Our bent for history Published on November 27, 2013

historical english barn timber frame in MassachusettsIn October we raised this “English” barn only a few miles from our workshop in the rural Massachusetts town of Hardwick. We based the frame plan on a barn built in the 1750’s in the neighboring town of New Braintree just across the Ware River, which forms the boundary between the two towns. Most old barns still standing in New England have double doors in both gable ends for driving through the building, but back in the 17th and 18th centuries, English-style barns prevailed, with a wagon door in one of the long sides. (See one of our finished English barns here.)

As our prototype barn in New Braintree barn changed hands over the centuries, it fell into disrepair and is no longer standing, but before it went down, the framing plan and floor plan was recorded by Old Sturbridge Village, a living history museum in south-central Massachusetts, as part of an architectural survey of nine hundred old New England barns.

custom barn bent laying on deck in MassachusettsOur new English barn, like its prototype from across the river and many other 18th century examples, has the door closer to one side instead of in the center, and also employs a rafter/purlin roof system with no ridgepole. One difference between the two framing plans is that the New Braintree barn originally had an internal partition parallel to the back wall to create a second stable. This was not a typical feature, and at some point that partition was cut out of the building, with only the tenons remaining in their mortises.

Custom english 18th century barn floor planThe barn survey also turned up this historical footnote: a will probated in 1802 shows that one of a string of property owners, William Thrasher, left his real estate to a male relative, but specified that his widow, whose name was Thankfull, should have use of part of the house and ten feet of stable for her livestock. This type of arrangement was known as a “widow’s dower.”

Now we have done some history-making of our own by keeping that extra partition out of our frame plan, and putting Thankfull Thrasher into our story of the barn.


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