NEWSLETTER, OCTOBER 2004
OCTOBER 2004 NEWSLETTER -- SPECIAL ON THE HOOIBERG WEB SITE
FROM THE EDITOR; The web site for the HVVA newsletter has linked up with the site <http://www.hooiberg.info> of Wim Lampham in The Netherlands. This is a Dutch language site that has recently begun an American section in English. If you can’t read Dutch there are a lot of good graphics. The hooiberg was known in The Hudson Valley as a hay barrack or simply a barrack or a berg. It is a distinct architecture and was important on farms here from its Old World colonization in the early 17th century on into the 20th century. It is one of the cultural links we share with The Netherlands. Wim would like to include the historic study of hooibergen (barracks) with art and agriculture. We look forward to making hay with Wim.
The internet is certainly changing how we are able to collect and exchange information. It is also often incorrect as is the written and illustrated record the internet distributes, so that its use in the study of vernacular architecture must still be based on field work and studying the artifact.
I recently went to Google HVVA and opened the Four Rivers search engine near the bottom of the menu. I entered “hay barrack” and 46 references were listed. 13 were from journals and historic records that Joyce Berry, our webmaster from Saint Johnsville, has added to the site, 15 were from articles in the Dutch Barn Preservation Society Newsletters and 18 from this newsletter. These all, especially the last 33, should be checked for accuracy.
I have been interested in the hay barrack for some time. I first learned about the building when Charles Gehring, of the New Netherland Project, pointed out some re-used barrack poles in an Ulster County Dutch barn, at least 15-years ago. Since then a number of reused barrack parts have been found re-used in barns. They indicate that there was a very distinct rafter system used on thatched hay barracks throughout the Hudson Valley. The system was used into the early 20th century. When barracks were given plank roofs to replace thatch, new rafter systems developed and the old system forgotten. One of the central questions to this American “major/minor” rafter system is; are there Old World connections or was this a New World development, like the wooden hinged wagon doors and the pentice roof?
No artifacts have been examined here that are positively barrack rafters. Some are suspected. A dozen or two parts of poles have been seen, some documented. There are many photographs of poles. They are of two types; poles with braced horizontal girts, for an enclosed room, and more commonly, poles that had no girts.
Maybe 40 reused parts of barrack plates have been identified. There are some exceptions but the pattern of rafter holes is very consistent throughout the Hudson Valley. In the beginning no complete plates were found. and the angled holes for the minor rafters were a puzzle. When reused, all the ends had been cut off so that the method of joining the plates at the corners was only a guess. More recently we have found two sets of plates from four and five pole barracks with complete ends. Both had through wedged tenons.
The author in the Wemp Barn
My first understanding of the rafter pattern, how the minor rafters were attached to the major rafter, came from a drawing in an early 18th century unpublished Ver Plank manuscript that a friend, Don McTernan, had obtained a copy of. I later made a 1/4 scale model using this system and found that the design made erecting the barrack roof a very simple job. The four sides could be constructed on the ground and each side raised as a frame. I had first thought the rafters were nailed together but they may also have been tied.
There are a few things in the Ver Plank manuscript I questioned as being good advice and it put me off that the author’s creative spirit seemed to want to improve on tradition, make things better, like getting the barrack poles out of the ground and up on stones, but Ver Plank understood the rafter system whereas writers in the early 19th century farm journals, who advised the use of barracks, did not.
There is a well known and important illustration by van Berkhey in an 1811 Dutch book that shows 4 and 5-pole thatched hay barracks. The barrack plates are shown in two of the illustrations as having 12-rafter holes in each. The lower illustrations shows a center major rafter and the minor rafters, 5 on one side and 6 on the other, connected under the major rafter at the peak. How all of this is held together is not well explained.
Did van Berkhey really understand the rafter system? The Hudson Valley barrack plate has 7 rafter holes. The center major rafter hole is a rectangular mortise. The holes and mortises are normally cut through the plate.
On the hooiberg site, under restauratie (restorations), there are two photographs of an authentieke hay barrack being built somewhere in Noord Holland. In a close-up shot, the builder is placing the tail end of a round minor rafter into its hole in the plate. The rafters are being set into the plate from an upright position, rather than on the ground. The major rafter in the foreground looks squared. The structure seems to be something like the Hudson Valley 7 rafter model; but the rafter system at the top of the roof can not be seen in the photographs.
Recently an iron hanger and two barrack screws were identified in the mid Hudson Valley. These two parts of barrack hardware are clearly Dutch in origin and are the only examples known in association with New World farms. Despite this scarce and incomplete information, these artifacts suggest that knowledge of the Dutch barrack and all of its sophisticated hardware were imported with the first colonists and remained in use where thatched roofs were maintained, probably into the 19th century. It would seem logical that the rafter system would have come with the hardware.
Another aspect of the barrack that needs further study; there seems to have developed a New World technique for raising the barrack roof which is the sweep and temple, perhaps it replaced the barrack screw. No sweep or temple have yet been identified here but from one photograph showing its use in New Jersey in 1919, two drawings coped from this one photograph and several accounts of its use, both in the historic records of the 18th century and accounts of farmers interviewed in the 1970s, we have a good picture of how the sweep and temples were used to raise the roof.
I would welcome any comments or additions to this report. I would also like to eventually put all the historic records I have collected along with the documented barrack and barrack part on this internet site.
Peter Sinclair, Editor
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