Saving a Giant of a Barn: the Benson Timber Frame

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We are now two weeks into the careful dismantling of a beautiful timber barn – for sale –  that dates from around 1880. This timber frame is not as old as many of the structures that we take down and restore here at Green Mountain Timber Frames, but the high quality of the frame more than justifies our efforts to save it. At 34 x 48 feet, this wonderful vintage frame is a big one!

evening light on old barn for sale in benson | green mountain timber framesThe barn’s foundation, roof and sills are deteriorated, and would be very difficult and costly to repair in place. We have purchased the barn and now it is in our court to take down the frame, restore it, and find a new home for this majestic and historic building.

(Let us know if you are interested in seeing the barn!)

Taking Down the Timber Frame Barn: Step by Step

Our first step was to remove an enormous amount of hay from the inside of the building. Thankfully, we had some pitchforks handy. removing hay from the benson frame | green mountain timber framesThe hay piled inside the barn had been hiding a very interesting feature of this barn. The smallest bay, which is where the animals were kept, had built in wooden gutters for removing manure.

Discoveries in an Old Barn

The clever system had two trap doors that could be opened, allowing the waste to be dropped into wagons or carts below for spreading on the nearby fields. There was also a trough in front of the animals where they could be fed. It is really amazing to see the wear marks on the floor from hooves. We can tell where the antsy cow lived many years ago! cleaning out cow stalls in old barn for sale green mountain timber framesWe made another discovery while opening up the walls of this barn. Between layers of siding, honey bees had built a hive at some point in the past.discovering an old bee hive in the benson old barn for sale green mountain timber framesWe collected the brittle wax comb, and I am excited to make candles out of it. Once we find a new home for this barn and re-erect it, I can imagine a celebratory meal in the restored frame- lit by the wax of this bee hive. honey comb in the wall of benson barn for sale green mountain timber framesAs we removed the wide hemlock wall boards, we labeled each one so they can be installed back in the same location. Many of the timber boards are over 15 inches wide, and the patina on them is spectacular.

We can’t wait to wash them, but the temperature will have to get up above freezing for that process to take place and winter really seems eager this year in Vermont. wide vintage boards for sale | green mountain timber frames

Removing the Slate Roof

Once we had the barn cleaned out and many of the siding boards removed, we went on to remove the roof system. This barn still had its original roof- large purple slate from the nearby quarries.

Here we are removing the slate piece by piece.

It was unusual for us to be removing the original roof from a building, as most of our older frames went through at least two, and often four, generations of roofing material before they come under our care. Much of the slate is still good and we will set it aside with the frame for future use. removing slate and roof boards benson barn for sale In order to be as safe as possible, we built a temporary second floor in the barn. This allows us to do most of the board and rafter removal from this deck rather than from the top of the roof or from long ladders. This barn is so large that it took fifty sheets of plywood to create this safe work platform! how to take down an old barn safelyThe effort building the deck paid off, as we removed and labeled each roof board.removing roof boards from benson barn for saleLet me share a couple more interesting features of this barn:

All farmers know how hard it is to keep large barn doors on a building. Inevitably, it seems, they get caught by a gust of wind and torn off the building. Well, it must have been someone with life experience who designed this structure. They built a giant pocket door system and hung the 13-foot-tall doors on tracks on the inside of the barn.

In order to create this space for the doors, secondary posts were added in the doorway bents. In this way, gusts of wind could not get at the doors when they were opened. giant pocket door old barn for sale A good luck horseshoe was nailed to one side of the door opening. horseshoe for good luck benson timber frame barn for saleIt was exciting to get lots of light on the upper queen system. These timbers support the rafters at mid-span, making the roof strong enough to carry the weight of all that slate as well as Vermont’s winter snow. There is a unique and beautiful scarf joint that was used to get the queen plates to span the whole 48 feet.queen system in benson old barn for sale green mountain timber frames

Here is a close-up of the scarf joint:scarf joint  | green mountain timber framesWhile the queen plate is made out of two timbers, the main top plate that creates the eve of the building is not. Incredibly, these hand-hewn timbers are the full length of the barn at 48 feet and 2 inches! Imagine the size of the old-growth tree that was required, as well as the difficulty of getting these beams in place without the use of modern equipment.

These 48-foot timbers are a testament to the skill of the timber framers who crafted this barn, as well as to the strength of a community that would come together to hoist such a barn into place. We are honored to now be the caretakers of this structure.48 foot hand hewn timber | green mountain timber frames

You can see drawings of the barn here on our site.

This old barn is for sale!

If you are interested in this barn, or another timber frame structure, let us know!

 

 

Green Mountain Timber Frames Has a New Home

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If you’ve been following the Green Mountain Timber Frames Facebook page, this is old news, but I know that not everyone has heard…

We have a new home!

Green Mountain Timber frames staff

The GMTF team our new property!

