Tree Notes is about trees -- especially native trees, trees for wildlife, and trees in history.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Barn building in the days of the primeval forests

Dutch barns and timber barns of the Catskills


John Burroughs wrote about some of the old barns in the Catskills that he remembered. He described those the Dutch built with low eaves and a high ridgepole to create an immense haymow. Then he described the sturdy timber barns built by other early settlers. Both contained mighty hand-hewn beams, cut in the primeval forests:

Then the great timbers of these [unpainted timber] barns and the Dutch barn, hewn from maple or birch or oak trees from the primitive woods, and put in
place by the combined strength of all the brawny arms in the neighborhood when the barn was raised,-timbers strong enough and heavy enough for docks and quays, and that have absorbed the odors of the hay and grain until they look ripe and mellow and full of the pleasing sentiment of the great, sturdy, bountiful interior! The "big beam" has become smooth and polished from the hay that has been pitched over it, and the sweaty, sturdy forms that have crossed it. One feels that he would like a piece of furniture-a chair, or a table, or a writing-desk, a bedstead, or a wainscoting-made from these long-seasoned, long-tried, richly toned timbers of the old barn.

Excerpted from In the Catskills, Selections from the Writings of John Burroughs, by John Burroughs (1837-1921) with illustrations from photographs by Clifton Johnson. Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin , 1910.


Image from The Architectural Record, January-June, 1921 (p. 94)

I have my own memories of hay-polished wood. When I was a child, we put up the hay in haystacks. There were two machines we used in the process that had wooden teeth more or less the size of an 8-foot 2x4". The tips of the wooden teeth were so smooth to the touch that they felt oddly soft. When I ran my fingers along the wood, not a splinter, not a single snag could be felt. And yet, when the wooden teeth were first put on, they were just rough lengths of wood, tapered at one end to a blunt point.

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Enrich your life with the study of trees.

"The power to recognize trees at a glance without examining their leaves or flowers or fruit as they are seen, for example, from the car-window during a railroad journey, can only be acquired by studying them as they grow under all possible conditions over wide areas of territory. Such an attainment may not have much practical value, but once acquired it gives to the possessor a good deal of pleasure which is denied to less fortunate travelers."

Charles Sprague Sargent (1841-1927)

Print references I frequently consult

Benvie, Sam. Encyclopedia of North American Trees. Buffalo, NY: Firefly, 2000.

Brockman, C. Frank. Trees of North America: A Guide to Field Identification. Ed. Herbert S. Zim. New York: Golden, 1986.

Cliburn, Jerry, and Ginny Clomps. A Key to Missouri Trees in Winter: An Identification Guide. Conservation Commission of the State of Missouri, 1980.

Collingwood, G. H., Warren David Brush, and Devereux Butcher. Knowing Your Trees. Washington: American Forestry Association, 1978.

Dirr, Michael. Dirr's Hardy Trees and Shrubs: an Illustrated Encyclopedia. Portland, Or.: Timber, 1997.

Elias, Thomas S. The Complete Trees of North America; Field Guide and Natural History. New York: Book Division, Times Mirror Magazines, 1980.

Grimm, William Carey. The Book of Trees;. Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole, 1962.

Hightshoe, Gary L. Native Trees, Shrubs, and Vines for Urban and Rural America: a Planting Design Manual for Environmental Designers. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1988.

Little, Elbert L. National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees. New York: Chanticleer, 1996.

Martin, Alexander C., Herbert S. Zim, and Arnold L. Nelson. American Wildlife and Plants. New York: McGraw Hill, 1951.

Mitchell, Alan F., and David More. The Trees of North America. New York, NY: Facts On File Publications, 1987.

Randall, Charles E. Enjoying Our Trees. Washington: American Forestry Association, 1969.

Settergren, Carl D., and R. E. McDermott. Trees of Missouri. Columbia: University Extension, 1995.

Sternberg, Guy, and James W. Wilson. Native Trees for North American Landscapes: from the Atlantic to the Rockies. Portland: Timber, 2004.

Wharton, Mary E., and Roger W. Barbour. Trees and Shrubs of Kentucky. Lexington: University of Kentucky, 1973.

Wyman, Donald. Trees for American Gardens. New York: Macmillan, 1965.

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