BROOKS, Maine — All last winter, master timber framer Bud Menard of Jackson worked for many hours during the long, cold days — about 600 hours — to prepare and carefully fit the heavy beams, posts and braces that eventually would become the new barn for the Brooks Historical Society.
That day arrived on Saturday, when Menard and his sons were joined by volunteers from the historical society who labored together cheerfully, as in days of yore, to raise the barn.
“Everyone comes together for a barn raising,” Emma Menard of Searsport, Bud Menard’s daughter-in-law, said outside of the historic Pilley house on Moosehead Trail in Brooks. “It brings the community together.”
Last year, the historical society of this small Waldo County town started working in earnest to raise enough money to build the barn next to the house that has served as its home since 2005. The rooms of the Pilley house are crowded with furniture, clothes and memorabilia from the 1800s and early 1900s, and Betty Littlefield, president of the historical society, said that the members needed more room for both storage and for exhibits.
“We needed a barn, because you can see we’re rather crowded,” Littlefield, 89, said. “There’s a lot of history here.”
Although the society applied for and received a $15,000 grant from the Davis Family Foundation to help buy materials for the timber-frame barn, and it also received donations in amounts ranging from $10 to $1,000, a total of $21,000 or so would not have paid for the labor, skill and time involved in building a barn the old-fashioned way.
Enter Bud Menard, who said he would donate his time to get the job done.
“We’re very fortunate,” Littlefield said. “We wanted a barn that was built in the traditional way. I know it will be very beautiful inside.”
Menard, a bearded man wearing brown Carhartt overalls and a worker’s apron, spent Saturday in a whirlwind of barn-raising action.
He is humble, Littlefield said, and did not want a lot of attention paid to him. He told her it might be one of his last timber frame barns, and that he was glad he’ll be able to go inside it after it is all finished.
The historical society will have the grand opening for the barn next year, during the Brooks’ bicentennial celebration.
“I’m sure we’ll be able to have wonderful exhibits out there,” she said. “We’ll be able to do so much with this barn.”
Then Littlefield walked outside and exclaimed over the progress that had been made.
“Oh, isn’t it beautiful,” she said.
Although the barn went up quickly on Saturday, a lot of preparation had to happen in advance to make that progress possible, according to Bryan Menard, Bud Menard’s son and a builder himself. In modern construction, builders use smaller pieces of wood and build as they go, using nails to join them together.
But that doesn’t happen with traditional timber frame construction. In Brooks, Menard and his crew connected the fitted and joined timbers of local pine with “mortise and tenon” joints and pegs that are hewn out of hardwood. No nails or other hardware was used in the frame or floor of the Brooks barn.
“It was what you did with what you had at the time,” Bryan Menard said of the labor-intensive, hardware-light process.
Although in most ways the new barn would be very familiar to Maine builders of a century ago, Bud Menard and the others did take advantage of some modern technologies. A crane operator hoisted the heavy timbers into place, as the men clambering on the frame used tools to make sure they fit snugly together.
Bryan Menard said that his father apprenticed with a master timber framer in Connecticut as a young man. Timber frame construction went through something of a revival in the United States beginning in the 1970s, and Menard said that a well-made timber frame barn can last for generations.
“It’s an heirloom-quality building. It puts a smile on your face,” he said. “It’s something to be proud of, it really is.”