The Old Brick Church and its Barns

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I recently stopped on my countryside meanderings at a favorite historical place: an old brick church located not far from our Vermont timber frame shop.

Old brick church green mountain timber frames

Matt was with me in the truck, and we both were struck by the calm and peace in the air when we stepped out. The church sits on a very quiet intersection of two farm-lined roads.

A Testimony to the Past
All was quiet at this 1826 church, but there were plenty of signs of past bustle, living and dying, and a way of life that revolved around the local community. The sky was amazing on this mid morning, and I imagined the lives that were centered here nearly two hundred years ago, many of whom no doubt now rest in the cemetery behind the church.

Old brick church graveyard green mountain timber frames

Looking carefully around the yard of the church, Matt noticed the faint sign of the horse and buggy drive that circled from the side and across the front of the church, now grown over in the neatly trimmed grass, but showing the shadows of days past. We commented that we could almost hear those horse hooves and the sound of parishioners greeting each other as they tied up their horses for the service.

The Timber Frame Carriage Barns
Beside the church, there are two amazing carriage sheds, and these were the original impetus for us to stop and visit this site. They are remarkable timber frame structures from when the church was built in 1826, and they have drawn my eye for years because of their simplicity, pragmatic purpose, and their beauty.

old timber frame carriage barn green mountain timber frames

The carriage barns sit on the hillside between the church and the cemetery and were once used by churchgoers to “park” their horses and carriages while at services.

The historic barns‘ hand-hewn timbers are mixed species, but the majority are pine. Chestnut was used for some of the timbers closest to the ground, no doubt chosen for its rot resistance.

timber frame carriage barn green mountain timber frames

It was amazing to see how the timbers have survived for nearly 200 years, despite being open to the weather for so very many decades. Of course, the beams are weathered, but thanks to the density of old-growth timber, and the structural shoring up that has been done over two centuries by the community, they stand strong and true.

old barn timber frame joinery green mountain timber frames

Matt and I were so inspired by the simple elegance of the construction, and our imaginations went right to wondering when the last carriage had been backed into one of these stalls.old new england carraige barn green mountain timber frames

Why I Love Timber Framing
One element in the design of these carriage sheds spoke straight to the source of my passion for timber framing. The craftspeople who put these buildings in place were seeking to work with nature – not to change it or overly manipulate the natural materials. As a visual example of what I mean, notice the flow of the carriage barn in the next photo as it relates to the land on which it sits.

vintage new england carriage barn green mountain timber frames

The land went downhill, so the framers simply adjusted the post lengths in order to achieve a level eve and roof.

This concept speaks volumes to me about the character and world-view of the framers who put these old timber frames together. Our historic barns here in New England have survived centuries because of this approach taken by the craftspeople of yesteryear. Timber frame structures, sitting on stone foundations, can breathe and move with nature, and I am grateful that they have lasted to teach me life lessons beyond my craft.
~ Luke Larson


At Green Mountain, we have a passion for restoring historic timber frames and we’ve got some sweet, old barns for sale
We would be happy to answer any questions you have. You can email or give us a call at 802.774.8972

 

Kestrel in the Barn!

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About six years ago, we restored and erected this early New England timber frame.

timber frame barn for sale

The frame is a classic size at 30 by 40 feet. The interior of the barn is “clear span,” which means that the 30 foot timbers are so big that no center posts are necessary inside the barn, making it perfect for storing cars.

timber frame barn_Vermont

The timber frame barn sits nestled at the bottom of Mount Equinox here in Vermont, and wildlife is abundant here. Our client had been seeing American Kestrels in the area, and had the idea of building a nesting box for this smallest of North American raptors. A decline had been documented in the New England population of these birds.

