Home > Our Philosophy > A Barn Raising Brings A Community Together.5/14/06
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A Barn Raising Brings A Community Together.

  The noble proportions of a New World Dutch Barn are matched only by its details and degree of finish.

Recently two new books appeared on a shelf of the Colleyville Public Library, a gift of the David Bagwell Company, developer of Whittier Heights. Each describes old barns: how they were planned and built, their uses, and the urgency to save and restore them. The books also contain many fascinating and beautiful photographs. Those who attend the circa 1760 New World Dutch Barn raising in Colleyville’s Whittier Heights neighborhood on Saturday, May 20 will especially enjoy these resources.

A third book entitled In the Catskills, which Bagwell had hoped to also donate, is out of print and extremely difficult to find. John Burroughs, a prominent 19th Century American naturalist and writer, authored it. Burroughs was born and lived most of his life in the Catskills region of New York. This area is bounded on the north by the Mohawk River and on the east by the Hudson River. From the 1600’s until the early 1800’s, the enterprising Dutch immigrants who settled that area built many barns. As many before and after him, John Burroughs marveled at the beauty of these buildings and the industry of those who built them.

“The Dutch took root at various points along the Hudson, and about Albany and in the Mohawk valley, and remnants of their rural and domestic architecture may still be seen in these sections of the State,” Burroughs wrote in a chapter of In the Catskills entitled “Phases of Farm Life”. “A Dutch barn became proverbial. ‘As broad as a Dutch barn’ was a phrase that, when applied to the person of a man or woman, left room for little more to be said. The main feature of these barns was their enormous expansion of roof. It was a comfort to look at them, they suggested such shelter and protection. The eaves were very low and the ridge-pole very high. Long rafters and short posts gave them a quaint, short-waisted, grandmotherly look. They were nearly square, and stood very broad upon the ground...

“The Dutch barn was the most picturesque barn that has been built…Its immense, unpainted gable, cut with holes for the swallows, was like a section of a respectable-sized hill, and its roof like its slope. Its great doors always had a hood projecting over them, and the doors themselves were divided horizontally into upper and lower halves; the upper halves very frequently being left open, through which you caught a glimpse of the mows of hay, or the twinkle of flails when the grain was being threshed.”

On May 20, see workers walk the lofty and perilous plate of a 250 year old New World Dutch Barn, wielding the traditional beedle to drive home wooden pegs of mortise and tenon joinery, as they raise it anew in Whittier Heights.  

In 1910, author John Burroughs wrote of barn raising events of earlier times, “When the carpenters had got the timbers of the house or the barn ready, and the foundation was prepared, then the neighbors for miles about were invited to come to the ‘raisin’. The afternoon was the time chosen. The forenoon was occupied by the carpenter and the farm hands in putting the sills and “sleepers” in place (‘sleepers’, what a good name for the those rude hewn timbers that lie under the floor in the darkness and silence!). When the hands arrived, the great beams and posts and joists and braces were carried to their place on the platform, and the first ‘bent’, as it was called, was put together and pinned by oak pins that the boys brought. Then pike poles were distributed, the men, fifteen or twenty of them, arranged in a line abreast of the bent; the boss carpenter steadied and guided the corner post and gave the word of command, ‘Take holt, boys! Now, set her up! Up with her! Up she goes!’ When it gets shoulder high, it becomes heavy, and there is a pause. The pikes are brought into requisition; every man gets a good hold and braces himself, and waits for the words. ‘All together now!’ shouts the captain; ‘Heave her up! He-o-he! (heave-all,-heave), he-o-he’, at the top of his voice, every man doing his best. Slowly the great timbers go up; louder grows the word of command, till the bent is up. Then it is plumbed and stay-lathed, and another is put together and raised in the same way, till they are all up. Then comes the putting on the great plates, timbers that run lengthwise of the building and match the sills below. Then, if there is time, the putting up of the rafters.”

Burroughs concluded, “The picturesque in human affairs and occupations is always born of love and humility, as it is in art or literature; and it quickly takes to itself wings and flies away at the advent of pride, or any selfish or unworthy motive. The more directly the farm savors of the farmer, the more the fields and buildings are redolent of human care and toil, without any thought of the passer-by, the more we delight in the contemplation of it.”

Whittier Heights, Old Grove at Whittier Heights, Benedict Hill at Westmont and The Estates of Westmont comprise a special aesthetic district in northwest Colleyville, where great attention is paid to character-giving elements of community that result in Sense of Place. The remarkable, pre-Revolutionary War New World Dutch Barn being raised there on May 20 is yet another example of this initiative.

For more information, contact Susan Folkert at 214/673-6754 or click here.


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