Ontario Barn Preservation

GREY COUNTY BARN

by Jon Radojkovic

Here is a great example of a typical Grey County barn, one that I have passed by many times in my travels around Chatsworth municipality. 

I recently spent a few hours examining this barn and found, as is usual, unique aspects of it that are not found in other barns. I love the sleuthing part of it, uncovering how, why and when it was built.

First of all it’s actually two barns forming an “L”. Both barns are from the late 19th century, but I believe the smaller of the two, usually called a straw barn, was moved there and attached after the first large barn was raised. I found evidence inside the stables, where there is another stone wall where the first large barn’s foundation ended. Farmer’s don’t usually go to the trouble of building inner stone walls, as they take a lot of time and money, where simple wooden posts and beams would have sufficed.

The straw barn in the foreground and big barn at the back.

Another piece of evidence is on the outside surface, where the two stone foundations join, the straw barn has horizontal and vertical lines pointed into the mortar to make them look like blocks, a fad for a while, while the big barn doesn’t have any.

As well, in the mow, where the two frames meet, the posts of each barn are joined by three large bolts and nuts, with pieces of old cast iron metal used as washers. The styles of the two timber frames are different. The straw barn has posts that go directly to the purlins whereas the large barn has a much different arrangement, a unique style that has a short post from the top of the bent vertically meet the purlins.

The complex timber frame and rafters of the big barn and straw barn in the background.

Most of the posts and girts in the mow are maple and beech, while in the stables, the sleepers (joists holding up the mow floor) are elm and beech. Cedar is nearly always used for braces, while the poles used for the rafters (roof supports) in these barns are cedar and tamarack.  I was able to climb up, literally to the rafters, on top of small square bales and examine the rafters and top plates. Old bales of hay and straw are actually a detriment to these barns. When some are new and dry it’s fine but in this barn there are many piles that are quite old, have settled and loosened, and with moisture coming in through the barn boards, have expanded and are pushing out the barn boards as well as rotting the floor below.

Another amazing discovery in the big barn was a swing beam. This one is 36 feet long, 20 inches thick in the middle and 14 inches at the ends and 12 inches wide and made from pine. There is a double tenon at the ends going into the posts with one pin at each end. Beautifully notched! These beams were made so that horses coming in with a wagon load of hay or grain could turn around in the barn. The hay would be unloaded and then, since the swing beam was a clear span, (no post in the middle)  go under the beam, turn around with the empty wagon and go out. Much easier than having to unhitch the wagon and to then hand maneuver it down the ramp backwards and then bring out the horses.

The 36 foot swing beam.

A note, the photos are not great, as I took them for another purpose, but it gives you an idea of what the barn (parts) looks like.

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