I write a lot about our unusual jobs: a deserted island, an elevated dance floor, or a building-sized jewelry box, but most of us got into this to do jobs like the Jennison barn. The job incorporates so many of PTF’s defining motifs: barn preservation, adaptive re-use, local history and creative clients. The Jennisons called in early 2015 about a barn that had collapsed under extreme snow loads. After assessing the damage to the frame, and a long period of negotiation with the insurance company, we concluded that the barn was not salvageable, and that its replacement would need to be significantly scaled down. Ultimately, too many of the posts had snapped in the collapse, and the replacement coverage did not include the embodied value of the craftmanship and timber joinery. Fortunately, PTF had dismantled a smaller frame the previous year, and had hoped we could find it a home nearby.
Brock’s Barn was located at Brock’s Crossing in South Berwick, near Slut’s Corner (the etymology of “slut” is facinating!). Simeon Brock bought the farm in 1790 and lived there with his wife, Judith, and their five children until his death in 1814. None of the children married or moved from the property. The youngest, Deborah, began working for the Portsmouth Manufacturing Company when she was 23. She was known for walking the mile and a half commute to the textile mill and for her thrift. Deborah managed the farm until she died in 1883 at the age of 74.*
The Brock barn was actually two barns in one. A smaller, earlier 18′ x 18′ frame was expanded with a 28′ x 42′ frame. The rafters and ties of the former were extended to match the dimensions of the latter. Above, you can see the two adjacent posts where the gable ends of the frames meet. The 18′ x 18′ frame appears to have been built earlier, as the joinery was clearly retrofitted to expand the footprint and raise the peak to match the larger frame.
Both frames have hewn timbers and scribed joints. Both frames exhibit the English tying joint, where the plate crosses over the post, parallel with the eave, and the tie beam crosses over the top of the plate. The interior face of the post, about half its thickness, extends past the plate to join to the tie beam with a teasel tenon. Both frames are eave entry, which was an earlier, “English”, floor plan. Both frames are early enough that it is difficult to date them definitively. The larger frame has up and down sawn braces, some of which exhibit the natural curvature of the limb, as above, but this does not date it. The first saw mill to operate on the neighboring falls was established in 1634. The 28′ x 42′ frame is also distinguished by much larger timbers, especially the lower tying girt and longer braces. Based on framing methods alone, it could have been constructed anywhere between 1790 – 1840.
Given the history of the property and surrounding town, we suspect that the 18′ x 18′ barn was built at the time Simeon bought the property in 1790. The smaller frame may have preceded the Brocks, but the only evidence is that they so drastically altered it. The 28′ x 42′ frame may have been built towards the end of Simeon’s life and appended to the smaller frame without any retrofit. The craftsmanship of the alterations to the 18′ x 18′ is significantly later and of lower quality than either barn frame. Some time after Simeon’s death, one of his children or one of Deborah’s farm hands may have extended the barn across the gable, and raised the ridge height. These are the histories we write as we repair the frame, fine-tuning each tenon and scarf joint.
The Jennisons bought the 28′ x 42′ frame. Dave, Tom and Dan performed the frame repairs, and the results are stunning. Standing, the barn is defined by its array of post repairs. Each scarf joint was designed to maximize the preservation of original wood, and withstand the array of forces endured by each post. They planed the new timbers and fared their edges to blend seamlessly with the old.
Dave enjoyed the opportunity to work consistently on timber frame repairs. Nearly the entire roof system was in good shape, and he said, “getting to preserve that was a joy.” He also thinks that part of the reason the rebuilt barn looks so good is that all the new timber ended up in the same quadrant of the barn, in the new loft. The crew repaired the barn in our shop in Nottingham, NH and fit the bents together inside the shop. Then they disassembled the frame and transported it to its new home in Lee. Nearly the whole crew attended the raising, and both Seths and Brian assisted with the finish.
Charlie Jennison plays saxophone and teaches music at Exeter Academy and UNH. He wants to the barn to serve as a concert space, and we hear that they’re already hosting successful events. Along with the outdoor sculpture gallery across the street, the Jennisons are creating an art enclave in Lee, and we’re proud that the barn gets to be a part of that.
Click on any of the photos below, to see more of the Jennison Barn, all finished barn photos by Josh McNally. Or visit our flickr page to see photos of the two frames before they were dismantled. Brock’s 18′ x 18′ frame is dismantled and looking for a good home.
*Thanks to the Old Berwick Historical Society for all this history.