Dutch Barn Preservation Society

Dedicated to the Study and Preservation
of New World Dutch Barns

NEWSLETTER SPRING 2001, Vol. 14, Issue 1

The Nilsen Barn
By Keith Cramer

"Finishing Touch, Nilsen Barn" Photo by Amelia Andersen

When the Nilsens sold their family farm, they worried that nearby commercial development would eventually lead to the demolition of their magnificent barn. So, they called on the DBPS to help find a new home for the barn. Former DBPS President Everett Rau connected the Nilsens with John van Schaick of the Schenectady County Historical Society. The SCHS is the owner of the historic Mabee Farm on the Mohawk River in Rotterdam Junction (see DBPS Newsletter Vol II, issue I, Spring 1998). The Farm is being developed as a History and Agricultural Education Center and a Dutch Barn was needed to replace one that burned in the last century. After five years of planning, fundraising, and reconstruction, the Nilsen Barn, at its new home, will be opened to the public this summer.

"Bent Detail, Nilsen Barn at the Mabee Farm"

We know very little of the barn's history. It was located on a prominent hilltop between Fort Johnson and Johnstown, with an expansive view of the Mohawk Valley, and fully exposed to the strong west winds. Our best guess of age, from nails, style and the size of timbers, is the 1760's. It is possible that it survived the Revolution since the area was the Tory stronghold of Sir William Johnson and his son, Sir Johnny Johnson, the famous barnburner.

It is a large, tall barn, 51' long by 53' wide. with a center aisle of 31'. There are many classic Dutch barn features. It is a 5-bay barn; all pine, with a 9/12 pitched roof. The anchor beams are 12" x 22 1/2" with an overall length of 35'. They have rounded tenons with two wedges and three pins. There were sapling poles in the haymow but all were rotten. There was a top half of a wagon door post with a mortise for a wooden hinge. The door original door opening was 10' wide by 11' high. Both gable end anchor beams have mortises for pentice roofs. The layout end has one extra mortise suggesting that the roof had once also protected a small door next to the wagon door. When an attached horse barn was removed, some old 1" X 14" siding was found that might be the original.

One nice feature is that the high transverse struts over the side aisles go through the anchor beam columns with rounded tenons like those of the anchor beams. Another is the double, "X" patterned, sway bracing in every bay. Where they cross, the braces are half-lapped and pinned.

The barn also has some confusing features. The two sides of the barn are different and the ridge is off center. Some of this confusion is due to the lack of original height measurements for most posts. Although the barns' general condition is quite good, 80% of the floor and sills had been replaced with concrete, and what remained could not be saved. Only three anchor beam columns and a few wall posts existed that were full height and these were all from the right side of the barn. The left side had every wall post cut off and sitting on a concrete foundation wall and all the anchor beam columns were cut off at the bottom of the brace and replaced by round steel columns. The left aisle is wider than the right aisle. It is 12' wide with a sidewall height of 19'-0" and a purlin plate height of 28'-0". There are drilled holes in the underside of longitudinal struts, evidence that this was the manger side.

The right aisle is 10' wide with a sidewall height of 19'-6" and a purlin plate height of 27'-2". On the right side the high transverse struts from the anchor beam posts connect into the top plate. Both sidewalls have posts at 4' on center, one under each rafter. However, the left sidewall, which is the lower wall, has 4 extra posts, whose only apparent purpose is to hold the high transverse strut one foot lower than the top plate. Possibly, this was necessary because if the transverse strut went into the top plate it would connect to the anchor beam column too close to the lower ends of the sway braces.

Also confusing is a rise in the anchor beams. Along the left aisle, the top of the anchor beam is level across all the bays. At the layout end, the anchor beam is also level across the center bay. However, along the right aisle, the anchor beam rises progressively, 1" at each column so that at the far gable end, the anchor beam rises up 6" across the center aisle. The pentice roof mortises are all cut in the center of the beam so that the pentice roof also rises up.

"Mabee House" Photo by Amelia Andersen

The professional restoration work included scarfed extensions on the bottom of every post and column, numerous tenon replacements, eight new rafters, all new sills, all new 3", splined floor boards, all new roof boards and cedar shake roof, and new wagon doors with oak hinges on both ends.

We were fortunate to have many volunteer workers who sided the barn, built the pentice roofs and the animal doors, and a volunteer blacksmith who made our iron hinges. The finishing touch is a copper weather vane in the shape of a fish, modeled after that of the Teller-Schermerhorn Barn, the Schenectady County Dutch Barn dismantled by Vincent Schaefer and featured in his -book, "Dutch Barns of New York".

