Vermont.

Test Barn Raising of Timber Frame Barn Home

Test Barn Raising of Timber Frame Barn Home at Sissy’s Kitchen

While we waited for the right buyer, the frame housed many a dinner party and afternoon tea, just around the corner from the workshop of Green Mountain Timber Frames.

Summer evening party at Sissy's under antique post and beam frame

Summer evening party at Sissy’s under post and beam frame

I want to send out a huge thank you again to Sissy for letting us have all this fun, right in her yard!

Timber framer Dan McKeen and Sissy in Vermont

Have more timber frame projects worth capturing on video? Let us know! We would like to hear from you!

Possible – Beautiful Barn Home from Benson, VT – Available Frame!

I am helping the owner of this finely crafted timber frame find a new owner. The frame, originally built in the 1870s stands a majestic 32 feet wide and 48 feet long.

1_Exterior view_original purple slate visible repairs noticeable from lighter slate color - Copy

The large barn is in good condition and could make a stunning barn home, restored barn, studio or gallery. With so much space, there are a lot of options. There is 1500 square feet of space with an additional 750 square feet of potential if we add in a loft.

5_Partial loft floor joists noticeable_ potential for 750 sq ft loft - Copy - Copy

Notice the partial loft floor joists – great loft potential!

One added feature is the slate roof. Since Benson is in Vermont’s “slate belt,” this frame boasts an unusual purple slate roof that is of the best quality that you can find in the region.

In the picture below, you can see the wide gable wall which stretches 32 feet. The roof pitch is 12-12. This is one reason it feels so big inside.

2_Gable wall is 32 feet wide_roof pitch is 10-12 - Copy - Copy

Both the roof boards and wall boards are in excellent condition and the frame features long timbers that are hand hewn. The posts themselves are sawn.

Some more interior pictures below. Notice the beautiful honey color and the well preserved vertical wall boards.

Timber frame roof boards

4_Interior color is honey brown_ nice vertical wall boards

historic post and beam home

Interested in living in a historic property? Have questions?

Please give me a call at 802.774.8972. This post and beam frame could really make a one-of-a-kind barn home and we are looking for just the right owner to preserve this beautiful frame.

The Milkhouse


The Milkhouse  – a fun project to complete in a week, not months!

Historic Timber frame restoration

I traded this nearly un-restorable milkhouse in exchange for a playhouse for my grandchildren. The milkhouse needed some TLC, and was one of the smaller projects of our summers work. I am very pleased with how this little button of a building came out.

The frame measures 8’x10′ and was originally built in 1930.

My friend asked me to turn the little milkhouse into a backyard getaway spot where he can read, play music and find his muse beneath the rustic decor. Eventually, we plan to add a porch and another window, but for now it is ready to use.

We spent a good deal of time working on the roof. This next set of pictures shows our process.

Working on the roof of small Vermont post and beam compare

Below you can see it in the new location, but not yet restored. That’s the old playhouse in the background.

Restored Barn frame Milkhouse

One benefit of working on this little building was that it allowed me to use up some of the vintage wood and other salvaged materials that I have been saving from previous projects.

The “novelty” siding in this picture, for example, was salvaged from another barn. This kind of siding started to become popular around 1900.

Novelty Siding in timber frame milkhouse

Novelty siding

The vintage flooring was also left over material from another project. Here it helps warm up the white wash walls.

Vintage Timber frame with vintage flooring

Vintage flooring

The roofing was recycled as well – from the restored barn I worked on in Pawlet in 2012.

Opposing side of barn restored

Recycled, restored roof

Since I got to use up all these odds and ends, my workshop and yard are starting to look rather tidy and spacious, ready to fill with new vintage material for future barn restoration projects. So do let me know if you hear about available barns! I am always interested in at least looking at them.

Coming soon:

Here’s a closeup of the playhouse for which I traded the milkhouse. I built the playhouse over 30 years ago for my children, sold it to friends for their daughter, and it’s now coming back home to be restored for our family’s next generation. Stay tuned!

