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.