There are few buildings as iconic and romantic as the old barns strewn across Nova Scotia’s agricultural landscape. Since moving to this province 24 years ago, I’ve dreamed of owning one of these gigantic hand hewn structures. With the purchase of this farm my barn lust was finally satisfied. The property came with not one post and beam wooden pinned structure, but two!
The smaller of the barns is in ok shape, but the larger one dates back to the 1800s and has some serious issues. Before we bought the place, one end of that barn had fallen to its knees. Determined to prevent a building with such history from getting scrapped, the previous owner hired a carpenter to lift and brace the barn. The completed work stabilized the building but left it far from useable. The main doors opened wide to a 10 foot drop. Most of the floor was gone, and what remained was anything but solid.
There are 3 additions on the barn: a garage at the side, a stable and chicken coop at the back, and a wellhouse at the front.
The garage is a new addition, dated 2004. It has a poured concrete floor on solid ground and it looks like it’s been done right.
The addition at the back is contributing to the barn’s overall structural problems. The barn itself is built on a foundation of massive rock walls. The structure at the back is built on a slope. Apparently the builders framed and poured a foundation wall on three sides, and then filled it with small rocks and dirt. The rock wall foundation of the barn formed the fourth wall. The builders then poured a concrete floor on top of the fill using 2×4 lumber as rebar. As things settled and the ground froze and thawed, it appears that the fill put too much pressure on the barn’s foundation wall. The boulders tumbled into the barn, the gravel fill under the addition followed, taking out supports and sills, and the concrete floor, supported by rotten planks and nothing else started caving in. That back corner of the barn is a mess.
On the front, the well house is slipping sideways. It leaks like a sieve, it no longer has boards on the back, and the upper floor has more holes than not. In the bottom section there is a collection of old implements, doors, windows, antique crates, and other things that straddle the division between junk and treasure. We discovered the well when Troy was reorganizing the space a little. Standing on a hollow core door that lay on the ground, his foot suddenly went through. He moved the rotten door and discovered that beneath it there was no ground at all, just a very deep rock well. Our guess is that water was pumped to the well from the river below and then stored there over winter for the cattle in the barn.
Standing in the barn’s basement a few days ago and surveying the damage, we decided that we have a lot of work ahead of us. We knew right from the beginning that the well house section was going to be taken down, but now we’ve determined that the back section has to come off as well. We’ll try to dismantle that and move it to the other side of the barn where it will stand on solid ground. I think it will make a nice little stable for the horses. Once that’s gone, we’ll use a backhoe to scoop out the collapsing rocks and cement from the outside, and then build up a wooden wall to properly support the back end of the big barn. The hayloft also needs to come out, and the rest of the floor has to be replaced, as well. It’s going to be a lot of work, and it’s a little overwhelming. Sometimes I think it would be better to just rip the whole thing down and start fresh, but I look at the notched beams, the hand carved pegs, and I know it can be a beautiful barn again. Every romance comes with a little pain, but it will undoubtedly be worth it in the end.
As we drive around this countryside I think a little differently now about the grand old barns rising from the fields of the Annapolis Valley. I wonder what trials and tribulations they’ve been through, I think about the dangers of putting steel on a roof with such a steep pitch and so high off the ground. I don’t hold quite as much disdain for the folks who’ve let them fall into disrepair. But we’re determined that this barn will be glorious once again, so stay tuned as the battle ensues. First up we deal with those troublesome extensions. Keep your eyes and hammers peeled… a barn un-raising party may be coming soon to a farm near you.