Six massive clear span reclaimed timber frame trusses supporting the roof of our fabrication shop offer a pleasant surprise to visitors stopping by our Freeport location. Our research indicates that the 60’ x 12” x 12” reclaimed timber frame trusses were likely cut in the southern United States sometime in the early 1800’s, then loaded into the hold of a sailing ship for the journey to the Portland sea port. Teams of oxen probably picked up and delivered the timber beams to the job site where timber framers, under the direction of a master timber framer, cut mortises with large t-augers. These trusses were once the roof support system for a historic building on Free Street in Portland, Maine. Originally constructed in 1826 as a theater, the building was renovated in 1836 for Sunday church services for the Free Street Baptist Church. The Portland Chamber of Commerce bought the building in 1915 and made more renovations in 1926.
Famed Portland architect John Calvin Stevens and his son restored the building to its original state for the Chamber, adding a portico with a colonnade of columns to the front entrance, giving it a Greek revival style. A final renovation in the 1990’s would make the edifice home to the Children’s Museum of Maine. In order to meet modern code enforcement requirements, the original timber frame trusses needed to be removed and the roof system modernized. John Libby, founder of Houses and Barns by John Libby, salvaged the beams knowing the reclaimed timber trusses were too valuable to be destroyed.
In 1996 Houses and Barns by John Libby expanded its fabrication shop, designing the building around these reclaimed timber frame trusses. King and queen posts support the hand-hewn truss bottom chord. Most of the original mortise and tenons and traditional trunnels were used. According to our master timber framer, old timbers typically came from slow-growing trees as evidenced by tighter growth rings and sizes than today’s timber which are from faster growing trees. Slow growth trees offered superior structural advantages than what is generally available on the market today.
The popularity of utilizing re-claimed beams and other salvaged wood products has grown significantly since the 1990’s. It is a great way to give new purpose to old wood and often with the appeal of an interesting back story. Utilizing reclaimed timbers can be challenging as the limits presented by the known beam sizes can drive design costs upward whereas designing with new wood provides more flexibility in the design. Although Houses and Barns by John Libby primarily designs and builds new homes and timber frame barns, our roots are definitely in timber frame restoration. Our team enthusiastically embraces the challenges that each barn restoration project offers.
Not only the crowning touch in our building, the reclaimed timber frame beams offer a perfect example of the strength, longevity and stability of timber frame structures. If these beams could talk they would tell quite a story; we invite you to stop by to tell us your story about your new home or barn project and take a tour of our shop.