When stagecoaches come to mind, one often conjures up images of the early West; cowboys and Indians; barren deserts filled with danger.Mental pictures of a team of four to six horses drawing a loaded coach in Brimfield during the early 1900s, however, aren’t that easy to imagine.
Up until September 1907, the stage-line carrying mail and passengers was a common sight in this community.“Bugle-heralded coaches” caused great excitement as they arrived and departed the Brimfield Hotel.
One small part of this stage-line is the former livery barn in Wales, MA.Located to the rear of Shaw’s pond, where local inhabitants cut supplies of ice blocks every year, it was originally owned and operated by Charles M. Thompson.Thompson was related by marriage to the wealthy Shaw family for whom Shawville (now Wales) was named.
The barn was recently beginning to fall victim to the ravages of time and weather.Fortunately, the owners have an appreciation for early building and decided to undertake the lengthy task of revitalizing the building.Their goal was to make the necessary repairs/restorations in keeping with the early character of the barn while adapting parts to a more contemporary use.
As a brief introduction, the barn is a post and beam structure, measuring 44 feet by 35 feet.It consists of two stories; the first was utilized originally to store the wagons and coaches, as well as to house the team of horses.The second floor was a hay loft.A rather steep roof capped the barn making it around 36 feet in height.In addition, a full cellar of loose stone was open on the right side to provide additional space.Structurally, the frame consists of five bents, or cross sections in a post and beam building, including the posts, cross ties, girts, braces, etc.Usually a bent would be pre-constructed on the ground and then raised into position.Subsequent bents would then be raised and joined together with top plates, tie beams and nailers.
One structural detail of particular interest in this barn is the original truss system which was installed at the roof line.This truss was designed to eliminate the need for the three right ‘queen’ posts, thus providing enough open space on the first floor to move coaches around in the building.The barn had clear evidence of additions to the left side and rear, which had completely vanished.Only the mortises that once tied the additions to the barn and faint discolored outlines of the roof that remained on the siding, attest to their former presence.
The barn has a loose stone foundation under the left side and two gable ends.The right side is open, supported only by posts under the second third, and fourth bents.Six original internal posts support the frame from within the cellar.Several years ago new footings were installed under the nice original posts and six new footings were added to accommodate new posts.The most significant contribution that those new footings made was to clearly demonstrate what New England weather can do to a building with footings that do not extend four feet underground.The footings were unfortunately constructed of extremely large rocks, solidified with concrete, and went only two and a half to three feet beneath the surface.The resultant heaving of the building was clearly apparent.
The footings were unfortunately of large rocks and had to be removed by hand.Each of the fifteen replacement footings took up to one day to dig.Removal of the rocks involved the use of several come-a-longs and sometimes large lever systems.The water table was a problem as the new holes had to be emptied prior to construction of the new concrete footings.
The foundation, which had also been rebuilt in recent times, was still in need of work.The stone walls were not level or plumb and had not been back filled properly so huge voids existed behind the stones.It was decided to back fill the foundation with gravel and then thoroughly grout the stones with mortar.
Once the foundation and footing work was complete, it was time to move on to the more challenging task of repairing the post and beam frame.The homeowners felt strongly about having the frame restored as authentically as possible, using full size beams joined together with traditional mortise and tennon joints.This approach was chosen despite other estimates utilizing 2×4 construction that were less expensive.
The structural work logically began at the sill-substructure level.The barn needed extensive jacking, which as done in conjunction with the replacement of several of the large sub-beams (measuring 9”x11”) and the sills on three sides.The frame was originally built of first growth, almost clear hemlock, with some beams measuring 35 feet in length.Oak was chosen as replacement stock because any hemlock uses as 7×7 beams would have been so filled with knots and cross grain they would have been structurally unsuitable.Also, the original frame of 7”x7” hemlock was slightly under-structured, despite the fact that it had been around for over 120 years.
White oak beams were treated with a wood preservative to be used as sills.The diagonals were fitted to the original mortises in the posts.At the other end the tenons were half-lapped into the sills.
A phenomenon common to work on early homes or barns is the mushroom effect.It states that once you begin a project, it often expands or mushrooms to a much larger project.This phenomenon was clearly demonstrated on the left side of the barn.Structural members that had been covered up by sheathing within the old horse stalls were found to be not only rotted, but chewed almost in half by the horses.This resulted in the replacement of much of the lower left side of the structure, including post, diagonal supports and horizontal nailers.
The south (gable) end of the barn was clearly the most challenging (and fun) part of the project.Over the last few decades, the deteriorated roof and loose siding had allowed moisture, with its resultant problems, to almost completely destroy the end of the barn.The first step of this phase involved shoring up the floors, roof purlins, etc.Lateral and diagonal bracing was facilitated by installing come-a-longs at critical point and bracing resembling the letter ‘A’. Shoring in the form of an H was also used but removed as the resultant nine foot ‘HA’ was a bit much.After temporarily stabilizing the frame, each element of the side was measure and re-measured.Then it was necessary to determine which parts of the frame needed to be jacked up or pulled together.For example, the entire south end of the second floor needed to be jacked up four inches before it could be properly joined into the new framing.
Once the new side was designed and each beam drawn out, the timbers were cut using 10” and 16” circular saws, mortising machine, mallets, and chisels.For example, each of the new posts were 17 feet long and 18 mortises or tennons.Because of the deviations in the sills and the roof line, the locations of the mortises were different in each post.
Once cut, the various posts, beams, nailers, and diagonal braces were laid out in position and secured with come-a-longs.Canvas straps were used to attach the come-a-longs to the frame to avoid any marks that chain or cable would have left.
Three sets of come-a-longs were used to raise the section of frame.The raising of the south end was an enjoyable, yet nerve-racking experience, as any mistakes could have negated up to three weeks of work.The homeowners were also video taping the raising.I had already jokingly told them that if things didn’t go as planned that I would have to destroy the tape.They still have the tape, in fact, as things fell into pace very well.
Some members of the frame were designed to be added after the main section as raised.Once they were installed, the structural work was complete.
At this point a significant amount of work remained.Composite panels of wood, foam, plastic, typar and vertical siding were added to the exterior of the frame.Custom made windows were ordered to keep the existing rafter system exposed from the interior.A second roof system was added over the existing one to accommodate the insulation necessary to heat the barn.