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A good, ol' fashioned barn-raising in Norwich

Norwich — Richard Hamar, 79, helped raise the timber frame of a neighbor’s barn at a community barn raising on Saturday.

“Everybody pitched in and got it vertical. That was the hard part,” Hamar said. He and about 15 others lifted the nearly 1,000-pound frame off the ground, then used poles to help raise it.

Thomas Wendland’s house at 165 Rockwell St. in Norwich was built in 1853, and he wanted a barn for the property. He brought in the Barn Raisers of East Haddam, which builds barns using techniques from the 1700s and 1800s, and raises them by drawing on the help of friends, neighbors and community volunteers — just as it would have been done hundreds of years ago.

Company owner Brendan Matthews employs two people and designed the Norwich barn. Matthews and his employees pre-cut the wood using handsaws and chisels. They fastened together the timber frame structure, with the help of volunteers, using only wood joints and pegs.

“If you want a building to last for generations and generations, this is the way you want to build,” Matthews said. “This is why the old colonial homes are still standing.” The barn raised on Saturday was his 98th structure.

The crew started with a pile of boards at 8 a.m. It was 22 degrees outside and some of the wood pieces had frozen together. The group chiseled them apart and waited until 9 a.m. to have enough volunteers, or about 20 people, to get started.

Splint Brewster, 70, of Haddam Neck, is one of Matthews’ employees. “Every time I think about retiring, I wonder, ‘What am I going to do?’ I enjoy it.”

Brad Sellew, 67, lives next door to Matthews’ father and volunteered to help. He’s been to about ten barn raisings. He recalled Matthews organizing about 100 volunteers at a barn raising when Matthews was 24 years old.

“The command that he had over the entire group of volunteers was amazing,” Sellew said. “He knew exactly what he wanted to do. And I kept looking and thinking, ‘How old is this kid?’”

The barn, built of Eastern white pine, will have hand-carved cedar trim to match the house. Wendland helped paint the trim with Linseed oil and turpentine.

“I’m very impressed with it,” Hamar said of the structure. “It’s nice that it happened right around the corner on Rockwell Street. You don’t often see this here.”


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