Why not build a box right into the barn?

old barns for sale_Vermont

I have heard that early New England farmers would sometimes cut little bird doors into the gable ends of their cow barns for the swallows. Why? Because barn swallows are so incredibly beneficial for keeping the fly population down in a barn full of livestock. One of my favorite local timber frame barns came to mind, and we chose to copy the style of cut-out from this little gem: timber frame barn with barn cut outsWhen we sided our barn using vintage boards, we cut six holes in the upper section. Copper flashing was used to keep water from going in. Five of the doors are faux, and the sixth has a hole that leads into a nesting box.

timber frame barn with barn swallows

Well, five years past with no kestrels. But this spring a pair moved in! And here is the evidence:

kestrel-house-in-a-vintage-barn-garage-green-mountain-timber-frames.png

Kestral in a vintage barn Green Mountain Timber Frames

We are so delighted that this idea came to fruition! It is remarkable to imagine the spring journey from far south, and perhaps even central America, that brought this pair of birds right into the gable of this beautiful vintage barn.

Now the only question is, who is going to climb up into that high gable when fall comes to clean out the nesting box?

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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

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)

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Last spring, we tipped up a new timber frame barn here in Vermont. We had first begun discussing the barn with the family over a year previously, and worked closely with them on the design for a 28-by-40 foot barn.

We shaped the timbers over the course of the winter, and it was ready for the arrival of spring… as were we! The owners will be using the new post and beam barn as a seasonal living space and as a place to indulge in their wine-making hobby. The project and our clients were a delight, and we want to share the story of this frame.

Timber frame barn in vineyard green mountain timber frames

During the design phase of the project, we decided with our clients to use local hemlock timbers, and settled on 10-by-10 inches as the size for all the posts, girts, and top plates. The timbers were sawn at a sawmill just five miles from the barn location.

Post joinery is cut for timber frame

We decided to construct this frame using a principal rafter and purlin system. This means that each 28-foot bent section has massive rafters which support horizontal purlins. In this design, the roof boards are put on the frame running vertically.

Shaping swoops on heavy purlin timbers

Jesse shapes the “swoops” on the ends of the heavy purlin timbers.

Another exciting feature of the barn design was the inclusion of four dormers in the roof structure. The barn will have a two-thirds loft where the dormer interior can be enjoyed up close, and the dormers in the cathedral space will provide natural light and aesthetic balance for the exterior.

One of the beautiful things about timber frame construction is that we can craft each joint and wooden connection “on the ground.” That way, on raising day, each labeled joint slides together and receives the oak pegs. Since we wanted to go through this preparation process on the dormers as well as with the larger sections of the barn, we assembled each side of the roof system flat on saw horses and got to work.

40 foot long roof system_Green Mountain Timber frames

This roof section is 40-feet long, and laying it out flat on the ground allowed us to check all the joinery and test-fit the dormers

We wanted to use a traditional ridge beam for the dormers. Because the pitch of the roof was 11 inches of rise for every 12 inches of run, the ridge beam had to be shaped to match the roof pitch rather than remaining at square, 90-degree angles. This made laying out and cutting the compound angles challenging. I remembered my grandfather’s old-fashioned miter box that he used when I spent time in his shop as a kid. We replicated my Papa’s angle box to cut our dormer ridge beam, and it worked great!

jig box for cutting ridge beam green mountain timber frames

We built a jig box to help us cut the complex angles on the dormer ridge beams.

dormer joinery on new timber frame roof

Matt inspects dormer joinery

We constructed and fit the four bents and assembled each of the 40-foot eve walls. We used math, geometry, and sharp tools to make certain that the frame would rise up straight and true on its foundation in the spring.

Timber frame bent assembled green mountain timber frames

Jesse enjoys the completion of a gable bent. There is an upper doorway framed in this gable that will lead from the loft out onto a small balcony.

Soon enough, spring arrived, and we were ready to put the frame up. Our client and his son helped us to whittle the proper points on the oak pegs. We use a “shaving horse” to shape the pegs. This ancient design works beautifully to hold the peg hands-free while a draw knife or spokeshave is used. Footwork operates the clamping mechanism.

shaping oak pegs green mountain timber frames

Our shaving horse works great for shaping pegs!

