Rebuilding a New England Barn

| 3/3/2016 10:02:00 AM

Tags: barns, reuse, salvaged materials, young farmers, beginning farming, Maine, Kirsten Lie Nielsen,

Our barn was built around 1820, in the New England or Yankee style. Its huge timber frame structure has been modified and adjusted over the years to accommodate the farmer’s needs, and the ramshackle interior was full of debris when we started work.

When Mainers first started settling the land, open-floor barns were popular. This gave the farmer space to thresh his wheat, and the only livestock on a northern homestead at the turn of the last century would be a few milk cows and the family horse, perhaps a pig or a flock of poultry. As time passed, cattle grew in popularity and the ability to house large numbers of dairy and meat cows became paramount. Mechanical threshers eliminated the need for threshing floors, and the abundance of cattle meant that extensive grain and hay storage was required.

interior of barn

Our goal with this rebuild was not specifically to restore the barn's historical integrity. While we tried to be as true to the old building as possible, our ultimate objective was to have a space for our animals and work. So, while we maintained as much of the original structure as possible, functionality was the priority.

Our barn’s open frame was adapted over time, with a warren of hay lofts above and a silo for grain storage in one corner. Cow stalls lined one entire side of the barn, and the other was a mix of more room for cows and a few stalls that probably held goats or pigs. Having been virtually untouched, and certainly not actively used, for over twenty-five years meant that many of the dividers between the stalls were falling over, and some of the lofts sagged noticeably.

The problem with a big building like a barn on a property that isn’t being farmed is that it often becomes a receptacle for the family possessions that are no longer in use. Our barn had barrels of aging feed, a defunct antique grain mill, mounds of drying corn husks and a few useful tools like shovels and hammers. In addition to all that “stuff”, there were over fifty bales of moldy, ancient hay, and piles of droppings from the porcupines that had taken up residence under the building.

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