Dutch Barn Preservation Society

Dedicated to the Study and Preservation
of New World Dutch Barns

NEWSLETTER, SPRING 1999, Vol. 12, Issue 1

The Restoration and Reconstruction of the John J. Post Aisled Dutch Barn, 1997-1998

The John J. Post Dutch barn reassembled on the Paul/Schueler Home site. The Paul/Schueler House (in foreground) had previously been restored by the author. The right half of the house dates to the late eighteenth century while the left half dates to between 1820 and 1851. The house and barn are owned by the Town of Clarkson, Rockland County, New York. All photos by George Turrell.

By George B. Turrell
One day in the first decade of the nineteenth century, John J. Post, a farmer in Rockland County, New York, commenced construction of a small aisled barn in the Dutch style. Mr. Post's holdings consisted of approximately 30 acres inherited from his father, land which lay within the original South Moiety (half) of the Kakiat patent. (1). A small but well located and drained piece of land, it gently rises to the West, with Pascack brook and Pascack Road running from north to south along the eastern border. The great farms, houses and barns of the Hoppers and Van Ordens were up the road about a mile to the North, in Scotland or Scotland Hill as that place was known. John's small parcel was abutted by his father's and brother's land, and it is reasonable to suggest that pasturage was shared along the brook. So a small barn was built, sufficient to the needs of the Post family, and remained in their possession until 1893. The land and buildings passed through a few more owners, until 1958 when the house, barn and land, then consisting of only 3.8 acres, was sold to John and Eleanor Sterbenz. (2) The records indicate that, for this farm, agriculture had been a steadily diminishing livelihood, although the surrounding land was not developed until the late 20th century. The barn was thus not subjected to the pressure of business agriculture that turned the ridges into pastures and swelled the neighboring barns for more hay storage, stabling and garaging. By continually serving its original function, a small barn for a small farm, John J. Post's became the last aisled Dutch barn in Rockland County, where at one time there were dozens.

More than one hundred and seventy-five years later, and after the onslaught of suburban development engendered by Rockland's proximity to New York City, Post's barn was documented by local historians, notably Claire Tholl and Greg Huber. It squatted, gable ends to the North and South, eight feet from Pascack Road, even today narrow and tree shadowed, paralleling the banks of the Pascack brook. Painted "barn" red, with mottled white roll roofing, it dipped, swayed, bulged and otherwise indicated an antique building succumbing to insects, rot, and gravity. The roof was tight though, replaced in the sixties by John Sterbenz who had also replaced most of the rafters and the west purlin plate. He sheathed the roof with tongue and groove hard pine, and generally repaired the building well enough to keep it functioning as a garage/workshop for another thirty years. Greg Huber's documentation of the barn during the early 1990s led to an offer from Mr. Sterbenz' son, John Jr., for Greg to take the barn to his land in the Schoharie Valley. Mr. Huber, deferring a dream, decided, instead, along with John Sterbenz Jr., to donate the building to someone who would keep it in the county. The barn would have to be moved, of course, and the dismantling and restoration paid for. Interested parties appeared, but were either dismayed by the barn's condition or disappointed in its diminutive size. The approach of Rockland's bicentennial and the successful restoration of the Paul/Schueler homestead, (a property owned by the town of Clarkstown, Rockland County) led to an interest in the barn by Charles Holbrook, town supervisor, who championed the barn's move to the Paul/Schueler site. At Mr. Holbrook's urging the town council voted to fund the Post barn dismantling and restoration.

Top: John J. Post Dutch barn on original site prior to restoration. Above: Restored J. J. Post barn on the Paul/Schueler site.

The dismantling of the barn began on a humid 95 degree day, more like late July than early June. For two days workers purged the barn of engine blocks, car bumpers, fenders and seats, boxes, crates and barrels, which had been the accumulated cargo of fifty years. We eventually filled four forty- yard containers. The barn was at last empty and we could examine what was left. The remnant floor was first taken up to reveal that the main sills and joists were of archeological interest only, being but wood mold in the soil. The main posts were rotted and insect infested up three feet or more. And so we began a woeful inventory: the side wall sills were 85% gone; four interior columns were shot out top and bottom; the west purl in plate gone; the east purlin plate three fifths gone, nothing reusable. All the rafters, excepting the gable end rafters, were either rotted or replaced with 2 x 6 boards; the side wall plates were rotted beyond use, as were the struts and girts; longitudinal struts were missing; the side wall posts decayed beyond reuse; the anchor beams all required repair, the north beam's weather side was virtually gone to rot; six of eight anchor beam braces, however were intact or repairable; the siding and roofing were not reusable due to late 20th century replacement or decay; of the sway braces, only four of the original twelve left. In short, and what is easier to relate, we had left: four usable columns, three anchor beams, six anchor beam braces, four sway braces and two open dovetail braces from the side wall corner posts.