Next, we began assembling bents and driving the pegs to hold them fast.

Pegs are driven into a bent before it is tipped up

Pegs are driven into a bent before it is tipped up

Before we knew it, we were tipping up the final bent.

lifting final bent into timber frame baren

We absolutely love the way the four post bent design draws the eye down the center of the building and gives the whole thing a cathedral feel.

timber frame erected and pegged in Vermont

The lower cube of the frame is erected and pegged.

The next step was to install the top plates, which tie the bents together and support the weight of the rafter system.

green mountain timber frames new construction

Next, the principal rafters went up. As we set each pair, we fed the tenoned purlins into place, as well as the braces that we placed in the rafter system in order to make it ridged.

eve purlin placed in roof and dormers installed

We set an eve purlin into place

It was great fun to assemble the dormers – this time standing upright on the roof system instead of sitting flat on saw horses at the shop. We set the little ridge beams, rafters, and dormer posts. The pegs went in, and we were delighted with the result.

dormers and pitch on timber frame roof

The dormers are 5-feet wide, and the pitch is matched to the main roof.

Here is a crow’s eye view of the completed rafter system and the dormers:

purlin extensions and steel plates to create a generous roof overhang

We used purlin extensions and steel plates to create a generous roof overhang.

hemlock roof boards Green Mountain Timber Frames

The warm colors of the hemlock and roof boards are wonderful.

It was a great joy to collaborate with this family to create a structure in a beautiful setting that will be used and enjoyed for a very long time to come.

Here is hoping that many a glass of wine, crafted in this barn, gets raised by friends and family for generations! Cheers!


Do you dream of living, working or making wine in your own timber frame? At Green Mountain Timber Frames, we restore and build timber frame barns and homes, both new and old.

Give us a call.

completed dormer_Green mountain timber frames

I can imagine sitting in this dormer with a cup of coffee and enjoying the view for a very long time!

A New Home for Mortise & Tenon Magazine

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Today’s guest post comes from Joshua A Klein, a talented furniture conservator/maker from the Maine coast and the brainchild behind Mortise & Tenon Magazine

We have enjoyed working with Joshua over the past year and are delighted and grateful to have him write (and photograph!) for the Green Mountain Timber Frames blog. Our whole team has poured over his publications and we can not recommend his work strongly enough to our fellow woodworkers and kindred spirits in appreciation of yesteryear’s craftsman. It has been a true honor to collaborate with Joshua, his family, and his team. 

Mortise and Tenon Timber Frame Shop Rafters Ridge Pole-14

The GMTF team along with the crew from Mortise & Tenon, in front of the future Mortise & Tenon headquarters

It’s long been a dream of mine to have an antique timber frame workshop to build furniture in. Sure, I could have built a brand-new stick-frame shop and hid the frame underneath boards but as a period furniture maker and conservator, I revere historic craftsmanship. I find it inspiring to work at my craft while surrounded by tool marks left behind by artisans 200 years ago. The awe-inspiring craftsmanship of our ancestors was something I wanted to connect to in the deepest way. I wanted to be immersed in it.

When it came time to put up a new workshop/headquarters for my publication, Mortise & Tenon Magazine, I sought out a hand-hewn frame from Green Mountain Timber Frames. The 24’ x 26’ beech and chestnut frame was built in Pawlet, Vermont around the year 1800.

About a year ago, Luke purchased the neglected house and he and his crew carefully disassembled it for restoration. The frame was in great shape with the exception of the rafters and ridge beam, which suffered fire and leak damage. I went down to see the frame in person this July and became even more excited about it. This frame is absolutely gorgeous. 

Luke and I discussed how to rebuild the damaged rafter system. I told him I wanted old material, as close to the original roof system as possible. He did some digging and came up with a five-sided pine ridge beam as well as round cedar rafters from a barn in Addison, Vermont, virtually identical to the original.