Timber Frame antique kids playhouse

Kids’ Playhouse

Interested in living in a restored barn home? Have a timber frame available for sale? Please let me know! 

Worth Saving? Assessing the Value of a Barn

Here at Green Mountain Timber Frames, we receive phone calls about old barns all the time. Owners want me to come look at barns on their property to assess their value and decide whether or not they are good candidates for restoration.

One of the first questions I am invariably asked is: “How do you decide if an old barn is worth restoring?” And the natural follow-up. “If so…how do you price it? There are many factors that go into deciding whether a barn can be restored, if its roof or wooden beams can be salvaged, or if it has no value at all.

To explain some of the key factors that go into making these decisions, I want to present you with a little side by side comparison. Below are eight sets of pictures. The barn on the left in each picture is a rare, valuable gunstock timber frame from about 1750, very early by Vermont standards. The owner is interested in selling the barn because he doesn’t currently use it. On the right are photos of an 1890s barn that Green Mountain Timber Frames will not be restoring. The owner is concerned it will collapse and would like to salvage parts of the barn before this happens. He asked me to put a value on the barn “as is”.

Evaluating Two Barns: A Side by Side Comparison

1. THE ROOF

When I evaluate a vintage barn, I start off by taking a look at the roof. Having a straight, flat roof with no sagging says the upper timber structure has held together over the centuries. In our area, slate can create sagging roofs in earlier barns not designed for the heavy weight of slate. They were designed for wooden roofs, which, in the northeast, were mostly constructed from white cedar. 1_Roof Comparison on Old Barn HomesNEW 2. SIDING

Next, I look at whether the barn has vertical or horizontal siding. Vertical siding, as in the 1750s barn, may mean the barn dates from before 1850. Builders began to use horizontal siding around the Civil War era. 2_Vertical or Horizontal Siding on Timber Frames3. IS IT OVERBUILT?

Notice the large numerous beams on the wall section of the 1750s barn. Contrast this with the 1890 barn, which has smaller timbers and even smaller 2″ x 4″ nailers. This represents very light construction when compared to the 1750s wall section. The large beams we see on the left are more valuable. 3_Over Built or Crooked Old Barn FrameNEW 4. GUNSTOCK POSTS?

Gunstock timber frames are always more valuable as they are very rare these days. Gunstock frames can be identified by their tapered posts. The posts start off 9″x 9″ square at their base and then taper to 15″ x 9 ” at the top, where they meet intersecting timbers. You can see this in the photo below of the 1750s barn. In the 1890s barn, the posts are very light, measure 6″ x  6″ and don’t taper.  4_Gunstock Posts on Timber Frame 5. ROOF RAFTERS

If a frame’s roof rafters are hand hewn square rather than “half round”, it indicates an earlier era. The 1750s frame has hewn rafters. In the picture the larger beams are the original rafters. The builder added in the smaller 4″ x 4″ rafters when they added the slate roof. Also, the 1750s barn has white oak roof boards, another indication of a very early frame. The 1890s barn has small, modern 2″ x 6″ roof rafters which are not valuable. However, because the pine roof boards are in good condition, they can be reused for other building projects. Most barns have softwood roof boards like pine, spruce or hemlock. It seems only the 1750 era frames have hardwood roof boards. I’ve come across only three hardwood roof board frames in the 30 years I’ve been doing this, yet another reason this 1750 barn is such a gem! 5_Roof Rafters on Timber Frame 6. TIMBER FATIGUE

The dark area in the 1750s picture indicates water damage.The broken timbers in the 1890 picture is a bad sign. These are examples of timber fatigue. In pre-1800 frames, we can repair or replace damaged timbers. This 1890 frame has so much timber fatigue and the roof rafters are so “new” looking, that the building has value for parts only.

