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Barn doors rebuilt at Cogswell's Grant

March 14, 2013

Repairs complete
With the new doors in place, the barn stands ready for years of service.


Now that colder weather has arrived and preservation projects at our historic properties have slowed down, Historic New England's carpentry crew is focused on shop work and planning for next year’s projects. This time of year allows a chance to reflect on the work accomplished during the recent building season. This is the fourth in a series of posts detailing recent carpentry projects that are essential in preserving Historic New England's properties.

If you imagine Historic New England's collection of buildings as a library, the barns that inhabit the farm properties are the almanacs and how-to books, rather than the Gothic novels. They usually lack the exterior ornament, and the smooth plaster and intricate wallpaper of the homes. What they feature in abundance is transparency. With no interior finishes, every detail of the structure is plain to see. The stories of the buildings' construction and use, of traditional building transitioning to the new, faster techniques, of New England farmers adapting to changing markets, of prosperous beginnings and long hard use, are all easily read by anyone who looks closely.

A multi-faceted complex of structures that congregate around the house, built at widely different times for widely different tasks, the barns at Cogswell’s Grant in Essex, Massachusetts, embody these broad regional themes. The barns create indoor and outdoor work spaces, and have sheltered animals, machines, and people for generations from the cold winds that blow across the marshes of Essex.

The Salt Hay Barn stands a little apart from the house, facing the other barns across a broad lawn. On its northeast gable end stands a one-story ell with two broad double doors. Wheels with wooden spokes and sagging rubber tires hang from nails over a small collection of starter motors inside, hinting at the twentieth-century origin of the space, though the automobiles or tractors they belonged to are gone.

Last fall, Historic New England's carpentry crew carefully copied and replaced one pair of these double doors. The originals were measured, photographed, and labeled before being transported to another barn for long-term storage. The new doors were made to match the old, copying the dimensions, design, and construction. A few small changes (paint on every surface, even the hidden ones, and the use of stainless steel screws instead of plain steel) were made to help withstand tough weather conditions. A small structural repair and some new trim and shingles readied the door frames. The hinges and other hardware were cleaned of rust and given a new coat of paint. Finally the doors were hung, trimmed, and hung again. The raw edges were painted to keep water at bay. Finally, a small copper tag stamped with a date and the words “New Work” was attached to each new piece to make sure that the timeline remains clear when wind and weather have dulled the bright red paint and faded the shingles to a silvery gray.

View a photo gallery of the barn door project.

Help Historic New England preserve our properties through projects like this with a gift to our Preservation Maintenance Fund.


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Barn doors rebuilt at Cogswell's Grant