An Ode to Farmers: The Incredible Ingenuity of Past Barn Repairs

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Today, Matt and I were visiting barns on behalf of the Green Mountain Timber Frames team. I am constantly amazed by the creative ingenuity of New England’s early farmers. These brave souls were—and are still—truly a backbone of the beautiful and communal aspects of our local New England culture.

An Ode to Farmers

Having grown up on a working dairy farm, I have witnessed the challenges that face farmers on a daily basis. Thinking of my father, my mother, and my grandfather as they strived to keep a farm running, I pondered the necessity for creativity and tenacity when it comes to getting that hay bailer or tractor running when it is desperately needed. I believe the same principle applied to the ways in which early farmers dealt with their timber frame barns.

Today, as we assessed one particular barn, we discovered some very clever repairs made to the frame over the years. We were inside an incredible 32×52 hand hewn timber frame barn that is badly fatigued and in need of help.

vintage timber frame barn home | green mountain timber frames

Unfortunately, the barn abutting this one was in much worse shape, and I felt quite deflated and heartbroken to see it.

collapsed vintage barn | Green mountain timber frames

This collapsed building still has a few vintage boards and timbers that can be salvaged.

But let’s return to the happier prospect of the barn we had come to see.

52-Feet of Chesnut Timbers

It was built very early, and has many American chestnut timbers. The rafters are hewn, and the posts are massive at 11×11 inches. Of the four timbers that span the length of the building, 3 are an incredible 52-feet of continuous hand hewn chestnut, with the fourth having a scarf joint to join two timbers together.

Imagine that: 52 foot American chestnut timbers that were shaped with a broad axe and an adze- and lots of spirit and grit.

Incredibly, one of the bents is a clear-span 32-foot timber truss. This means it was built strong enough to not need any interior posts, allowing the farmer to move a wagon and animals around inside with ease. In the next photo, you can see the two chestnut timbers that create the truss. They are tied together in the middle with a vertical timber, creating a remarkably strong system.

chestnut timber truss vintage barn | Green mountain timber frames

What about the clever repairs?

It seems that at some point in the history of this barn’s use, the lower timber, which measures 11 x 18 inches by 32-feet, developed a split. Matt and I were studying the repair that was done in the past, and we realized that it was made using the metal rim of an old wagon wheel!

giant chestnut timber frame truss Green mountain timber frames

Here is a close-up of the ingenious repair, recycling no doubt a farm implement that’s use had gone by the wayside:

wagon wheel repair to chestnut timber | Green mountain timber frames

We also discovered a wonderful thing for us modern timber framers to see: a likely mistake made by our mentors who lived two hundred years ago. In a way, it is refreshing to see that even those incredible craftspeople from the past occasionally made an error like we sometimes do!

One of the 32-foot timbers did not have a typical tenon. It sure looks like someone cut this timber too short. We have all been there who have cut mortise and tenons time after time. It is a big “whoops” when it involves an 11 x 18 inch by 32-foot American chestnut timber that was cut and hewn by axe and adze!

In the next photo, you can see where a spline was added to the end of the girt, essentially adding back the section that was missing. If you look carefully at the underside of this massive timber, you can see where a 2-inch plank was let in, and then pegged thoroughly.

sprine repair on vintage timber frame chestnut beam | Green mountain timber frames

This ingenious repair reminds me of a saying given to me by a wise builder when I was starting out as a framer:

“The sign of a great carpenter is not whether you make mistakes or not; rather, it is about how creative you can be about fixing your mistakes when they happen!”

I am trying to remember what error I had made as a 22-year-old to earn me that old “chestnut” of wisdom. I don’t remember what it was, but I am grateful for the lesson that was imparted to me that day, and I remember it still. Well, the repair in this barn held up well. Approximately 210 years, and holding strong!

splined repair to chestnut timber frame

Speaking of holding strong, we saw a real example of the strength of a single oak peg, or trunnion, used in the old days to fasten the timber joinery together without the use of nails. As I mentioned earlier, this barn is struggling, and due to a leak in the roof, one of the 32-foot girts that span the building has rotted completely away.

Incredibly, the 12-foot post that used to be supported by that missing timber is still in the air as part of the queen system supporting the rafters. Here it is:

strength of a single peg in vintage barn

It is amazing to me how these well-crafted barns can hold together in spite of serious distress! Just one peg. Hm, that seems like a possible metaphor for what each of us humans can do for holding together the values that we treasure in our communities. I will save that musing for later. But think about it- a single one-inch peg holding up that 12-foot hardwood post. Incredible.

