Barn Preservation Society
to the Study and Preservation
of New World Dutch Barns
Vol. 13, Issue 1
WHY RAISING HOLES?
The 1" to 1 1/2"-inch
diameter holes, found in most Dutch barns, drilled in a transverse
direction through the columns above the anchorbeam were first described
by John Fitchen in his classic 1968 book, The New World Dutch Barn
(1). The author realized that the holes were used somehow in erecting
the frame and he called them "so called raising holes." Their
function or more likely multiple functions in America, remain a
subject for speculation,but their European origin is now clear.
Previous to his study of the Dutch barn, Fitchen had studied European
Gothic architecture (2). He came to the Dutch barn in the late
1960s with a broad knowledge of European methods of erecting buildings.
Fitchen's strong interest in how the New World Dutch barn was
raised led him to a number of speculations. In the end he felt
that the columns of the H-bents were too weak for the raising holes
to have served as lifting points. He speculated that the H-bent
must be pulled up by two "three legged gins' with lines attached
to the anchorbeam. He saw the function of the raising hole as having
more to do with a support for scaffolding needed in the next major
step in erecting the frame which was, lifting and joining the purlin
plate to the columns and braces.
During a cold January and February of 1982, Richard Babcock and
his sons disassembled the three bay Oxburger Dutch barn in Guilderland,
Albany County, New York (3). It was being replaced by a housing
development. The crew used only jacks, levers, block and tackle,
and a gin pole, to take down and disassemble the three bay frame.
They re-erected it that spring at Phillipsburg Manor, an historic
mill site restoration in Tarry town, Westchester County, New York.
"Raising holes" and Their Probable Utilization,
by John Fitchen, from The New World Dutch Barn, with permission
of Syracuse University Press.
Many of the columns in New York Dutch barns are
pierced transversely by a hole - rarely by two holes, as at D,
E, and F - which are located in the upper portion of the columns,
one or more feet down from their tops. Nothing significant has
been discovered remaining in any of these holes. However, this
series of drawings shows examples of some of the levels at which
the holes occur, together with a conjectural reconstruction of
how they may have been utilized as scaffolding at the time of
the purlin plate erection.
In cooperation with John Harbour, the executive director at the
site, and others of the staff, Babcock attempted to use traditional
methods in raising the frame. With his friend Henry Suydan they
built a bull wheel using the central shaft they had found in a
barn in Schoharie County. The bull wheel, or windlass, was operated
by two men and made the raising possible with a small crew.
Babcock attached the lines of his gin pole to the anchorbeam,
as Fitchen had thought was the place to lift, but he used only
one gin pole. Fitchen had thought that two "three legged gins" would
be necessary to lift the bent and set the stub tenons, at the foot
of the columns, into the sills. Babcock knew from experience that
this was not necessary. Today timber frames are raised using metal
scaffolding and industrial cranes so that much of our early building
technology is forgotten and difficult to recreate.
Just before the final lift of the Hbents of the Phillipsburg barn,
inc hand-a-half diameter shaved hardwood poles two foot long were
inserted in the raising hole of each column and when the bent was
upright these were used by the Babcocks, as Fitchen had suggested,
to support scaffolding planks from which the crew then guided the
purlin plate. Babcock demonstrated the feasibility of using wooden
poles in the raising holes and a number of examples of wooded poles
and fragments of them have been found in Dutch barns, but it should
also be remembered that iron pins were used on hay barrack poles
to support the roof and these iron bars might also have been used
in the raising holes.
Raising a 40- to 45-foot long purlin of a three-bay Dutch barn
above the 16-foot columns, lowering and matching its ten mortises
to the tenons of the four columns and six braces and driving pins
in each joint takes lots of close, hands-on work. A platform set
three to four feet below this action is ideal, but Fitchen realized,
after looking at almost 80 Dutch barns, that raising holes are
not always this conveniently placed. Often they are too close to
the top of the column. Sometimes, frequently in Albany County,
there are two holes. Two barns in Somerset County, New jersey have
three raising holes in each column.
In a study of seven Dutch barns in Saugerties, Ulster County,
NY, the raising-holes were set the following distance down from
the top of the purlin (4).
The variety of their placement on the columns suggests that multiple
uses may have developed for raising holes. Some suggestions have
been to support the axle for a sheave (grooved wheel) of a pulley
system for assisting in raising the bents or to assist in twisting
a warped column. Jack Sobon, in an unpublished 1990 "preliminary
illustrates a number of possible uses for the holes to stabilize
the bents or position the columns and braces for fitting the purilin
Raising Hole Use; Four Ideas from Jack Sobon. with
permission of the architect. A. A pin for hoisting: This system
would save a lot of rigging time.
B. Temporary bracing for support and positioning:
Planks could be pegged on the post prior to raising. When the
bent was plumb the bottom of the plank could be nailed to the
sill or pegged in a predetermined hole for temporary support.
The drawing also shows a horizontal board that positions the
columns and braces to receive the purlin. These planks and boards
would be set as the frame parts were pre assembled on the barn
floor during the scribe- rule process.
