Barn Beams

In 1830, Andrew Jackson was the President of the United States.  Emily Dickenson was born.  Three years earlier, in Germany, Beethoven had died.

On some acreage not far from the Fore River Estuary, in what is present day South Portland, a barn was erected, with an Ell connecting it to the owner’s 3-bedroom farmhouse.  In those days when horsepower was a literal measurement, you would have to assume that the boards and beams were hand milled from trees that grew very close to the barn’s location.  The granite foundation stones would also have been site specific.

One hundred eighty years later, in 2010, that property – much of which had been subdivided, leaving one-half acre (still large by South Portland standards) – went into foreclosure.  A young couple purchased the lot, but in July 2012, they put it back on the market.  Pretty much at the foreclosure price.

As of 30 August 2012, we now own that barn.  The house and ell too.  And an overgrown untended one-half acre lot.  Last night was a blue moon, a double dragon full moon, no less.  What have we begun?!!

An Art Farm began as a virtual operation, because we have been renting, and our landlord would not allow us to garden on the 1.5 acre property.  But limitation spawned creativity (as it often does) and we decided to start our farm as ideas and images.  Now we have set terra firma beneath our feet.

We have a project on our hands.  The house has been unloved, and the last tenant pretty much used blunt tools to make curious renovations.  We will undo those, but our first priority is heat and weatherization.

Autumn winds now blow, the sun’s zenith daily drops lower, we move nearer to the solstice; sometime on or before mid-December, our second child will join us.  So for many reasons our priorities are made clear, and our focus is simple: a tight warm main house, made ready for winter.  The ell will be tackled in a later season.  The barn, regrettably, will need to come down. Now.

We would love to restore it, but that cost is prohibitive.  Not even an option.  We would love to dismantle and save the wood.  A difficult task to arrange.  Tales are told of “guys who will come and barter their labor for the wood” but the closest we found was a salvager who would charge $10,000 and take the wood.  “Those beams are not the premium beams, you see,” they told us, via email, and thereby not having the courage to say that with a straight face.

I do have a friend, the owner of heavy equipment and a dumptruck, who will help us tear down the barn, salvage some wood, then haul the rest off to the dump.  Perhaps not my first choice, and somewhat prickly about adding more to the landfill, but circumstances seem to conspire us in that direction.

Our renovation interest is less about historic and all about forward looking.  In the coming weeks we will blog often on the topic of home renovation.  Issues of heating choice – Kerosene, Heating Oil, Natural Gas or wood-burning stove – will be weighed heavily.  The cost-benefits of dense-pack cellulose insulation and the steps toward achieving a “super-insulated” home will be thoroughly described.  The chemistry, properties and remediation of radon – an inert gas that can be cancerous – will be tackled.  All of these are real world issues that we must act upon as we move to our designated goal: occupying our 1,360 square foot house on or before pregnancy week 36.

In equal measure, I am optimistic and, admittedly, overwhelmed.  I have never tackled any project of this scale.  When Becca was pregnant with E, I built two cabinets and a chest of drawers.  I felt mighty proud!

My day job, however, managing a 24,000 square foot home, plus a 3,000 sf ski chalet, has given me some facility in this area, and a great retinue of tradesmen to help out.

We have found what seems to be the ideal contractor: a farmer, who who also builds super efficient homes, often using straw bales for insulation.  The homes are beautiful – sparing clean lines, organic, tactile – and consume such low amounts of fuel that the energy companies have actually sent representatives to complain that the homes were confounding their scheduled fuel delivery.

So we begin.  I can’t help but to recall my inaugural blog, (“What is An Art Farm?”) when I wrote about ““place and participation/cultivating knowledge, participation, food in the age of monoculture/practical and critical processes for the hungry, lost and restless.”  Place and participation, indeed!

I hope to document this home renovation well enough, and in detail enough, to help others who might consider a small house renovation.  Or follow their path to an art farm of their own…

4 Comments on “Barn Beams”

  1. ann bragdon says:

    hearty congrats on old home ownership!

  2. bam says:

    holy hallelujah!!!!! dreams come tumbling true. that barn is a work of art, a beauty. the pictures above, i hope, make it to the walls of your new home. i am beyond speechless. i have pictured you in a real live art farm for years and years. i can’t wait to read along, as you construct your mighty dream. we will cry when the barn comes down. but we will understand. that barn, i am certain, was built with pragmatism, has stood on pragmatism, and with pragmatism as its guiding force, so it will come down.

    but much will stand in its stead. bless you all. xoxoxo

  3. Jane says:

    Fascinating, David.
    Save that door !!!
    Looking forward to reading of your progress.
    Love from here,

  4. Oma says:

    It is hard to comprehend the stories that barn could tell.
    I am so glad you will save some wood,and give it a new life.

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