Posts Tagged "barn preservation"

The Doncaster Barn or Bayers Barn

Posted by on Feb 6, 2013 in barn education, Barn Preservation, Featured Barn, The Barn Journal | Comments Off on The Doncaster Barn or Bayers Barn

Round Barn - Cropped









A guest post by NBA member, Jill Hotchkiss.

The old round barn just outside Twin Bridges, Montana was built in 1882 by Noah Armstrong, one of the lesser known Copper Kings, who was at that time superintendent of the Glendale smelter and discoverer of the Hecla mine in western Montana. Being from Kentucky, Armstrong had a love for horses and horse racing. He purchased the ranch in 1882 calling it the Doncaster Ranch after one of his favorite race horses. He then built a magnificent three-story round barn in which to raise and train race horses. One of the reasons he built it round was so the horses could be exercised in the winter on the indoor track on the ground floor. The ground floor also had box stalls for the horses as well as a saddle/tack room, veterinarian’s room, grain bins and office and living quarters for the jockeys or stablemen. The second story housed hay which could be fed to the horses on the ground floor, through openings or chutes on the second floor. The third floor had a large water tank which was pumped there from the well which was underneath the barn and a windmill which was atop the barn. Water could then be pumped anywhere in the barn, under pressure. There was also a freight elevator to transport the hay, grain and anything else to the second floor. This was quite a fancy barn for the day. There was even a carved horse scene above the front doors of the barn. The barn’s claim to fame, however, was raising Montana’s only Kentucky Derby winner, Spokane, who won the race in 1889. Actually, at that time in history he was the equivalent of a Triple Crown winner, the slate of races being different than they are now.

This article is published in our printed in Winter 2012 newsletter, The Barn Door.


Can you imagine an America without barns dotting the plains or hills? We can’t. Join us in preserving our heritage. Before it is lost. Join us

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Timber Framers Guild Conference October 17-21

Posted by on Oct 8, 2012 in barn education, Barn Preservation, Conferences, Events, The Barn Journal | Comments Off on Timber Framers Guild Conference October 17-21

Timber Framers Guild is holding their 2012 Eastern Conference in Leesburg, VA in the beautiful National Conference Center from October 17 until 21.

They have an amazing program organized with diverse workshops around timber framing. Such are the offerings:

– History of Timber Framing

– Timber Framing Design with StretchUp

– Fifty Shades of Green

– Timber Framing for Commercial Construction

There will be fun activities… music, fun, and axe throwing!

The Timber Framers Guild is a partner organization with the National Barn Alliance.


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A Barn with Many Questions in the Saucon Valley

Posted by on Sep 24, 2012 in barn education, Barn Preservation | 2 comments

This is a guest post by Jeff Marshall, NBA Vice  President.

The Saucon Valley Conservancy held its annual barn tour on September 15, 2012.  The Saucon alley is located in southeastern Pennsylvania including parts of Bucks, Lehigh and Northampton counties.  This year the focus of the barn tour was twentieth century barns where in the past, 18th and 19th century barns were featured.  The barns included several late versions of Pennsylvania barns as one would expect to see in this region and other examples of gambrel roof barns that are typically seen in other sections of the country.

According to information compiled by Greg Huber, this barn was designed by Bethlehem architect C. F. Spangenberg in the 1920s.



I know from basic research that there are distinct varieties of framing methods related to gambrel roof barns.  As someone who deals with older timber frame barns I am not that familiar with the distinctions.  Any help would be appreciated.

Both of the silos have stamped tiles that read “J. M. Preston Lansing Mich.” with a series of patent dates from 1910 through 1913.  A quick internet search came up with the information that the Preston Lansing Vitrified Tile Silos and Storage Bins had branch factories in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Iowa.  Any additional information about the company would be appreciated.

The barn has a number of metal ventilators.  I am familiar with common designs used by Louden and James, and I believe I have seen this type of filigree work on weathervanes on other ventilators, but cannot identify the company.

The farm also had another unusal structure for a Pennsylvania farm, a granary building with a transverse cupola which I believe was typically designed for a grain elevator.  The interior of the structure has bins with boards that have spaces between them such as we find on corn cribs in our region.  Any information on these types of buildings would also be appreciated.

If you have any information, please let me know. I can be contacted at


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Fall is a Perfect Time for a Drive to See Barns!

