The Trappers Cabin and its Shared History in Post-Colonial America

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We recently took down another beautiful corn crib from circa 1850. This structure has a fascinating history, and when we moved it six weeks ago, it wasn’t its first journey across the fields!

Trapper's cabin barn restoration green mountain timber frames

In the photo above, I discuss the frame with the current property owner. We are grateful to him and his family for wanting to see this historic barn frame saved.

History of the Barn

trapper cabin homestead hartford NY barn for sale green mountain timber frames

This photo shows a beautiful farmstead in Hartford, New York. In between the large barn and the house, you can see our little corn crib peeking through. I have been learning some of the history of the area from a wonderful little book published in 1896. As I delve into the history, I find that this corn crib has a complicated story- one that brings up both sorrows and joys in the story of this area. history of hartford new york | Green Mountain Timber Frames

A Bit of History from Hartford, NY

May 2 of 1764 first saw the lands of what would become Hartford given by grants from the English Crown to officers of the New York Infantry after they had served in the French and Indian wars. This land had previously been hunting grounds for the Iroquois tribe. The family who owns the land now tells me that they have found many stone arrowheads in the cornfields around the barns.

In the Revolutionary War section of the book shown above, Samuel Bowen mentions that one of the combatants in the war hailed from Hartford. His family was an early owner of the property where this timber frame barn once stood.

On March 12 of 1793, the town of Hartford was established. It was named after a tribal group who had been pushed out of Hartford, Connecticut, and who had taken up residence in the area.

Here are a few details that caught my eye and imagination from the town records:

  • In 1794, just one year after the town was officially formed, it was decided at a town meeting that the grazing of sheep and swine on the town commons would no longer be allowed. In addition, it went into the notes of the meeting, which was held at the house of David Austin, that a lawful fence be no less than four and a half feet tall.
  • In 1803, a special town meeting was called at the Baptist Church to take measures to slow the spread of smallpox. A committee of 11 was appointed to find ways to minimize the terrible effects of the disease.
  • 1818 saw the imposition of a new tax that would raise $300 for the support of the poor, and also for a town-run home to support the needy.
  • In 1846, Hartford took a vote to decide on the sale of “spirituous liquors.” Of the three hundred and two votes cast, 151 favored a liquor license, with the exact number of voters opposing the town-sanctioned sale of liquor! One year later, the mood had shifted, and the licensed sale of liquor was approved in town by a majority of 92 votes.

And right around the time that Hartford voted to allow the sale of liquor, a wonderful little corn crib was crafted.

About the Hartford Corn Crib

The barn was built to house the corn that was grown on the Hartford farm. It measures 14 x 20 feet. Classic corn crib siding was installed, which allowed for excellent ventilation that would keep the corn drying after it was harvested. Wide boards were sliced so that air could flow through the gaps, but rainwater would be unlikely to enter and spoil the corn.

Trapper's Cabin vintage corn crib siding green mountain timber frames

The barn stood in the farmyard for over 100 years, right next to the large barn where animals were kept, and also where militia members were once housed during a conflict with Native Americans in the area. trapper cabin homestead hartford new york barn for sale green mountain timber frames

The Corn Crib Makes Its (First) Move

Our little corn crib saw a big change in the fall of 1968. No longer needed for corn storage, the barn was moved from the farmyard out to the woods behind the fields. The structure was moved with the use of a bulldozer.

trapper-cabin-corn-crib-moved-green-mountain-timber-frames.jpg

When the corn crib was moved, the family discovered a hand made mortar and pestle under the floorboards. It seems that one member of the Bowen family was a physician, and he likely used this tool to smash and mix early medicines.

19th century doctor tools from the trapper cabin corn crib green mountain timber frames

In its new location on the edge of the woods, our little cabin was transformed from corn storage to trapper’s cabin. Here is what the 2nd floor loft looked like when I first got to visit it:

Trapper's Cabin fur stretchers in the loft vintage cabin green mountain timber frames

The Trapper Cabin and the Fur Trade

This time period was the height of profitability in the fur trade. The family that now owned it was involved in purchasing pelts from trappers, and then curing them to be used in the making of clothing. We pulled hundreds of these wooden stretchers out of the cabin, some with notes on successful trapping trips dating from the 1940s through the 1980s.

fur stretchers trapper's vintage cabin green mountain timber frames

When the Green Mountain Timber Frames first viewed the cabin, it was in distress. The roof had leaked and it had not been inhabited for decades other than by porcupines and birds. Like the dry storage of corn cobs, the trapping industry was a thing of the past. We decided to take on the project of saving this barn, and finding a third purpose for the worthy structure.

