Whitcomb Barn, Marshfield, VT

Project Overview

The Whitcomb barn, located in Marshfield, VT, was constructed during the early 1820’s. This English threshing barn was 30 feet wide by 40 feet long when first constructed. A fifth bent was added within a few years of construction to extend the length of the barn to 56 feet. The additional space once housed an interior silo. The two original gable bents had gunstock posts and English tying joints as did the additional bent. The two interior bents were framed with drop ties.

The large hewn timbers in this frame are mixed softwoods, with the exception of a few hardwood posts, most of which are beech. The upper and lower girts are vertically-sawn hardwood (mostly beech and maple) 3×4’s as are the braces. The middle girts are all hewn 7×7 mixed softwood. The roof system has step lapped, log rafters tennoned into a hewn, five-sided ridge beam.

The Vermont department of historic preservation awarded a matching grant to the current owners of the barn. When we first saw this barn the doors were missing and the roof had numerous leaks. The barn had suffered extensive rot from years of water damage. The side of the barn toward the road was wide open, with its sill missing and posts literally hanging from the boards. Years of snowplowing may have exacerbated the rot.

The eave wall sills had mostly disappeared into the ground and in many places were gone altogether. Several of the posts had sunk into the ground. The original 40 foot plate had fractured in several places and been so severely rotten that the rafters actually pushed through the plate. After measuring the elevations of all of the post tops, we found that on one eave side, six out of seven posts had sunk (up to 13 inches) while another had heaved up over three inches.

The gable opposite from the road had lost most of its boarding and all but one of its girts. The side that suffered the least amount of damage from rot was the eave side that had been protected by a horrendously built parlor that was added sometime during the 1900’s. Although the parlor sheltered the barn from rot, the shelter itself was falling down and threatened to take the rest of the barn with it.

We stabilized the roof system and transferred its load off of the plates temporarily so that we could remove the plates and posts for restoration. We ended up replacing 40 ft of plate on one eave and about 12 ft one the other with some additional repairs. We were able to save most of the posts. Of the posts that we were able to save only one did not require any repair. Many of the posts required new feet as well as shoulder repairs. Most of the sills had to be fabricated from scratch. Only a short length of replacement sill from a much earlier repair remains, the rest is new.

In addition to the extensive rot repairs, most of our time at this barn was spent cribbing and jacking the barn back to the correct elevations. We had to re-stack most of the dry-laid stone foundation before setting the barn back down. After the frame was restored and resting soundly on the foundation again, it got a new roof, all new siding and new doors.

Project Pictures

whitcomb barn
A conventionally built addition threatened to pull down this barn.

A conventionally built addition threatened to pull down this barn.
Here is the eave wall with the addition removed.

Here is the eave wall with the addition removed.
When we first began this restoration all of the sills were destroyed except on the eave wall under the addition.

When we first began this restoration all of the sills were destroyed except on the eave wall under the addition.
The drastic differences in elevation can be seen here.

The drastic differences in elevation can be seen here.
A post on the gable wall is held only by the siding and girts.

A post on the gable wall is held only by the siding and girts.
The foot of this beech post was hit by a vehicle.

The foot of this beech post was hit by a vehicle.
Michael Cuba surfaces a foot repair to a gable post with a broad axe.

Michael Cuba surfaces a foot repair to a gable post with a broad axe.
This eave wall had extensive rot to the plate, sills, rafters and post feet.

This eave wall had extensive rot to the plate, sills, rafters and post feet.
The plates and rafters were mostly hollow.

The plates and rafters were mostly hollow.
The cross section of this rotted plate shows a rare plumb cut step lap.

The cross section of this rotted plate shows a rare plumb cut step lap.
Forty feet of plate were replaced on this eave wall.

Forty feet of plate were replaced on this eave wall.
In order to replace the plate in situ the roof system had to be shored and its load transfered to shoring frames.

In order to replace the plate in situ the roof system had to be shored and its load transfered to shoring frames.
The restored eave wall is back in place and supporting the roof again.

The restored eave wall is back in place and supporting the roof again.
Although we are not big advocates of using metal with joinery, eccentric and tensil loads sometimes call for it.

Although we are not big advocates of using metal with joinery, eccentric and tensil loads sometimes call for it.
This gable was severely deteriorated from water infiltration.  Most of the timbers in this wall had to be replaced.

This gable was severely deteriorated from water infiltration. Most of the timbers in this wall had to be replaced.
This is a view of the same gable wall as a new post is being lifted into place.

This is a view of the same gable wall as a new post is being lifted into place.
The restored gable is almost complete.

The restored gable is almost complete.
The gable wall is complete.  The bent in the foreground had the beech post replaced due to severe powder post beetle damage.  All of the posts and all but one of the girts that can be seen in this photo are new.

The gable wall is complete. The bent in the foreground had the beech post replaced due to severe powder post beetle damage. All of the posts and all but one of the girts that can be seen in this photo are new.
Our friend Rob Beall of Windy Ledges Metal works made custom strap hinges and pintles for the new doors.

Our friend Rob Beall of Windy Ledges Metal works made custom strap hinges and pintles for the new doors.


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