C Staging with an upright: Sobon uses an idea
he saw in a book to improve the safety of the scaffold. D. Gin
Pole Mount: Another idea he saw in a book for raising the purlin
plate. This is an excellent idea but would not work on later
barns with dropped tie-beams. Chris Albright observed that the
early barns in Guilderland, Albany County, did not have tie beams
on the end walls but relied on rafter collar-ties to support
the gable wall studs (7). This development is seen elsewhere.
It is as if the rafter collar tie eventually became a dropped
tie-beam as the barns' verdiepingh, column height above the anchorbeam,
became taller with time.
Karen Gross, from Breitenheim, Germany, has sent to the New World
the first and perhaps only written and illustrated account of the
existence and use of the raising hole in Holland. (This will be
reviewed in a future
"News Letter.") The information was collected from Dutch
timber frame carpenters in the 1930s, about 300 years, I believe,
after they introduced the raising hole into the New World. Hay
Barracks were introduced at the same time as Dutch barns yet in
200 years of isolation the technology for raising the roofs of
barracks was eventually quite different here. We still used the
holes in the poles but changed from the European screw- to a "sweep
and temple" lever-system. Holland eventually developed a cable
and pulley system that was attached to the pole and raised all
four corners at once. It does not use the holes.
Endwall Bent, /Chapen 4-bay scribe-rule Dutch barn
(Cia-i) Claverack, Columbia Co., NY
This barn has unusual longitudinal raising holes
near the tops of the columns on the end bents. It has a number
of features found in the Schoharie Valley. The columns are rotated
in the H-bent and they and the purlin are capped with an upper
tie beam. This may represent an 18th century German influence
although external H-bent upper tie beams were also used on the
frame of the 1675 Jan Martense Schenk house reconstructed in
the Brooklyn Museum.
Raising holes are often found in the posts of the side walls of
Dutch barns. Unlike, the raising holes in the columns these are
longitudinal rather than transverse and suggest they were used
in raising the side walls as a frame. Raising holes are generally
not found on house frames nor on many of the small barns in Bergen
County, New Jersey. The bents of these frames are lighter and it
suggests that the holes might have assisted in lifting the frame
but were not needed on the lighter house and barn frames.
If the direction of the raising hole, longitudinal or transverse,
indicates in what direction a frame or timber is raised, then the
longitudinal raising holes in the end bents of an Otsego County
Dutch barn, moved to the township of Claverack, Columbia County
recently, Chapen (Cla-1), suggest the end anchorbeams, in that
barn, were raised and supported on the door posts and the columns
raised from the sides and joined to the anchorbeam and braces.
Fitchen had conjectured such a system for raising a Dutch bent!
but had thought the method took too much effort, especially for
the internal bents. The end bents in this Otsego County frame have
rotated columns and upper tie beams, an interesting construction
feature found primarily in the Schoharie Valley.
Raising holes on barn frames are found primarily in the Hudson!
Schoharie and Mohawk valleys, and on Long Island, the historic
region of the New World Dutch barn. Their use did not spread to
other cultural areas but they continued to be used on the frames
of later square-rule Dutch and side entrance barns and are found
.in Ulster and Dutchess Counties even on mill-rule frames of the
early 20th century. The raising hole is clearly part of the Dutch
tradition that was not adopted by the American framing tradition
that would come to dominate the 19th century throughout North America.
In the northeast, American timber framing evolved from a mixture
of New England and Hudson Valley Dutch scribe-rule traditions.
American square-rule was invented in about 1790, and some think
in New England (6), but its typical frame from Ohio to Maine includes
three important New World Dutch features, the bent, the common
rafter and the dropped tie beam.
1. John Fitchen, The New World Dutch Barn, A Study
of its Characteristics, Its Structural System, and Its Probable
Erectional Procedures, Syracuse University Press, 1968
2. John Fitchen, The Construction of Gothic Cathedrals;
a Study of Medieval Vault erection, Oxford: Claredon Press, 1961;
Phoenix Press, 1981; John Fitchen, Building Construction Before
Mechanization, MIT Press, 1986. 3. Richard W. Babcock, Barns
of Roots America, Babcock, 1989.
4. Peter Sinclair, The Raising Hole, unpublished
Field Notes #4 of the Joy Farm Preservation Society, 1990.
5. Jack Sobon, Raising Holes; a Preliminary Investigation,
unpublished, 1990. Greg Huber, Raising Holes; Unsolved Puzzle,
Dutch Barn Research Journal, Volume 2, 1992.
6. There was a lively discussion on the origins
of square rule at the 1997 annual meeting of The Traditional
Timberframers Research and Advisory Group (TTRAG). A group within
the Timber Framers Guild (TFG) with an ongoing interest in the
development of American timberframing.
7. Chris Albright, The Two Barns of the Michael
Frederick Farmstead, Guilderland, NY, Dutch Barn Preservation
Society Newsletter, Fall 1996, Vol. 9, Issue 2.
SPRING 2000, Vol. 13, Issue 1, part two
Dutch Barn Preservation Society
The Mabee Farm Historic Site
1080 Main St. (Rt. 5S)
Junction, NY 12150
Phone: (518) 887-5073
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