He and his crew replicated the original roof system using these reclaimed materials. They took great care to leave the original surfaces unmarred. They also de-nailed and washed all the 1-1/4”-thick sheathing. As Luke put it, “There is nothing like the patina of old boards.” I totally agree.

Mortise and Tenon Timber Frame Shop Sheathing-9

The five-sided ridge beam and rafters are wonderfully matched to the style and size of the original.

Raising the Frame

This September, Luke and his crew brought the restored frame up to my place in MidCoast Maine. Matt lifted the assembled bents with the telehandler as Luke directed it into the mortises. It was incredible to watch these two work together. Their subtle but effective communication showed that they’ve been doing this a long time. As each tenon slipped seamlessly into its mortise, I couldn’t help but think about how well the resurrection of this frame honored the original makers.

Mortise_and_Tenon_Timber_Frame_Shop_Raising_Bents_Day_Two-12

The final gable bent is set into place

Mortise and Tenon Shop Building Timber Frame Raising Day Three-13

John trims the excess length off the oak pegs

The whole team got involved with the methodical placement of the rafters. Luke said the first pair of rafters is the hardest, especially when they have diagonal braces and a collar tie to be installed along with them. After the first gable end was secured, the rest dropped into place without issue. As they worked through down the ridge, the manual lift helped stabilize it and hold it at the optimum height (decreasing as they went along). The whole process took several hours of careful adjustments and minor paring of the tails that were a hair too wide for their pockets.

Mortise and Tenon Timber Frame Shop Rafters Ridge Pole-6

The first pair of rafters being set, and pegs driven into the rafter braces

By midafternoon that day, the last gable was installed. We drove the final pegs into the joinery and the crew made tiny adjustments before the ceremonial tacking of the evergreen bough onto the ridge.

Mortise_and_Tenon_Timber_Frame_Shop_Rafters_Ridge_Pole-16

Placing an evergreen bough on a newly raised timber frame is an ancient tradition, meant to respect the trees from which the frame was built.

The next day, we nailed gorgeous 200-year-old hemlock roof sheathing in place. Because the crew had already cut, fit, and labeled the boards before bringing them up, the installation process went quickly. The patina in these boards is sacred to this crew. Because they work so hard to de-nail, power wash, repair, and straighten edges, they are very careful not to scratch the beautiful interior show surfaces.

Finishing the Shop

I have to pinch myself standing inside this frame. It far exceeds anything I ever imagined and I consider myself blessed to be the next caretaker for this historic structure. I am leaving the interior unfinished with rough sawn old sheathing boards and the frame completely exposed. All the insulation will be installed in a 2×4 wall built outside of the frame and then exterior sheathing attached to that. I’ve also purchased a pile of antique window sashes (with wavy glass) that I am beginning to restore for the shop. From the inside, it will look like an 18th-century cabinetmaker’s workshop in all its rough-hewn glory.

Mortise and Tenon Timber Frame sheathing-10

The vintage sheathing boards are thick hemlock, and the patina is something that only time can create through the play of air and light.

I am so grateful for this crew and the frame that they’ve restored for us. Luke, Matt, Isaac, and John are not only exceptional craftsmen, but they are incredible people to spend time with. I left the experience inspired.

This building is the new home of Mortise & Tenon Magazine. All our articles will be written and edited here, our instructional videos will be filmed here, and in this place woodworking classes will happen. We will make many memories within these walls.

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Thank you, Luke and crew, for the care you’ve taken with this restoration. Your conscientious workmanship honors the craftsmen who built it over 200 years ago. I hope M&T’s use of it will continue to honor the work of their and your hands.

You can read more about the history of this timber frame in our blog from back in 2016 about the Dutch Cape House from 1800.


Interested in owning your own historic post and beam frame?
Drop us a line.

 

 

 

“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