How did they make those great barns? The large scale of timber for their post and beam construction was only possible using the great chestnut trees that dominated the Eastern forests in earlier America. With trunks the size of the pacific sequoias we still know today, our chestnut trees easily offered the 10 to 20” beams that would span the frames of barns from 50 to 70 feet across. But now the Chestnuts are gone, killed by blight, and the architecture that utilized their massive abundance is the only legacy left of the trees that built America. These barns are irreplaceable.
The wonder of being in a post and beam barn.
Consider the wonder and comfort you have felt when you sat in the loft of an old barn and gazed up at its massive vaulted interior. You saw the skeleton of timbers that so comfortably held the tin or asphalt roof that covered thousands of bales of hay over the last two centuries. The assurance of dry hay, shelter for a farm of livestock, and also the home of stray cats and occasional kids who might scamper in for safety is the promise of the great barn.
What is needed now?
These barns are well made and can last much longer than our lifetimes. But they need their roofs to be maintained. They don’t often need much more. Yet if the roof goes, the water gets into the ridgepole, which is like the spine of the building, and what happens next is usually ruin.
Preservation is essential — your action now will save these irreplaceable resources!
How about those Chestnut trees?
The following is from SUNY School of Environment and Forestry
American chestnut (Castanea dentate)
Before the turn of the 20th century, the eastern half of the United States was dominated by the American chestnut. Because it could grow rapidly and attain huge sizes, the tree was often the outstanding visual feature in both urban and rural landscapes. The wood was used wherever strength and rot-resistance was needed. In colonial America, chestnut was a preferred species for log cabins, especially the bottom rot-prone foundation logs. Later posts, poles, flooring, and railroad ties were all made from chestnut lumber. Chestnut heartwood is legendary for its rot resistance. Logging of standing dead trees and then of the fallen logs took place for decades after the chestnut trees were killed. The edible nut was also a significant contributor to the rural economy. Hogs and cattle were often fattened for market by allowing them to forage in chestnut-dominated forests. Chestnut ripening coincided with the Thanksgiving-Christmas holiday season, and turn-of-the-century newspaper articles often showed train cars filled to overflowing with chestnuts rolling into major cities to be sold fresh or roasted. The American chestnut was truely a heritage tree. All of this began to change in the late 1800s with the introduction of Cryphonectria parasitica, the causal agent of chestnut blight. This disease reduced the American chestnut from its position as the dominant tree species in the eastern forest to little more than an early-succession-stage shrub.