Just a couple miles from this grand old barn, there stands another. Unfortunately, the main structure is beyond restoration. But when I climbed into the icy basement, I was amazed by a support for the barn that was added sometime in the first half of the 20th century. Clearly, the floor system had been sagging, and a clever farmer knew just how to form up a support for the beams.

Once again, a derelict symbol of past farming practice was recycled. Just take a look at this:

creative concrete forms green mountain timber frames

Old wooden barrels, no doubt leaky or just no longer used, were stacked up with the bottoms cut out. After that, it was as simple as pouring in the concrete! The wood of those barrels is long gone, but their “fingerprints” left no doubt how this impressive pier was created.

Here is to all those who have worked creatively to sustain and stabilize these majestic structures from the past, and also to all in our communities who desire to see our cultural farming heritage preserved for the future!

May those of us dedicated to preserving these structures be as creative, industrious, and as dedicated as those who have come before us.

Interested in one of our old barns for sale?

Give us a holler!

 802.774.8972

 

From Fatigued Old Barn to Beautiful Great Room

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Meet the “Fatigued Old Barn”

It was a frigid Vermont winter day when we first visited this old barn back in February of 2015.  It was too cold, even for us seasoned Vermonters. With more than two feet of snow on the ground, I wished I had brought my snow shoes.

Here’s a glimpse of how the barn looked – on the left – when we first met.

Original Restored Barn_Green Mountain Timber Frames_Before (800x601)The owner had called us to ask if we could dismantle this aging barn and restore it as a new Great Room, attached to their home. The barn, built originally in the 1850s, was indeed a perfect match for the house, a two story country home also built in the 1850s. 

Original Barn and 1840s Home_Green Mountain Timber Frames_Before (800x601)

Original barn beside 1940s barn with wooden silo.  House is in the back ground, on the right.

Dating the Barn

Judging from the 43 foot hand hewn beams, I concluded that the barn must have been built in the middle of the 19th century. Tall trees were still being hewn by hand into long square timbers. Shorter timbers, such as posts, were sawn at a local mill. During that time, sawmills could accurately saw up to 20 feet of timber, so the hand hewing guys were called in for the longer timbers. I often wonder if those guys – the “old school” timber framers – must have felt like horses when automobiles started to become more prevalent.

The Transformation Begins

Step 1: Dismantling

Once the snow melted, we traveled to Cavendish, Vermont to begin the careful process of dismantling the barn. The barn looked far more inviting during spring.

historic wooden barn with red roofIn three weeks, a team of six men dismantled the 30 x 43 foot barn and shipped it to the Green Mountain Timber Frames shop in Middletown Springs.

Cavendish Historic Barn before restoration _Green Mountain Timber Frames

Barn being dismantled, starting from the top.

Step 2: Restoration at the Shop

Once at the shop, we carefully washed all the timbers. We then laid them out in their new configuration of 21 x 35 feet and did a lot of joinery work. Next we assembled the roof structure, de-nailed the roof boards, gave them a solid washing, made them straight again, and finally re-applied them to the roof rafters. We made sure everything was well labeled, and then shipped the restored frame back to the Cavendish house site.

You can see much of the process in the pictures below:

Antique barn Restoration_Green Mountain Timber Frames_Vermont_3 (800x601)

Laying out the restored hand hewn beams into the new design.

Antique barn Restoration_Green Mountain Timber Frames_Vermont_4 (800x601)

Roof rafters re-adjusted and fitted, waiting for original roof boards

Antique barn Restoration_Green Mountain Timber Frames_Vermont

Rafters with restored roof boards applied and then labeled

The Great Room is Born – in Two Days

Because we had done the restoration work at our shop, re-erecting the frame for the new Great Room was a pretty straightforward task that took only two days.

In weather that was a far cry from the snowdrifts of February, we reassembled the frame under hot August sun with a team of four men and a mighty Lull (lift machine).

Erecting restored timber frame_Green Mountain Timber Frames_Vermont_Day1

Re-erecting the restored frame (the Lull is in orange)

Day One: Getting the Frame Up

During the first day, we spent about ten hours at the site. By day’s end we had most of the structure up, thanks to the help of the Lull and an experienced crew.

Erecting restored timber frame_Green Mountain Timber Frames_Vermont_Day1_2 (800x601)

Frame is up by the end of day one with a few roof rafters

Day Two: Raising the Rafters

Day two was even more fun as we placed all the roof rafters – always an exciting part of a barn restoration project – and experienced the structure taking its final shape. After hundreds of hours of our labor, the refurbished frame went together like a Lincoln Log set.  It’s gratifying each time to watch new life breathed into a formerly very distressed timbered, old barn.

Erecting restored timber frame_Green Mountain Timber Frames_Vermont_Day2

Finished frame. The roof is protected by tar paper, ready for the next stage.

