When I was fifteen my parents bought land from my grandparents’ neighbors, Delevan and May Ives. What I didn’t know then, but have found out recently, was that the land where my parents built our new home in 1960 had once belonged to my Hall ancestors. Part of this property included a barn, which my dad used for the next thirty years to shelter his horses. In 2008, when the barn needed major repairs, my father and brother decided to have it taken down, restored, and relocated closer to the house.
As George Senercia took down our barn, (see “Barns – Part I”) he realized that the same person who built my grandparents’ barn also built ours. The clues were in the way the timbers were hewn and the framing structured. George became convinced that my great-great-great grandfather Aaron Hall – who also built the barn on my grandparents’ farm – built our barn around 1810, some years before he constructed the barn farther up Whirlwind Hill.
By the time they started working on our barn in August 2008, George and his group, “Northford Timber Framers,” had restored over fifty barns in New England. The work is done by volunteer labor – men and women trained by George in his weekend workshops. George, who had a heart transplant in 2004, makes each barn raising a spiritual experience. For him the old timbers are the “Heart of the Barn,” and give life to the new structure in the same way his new heart gave life to him.
It took two years to clean, sort, and prepare the framing and build the new foundation. All the work was done slowly and thoughtfully, carving numbers into each timber to facilitate the putting-back-together. To put the barn back together, timber framers used tools and methods that would have been employed in 1810. Hand-carved pegs took the place of nails, and manpower the place of cranes and forklifts.
New and old parts were joined together simply and solidly.
Some of the timbers (each made from an individual tree) were long and very, very heavy. To lift them, the workers used pulleys, chains, and stone counterweights. Our counterweights were named “Fred” and “Barney.”
On a very hot weekend in July 2010, my brother and father and I held our barn raising.
Cousins and friends and workers came from all over New England and around the country. Among the hundred or so people there, sixty were volunteers who worked for two days in the intense heat. The rest of us watched, took pictures, served food, ran errands, brought water, and cheered the progress.
To big cheers, workers raised the first bent on Saturday morning.
Work progressed throughout the weekend. It took as many as twenty people to lift one beam.
On Sunday afternoon the Stony Creek Fife and Drum Corps marched down Whirlwind Hill and up our driveway to play for a short christening ceremony in the new barn.
George placed the American flag on the roof, and then we celebrated with food and drink and a huge cake covered with strawberries.
For two days we were immersed in an unforgettable experience. The past and the present met on this spot, and time seemed to slow down. Now the barn looks like this.
As a memorial to my ancestor, George carved Aaron Hall’s name into one of the restored timbers. Every part of this barn has meaning, but for me the barns are not the same barns they used to be.
George, with his new heart, may very well be the same person he was before surgery, but for me, these are not the barns I knew. It’s a question I really can’t answer – this mystery of place. It’s all well and good to say that you have restored a structure and it “lives again,” but for me, the heart has gone out of the barn.
Where I find this heart is in my memories and in the pictures that remind me of the life the barns once held. The most magical moments in the Hall barn came each year on Easter Sunday, when my brother and cousins and I were let loose in the haymow to search for the painted eggs that my Easter Bunny grandfather hid. I can smell the hay, see the shafts of light piercing the dust, hear the swallows swooping in and out of the high window to their nests in the rafters, and feel the excitement of finding a hidden egg. We were never able to find all the eggs our grandfather hid, but when George dismantled my grandparents’ barn, he found nestled in the hay brightly colored eggs left behind so many years before.
On Friday: October Window