Posted by on Sep 12, 2012 in barn education, Barn Preservation, Events, The Barn Journal | Comments Off on Fall is a Perfect Time for a Drive to See Barns!


Perfect time to enjoy the cooler weather, beautiful colors, and wonderful barns! Tours are being held all over the country from the fast-paced city of LA to laid-back Mackinac Island. Visit our events page to find a barn tour near you.

So grab your camera and go exploring the country roads!

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Thinking about moving a barn?

Posted by on Jul 16, 2012 in Barn Preservation, The Barn Journal | 10 comments

Guest post by member, Charles Bultman. He is an architect in Ann Arbor, Michigan who has been saving and adapting old, unwanted, barns into new uses; including homes, offices and retail spaces. 

The scene is easily conjured; a barn in a field, quietly marking time. It’s a picture that lingers. Few things are as simple as an old barn. But that simplicity evaporates when we consider their future?

There are about 660,000 historic barns left in the United States. And while that may sound like a lot, at the peak  of farming in America, around 1910, there were 6 million farms. If each farm had only one barn we have lost on  average 50,000 barns a year. But obviously their demise does not come about ‘on average’. As the years pass more and more barns fall into ruin; making 660,000 seem like a frighteningly small number to me.

So what is to become of relics like barns when the country has been steadily moving to a non-agrarian lifestyle, and shows no real sign of turning back? These icons in the landscape are stranded but they are not without love. That’s why it is not so simple.

Barns in our landscape are sublime. Like a mountain or a river, they have existed there for so long that you can come to believe they will be there forever. But they will not. We have all heard the reasons; too much to maintain, farm equipment is too big, fewer farms and fewer farmers, etc. etc. etc.

But didn’t we agree that barns are loved? Why does that not swing in their favor?

With few exceptions old wood barns are destined to one of three possible futures. The first is that the barn is maintained, or restored, to be a barn. This is the most obvious requiring simply that the foundation be kept in good repair, the roof be replaced in a timely manner, and the frame and siding are kept dry and secure. But of  course this costs money and most people do not spend this kind of money unless they need to. Without a farm these costs are difficult to justify, which is why the second future is the one we see the most; do little or nothing.

We all know many barns that are neglected and falling down and in most places they far outnumber those that are well-maintained.

Ironically, letting your barn fall down does not stir up the same level of passion as the third option; barns can be adapted to another use. While it may be the best use of a barn to keep it as a barn, the majority of barns will not be afforded that future. Maybe the farm has been developed into a sub-division or an office park and the barn is an anachronism in its location. Or maybe the road has been improved and widened leaving the barn right at the curb. Whatever the reason most barns will not be maintained and used as barns. So why not give them a new future?

Adapting barns gets complicated fast. Unlike other 100 to 200 year old buildings, old barns suffer a different fate, which leaves them in a specifically barn-like state of disrepair. Barns were never heated like occupied buildings were; except by the residual heat of animals and manure. So their foundations have been subjected to the relentless forces of freezing and thawing each year which slowly breaks them apart. Most barns’ stone foundations succumbed to these stresses years ago. But while broken many of these barns did not fall; they just languish with gaping holes in the old stone walls.

Also on many barns the most expensive maintenance item has been left undone; replacing the roof. Holes in a roof is a barn’s death knell. Once water is tracing through a wood barn, boards and timbers alike begin to rot. In a relatively short period of time nails no longer hold boards on, mortise and tenon joints open and rot, and the building begins to sag. Just a few seasons of this kind of exposure can reduce a massive timber-framed barn to the point of no return. But like great shipwrecks, the hulk of the barn can remain for decades.

Barns are tough however because they are timberframed. Unlike ‘modern’ carpentry, timber-framing is an ancient way of framing that uses continuous wooden beams which join together post to post to post to create a singular structural network that knits floors and walls and rafters into one structural organism. In direct contrast to a house of cards, which cascades to the ground when any one card is upset, a timberframe is joined together such that if one element becomes weakened, or is compromised, other elements get loaded differently and the frame continues to do its job despite the failure.

Even the way the timbers are taken from the log contributes to the timberframe’s success; embracing the natural strength of the tree. An onion is a fairly strong spherical form until it is sliced in two and the layers begin to unravel. Wood does much the same when squared. The beams in a timberframed barn are taken from the center of the tree leaving as many rings as possible uncut. And many of the beams in a barn are not even squared at all but are still ’of the tree’; they are rounded, tapered or limb-like. This retains as much of the natural and complete strength of the tree and was less work; removing more material to make the beam square just made it weaker.