Keith Cramer of Albany, NY is the architect for the Nilsen Barn Project and the Slate Valley Museum Barn, DBPS Vice President and webmaster.


By Ned Pratt
The Airport has made space avail able for local museums and non-profits to put up displays on their activities. One has to apply for this distinction, and two Dutch Barn related exhibits were selected for the first set of exhibits, which opened in August and will run until June of 2001. The organizations .selected were the Dutch Barn Preservation Society, and the Schenectady County Historical Society, whose exhibit focuses on the Mabee Farm.

"Dutch Barn Model by Everett Rau at Albany International Airport" Photo by Ned Pratt

We decided to erect a part of a Dutch barn "H" frame as part of our exhibit, and getting it in and putting it up turned out to be quite a challenge. Tom Lanni loaned us an anchor beam and some braces. These had originally been part of the barn on the Herrington farm in Brunswick. The DBPS had toured this barn some years ago before it was taken down.

"Dutch Barn Exhibit at Albany International Airport" Photo by Ned Pratt

Tom brought the anchor beam in on a flatbed, which we drove into the parking ramp, then lifted the beam onto some dollies with a forklift. You should have seen our procession passing through airport security, with Ned and Tom, several Airport officials and police, and the Airport carpentry crew. The beam is 24'-6" long, about 11" x l7" through, and it weighs well over 1,000 pounds.

One of the anchor beam tongues was rotten, so we decided to hold it up on lolly columns, and frame in "Fake" columns out of 2"x12" planks. The lolly columns were painted the same color as the walls, so they are less visible. We bolted a 3' long steel angle iron to the top and bolted it through the wall so there is no chance of the beam falling on spectators. Getting the beam in position and safely supported in a restricted space was quite an achievement. A lot of credit should go to the airports carpenters, Peter Coons and Kevin Hehir.

We had 5 exhibit cases to fill so we put up a cut away model of a Dutch Barn and tools used in building timber frame barns. Ev Rau built an excellent model and it looks terrific. The tools were loaned by the Stone Fort Museum in Schoharie. The display of historic nail types is by Harold Zoch.

Behind the cases are three panels describing the importance of Dutch Barns, and giving information about the Society. Ned Pratt, DBPS President, designed and constructed both the DBPS exhibit and that for the Schenectady County Historical Society. We also thank Clarke Blair for loaning us a negative for the large interior barn photo we reproduced.

The Albany International Airport is located off Exit 4 of the Northway, 187, Follow signs for public parking. Our exhibit is in Concourse "C," which is located on the second floor. As you go through the security gate and take a right you will soon see our exhibit on your right. The Mabee farm exhibit, and several others, is down towards Concourse "A," which is a left after security.

"Dutch Barn Exhibit at Albany International Airport" Photo by Bob Andersen

The New York State Barn Coalition

By Ned Pratt

The NYS Barn Coalition is a relatively new organization whose mission is to promote the appreciation, preservation, rehabilitation and reuse of older and historic barns. The coalition is a collaborative program of statewide, regional and local organizations, agencies, and individuals interested in Barns.

We at the DBPS have been participating in the New York State Barn Coalition since its inception; Everett Rau, then president, began going to organizational meetings in 1997, and I recently (last fall)-attended the Statewide conference in Amherst, NY (near Buffalo), where the DBPS won the first award for State wide organizations.

The groups primary activities so far have been to hold a Statewide conference each year, and promote old barns in' a general way. They (we) have a website, at www.crp.comell. edu/projects/nysbc, or you can connect by starting at one of the DBPS websites. www.Dutchbarns.homestead.com/home.html

The Coalition has no regular budget and does not award grants, but is supported by volunteers and staff assistance from the Preservation League, the Preservation Program at Cornell, and the Cornell Extension. The Preservation League has an article, often a two-page section in each newsletter on Barn and Barn Coalition activities.

This years' conference will be held September 29 & 30 in Silver Bay, sponsored/hosted by Adirondack Architectural Heritage.

Nominations for awards to be given out at the annual conference are encouraged. Awards will be made for outstanding examples of restoration, repair, long-term maintenance, and sensitive reuse. Educational programs that promote community awareness of the importance of barns will also be considered. Nomination forms will be available this summer from the Preservation League of New York State.

NEWSLETTER SPRING 2001, Vol. 14, Issue 1 part two

The Dutch Barn Preservation Society
c/o The Mabee Farm Historic Site
1080 Main St. (Rt. 5S)
Rotterdam Junction, NY 12150

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