HVVA NEWSLETTER Volume 3, Number 6. Special

Part Two

 The following is from the HVVA Newsletter, Volume 5, Number 11.

Saturday. December 20. 2003 The Solite Dutch barn (Uls-Sau-19) is now disassembled and removed from its industrial site at Northeast Solite Corporation and is in storage a few miles away at the Kierstead House in the Village of Saugerties where it is planned to be repaired and re-erected. The 35-foot long four-sided ridge-pole was the first part of the frame removed revealing details of how it had been nailed to the major rafters.

Dave Minch coordinated the project and registered the timbers. Many of the wooden pins were saved and will return to their original places. Randy Nash gave his experienced advice and assistance, Jim Kricker and his crew from Rondout Woodworking, with the help of a sophisticated fork lift and some volunteers, lowered the side walls and bents and loaded the heavy oak timbers onto a flat-bed trailer. The project was a pleasure to work on and has gained local public attention to the preservation of its historic structures.

Graphic #1 Solite Barn

Graphic #2 Solite Barn

It seems that during the 18th century both common and major/minor rafter system were used in the Hudson Valley and it raises the questions; why would people continuing building roofs with a complex Old World system of many parts when the New World had plenty of tall thin trees, perfect for long common rafters; and, do these systems represent separate framing traditions or were they for different uses?

When a roof of common rafters is covered with a nailed coating of boards, or roofers, for shingles, these add a necessary stiffness to the roof. But, nails were expensive in the 18th century and their use was avoided when possible. There are many features in the original Solite barn that demonstrate this, such as the use of traditional wooden-hinged wagon doors rather than iron strap hinges.

The use of thatch was a way of saving on nails. It was the "poor man's" way to go. The thatch was tied to thin battens, which might in turn be tied to the rafters in which case the roof had few nails but little strength against racking. The upper purlins, resting on the collar ties and notched to the major rafters, gives the roof a ridged frame as Bob Hedges and I learned when we built a partial half-scale model of a major/minor rafter system in 1998.

Lower graphic, Major-Minor Rafter System before 1766 ->

The 4-inch hand forged nails with flattened tips, many with T-heads, that were found used in the frame of the Solite barn are consistent with the circa 1770 date of construction but the 2-inch cut nails with hand forged heads that were found in the roofers, are thought to date after 1790. This has been questioned by Bob Hedges who has found the same nails used in the original fabric of a 1779 meeting house in Clinton, Dutchess County. There is no apparent evidence of an earlier pattern of nails on the rafters of the Solite barn so that the roofers appear to be the original fabric, but perhaps the original fabric was thatch with string tied battens that left no evidence.

Wortendyke Dutch Barn
Park Ridge, Bergen County, New Jersey HABS photograph, 1934
The several early 20th century photographs of New Jersey barns and barracks with thatched roofs, like the Wortendycke Dutch barn shown here, indicate the use of straw, rather than reed. The thin layered barn thatch of New Jersey looks very like that seen in early photographs of Pennsylvania thatched barns. In this tradition, a fackle, or type of straw bundle, was tied with straw to the battens thus saving quite a bit of money on string.


Some of the clearest evidence for the roots of the New World Dutch barn with a major/minor rafter system are found in the book, Historische houtconstructies in Nederland, by G. Berends, published by SHBO, in 1990. The text is in Dutch but by viewing the descriptive photographs and measured drawings and noting the terms applied to the parts, the variations and similarities of Dutch roof framing are made apparent and their differences from English and German rafter systems as well. The thatched ankerbalkgebenten (anchor beam bents) barn of photo 10, page 16, (illustrated here) would not have been out of place in Ulster County, New York, in the 18th century.

Thatched Anchorbeam 3-Aisle Barn Gelderland, The Netherlands


The sills and sleepers should rest on a dry laid stone foundation with large stones under the posts.

The threshing floor should be of 2 1/2-inch pine planks splined and held to the sills and sleepers with wooden pins. There should be a longitudinal center sill and longitudinal sleepers to either side. Sills are one of the least studied parts of the Dutch barn. Often they and the floor are missing and when there is a floor the sills are hidden. The best evidence is gained when barns are disassembled.

The three longitudinal struts on the west or cow side are missing. I would suggest that the two replaced struts to the south have a series of vertical 1 1/2-inch diameter holes with corresponding holes in the sills bellow to form a stake wall. Two of the surviving struts on the south end of the horse side have notches for a stake manger (see section A-A, Stevens drawing). Three-bay Dutch barns often have horses and cows stalled in two bays of the side-aisles leaving one bay of the side-aisles used as a granary or floored over. I would suggest that at least one cow and one horse stall be reconstructed with a dirt floor and manger. A great deal could be learned by building and using the horse and cow stalls and it would add to the authenticity of the building.

There were parts of two rough shaped riven planks held with wooden pins to the wall posts on the west side-wall (see section C-C, Stevens drawing). These correspond in height with their longitudinal struts and appear to have been used to support poles for a hay mow above the cows. These need to be reconstructed.

There were two mow-poles notched to the anchorbeams in the two north bays. They were fastened with wooden pins to the internal beams and a 4-inch hand made nail on the external beam. The 18th century builder saved his nail for where he knew it would be more subject to dampness. These poles are set off center of the threshing floor and have gains indicating an attachment. They may have something to do with the wagon doors not being centered. They are not yet documented.

There were no surviving pentice roofs over the wagon doors on the Solite barn but these should be replaced. There were two methods of construction used in Ulster County. One was to nail the rafters to the studs and the short outrigger to the beam above the door. The other way was to use extended mow-poles as the outriggers. Perhaps the two types could be interpreted at either end of the barn.

The four-part wagon doors at either end of the barn should be reconstructed in the traditional way, Bob Hedges has offered to build the two sets of doors.

One original animal-door post survived in the south wall on the east side. It was unused and hidden under later structure. It is unusually heavy, about 5x9-inches,and has two large, about 3x6-inches, through-mortises. It has not been documented, It has no evidence of pintals for hinges. The post at the west side is missing but the wide mortise remains in the girt. These should be compared with a surviving har-hung side door on the Bogart Dutch barn (Uls-Mar-3). There is no evidence of original animal doors on the north end of the barn but there was a later door to the east side. A side-wall animal door is also a possibility. This all needs further study.

The weather board siding should be nailed in the traditional manner with rose headed nails that go through only one board and allow for movement of the siding, Three traditional martin holes should be cut in the siding at either end of the barn.

There will need to be repairs and replacements of rafters. As many of the original roofers should be re-used as possible. They have been numbered and can be replaced in order. These are quite fragile and will need some sort of support from above, such as a plywood cover. This will take further planning. Ideally hand-split 30inch long white-oak shingles should be used for the roof. Wooden gutters with metal brackets could be set on one or both sides of the barn. They should not have down spouts but extend beyond the roof and empty into a barrel or container.

Eventually a four-pole thatched hay-barrack should be added to the site.

Report on
The Solite Dutch Barn
Saugerties, Ulster County NY
its recent history,
a comparison with other barns
plans for its future.
by Peter Sinclair
published February 2004 by
Hudson Valley Vernacular Architecture
Box 202,
West Hurley NY 12491
(845) 338-0257

This report has been written for the Saugerties Historical Society at the request of the NY State Parks and Historic Preservation Office.

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