160-year-old Bristol barn wins restoration grant

BRISTOL — A recently awarded historic preservation grant will help restore a 150-year-old barn on the Rocky Dale Gardens property in Bristol.
“We’re elated,” said Rocky Dale owner and landscape designer Ed Burke, of the $15,000 matching grant from the Vermont Department of Housing and Community Development’s Division for Historic Preservation.
“It’s still a costly and uphill battle for us to do this, but we find it incredibly important to this homestead and to this business.”
Joining Burke in planning the restoration project is spouse David Flaschenriem, an architect.
Built in 1856, the barn is an example of an English-style, or three bay, barn, with a large threshing floor, animal stalls off to one side and a hayloft above. Photos that can be seen at Rocky Dale show an oxen team that once sheltered in the barn and worked the farm standing beside a long-destroyed covered wooden bridge over the adjacent New Haven River. The team’s massive double yoke — long disused — lies up in the loft. All are poignant reminders of Rocky Dale’s heritage as a working farm.
“They’ve got a really fabulous barn here, and they clearly love it and want to take good care of it, and we’re just thrilled that this grant can help them do that,” said Vermont State Historic Preservation Officer Laura Trieschmann.
Trieschmann explained that one of the most important aspects of the Rocky Dale main barn is that together with the adjacent farmhouse, other agricultural structures and remaining nine acres, the barn tells a unique story about how the working landscape has evolved in Vermont. The barn that once housed the threshing floor, animals, hay, tools and machinery is still being used for an agricultural purpose, albeit a slightly different one.
“The barn’s age has a great deal to do with it. It’s documented as being constructed in 1856. And architecturally it’s significant because it hasn’t been altered very much,” said Trieschmann. “It’s still a product of its time.
Trieschmann continued, “We definitely expect that agricultural buildings will change over time. As farmers need them, they add on to them. And this does have some alterations. But I think for the most part, you can read those alterations. You can understand the history. It’s not hiding the story. And that’s something that’s important to be able to understand, so that anybody can look at it and see how it’s been put together, how it’s been used, the story it can tell.”
The post and beam barn rests on a field stone foundation. And the structure still retains many of its original mortise and tenon joints with wooden pegs, Flaschenriem said.
But patterns of uneven settling, rot and deterioration — the hand of time —  have in places caused the foundation to begin crumbling; walls to sink; the sills, posts and beams to deteriorate; and joists to warp.
Burke and Flaschenriem plan to raise the barn and pour a concrete foundation wall, replace hemlock sills on two walls, and repair or replace post bottoms, floor joists and floor boards as needed. Additional structural repairs include adding and replacing long sections of purlins on two sides of the roof to assist in the support of the roof load.
Given that there’s no drain around the current foundation, they also plan to install a new drain pipe around the building perimeter.
Burke estimates that it will take around $75,000 to restore the barn. Getting the grant, one of 19 awarded by the state this spring, provides an important launching point, Burke said. He plans to assemble the rest of the financing needed from several sources, including loans and a Save the Barn campaign through the nursery.
“We’re just very fortunate to live in a state that understands the importance of structures like this and is willing to help,” Burke said.
Email reporter Gaen Murphree at [email protected].

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