That’s right, GMTF has purchased a brand new homebase in our hometown of Middletown Springs, VT. In fact – fittingly – the new property is located right near the home of GMTF founder, Dan McKeen.
When Dan started the company over 30 years, he could not have imagined how it would grow. I have been honored to take over the reigns and build up a team of talented, caring and fun-loving staff members who join me in restoring historic buildings and perserving the oldest barn frames and timber structures of Vermont and New England. Together, we look forward to carrying on Dan’s dedication and passion for restoration and the preservation of history.

So what’s the new property?

As a team, we had been looking for some time to move our restoration shop to a larger and more open piece of land, and we found just the right place to dismantle and restore our many old barns for sale.
In choosing a piece of land, I had three key priorities:
  1. First, I am deeply committed to staying in the beautiful little mountain town of Middletown Springs. With a tight-knit community, small school and beautiful setting, this town where Green Mountain Timber Frames began has been supportive and it is home for the majority of our team.
  2. Second, I wanted a space with plenty of open space for restoration work, careful storage of timbers, and that has the room to stand up some of our vintage frames. I also needed it to be on a paved road so that we can get large trucks and trailers in and out all year- even in Vermont’s famous mud season! In a town with only a few miles of paved road, this really narrowed down the options.
  3. Third, I wanted a space that would be beautiful and conducive to creative work.
Well, this property has it all!

Green Mountain Timber Frames New Barn Home

The site currently has a small house and one large barn. We will be brainstorming and planning for how best to facilitate our restoration work on vintage barns, corn cribs and post and beam structures of all shapes and sizes. The spot also boasts a gorgeous 14-acre meadow, where we had a team celebration the afternoon of the closing.
 Green Mountain Timber frames new home in Vermont_2
Green Mountain Timber frames new home in Vermont 4

Celebration in the meadow

The farmstead has been kept in organic practice, which is right in line with our philosophy of preservation and care for this precious earth. The maple forest is beautiful and has a whimsical stream running through it.

Green Mountain Timber frames new home in Vermont

There are about 1400 maple sugar taps on the property, so stay tuned and watch for the Green Mountain Timber Frame label next spring on a bottle of something very sweet! ​

Green Mountain Timber frames new home in Vermont 3

Mostly – I want to say thanks!

I want to give a huge thank you to everyone – near and far – who has supported this endeavor of the restoration of our New England historical barns, and especially to those hear in Middletown Springs who have been so supportive of our work to purchase this new space.

~Luke Larson, Owner of Green Mountain Timber Frames


Looking for barns for sale?

Want to live in a piece of history? Give us a call!
802.774.8972

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.
1800s Map_Bennington VT Map

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.
Henderson historic barn home_Vermont_1900s

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.

Way Out West: Timber Framing on Whidbey Island

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Last fall, we were way Down East, tipping up a beautiful frame on the coast of Maine. Fast forward a few months, and the crew of Green Mountain Timber Frames found ourselves a world away, this time delivering a restored frame to Whidbey Island, off the coast of Washington State.

Welcome to Whidbey

Our talented building crew traveled west to deliver this 28 x 38-foot frame from the 1700s to a wonderful client. The gambrel style barn frame will be a beautiful new home, made from these historic timbers. We had restored the timbers back home in Vermont and then carefully prepared each beam before tying the frame aboard this flatbed for the long drive west.

Preparing historic timber frame for shipment

Out on Whidbey, we found a sweet Air BnB on the island and had the privilege to wake up to this view each morning:

Whidbey Island Green Mountain Timber Frames

Barn Raising: Day 1

Here’s a look at how we tipped up the frame, and the progress we made each day. On Day 1, we began with a pre-raising blessing. Then, we spread out the posts on the deck before tipping each one up by hand. The frame had four 28-foot girts. You can see us placing one of them below, with an assist from a telehandler.

Let’s get a closer look at these beams!

Historic vermont timbers_Whidbey Island_Day 1

Closeup on the Gunstock Posts

Notice how the gunstock post tops each have two tenons. One locks into the top plate on the eve wall, while the second receives and holds the girt that crosses the width of the building. The girt end also has a half-dovetail that further holds everything together.

Below, you can see the gunstock post standing strong against Washington State evergreens. A friend came by to use it as a perch and take in the view.

bald eagle perched on restored girt

Barn Raising: Day 2

We spent the second day installing the second-floor joist system. One unique element of this frame was that the girts and floor joists project out beyond the top plates. The rafters then sit out beyond the top plate, gaining two extra feet of living space on the second floor. You can see this overhang in the bottom right image below.

There is a 38-foot chestnut timber that runs down the center of the structure. It is half lapped over the 28-foot girts, creating a beautiful joint over the central posts. In the top right picture above, you can see the labeling in the beams. The original builder created these marks using a small gouge chisel.

Second floor deck

Second floor deck

By the end of day two, we had completed the second floor deck and were ready to begin installing the queen system, which will support the rafters and frame the space for the second-floor bedroom and bath.

Barn Raising: Day 3-4

We spent the next two days working on the upper cube (the Queen System) of the frame and preparing to put up the rafters. We installed the heavy three-inch beech planks that run the length of the eve. The rafters sit on this overhang. The queen system, which supports the rafter pitch change on this gambrel, has eight more gunstock posts as well as two more 38-foot timbers and four 22 foot queen girts.

