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Historical society to dedicate timber-frame barn

By Ben Holbrook | Jun 30, 2016
Photo by: Ben Holbrook Brooks Historical Society's new timber-frame barn next to the Pilley House sits nearly complete, awaiting a few finishing touches.

Brooks — Several years ago, members of Brooks Historical Society voted to demolish the barn that was attached to the manor-turned-museum Pilley House.

While the organization could have used the space afforded by the barn to store some of its larger pieces, members ultimately agreed the structure needed to go, as it was “in very bad shape,” Brooks Historical Society President Betty Littlefield said.

Fast forward a few years to one of the historical society's open house events — Bud Menard giving a timber framing demonstration. After talking with members of the historical society, Menard agreed to help build a new barn if the organization could secure funding for the project.

That funding came in the form of a $15,000 grant from Davis Family Foundation and numerous contributions from the community, Littlefield said.

Then it was Menard's turn to deliver on building the barn he told the historical society he would build if they could raise enough money. Menard, who learned timber framing while growing up on a farm in Connecticut, agreed to take on the project and began fabricating the pieces needed for the barn.

Timber framing was once a common practice in the United States, until the 1900s when mills began producing smaller, dimensional pieces of lumber to meet an increasing housing demand.

With timber framing, heavy structural timbers are prepared ahead of time and fitted together onsite. The ends of the timbers are carved out so they fit together and a hole is drilled through the joint and a wooden peg is pounded into the hole to hold it together. The joint is known as mortise and tenon.

Last summer, community members gathered at the historical society to begin raising the barn. Now almost a year later, the structure is nearly complete, Menard said, requiring a few final finishing touches.

"It's a collective effort," Menard said of the barn-raising.

Though it requires a great deal of work and skill, Menard said there are advantages to timber-frame construction, including the fact the structure is strong enough to withstand almost anything short of a natural disaster.

That doesn't mean timber framing is less labor intensive, however, and in fact is quite the opposite. Menard said there are about 240 handcrafted pegs holding joints together and at least six months' worth of labor invested in the project. He estimated he spent about 40 hours on crafting the pegs alone.

Menard said when beginning a project he starts with the larger structural pieces and saves the smaller pieces, such as the pegs, for the end.

With his practiced eye, Menard can quickly identify imperfections in the craftsmanship, but to the layman, the building is the work of a master crafter.

“As long as everything fits together, that's what matters,” he said.

Despite the immense time commitment, the new barn is a kind of swan song for Menard, who said he's not going to take on any more such projects once he completes the historical society's barn.

“It's nice because I don't usually see projects that I complete,” Menard said.

The two-story barn features eight bays — four on each side of the first floor — and a large open space on the second floor.

An open house and barn dedication will be held Sunday, July 3, beginning at 1 p.m., Littlefield said. The dedication begins at 1:30 p.m.

“It is so beautiful,” Littlefield said. “So beautiful. It reminds me of an old-fashioned meeting house."

Littlefield recommended attendees bring their own chairs to sit in. Refreshments will be provided and donations to the historical society are welcomed.

 

The first floor of the timber-frame barn features eight display bays for the historical society's collection. (Photo by: Ben Holbrook)
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