BRANFORD — One wonders what 19th century entrepreneur Alden M. Young, founder of Branford Electric, would think about the goings-on at his “handsome” barn and shed, once part of his gentleman’s farm in Pine Orchard, as a modern work crew painstakingly disassembled it.
Would he scratch his head or would he recognize that this effort was forward thinking?
The buildings were part of a 3.7-acre parcel abutting Youngs Pond Park in Pine Orchard that were gifted to The Branford Land Trust by Young’s descendants. Now, the 1912 barn and shed are completely deconstructed, with reclaimed woods ending up in homes across the state.
While the land will be kept as open space, the structures didn’t fit in with the land trust’s plans. The land trust did not want to keep and maintain the two buildings, but didn’t want to demolish them outright because of the historic value.
“We just couldn’t take on the long-term maintenance cost,” said Lauren Brown, a member of Branford Land Trust.
“He was kind of a Bill Gates of his time almost with his forward thinking with electricity,” Brown said of Young. Young also brought trolley service and water to Pine Orchard, where he owned vast tracts of land from the shoreline to the highway, near Interstate 95’s Exit 55, she added. Young also was one of the founders of the Pine Orchard Yacht and County Club, and built a sprawling, seaside mansion called The Anchorage, which was torn down in the 1940s.
“This piece is the last of the family holdings in Branford,” Brown said. She noted the Young family donated this parcel, as well as the land that makes up the town’s Young’s Pond Park, a scenic, 48-acre area with walking trails and a dog park in the Pine Orchard section of town.
“There’s a wide dirt roadway that goes through it. A. M. Young used it to use to get to his apple orchards on Sunset Hill,” Brown said about one feature of the small parcel, which features scenic rock outcroppings and wetlands.
So, how do you take down a 109-year-old barn to reuse parts of the antique structure for use in renovation projects of other historical homes?
Very, very carefully and piece by piece.
It required expert knowledge to salvage usable materials from the old buildings.
While the deconstruction was straightforward, there were some surprises in store for contractor Christian Kling, owner of the North Haven firm New England Reuse, as he and his crew dismantled the old structure.
They learned that the barn had been rebuilt and moved over the centuries, and found rare, old wood from the 1800s.
“We found hand-hewn beams in there,” he said, adding that these materials were probably reused in the existing structure from an earlier barn from 1800.
“I never expected I would find that,” he said. “The beams from underneath the first floor were from a much earlier building.”
That was unusual because in the 19th century, old, dilapidated barns often were destroyed rather than salvaged.
“They would burn it and save the nails,” he said. The nails required more labor to produce than the wooden boards and were more valuable. That’s why wooden pegs often were used in early construction in New England, Kling explained, because of the expense of nails.
Finding a home for these reclaimed materials was not difficult — in fact, there was a demand among owners of antique homes.
“The materials were much better” than what is available nowadays, he said, and noted its “aesthetics and the historical value ... the age of the wood and how it looks.”
“The look – you can’t that that look by staining and it’s the grain,” he said about the appeal of the hard-to-find aged pine and Douglas fir boards that were found.
The old wood has a unique appearance because, centuries ago, trees were allowed to grow much taller before harvesting and developed more interesting grain patterns. Much of the old tree growth here happened after the Revolutionary War. Before American independence, much of New England was practically deforested, according to Kling.
“The British came and cut almost every tree in New England,” he said. “When they clear cut, they cut they cut all the way to Vermont.”
So how did the Branford Land Trust come up with the idea of deconstructing the barn instead of simply demolishing it?
At first, the land trust tried to find a new home for the structure to relocate it with the help of the New Haven Preservation Trust, but had no success.
Relocating a building is a “a painstaking, detailed, and expensive process often costing more than new construction,” according to the Branford Land Trust.
So the land trust went to plan B — deconstruct the buildings for reuse of materials.
That’s where Kling came in, “stripping” the barn and shed to “their bones, and neatly piling the boards and windows for delivery to their warehouse in North Haven,” according to the land trust.
“We’re a different kind of company,” Kling said about his commercial firm, which was founded in 2015 as part of a collaboration with nonprofit Reuse People of America. Kling is the district head of the nonprofit operation “from Manhattan to Maine.”
It was easy to find customers for the pieces of the Branford barn. For one home in Washington, the siding of the barn “actually matched his original floor” and was used to refurbish it.
More pieces of the barn quickly found new homes. Some 2,000 feet of siding had been sold to a “a starving artist” to build an art studio in Hamden, Kling said.
A Washington, Conn., resident bought 1,000 feet of Douglas Fir siding to match his existing floorboards, circa 1890.
All of the barn flooring was sold to a resident in North Stonington, eight of the larger hand-hewn beams were bought by a Northford resident, and some of the rafters became a custom bar top for a residence in Hamden.
Most often when a historical building is demolished, Kling said, “If someone was going to demo a house – they just knock it down and it goes in a dumpster.”
His company, he said, starts at the roof, saves brickwork from the chimney, looks at the cabinets, flooring and siding. Then they look beneath the surface at the bones of the structure. Even the bricks could have value, as some of the older Connecticut-made ones often have their manufacturer molded into them.
“We save all that — that’s what a lot of people want. They’re paying top dollar to have it made,” Kling said.
And the land trust was happy to be a part of this process.
“We feel it’s a shame that more people don’t know about this deconstruction alternative because the cost is the same and environmentally its much sounder,” Brown said.
Land trust President Peter Raymond agreed.
“We feel really good about having these materials reused and kept out of the waste stream,” Raymond said. “We encourage people to consider this process for their own projects.”
“The sustainable deconstruction of buildings is a simple alternative which gives building materials a chance to be reused,” Diana McCarthy-Bercury, Branford’s sustainability and compliance manager, said in a release.
“Decommissioning projects, such as this one, help save energy and conserve natural resources that would have otherwise been used to create new materials,” McCarthy-Bercury said.
For more information about deconstruction, contact the Branford Land Trust at 203-483-5263 or email@example.com.