Dismantling the Trapper’s Cabin

We moved onto the site in early February and tackled the clean-out of the barn. Once we got down to the structure, we removed the slate roof as well as the original cedar shake roof that was underneath. The siding was next. The boards on this little structure are impressive!

Some of the loft floorboards are also remarkable, and we know from our history book that these most likely came from local water sawmills that were in operation on the East Creek, not far from the cabin location.

wide floor boards trapper cabin corn crib restoration barn for sale green mountain timber frames

The interior of the trapper cabin originally had a full loft and a staircase. There were bins on the 2nd floor for storage of grains, and we presume that bins existed along the eve walls for the drying of corn. In the next photo, you can see one bin remaining on the fall gable wall, as well as a bin on the 2nd floor.Interior photo of trapper's cabin vintage corn crib

We popped the pegs from the joinery, and disassembled the frame. Each wooden joint was labeled. In the next photo, you can see Isaac working on removing one of the oak pegs that holds the top plate in place. Andy seems to be helping to hold the barn up!

trapper cabin corn crib restoration

We had a great crew for the tip down of this adorable frame. Here they are standing on the 2nd floor of a gable end:

dismantling the trapper cabin corn crib barn for sale green mountain timber frames

The braces that the guys are holding have a unique detail on them. I am intrigued by the “swoop” cut into the edge of the braces. It is gorgeous, and not something I have come across often in braces:

The floor joists and floor boars in this frame are wonderufl. Here is a view from the interior after we stripped the siding boards:

trapper cabin corn crib barn for sale

We made a fascinating discovery on one of the interior boards that came from this corn crib. In the next photo, you can see multiple inscriptions scratched into the surface of a pine plank:

witch hex in the trapper cabin corn crib green mountain timber frames barn for sale

This daisy wheel is an intriguing mark that we occasionally find in barns. Many theories abound about the meaning, ranging from a geometric blueprint for the structure, to the more superstitious theory that the mark was a “witch hex,” meant to ward off the presence of evil spells and the people who cast them.

This frame was built at a time not that far removed from the dark history of the witch trials of New England, and it does seem plausible that secret markings were used to protect food from imagined curses.

What is next for this timber frame structure?

For the second time in its story, the corn crib turned trapper cabin has been carried across the cornfields to the original Hartford site, and now back to our shop in Middletown Springs, Vermont. Because the farm road was impassible by truck and trailer, we brought our tractor over to carry the disassembled barn back to the main road.

trapper cabin corn crib hauled through the fields for restoration green mountain timber frames

We have now restored the timber frame structure, which included replacing one post with a similarly colored and aged timber, as well as other more minor repairs. In the next photo, we have one cross-section, or bent, of the barn assembled in our shop during the restoration.

restoration of trapper cabin corn crib green mountain timber frames

We are now looking for a new home for this cabin and the stories that it tells. It would make a remarkable woodland or meadow cabin retreat with a half loft.  Here is one last photo that shows the 2nd floor of the cabin.

Loft of trapper cabin corn crib green mountain timber frames barn for sale

This barn is for sale! Interested in learning more about this antique corn crib?

Contact me! 

802.774.8972
 luke@GreenMountainTimberFrames.com

North Hero Barn Restoration: Before and After

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Remember that North Hero, Vermont historic barn we wrote about back in April of last year?

Luke Larson, of Green Mountain Timber Frames rescued this special barn from North Hero Island, which is smack in the middle of Lake Champlain and only a few miles south of the Canadian border.

Removing Roof of timber frame barn home

Dating back to the 1780s, the barn is a hardwood frame with hewn oak braces. While it was truly in very rough shape, Luke was determined to save it because it is such an old, rare specimen. Measuring 26 X 36 feet, it offers nearly 1000 square feet of space and is a gunstock post frame, a good indication it was built before 1800.

A New Beginning – Near The Frame’s Origins

The exciting news is that this beautiful restored timber frame will become a handsome “great room,” complete with a fireplace, for a new home that is being built on the New York side of Lake Champlain.

Understanding the Restoration Process

In the following Before and After photos, you can see the restoration process taking place at one of our shop sites.

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Above: Many of the beams needed repairs or replacement. One of the top plates was replaced completely during the restoration process. In the restored photo, all of the beams are once again sound.
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The ridge beam and rafter braces were one of the lovely features that caused us to love this barn!
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During the dismantling of the barn, we labeled all of the roof boards so that they would go back to the original location. In this “after” photo, we have put all boards back on the roof and used some replacement vintage material to fill in the gaps.
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The beautiful December sunset here in Vermont showcases the lovely detail where the rafters intersect with the ridge beam. In the restored version, we have made all the edges of the boards straight once again, so that the gaps between the boards are minimized.

