Guest Blogger: Dr. Kate Kocyba
Dr. Kate Kocyba: For the past three summers I have participated in the preservation and restoration of 40 feet wide by 80 feet long and 44 feet high, seven-bay timber frame, c. 1880 – 1910 barn project near Utica, New York. This barn once housed livestock in the lower level where there is the stone foundation. The other three-quarters of the building was designated as a hayloft.
In the grand scheme of scholarship and history, a vernacular barn in upstate New York may be a small contributor to our knowledge base. However, in Central New York, as elsewhere, these barns are endangered. Costly to maintain and with the changing methods of farming these buildings really are relics. As a result, every year more of these barns are demolished or sold off for their wood.
As an architectural historian and pragmatic preservationist, I recognize that not every building can be saved. As I learned from working for the U.S. Forest Service because a building is over 50 years old, the standard age determined by the National Historic Preservation Act, does not necessarily mean it is historic; it just could be old. That said, I also believe that we as a nation have a responsibility to try to preserve buildings that inform us about our past and if possible, to use these buildings. For example, the company that owns this barn is saving it because they are considering alternative uses for this structure to serve their present needs.
My role in this project has been not as the scholarly architectural historian who researches the history of the building, considers its cultural and socio-economic significance but instead as a laborer. In this position I have gained a greater understanding for engineering and construction methods that are invaluable as an architectural historian and as an educator. This hands-on experience I bring into my classroom when I talk about architecture framing systems or role of preservation. For example, the barn has had much of the timber framing returned to being squared since the building actually had a sway in it. Rotten portions of posts and sill beams were either cut out in part in order to maintain as much of the original materials as possible or a few beams have been replaced with hemlock beams. These parts have been reassembled utilizing both mortise and tenon joints as well as bolts. In addition to the carpentry, the stone foundation has been restored utilizing traditional masonry methods. As you can see in the photos, the exterior and interior foundations have been meticulously tuck-pointed, mostly by me. (Tuck pointing is a process in which the old cement is removed from the joints and then packed with new cement.)
As stated earlier this work experience does inform my teaching. It also has shaped my scholarly research. This barn project along with other preservation projects I have participated in over the years has exposed me to areas of scholarship that I never considered before. In addition to the scholarship potential, this work also allows me to help keep some of our past in the present.