The 1889 Merrill Stevens barn

The Chester Select Board has been discussing tearing down the Merrill Stevens/Jeffrey barn. I thought I should record here what I know about the barn and the brick silo before they are lost. Cunrad Merritt and Ted Spaulding helped me with this history.

Merrill Stevens barn and silo in Chester. Photo by Ron Patch

The barn

Someone told me years ago when Merrill Stevens built this barn, he overbuilt it. What I remember most are the timbers Merrill insisted on. He wanted timbers up to 60 feet long that when sawn they would be 10” x 12” square from end to end. Trees of this size were not available locally. The trees for the barn were found in Weston. It was built in 1889.

I envision these logs being trucked to Chester drawn by a team of six or eight horses or a similar number of oxen. There would have been a heavy wheeled front truck with a platform right behind the driver that the butts rested on. Another truck would have been positioned about two-thirds of the way to the rear allowing the logs to extend 10 feet or so. Driving these logs up out of Weston must have been something to see.

Now comes sawing the timbers. A good sawyer was a well-paid and respected man. Before making any cuts, the sawyer closely examined the log. He knew where to make his cuts to maximize the timber’s strength.

They might have been sawn on the Jeffrey site. Being so long, each end of the saw would have required a very long table to support the log as it was sawn. Slabs would have been impossible to handle in these lengths. Every 10 feet or so, around circumference of the log, they cut into the log four or more inches deep. This way, when the saw came to a cut, a much shorter and easier to handle slab would fall off.

  The brick silo

Cunrad Merritt silo in Londonderry showing the precast forms. Photo by Ron Patch

Years ago, Tom Merritt, Cunrad’s brother, told me that Guy Earle built the round brick silo at the Jeffrey barn. Guy was a mason in Chester in the early 1900s. I find him in the 1910 Chester Business Directory living on Main Street.

Tom Merritt had worked for Guy Earle when he was a young man. Tom told me Guy built four of these brick silos in the area. One is at the Jeffrey barn. The second was on Route 11 West at Mrs. Oelschlager’s place, now gone. The third silo is at Cunrad Merritt’s place. The fourth silo is just off Scott Pet Road.

These silos are all of the same construction although heights and diameters vary. Technically, these silos are made of tiles, not bricks, the difference being tiles are hollow. I was able to study the Merritt silo up close so I can give you an idea how they were constructed.

First a footing was prepared below frost line. The first course of bricks was laid on the footing. A gap about three feet wide running from top to bottom was left open. Course after course of tiles were laid. Once it was a couple feet high a precast concrete frame was inserted in the gap and anchored to both sides. These precast concrete frames resemble a window jam in a house. As the silo rose more precast concrete frames were put in place.

Cunrad Merritt silo in Londonderry showing iron brackets to attach the roof. Photo by Ron Patch

These precast frames would have had wooden doors. When the silo was full with silage, the uppermost door would be opened and the silage shoveled into a chute. The silage would slide down the chute into the barn to feed the cows. As the silage level dropped, the door below was opened and the process repeated.

In some places where the cement has fallen off the exterior of the Merritt silo, you can see round steel hoops about 3/8” in diameter. These hoops were added every eight or ten courses and go completely around the silo for reinforcement.

When Cunrad’s parents bought the farm in 1923, the silo was already there. Cunrad thinks the silo was built in 1919, adding, “It took Guy Earle nine weeks to complete the silo.” He also told me Guy built nine of these brick silos in Vermont but Cunrad didn’t know the other locations.

Let’s hope the Select Board saves the silo and cleans out the brush and grapevines on and around the silo. It looks terrible as it is. A roof should be made to cover the silo. This way it’ll be around another 100 years. It’s not a terribly expensive repair. Ted gave me a photo showing the silo roof so I now know what it looked like.

This week’s old saying. “Two wrongs don’t make a right but it does make you even.”

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