6_Signs of Timber Fatigue

7. HEWN DIAGONAL BRACES

As I continue my assessment of a timber frame, I next look to see if the frame’s diagonal braces are housed into the timbers. The diagonal braces on the 1890s barn are simply 2″ x 4″s nailed in. This was common practice for that time. In comparison, the 1750s barn bracing is housed or “joined” into the timbers. This is called mortise and tenon joinery. A wooden peg then holds the brace in place. This is the usual standard. The 1890 frame using 2″ x 4″s and nails was the start of the transition out of mortise and tenon joinery. The very early frames used hand hewn braces. I’ve only seen this twice in my career, both times in timber frames from the 1750s era. The braces are almost always sawn. The picture on the left below shows the fine craftsmanship of hewn braces.

7_Diagonal Braces of TimbersNEW

8. LARGE GIRTS

In timber frame construction, girts are used to tie the walls together. Larger girts often mean an earlier era frame. The 1890s barn has very modest girts which may be the reason the timbers broke in the middle. The 1750 picture shows larger timbers being used as “girts,” while the middle girts have no center posts. No center posts are often a nice feature when reusing a frame for a home or shop area.

8_Girt TimbersFINAL

And What About Pricing?

When determining how to price a barn, I first think about how rare the frame is. A rare frame in good condition will always be worth more. I also consider the current market and how much folks might want to pay for something very rare. I will also calculate whether the barn is worth more as a whole or in parts.

Finally, I will discuss the options with the current barn owner. Some barn owners want to sell their barn for whatever value they can get. Others are tired of dealing with the maintenance costs or are fearful the structure will collapse. The price an owner is looking for will also have an impact on our pricing. It’s part of my job to assess how valuable a frame is, what condition it is in and how rare the construction is. With those things in mind, I can help the owner to determine a reasonable price.

In Summary…

The 1890s barn is not worth restoring, but the frame does have value as a parts barn. I can salvage the timbers for use on other restoration projects and reuse the roof boards, sawn beams, siding and slate. There are large labor costs to acquire the materials. This is where you have to balance the value of the material against the cost to dismantle. The 1890 barn may have an “as is” value of two thousand dollars. After all the materials are reclaimed, the barn site has to be cleaned. That often costs another two thousand dollars.

Labor costs can also quickly rise out of control. And the 1890 barn is a “liability” to the homeowner right now. With the costs of labor and cleanup, we really shouldn’t pay anything for this structure as long as we leave a clean site. But folks want to get something. I always work hard to be as fair as I can be to frame owners, without the salvaged materials ending up costing more than they are worth. The 1750s barn is a valuable find, a real diamond in the rough. To find a 1750s gunstock frame with post-medieval construction is rare in our area. This is the earliest kind of construction that took place in Vermont and to have such a frame is not only a blessing but an honor. It is definitely worthy of restoration and will make an incredible new home for a buyer who appreciates historic value. The current owner of the barn is asking 25 dollars a square foot for the frame. This may be what these very early barns are worth nowadays. The cost to dismantle, restore and

The 1750s barn is a valuable find, a real diamond in the rough. To find a 1750s gunstock frame with post-medieval construction is rare in our area. This is the earliest kind of construction that took place in Vermont and to have such a frame is not only a blessing but an honor. It is definitely worthy of restoration and will make an incredible new home for a buyer who appreciates historic value. The current owner of the barn is asking 25 dollars a square foot for the frame. This may be what these very early barns are worth nowadays. The cost to dismantle, restore and re-erect this 30 foot by 40-foot frame may be 85 dollars a square foot. But in the end, someone would have one of Vermont’s earliest structures to call their own! And, with a bit of restoration, it would last another 250 years!

 

Have more questions about old barns and timber frames? Want to know if you have a post and beam gem on your own property? I’d love to hear from you!  Contact Green Mountain Timber Frames at Luke@GreenMountainTimberFrames.com or 802.774.8972.