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!

 

 

A Day-Trip to Waterford, Vermont…and 2 Surprises Behind a Barn

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A few weeks ago, Matt and I took a drive up and over to Waterford, Vermont. It’s in Caledonia County, and sits right on the border with New Hampshire. Waterford is a town I had never before visited. We were there to look at an old barn for sale.

Gunstock barn home for sale green mountain timber framesWe had been called because the foundation under a large gunstock timber frame is crumbling, and the property owners would like to see this barn saved and re-homed before it deteriorates further. This barn was worth the long drive from our home base. The posts and timbers are beautiful, and even the braces are hand hewn. gunstock timber frame for sale green mountain timber framesWe will be carefully disassembling this beautiful and worthy barn in the coming months, after which we will restore the timber frame. Stay tuned for more information as we get this structure measured, drawn to scale, and listed as an available frame on our webpage.

Exploring this Historic Barn

What we found when we walked around the back side of this structure stopped me in my tracks and struck my imagination. It was an immediate and poignant reminder of the days when this barn was used to store food from the land, and to house and feed the animals that sustained the New Englander’s lifestyle. decrepit farm silo green mountain timber framesThere, next to the barn, was a decrepit old silo, with vines growing up the side. It looked like the turret of some old agricultural castle, and I pushed my way through wild grapes and wild cucumber vines to find the opening. interior of woodford silo and stone foundation green mountain timber framesThe roof had collapsed and I could see vegetation reclaiming the interior. The old stone foundation was mossy and I could imagine the excitement of the farm crew many years ago as they laid these rocks in a neat circle to define the storage space for their crops- no doubt in between the daily chores of feeding the animals, tending the fields along the Connecticut River and milking the cows. a tree grows in the silo green mountain timber framesUnlike most of the old wooden silos that have vertical boards held together with steel rings, this one had vertical studs with thin boards bent to match the radius inside and outside. A sumac tree had sprouted, and its upper branches were capturing the afternoon sunlight as I peered in. A single four pane window was in the top of the silo wall, and in the early days this would have let that same sunlight into the interior to illuminate for the farmer how much of the summer’s bounty remained as the winter months progressed. I am so glad we will be catching the large barn before it, too, is reclaimed by vines and trees.

Surprises Behind the Gunstock Barn

There was another surprise behind the large gunstock barn that we had come to see. As we looked out into the woods, we saw another abandoned structure literally cradled by the limbs of trees. antique corn crib for sale green mountain timber framesI asked about the little barn, and was granted permission to explore it. The owners had not been in it for a very long time, and suspected it was nothing that would be of interest or that could be salvaged. I went in for a closer look.

Each gable rake of the little barn had a tree that had pushed right through the metal roofing. Undoubtedly, this barn must sway with the poplar, maple, and birch trees when the wind blows.

Climbing through the door, I was blown away by the interior. Like the silo, the uses of this structure were immediately apparent.

  1. First, it had been built as a corn crib. The slatted siding on the back gable wall gave me this clue. It had a beautiful stair case up to the loft and the stairs were designed with a half radius at the top and hand made hardware that allowed the stairs to be folded upward and out of the way.
  2. Second, someone had rigged a wood stove on the second floor and a little side table and chair indicated it had been home for someone-perhaps summer help on the farm.
  3. Third, this had been used as a machine shop in the 1800s and the first half of the 1900s. It is absolutely filled with gadgets, tools, hardware and belt-driven devices.

pulleys and wheels in a corn crib machine shop green mountain timber framesinterior of timber frame machine shop and corn crib green mountain timber framesThe incredible durability of old-growth timbers was apparent as I inspected the hand-hewn timber frame. In spite of the trees pressing in, the frame is worthy of restoration, and we agreed to purchase this 14×18 foot frame. Once restored and erected on a new foundation, it will make a remarkable cabin with sleeping quarters on the second floor. We will be listing this corn crib on our webpage soon.

Like many high quality corn cribs from the late 1700s and early 1800s, this barn has braces that go up from the posts to the girts, and also braces that go down from posts to the sills. corn crib interior green mountain timber framesI cannot wait to spend a day inside this barn with our dedicated team doing our best to decipher and document the creative web of belt-driven machines and jigs. We will then begin popping out the hardwood pegs, disassembling the timber frame joinery, and labeling all of the wooden joints. In time, this frame too will have a new home and a continued evolution of usefulness. The constant variable throughout these progressions will be the stout integrity of the structure and its aesthetic beauty.

Our day in Waterford was a good one, spent meeting new people who care deeply about saving the buildings of our New England farming heritage, learning about the farming practices of long ago, and acquiring two more vintage timber frames that are worthy of restoration.

Interested in old barns? Contact us to chat.
– Luke Larson

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?

Love hearing stories about old barns?
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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!