When you also factor in that the trees these barns are built of, came from slow-growing, first-growth forests you really can understand why they are still standing after hundreds of years.

What does it take to adapt a barn?
Adapting a barn has an array of considerations that must be dealt with in order to have a successful project. And while those considerations can be itemized it is important to note that opinions will vary, even between seasoned professionals, as to the best way to meet all of a project’s goals. Also for this discussion I should point out that there really is no limit as to what an adapted barn could be used for. Old barns have been used to make new houses as well as offices but there are also stores, restaurants, and convention centers all made with barn frames. Many uses can easily be accommodated in a barn.

The first consideration with respect to adapting a barn is the foundation. As mentioned before, most of the time they are damaged beyond being reasonably repaired. But even if they are not damaged a stone foundation is dramatically inferior to a new reinforced concrete foundation with provisions for both insulation and drainage, such that using the old foundation is always difficult to justify. Also, as mentioned, the barn may be in a location that does not suit its future use, so the consideration goes quickly to moving the barn. A barn frame can be moved either intact or after some kind of systematic dismantling. Selecting which tactic is best is usually a balancing act weighing how many utility wires and bridge overpasses are between the existing and new sites, against the time it would take to dismantle the barn and put it back together again. A short move with few wires may prove economical as barns are fairly light buildings and their form and materials take the stresses of the move well. However given the ubiquity of modern utilities and other improvements there are many obstacles to moving a barn great distances while whole.

When it is decided that there are too many obstacles between where the barn is and where you may want it to be (and this turns out to be the case most of the time) we have the barn dismantled in somewhat the reverse order in which it was built. The roof and siding is stripped off, salvaging all of the materials possible, and then the frame is dismantled by pulling out the pegs and sliding tenons out of mortises. If done properly all of the framing materials are whole and unbroken. The barn’s parts are then loaded on trucks or into shipping containers, and then can be sent anywhere.

There are additional benefits to dismantling a barn right down to its original beams and posts, particularly when it is to be adapted. When a barn is dismantled each beam can be inspected, even the joints, and if parts are found to be weak or broken, structural repairs can be made. Sometimes these kinds of flaws can go unnoticed in a barn that does not come apart and if the building is to be sent to an environment where it will be more heavily taxed, like snow or earthquake areas, it is best to know more about the condition of the frame being adapted. Taking the barn apart also affords the ability to thoroughly clean the frame. Barns are dirty environments. As shelter for farm animals and their food, a barn became the habitat for other animals such as birds, bats and opportunistic rodents. As the shelter for all of this life the cracks and crevices of a barn became filled with all kinds of unmentionables. Taking a barn apart releases decades of debris and ensures that the barn is just that much cleaner when it gets reassembled.

Lastly there is the consideration of the barn’s new use, which is a very broad topic deserving of its own separate discussion. In short though, there are a handful of important issues that must be carefully considered as they will lead directly to success or failure. The following is my list of the most important issues to be dealt with for any barn adaptation, in no particular order. I also cannot recommend how each should be solved for any given project as they each must be dealt with, basically from scratch, each time; thoroughly thought through to evaluate the impact of each decision on the project as a whole.

Structure – Barns are strong but… they are not magic. Barns were not built with respect to today’s codes and must therefore be evaluated to see how they may relate to today’s structural codes. In general we focus on the beams as the posts tend never to be overloaded; in particular the upper beams such as purlins and the rafters tend to need evaluation as do elements on the inside of the structure because the new exterior skin will contribute strength to the perimeter. Beyond this cursory mention it is not possible to predict what will need attention structurally because every barn is different in so many ways. The barn will need to be evaluated by an experienced professional team; every barn conversion does.

Insulation – An old barn is not insulated but all buildings now are required to be so, well except barns. So adapting a barn to be used as something else has to solve the issue of insulation and roof ventilation. During the last 10 years or so many new insulation products and tactics have been introduced to the marketplace making this easier to solve but with more cost and performance implications.

