Posted by Marc Kratzschmar on Tuesday, May 21, 2013 Under: Farm Life
The Dutch barn dominates the profile of our farm from across the road. You can’t really tell from that angle but from the side you can see that the barn is undergoing major repairs. The work is even more impressive when one steps over one of the new sills. This is our biggest project yet.
In 2009 we bought “the old Getman farm” from Florence and Eleanor Getman. The farm, 95 acres in the hamlet of East Stone Arabia in Montgomery County, New York, had been in the Getman family since the 18th century so it had been “the Getman farm” for longer than anyone can remember and “the Getman farm” was the only sensible thing to call it if we wanted anyone in the area to know what we were talking about. A few of the neighbors jokingly called us “the Getmans” to make the point.
One of the reasons that we bought this farm was that we liked the old Barn. We had been looking for a farm in the area for a few years, off and on, and we had looked at quite a few farms. As we visited the farms we learned more and refined our selection criteria. These included the land, the farmhouse, the location and, increasingly, the barn. We saw a wild range of barns; big, small, wood, stone, round, square, pristine, ramshackle, and everything in between. And we decided that we wanted a special barn.
The Getman farm had a Dutch Barn. This is a style of barn that was built in upstate New York by Dutch settlers and their descendents to thresh wheat. This region was the breadbasket of the Revolution during the 1770s and 1780s. They stopped building Dutch Barns in the early 19th century because wheat production moved west and other styles of barn were better suited to the dairy farming that took over. That dates our barn to some time between 1780, when every structure for miles around was burned to the ground by British Loyalists raiding from Canada, and the early to mid 1800s, by when no more Dutch Barns were built.
At 200 years the Dutch Barn is the oldest structure on the on the farm. The farmhouse and two smaller barns next to it are about 150 years old. We were able to register the farmstead on the the National Register of Historic Places because the Getmans had preserved its historic setting so well. We could see this by looking at a drawing of the farmstead by Fritz Vogt dated 1894. The house and adjacent barns look essentially the same, except that there are no longer green shutters next to the windows or a porch on the rear extension, both of which we will replace. And the Dutch Barn is not shown in the drawing. This is odd because Vogt drew commissioned drawings for proud home owners using as many perspectives as he needed to show all of the buildings, adding animals or vehicles that the owners were particularly proud of. Perhaps the Dutch Barn, which was already old then, was not the pride and joy of George Getman, who commissioned the drawing.
At some point the barn was converted to dairying. A milking parlor extension was added to the east side of the barn and a wooden grain silo was built. The traditional original gable-end doors that provided access to grain wagon and prevailing wind alike were replaced with new doors on the non-gable sides. Nobody remembers when these changes were made but the end of the extension can be seen in a 1926 photograph of a Getman family reunion held at the farm.
Whatever his great grandfather George thought, Russell Getman, Florence and Eleanor’s father, was proud of the history of the farm and the area. He collected historic artefacts and allowed a 15th century Indian settlement on the farm to be excavated. He was said to be particularly proud of his Dutch Barn. His daughters shared this pride and undertook several repair and restoration projects including the demolition of the milking parlor. Some of this work was funded by the 1996 Dutch Barn Preservation Society barn repair grant of $500. They bucked the trend for the few Dutch barns that have survived two centuries of change in agricultural patterns to be dismantled and sold either for their wood or to be erected far away in terms of distance, many have gone to Texas, and context.
The Dutch Barn that we bought had a floor, a sound roof, mostly weatherproof walls, and most of the original frame including the critical H frames that hold up the building. Earlier repair work meant that we could leave it for a few years and focus on more urgent repairs of other buildings. Somewhat daunted by the challenge of historic preservation we put off work on the Dutch Barn. We even used one winter it to store hay for our new flock of sheep.
We finally made a start last year driven by increasing knowledge about what needed to be restored, by the fact that we had named the farm after the Dutch Barn, and by concern that the floorboards were far too springy under the weight of the round bales of hay that we had stored there the winter before. The rotten or missing joists that we found when we pulled up the floorboards were quite a shock, but it did give us a place to start that we had not had until then. The fundamental elements of the Dutch barn were all there, the profile with a huge roof and low sides, the massive hand-hewn H frame, a biggish Dutch door in the middle of the gable end and smaller “people” doors at the sides of the gable end, but it wasn’t quite right in many ways.
We read more, made friends with knowledgeable local historian Skip Barshied, visited the four local Dutch barns that we knew about at Mabee Farm, Fort Klock, Skip’s Kilts Farm, John Case’s elevated barn and Salt Springville. Our barn only had a central door on one gable end, and that was too small, and there was no trademark pentice roof above the door. Some of the original timbers holding up the side walls had been removed when the milking parlor was added on the northeast side and a large doorway on the southwest side. The gable end anchor beam in the H in the back wall was rotten and cracked through, as were a couple of other beams. We were thinking of hiring someone to install authentic doors and pentice roofs. Then we took up the floorboards and saw that much of the sill structure that was meant to be holding up the building was missing or rotten. We realized that there were more fundamental problems to solve and we needed the help of professionals.
That summer we foundthose professionals along with another Dutch barn . The barn stood along Route 10, a road we drove almost every day to and from Canajoharie, the local town. We had never realized that it was a Dutch barn until they started dismantling it, leaving the characteristic H frame silhouetted against the blue summer sky. The barn had been sold to someone in Texas and was being taken down by an out of state contractor with help from local experts. They gave us good advice and started us searching for a contractor. We hired, Tim Rau of Pleasant View Restoration, because he came with glowing recommendations, only to find out that he had been one of the experts working on the barn on Route 10.
And that is how our barn project started.
In : Farm Life
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