Erecting restored timber frame_Green Mountain Timber Frames_Vermont_Day2_4 (800x601)

View from beneath the roof of the restored frame, with our friend the Lull behind.

The plans to complete this barn frame include a fireplace, large glass doors, a screened porch and a mudroom entryway. Truly it will become a GREAT room.

Coming Up Next:

This was a challenging and rewarding restoration project. Our next blog will feature a stunning new timber frame boat house, designed and built by Luke Larson and his crew. Stay tuned!

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

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here!

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!

Green Mountain Timber Frames Goes West!

Here in New England, I have been restoring timber frame barns and building barn homes for many decades. Recently, our little company was able to venture further afield. Like Lewis and Clark did two centuries ago, we too have at last reached the west coast.

We restored a colonial era barn – seen below at its original location in Hartford, New York – and sent it off for a new future in Snohomish, Washington.

External view of hartford barn

Original barn in Hartford, NY (pre-restoration)

So how did this come about? 

Just over two years ago, we hired a web design company to redo our website. In addition to creating our new site, they have helped us spread the word about what we do. Suddenly, instead of relying on word of mouth here in Vermont, Green Mountain Timber Frames has found itself with an international audience of timber enthusiasts, history buffs and potential clients. Our little local mom and pop shop has gone global.

Thanks to the success of our site, we can now restore old barns here in New England and then ship them all over the country for reassembly. We are so grateful that our audience has grown and that we can find people across the country – and the world – to help us in our goal of preserving New England heritage and historical structures.

side view of timber frame barn home

Side view of the 1791 barn (in original NY location)

So tell me about this frame!

The frame itself was built around 1800, just a dozen years after the U.S. Constitution was signed. It was originally a corn crib and an unusual one at that. It has four different levels which add up to a total of 1000 sq. ft

Multi level timber frame

Notice the multiple levels of the frame

While the old barn originally measured 16 x 18 feet, a 16 x 13 foot addition was put on a few decades later. (Hence the different floor heights.) The original timber framer was quite clever and talented. He artfully joined the floor systems together with various stairs.

It was common during this period for corn cribs to have living quarters where the hired help would sleep. I suspect that was the case for this frame.

For this most recent project, we found an owner in Washington State who shares our passion for history and our dedication to preserving historic structures. So while moving the frame to Washington did take the barn far from its New England roots, we are grateful that the timbers have been restored, re-erected and valued. Without the support of the new owner, the frame would likely have been demolished or burned.

Here is the restored frame loaded onto a tractor trailer – board by board – ready for the long journey west.

Vintage timber frame on tractor trailerBack in the fall of 1805 when Lewis and Clark (with the help of Sacajawea) were just finding their way to Washington, they could not have imagined that one day a humble New England barn would follow in their footsteps.

Vintage timbers in transit

Vintage timbers in transit

And here is the frame, re-erected beautifully in Snohomish, Washington.

Reerected timber frame in Snohomish WAWhat will the frame be used for?

The restored frame will be used as a storage barn in its new location. We shipped the frame together with the original barn siding, roof boards, slate roofing and flooring. In fact, much of the contents made their way west as well.

Below you can see the beautiful wooden floor boards:

Wide pine floor in corn crib

Wide pine floors

Inside the barn, we found over 50 beautiful wooden dovetailed boxes. They had never been used and were very finely made, so we sent them along as well. We also salvaged horse tack, vintage bottles, hand tools, and other varied knick-knack paddy-wacks.

Various contents of timber frame shipped with frame

Various contents of the barn shipped with frame

We also found two early wooden barrels that were clearly built before 1800. We could tell the barrels were early because they were made with sapling bands as opposed to the usual metal bands.

Early wooden barrel with sapling bands

Early wooden barrel with sapling bands

A Happy Ending

So while we are a bit regretful that the frame left New England, mostly we are thrilled that it has found a new home – with appreciative owners – and that this frame will stand tall for decades to come.

Now we just need for the famous Washington State rains to abate so that the talented builders out in Washington can finish rebuilding the barn.

Snohomish Timber frame with slate roof

Notice the slate roof. Tarps protect the frame while we wait for the rains to stop

It’s been an exciting project.  Through it I have also learned the skills of shipping long distance and was fortunate to connect with an excellent commercial trucking company which I can depend on in future.

Want some more information about this frame, or others? Be sure to contact me to talk timbers!

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! 

Before and After: The Ira Barn Restoration Project

Gallery

This gallery contains 11 photos.

Remember this 1770s gunstock frame from Ira, Vermont? I have written about this historic timber frame a few times – from this blog, when I first started working with the farmer to help him find a client over 2 years … Continue reading