Thursday, May 14, 2009

Expedition to a local eighteenth century barn

The Charles F. Johnson & Son Dairy Farm

Story by Clifton Patrick, Town of Chester Historian. Photos by Clif Patrick & Leslie Smith

In his 1998 Chester Historical Society oral history interview, Charlie Johnson mentioned that one of his barns, which dates from the 1700s, has an upside-down scale drawing of the roof structure on one of the beams, but that it could not be seen, since it is in the hay loft under tons of hay.

A little while ago, Charlie called me to ask if I’d like to see that drawing, since the hay loft was empty for the first time in a long time, but that this year’s first cut would be coming in soon. He generously extended the invitation to include members of the Chester Historical Society and our Chapter! May 9th was selected for the visit and about a dozen folks were able to make it.

Charlie warmly greeted us and we scampered up the narrowest aluminum ladder I’ve ever seen into the hay loft. The barn was built in two sections: We entered the newest section, built around the time of the Civil War, stepping carefully across the uneven hundred and fifty year old hay strewn floor to the early section.

Making it to the 1700s section, we climbed over massive beams to reach the drawing laying out the roof plan to the scale of one inch equals one foot. It must have been done before the barn was raised while that beam was still on the ground. It ended up up-side-down as the beam was hoisted roughly ten feet in the air to its spot in the structure. The cross beams are roughly 30 feet long and just massive!

Here, member Jon Leonard, photographs scale drawing under Charlie Johnson's careful guidance. Close-up with drawing highlighted.

The timbers are mostly assembled with oak pins securing the mortise and tenon joints. Another interesting detail that Mr. Johnson pointed out were the roof rafters in the early section of the barn were tapered. Thinner at the roof peak where there is less weight to carry and growing bigger towards the eaves to support the extra loads from the roof structure above. This layout was no accident, as evidenced by the fact that the upper ends were numbered with Roman numerals.

Just imagine the work it took to fell the trees, hew them into beams, drill holes, carve out the mortis & tendons joints, then hoist them overhead into place - all by hand! And that was just to build one barn! Then came nearly three hundred years of operating the farm itself! The inside of this barn with its exposed structure is very impressive!

As this is a working farm, Mr. Johnson also gave us a short tour of the milking parlor explaining modern dairy operations compared to the way is was done in earlier times.

A special thank you to Charles Johnson, his family and staff for sharing this day with us!

No comments:

Post a Comment