Ever Dreamed of Living IN History?

At Green Mountain Timber Frames, we turn old barns into beautiful new homes, studios, offices, barns and more.

 

For details, please contact Dan or Luke:
802.774.8972
luke@GreenMountainTimberFrames.com

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Before and After: The Ira Barn Restoration Project

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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

Summer Restoration – The 1780s Corn Crib Revisited

I’ve had a busy spring and summer, restoring a number of vintage timber frames that were originally from Ira, Vermont and picking up a few other projects in between.

You may remember this corn crib that I first wrote about back in November. I am happy to report that we found an owner for this frame and its new home is in northern Vermont.

Vermont Post and beam corn Crib

Corn Crib from Ira, VT

While relatively small at only 450 square feet, this lovely, hand hewn beech wood frame boasts two floors.

Restoring timber frame roof

Dismantling the crib.

With the help of a wonderful crew, Green Mountain Timber Frames has carefully restored this frame – down to every detail including the famous signature stairway.

Restored Wooden Stairwell

Restored Wooden Stairwell

Here are a few pictures of the frame during the re-erection process:

Reerecting historic barn Old Barn Restoration

We were able to save most of the original roof, wall and floor boards on the interior, so the barn will maintain much of the look it had when it was built 240 years ago.

We wish the owner many happy days and nights in this new-old out building. Freshly restored, it can now be of use another two centuries.

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I really value historic structures and am always looking for the gems – the true diamonds in the rough. Do you have an old barn you want to sell? Are you looking for a timber frame to turn into a beautifully renovated home? Please give me a call: 802.774.8972.

 

Behind the Scenes: How do you restore old wood?

Today I want to share a bit about the “behind the scenes” work that goes into restoring historic properties. I am going to share the process we use to restore 240-year-old roof boards on a barn from 1774. And while I recognize that the technical sides of my work may be less fascinating to some of my readers, I do know that there are a few of you out there who are interested in learning about the nitty-gritty details of timber framing.

So how does one restore 240-year-old wood?

Restoring old timber frames and turning them into new custom barn homes is a multi-layered task with many steps along the way. A significant part of the work is spent carefully refreshing each piece of timber, from the siding to the roof boards.

As I walk you through the process step by step, I’ll show pictures from the 1774 barn roof boards we recently restored. Most barns we restore have slate roofs, but slate was only discovered in Vermont in 1834. This barn was originally roofed with local white cedar shingles as its first roof. Sixty years later they added a slate roof.

The first step in this project was to remove the slate shingles from the frame. We then created a temporary roof to protect the antique beechwood beams during the renovation process. In the photo below, we had already removed the slate over the winter months and covered the roof with a piece of strong black plastic to protect against the spring rains. This also helps keep the frame in good condition until we could officially start the dismantling process.

1774 Barn with slate roof shingles removed

1774 Barn with slate roof shingles removed

We then carefully removed each roof board. During this removal process it’s important to label the boards, using a system that is clear to everyone working on the project. After restoring the beams, the labeling system will help us as we reassemble the hand hewn frame and return each board to its original location in the post and beam structure.

Label vintage roof boards

Notice labeling on unwashed roof boards

Once we dismantled all of the boards and timbers, we loaded them onto a trailer transporting them to back to our shop in Middletown Springs, Vermont where we spent several weeks restoring the timber frame.

Transporting boards on trailer

Loading the boards on to a trailer

Back at my shop, we unloaded the trailer and carefully scanned each roof board for old nails. We removed all of the wooden shingle nails that we found in the wide roof boards, knocking out about 100 nails per board which is typical in pre-1800 timber frames.

Scanning the timber beams for wooden shingle nails.

Scanning the roof boards for nails.

The next stage was to wash the boards. In this project, we had a washing party to remove 240 years of Vermont life. As we washed the wood, it was fun to imagine all that has taken place beneath these boards and beams during their long watch – from Ethan and Ira Allen sleeping underneath the boards (or at least their horses!), to wheat thrashing, to generations of families tending animals and storing hay for over two centuries…

Washing vintage wood boards

Washing vintage boards

Washing old timber boards

After we thoroughly washed the boards, we left them out to dry for two sunny days.  Sometimes it can be a challenge to find two sunny days in New England!

Flip boards for dryingWe flipped and turned each board to ensure they were completely dry.