Close-up of column showing scarf joint repair.

Right: View of the anchorbeam to column joint. Notice the square shape of the anchorbeam tongue and lack of wedges. The distance from the top of the anchorbeam to the top of the purlin plate is short resulting in the sway braces entering the column below the anchorbeam.

I must report that our initial professional complacency began to wear thin as we catalogued the damage, and wrestled with the slimy, greasy, moldy and otherwise unmentionably encrusted bones of this poor barn, all of us drenched in sweat and working 16 hour days. The building nearly collapsed on several occasions. It was at one point possible for a person (a 10 year old girl in this case) to topple the entire bent structure by pressing lightly, in a northwesterly direction on post 1 east, the South bent. It was requested that she not do this. While disassembling the roof with an all terrain forklift, the machine plunged into a soft spot where the threshing floor had been, and the "up" lever for the lift rack was inadvertently hit, sending the top of the lift carriage through the hard pine roof. The lift became lodged above the roof and could not be retracted without collapsing the structure directly upon the machine and its operator. I cried. We then completely rebraced the building with 2x10 boards, and tying a string to the "down" lever, I slipped into the safety of the woods. By pulling on the string, the carriage came down, pulling a hefty chunk of roof, but causing no damage. This was Thursday, midday, about 64 man-hours into the process. Friday morning began the final assault. The temperature was 97 degrees at 10 a.m. Humidity at 92% headed for 100% as thunderheads rolled in from the Northwest. Like the cannonade at Gettysburg, we could hear the rumbling hours ahead and miles away. By late afternoon, the crippled main frame was all that was standing, as we raced to dismantle before the rain could soak our timbers. Premonitory winds blew the chaff and detritus all over our sweaty selves, a reminder of the threat. At 7 p.m. as the trees thrashed and sparse robin's egg sized raindrops struck us, the last bent came down: trunnels removed, the braces withdrawn, the columns were separated from beams with the mighty white oak beetle; they were lifted, stacked and covered. The rain came, and the wind lashed, the thunder crashed and the lightning flashed, the water washed us and we were happy and tired and gratefully stupefied. We trucked what was left, along with the ruined pieces that held information (of mortices, braces, material and method of hewing and so forth) about twelve miles away to an empty modern barn with a concrete floor. We stacked, stickered and left, to return 11 months later.

 

Once again, like the bones of the Romanovs, the material was reloaded and carried twenty-five miles south to our facility in Closter, New Jersey, where the restoration of the frame would be undertaken. At this juncture, it would be unreasonable not to ask what the purpose of all this might be, particularly considering that the restored building would be essentially a replica, and a replica of an undistinguished farm building at that. When one further considers that this project was being underwritten completely by the town of Clarkstown, New York, with public monies, duly approved and voted on in an election year, an extraordinary kind of commitment becomes evident.

Left: View of the left side aisle

Right: View of the interior from the wagon door.

Only a year before, Clarkstown had also funded the complete restoration of the derelict Paul/Schueler house, (circa 1790-1810) a timber framed farmhouse on the town's parkland that my firm had been contracted to document and then restore. Under thousands of pounds of debris, garbage (including 86 toaster ovens, but that's another story) and later additions, was a two room farmhouse with a jambless fireplace, enclosed garret ladder,original hardware and finishes and a little federal parlor. It was to the immediate north of this farmhouse, that its contemporary, the Post barn, would be raised. All the main buildings of a typical small Dutch-American farm of Rockland would be in place and in their proper relation. I must express wonder at and gratitude for the foresight and imagination of Clarkstown government, Charlie Holbrook, town supervisor, and Chuck Connington, parks director, especially.

Our contractual responsibility, ambition and aesthetic was to restore the barn so that John post, should he visit, would not be able to tell that it was 1998, by materials technique or hardware. And so in late April 1998, Paul Hofle, B.J. Allen, Jeremiah Dickey and I began to locate and gather materials for the restoration process. Dressed fieldstone was collected from a farmhouse being demolished for a gigantic Pet Spa, (to the amusement of the developer) and great sandstone flats were pulled from an abandoned quarry. Twenty-four straight trees, 26 feet in length were felled in Ulster County for rafters by Herb Lytle. We needed 2000 board feet of white pine planks, vertically sawn, thirty-five squares of split cedar shakes, 60 pounds of cut nails, 16 strap hinges. 900 board feet of sawn white oak and two hundred linear feet of new old-stock chestnut and white oak (salvaged from other area barns or purchased upstate) were prepared and pressure treated joists were shipped from northern Virginia. A thousand of feet of random free-edge shake purlins were cut and peeled, black locust logs were squared and split out for three hundred thirty-four trunnels to be drawn on the trunnel bench. Ten tulip poplar trees felled and sawn for the 1080 board feet of 2"x16" planks for the threshing floor.

NEWSLETTER, SPRING 1999, Vol. 12, 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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