On the right, you can see how the heavy eve planks are half lapped to each other, and pegged to the overhanging floor joists and girts. In the upper queen post to girt connection, we added a hidden steel plate and threaded rod that will reinforce the good work of the wooden joinery to ensure that the roof can never spread.

Barn Raising: Finishing Up!

The next step was for us to install the rafters and apply the vintage roof boards. Under clear blue skies, we finished up the project.

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We had a wonderful time on this project and made some new amazing friends on Whidbey Island. The building wrapped up with applying vintage roof boards on the structure, which we covered with tar paper for weather protection. We also installed the original, arched-collar ties. We are so grateful to the craftspeople from the late 1700s who built this frame, all who helped us to save it from demolition, our friend and client in Washington, and to the crew who will now close it in and make it into a home.

Green Mountain Timber Frames crew

Our amazing team!

 

If you dream of living in a historic home, let us know! We do travel and would love to build a beautiful timber frame home for you.

Contact us at Luke@GreenMountainTimberFrames.com (802.774.8972)

Sill and Post Repairs…Plus More Split Rail Fence!

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We recently finished the first phase of a barn repair project in Springfield, Vermont, stabilizing a gorgeous little barn from the early 1800s.

1_Barn Repair_Green Mountain Timber Frames

History of this Historic Timber Frame

The vintage timber frame is part of the historic Kirk homestead. We believe it was William Kirk Junior who built this barn. The son of a revolutionary war soldier from Springfield, William purchased the farm in 1809, and most likely built this structure at that time.

In 1834, the land records note that William Kirk mortgaged the farm to a Mr. White for $300. It may have been a tough year for farming, or perhaps William needed cash to work on the second barn on the property, which is attached to the older frame.

 

2_Large Vermont Barn_Green Mountain Timber Frames

The large barn is connected at a perpendicular angle to the smaller old structure. Farmers often sought to create a protected barnyard area for livestock and equipment, and the “L” profile of the attached barns does just that.

The records state that the loan was to be paid back annually over three years in “good salable neat stock or grain.” William must have successfully paid off the mortgage, as the property stayed in the family for a total of 97 years before being sold.

 

In 1864, William sold the farm to his son Aaron. Thirty years later, Aaron conveyed the farm to his younger brother Reuben, a Civil War veteran who had fought in the 10’th Regiment, Vermont Volunteer Company. The property stayed in the family until 1905. Many thanks to the current owners for sharing their careful historical research with us!

A Barn in Need of Repair

While the barn had beautiful stone foundation work, the water had pushed and the frost heaved against the stone and sills, and the joinery of the structure was deeply strained. The stone wall under the gable was collapsing, and four different posts had “torn their trunnels” and dropped down out of the upper beams.

 

3_Corner Post Beam_Green Mountain Timber Frames Vermont

This corner post dropped as the sill beneath it deteriorated, and the pegs broke allowing the tenon to drop out of the mortise.

 

Our Approach to Restoration

Our project was to jack the posts back home again, and to replace the sills. The barn was listing dangerously towards an eve because braces had failed. We used a series of come alongs as we lifted posts in order to coax the wall back towards plumb.

 

4_5 sided ridge beam_green mountain timber frames

Note the beautiful five-sided ridge beam! Many of the braces had failed, and in this photo we are coaxing towards the western horizon. On the far wall, you can see where one of the posts has dropped.

As we lifted, we were able to feed the tenons home.

 

 

5_tenon to horizontal timber_green mountain timber frames

We were able to bring this tenon right back into the horizontal timber. Even the siding boards slid back into the grooved channel in the beam where they started out.

 

 

7_lifting historic barn in vermont_Green Mountain Timber Frames

Here we are lifting the corner of the building in preparation for new pressure treated sills

 

The Split Rail Fence

But wait- what about the split rail fence? After posting our last blog about the fencing used as collar ties in Tunbridge, we were surprised and delighted to discover split rail fence pieces used as floor joists in the newer and larger of the Kirk barns!

 

8_Vintage floor joist_Green Mountain Timber Frames

Old William Kirk was a resourceful fellow. Most likely the original floor joist snapped, and so a nearby rail was conscripted for the purpose.

 

A Barn Rebuilt to Last!

Now that the frame has repaired sills and is stabilized, the terrific crew at Terrigenous Landscape Architecture will re-build the dry laid stone foundation and wall on the gable end. Scott and his team have already installed a drainage system around the exterior of the barns, which will protect the repaired barn complex and stonework from future freeze and thaw cycles.

We look forward to returning to Springfield in the fall after the stone work is accomplished, to continue frame and siding repairs. In the meantime- happy fencing to all you farmers out there!


Do you have a vintage barn in need of repair? Dream of living in a historic barn home?

Contact us!
Luke@GreenMountainTimberFrames.com

 

“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

 

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.
Post and beam addition_Green Mountain Timber Frames

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