Drying vintage timber boards for restorationIn this final picture, you can see the results. Two hundred and forty-year old wood – restored for our future.

Restored wood from colonial time

A roof board first cut 240 years ago, restored. It’s amazing to think about. I stare at the 250 rings of growth and realize that these boards were ‘born’ nearly 500 years ago. Early timber framers in Vermont (1750 to 1800) had the luxury of being able to use the finest of materials – first cut trees, grown strong over centuries. Trees in New England had never been cut for lumber before.

In this restoration project, as with other barns we have restored from this time period, the wide pine roof boards were made from first cut timber. You can recognize this  beautiful wood from the tight bands of growth rings, showing slow, strong growth. In addition to strength, the aging process over 240 years give the boards a color that can’t be duplicated. Now the boards are restored and ready to shed water again.

I hope, as with each of our projects, that the future owners will maintain these structures. When this frame is re-erected, with all timber and boards restored, it will allow us to have a glimpse into the past. After the raising, we can imagine how proud these builders must have felt to erect such a fine barn. (And of course they did it without the help of power tools and cranes.) We are honored to restore their work which can now stand for centuries to come.

Want to come see some of the timber frames at our shop in Middletown Springs? Please let us know!

Finding the milk house a new home

This past year, I’ve spent a good deal of time among the barns of Ira, Vermont.

This hamlet of less than 500 people is in Rutland County, on the western side of the state. Chartered in 1780, the tiny little town is big on barns with several valuable, historic timber frames, each with a story to tell.

You may be thinking of my previous blog where I showed the video of the controlled collapse of the end section of an historic barn from Ira, but that method of deconstructing a barn was the exception – – not the rule! While that specific part of the barn wasn’t salvageable, we are currently working on restoring the remaining 72 feet of the structure. You can read more about that restoration project here.

Today’s blog is about the tiny 8×10 foot milk house that was nestled next to that very same barn. You can see it on the right in the picture below.

Colonial era barn with milk house

Colonial era barn with 1900s milk house

The little milk house has found a new owner and we recently moved it to my hometown of Middletown Springs, VT.

Moving the milk barn for restoration

Milk house is loaded onto trailer

Placing the antique barn in its new home

Careful now! Don’t let ‘er fall!

So how did the milk house find its new home? 

30 years ago, I built a playhouse for my children. When my children grew older, I sold it to a local friend for his daughter. Now that I am blessed with grandchildren, I called my friend to see if I could get the playhouse back. He suggested we make a trade: a milk house for a playhouse.

I had been looking for the perfect owner for this adorable 1900s building, so I was glad to make the swap. My friend now has a milk house cabin in his yard and I get to bring home the playhouse and restore it for our grandchildren!

While the milk house needs continued TLC, it is now close by and convenient to work on. I will restore it, and plan to add a small porch to make it into a cozy, Thoreau-esque dwelling for the new owner.

Vintage milk house before restoration

Milk house in its original location, original condition

Vermont milk barn

Milk house in its new location waiting for some more TLC.  The playhouse  is in background.

Want to come see the milk house in person or visit some of the timber frames we have here at our shop in Middletown Springs? Please let us know!

 

 

Controlled Collapse of Ira Barn – on video!

Remember the old Ira Barn we have oft-written about?

The original barn had three parts: the main frame we wrote about earlier, a 32-foot frame that we are currently working on dismantling, and a third, 14-foot timbered section on the far end that was not salvageable.

Below is a picture of the old timber frame – to help jog your memory!

Timber Frame Barn in Ira VT

Timber Frame Barn in Ira, VT

While this isn’t our usual MO here at Green Mountain Timber Frames, it was too dangerous to dismantle this small section by hand so we organized a controlled demolition. In my over 30 years of experience in timber framing, I have never before done this kind of demolition before. In this case, however, the safety concerns warranted this more dramatic approach.

We first salvaged material from the failing section of the barn. In the picture below, you can see us using a tractor to remove equipment from the barn before the controlled collapse.

Controlled Collapse of Timber Frame Barn

Controlled Collapse of Timber Frame Barn

We then used a block and tackle, a maple tree and four chains in order to do the demolition of the small timbered gable end section. We captured the whole thing on video! You can view it below, or on our new Green Mountain Timber Frames YouTube Channel!

As you may recall, we also found some vintage horse-drawn equipment in this old barn. When we last wrote, the equipment was soundly frozen to the ground, but with spring’s thaw, we were able to remove the equipment. Here are some of the treasures we found inside: Horse Drawn Equipment from Ira Old Barn