History of Lora's Barns
Unique Williston Barn Saved
Profile/Introduction – Each year, Vermont loses a record number of its historic barns – whether through neglect and collapse, or by salvagers who dismantle these buildings for their valuable old-growth timbers. Other, more specialized, historic agricultural structures, such as silos, corn cribs, and sugar houses are even more vulnerable. If these historic resources no longer serve a useful purpose, they are often cast aside and lost forever. Although we keep no records of how many historic agricultural buildings have disappeared each year, the State has recognized their value as part of Vermont’s historic and cultural history, and in an effort to prevent future loss the State began a Barn Preservation Grant Program in 1992.
Annually, the program awards 50/50 matching grants of up to $15,000 to help fund preservation and repair of historic agricultural buildings around Vermont. Funds are used for structural and foundation (stone or concrete) repairs; repair or replacement of roofing; and repairs to siding, windows, doors, and other architectural elements such as cupolas. Since its
The Challenge – In 2013, Laura Handy heard about the state’s program and decided to apply for funds to help repair her c. 1790 English barn in Williston. Unlike most applicants, she sought to restore a barn that had collapsed in a wind storm two years earlier. No longer part of an active farming operation, the barn had been vacant for many years and foundation work completed by a previous owner had unintentionally weakened the structure. Unfortunately, because the grant program is very competitive, Handy’s project was not one of the nineteen selected for funding in 2013 for several reasons. First, funding priority is provided for repairs of agricultural buildings before they collapse and second there was concern over whether or not the building could be successfully reassembled from the remaining timbers piled at the site.
The Solution – Although many of the barn’s original timbers of red oak and beech were in bad condition, others were salvageable. Handy hired Eliot Lothrop of Building Heritage, LLC to sort through the remains of the barn and salvage what material he could. Historic barns like this one were built using what is called “scribe rule,” which means that each timber was individually hewn and cut so they fit together like a puzzle. Timbers were also marked with “marriage marks” to guide erection of the frame. This building technique, along with Lothrop’s experience in repairing similar barns, enabled him to successfully determine where each salvaged timber fit into the original frame.
The Result – Handy decided to move forward with the project in the spring of 2013. “Receiving a grant from the Division would have been great” said Handy, “but waiting another year wasn’t possible. We were storing the salvaged timbers in a neighboring barn, but that wasn’t a long-term solution. We needed to take action or give up on the project.” Luckily, she had the right contractor on her side. Lothrop and his crew completed repairs to the salvaged timbers during the winter of 2013. In the spring, reconstruction began, with site work, a new concrete foundation and new timbers to replace those that could not be saved. By August the frame was up, new roofing and siding installed, and new doors and windows were fabricated.
“While modest, this barn is very significant, both for its age, and its construction which uses an unusual triple bypass joint only seen in about 5% of barns of this type,” explained Lothrop. “Within a quarter mile of this barn is a very similar barn at the Isham Farm which uses the same type of joinery suggesting it was completed by the same builder.” To be able to preserve this significant structure for the public was important to Handy. “The goal was to have this barn back and to use for agricultural tourism. I feel like its restoration provides an opportunity for the public to experience the benefits of farming, especially coupled with the Isham Farm so close by.”
The Division for Historic Preservation would like to recognize the efforts of Building Heritage, Inc. and Laura Handy for their dedication to preserving our agricultural history, and breathing new life into an old building. Their efforts and determination saved another remarkable piece of Vermont’s agricultural past for future generations of locals and visitors to enjoy,
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