Circulation – Circulation is one of the most regulated events in a building. Stairs, head heights, guardrails, hallway widths etc. are always a challenge when trying to locate them within the barn without compromising the barn’s beauty. Modern stairs require more room than most barns want to allow so typically something within the barn has to move or new elements introduced. Stairs also require walls and guardrails to be safe which are alien to the barn so there are few cues as to what might be the logical or traditional solution.

Lighting – Barn’s are dark. Having never had lights and only few windows they offer no opinion as to how they can and should be opened to the sun or artificially lit. Balancing the way windows are introduced may be the most sensitive decision made with respect to a barn conversion.

Materials – One can easily find a wide range of materials introduced into a barn adaptation ranging from very modern, to very traditional, to very rustic. While I might lean one way or another in mychoices my best recommendation regardless of your choice is to not hide the barn. Allow as much of the barn’s frame to be seen and enjoyed.

Making rooms – Barns are found as mostly big open spaces with lofts; maybe there’s a granary. Most new uses will want to have a bit more privacy than that and you will want to introduce walls to make separate rooms. It is always a challenge to wall off a barn without mercilessly carving it up. Once again specific recommendations are impossible without know the barn or the project’s goals but the adage ‘less is more’ tends to be applicable here. Mostly I try very hard to hide as little of the barn as possible; particularly the corners.

Regardless of whether you dismantle the barn or move it as a whole there are also a number of considerations that will require professional and experienced judgment. Among those things are the following:

1. Moving a building, any building, has a host of building code and zoning code issues (and maybe others depending on location) that need to be researched by someone qualified to do this. Talking to your local building official may address some, or even all, of the issues but it should be noted that it is NOT the building official’s job to guide a project through the codes so if they miss something they are not responsible. It should also be noted that all of the codes / restrictions involved may not be interpreted by the same official or board; the zoning code may be administered by one official and the building code by another. Deed restrictions may be administered by yet another official or by a group and if there is a historic district there may be yet another board to appease.

2. It is not widely known but many times the ordinances and restrictions that are imposed on a given property do not agree; in those cases the most restrictive ordinance / restriction must be met. While that may seem unfair it is the way we do business so it is wise to approach the ordinances carefully and with an experienced professional. In the end the structure’s use and location has to be determined to be legal and safe.

3. If the building has been fully dismantled the building will need to meet all building codes. I have yet to meet a building official who does not agree with this. There is no ‘grandfathering’ based on the fact that it is an old building; building officials would interpret that as a self-inflicted wound if you were to argue for leniency.

4. Buildings that have been moved intact however fall into a gray area of the code, meaning that certain aspects may be able to be grandfathered however that would have to be determined carefully and clearly with the building officials. Regardless, your architect and / or builder may balk at accepting a break from some of the code requirements because they may be concerned that it could put them at risk if they design or build something that is considered less safe or prone to environmental problems.

5. There are costs on both ends of a move even if the barn is to be moved just to be a barn again and all of them should be considered before the project is begun.
a. The existing site will be left with a hole in the ground, an abandoned foundation and possibly a pile of unusable and / or rotten materials. This site will need to be cleaned up and someone will have to be responsible to perform that work.
b. The new site will need to have a foundation excavated for and built for the moved building and then the new site will need to be finish graded as required for it new use. And let’s not forget that moving a building whether intact or in parts will most likely damage some part of the building. The barn would then need to be repaired accordingly.
c. It is always a good practice to have a budget that factors all of the costs involved before the first step is taken. Many times once the first step is taken one cannot go back and must complete the project regardless of the cost.

6. Site selection and site analysis are important design exercises. The sun, wind, grading, stormwater, soil conditions, septic and well locations, are just a few of the many things that have to be factored into siting a building.

7. The planning for a building move must include analyzing the old structure to determine if it is viable, planning how the old structure will be supported, and planning for how any new elements / structures will be detailed into the old building in order to allow for its new use. One simple example, a foundation for a barn would not be the same as a foundation for a barn-house, even if it was the same exact barn, for many reasons.

Maybe it is me but I cannot ignore a building with wheels under it; even a mobile home draws me to look. But to see an old house, or an old barn, floating down a highway, or across a bridge, or through a field is like watching a loved one being delivered from a hospital; attendants paying close attention to every detail while everyone else makes way. All eyes on the patient. It is a hopeful time where thoughts are about the future and what is still possible. These buildings have so much possibility and future still in them. With the right mix of tender loving care they can enjoy a new and vibrant future for many years to come.


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