The Carlisle TV project loses its house-to-barn connector to make way for a modern ell
It looks simple: Order up a backhoe with a bucket the size of two men, jiggle a few levers in the cab, and start smashing. But while experts make building demolition look easy, it's anything but. Nor is it something we do regularly on This Old House, where homes are preserved and renewed for future generations. Yet despite the controlled destruction you see here, preservation is the plan for the 1849 Bradford Heald House, site of TOH's 25th-anniversary TV project in Carlisle, Massachusetts. By tearing down the tired, dysfunctional ell connector and replacing it with a new structure, TOH general contractor Tom Silva and his crew can bring the classic Greek Revival main house and the 39-by-50-foot 19th-century New England barn neatly into the 21st century.
Raising the Barn
The barn, with its cavernous bays and hand-hewn beams, has problems of its own — mainly rotted sills and floors that must be replaced. But to get to the base of the 65-ton barn, Tom needed to jack up the whole structure. To do that, a crew from Northeast Building Movers spent a few days positioning massive steel I-beams under the barn. Eight hydraulic jacks under those I-beams can gently lift the barn 28 inches, giving Tom plenty of room to install the new floor. "Jacking a barn is actually pretty simple," says Tom. "I'm just glad we don't have to move it anywhere." Transporting such a huge building even a short distance can cost more than building one new — which makes the $21,000 price tag for the barn-jacking seem cheap.
Razing the Ell
As the barn goes up, the ell comes down. Demolition falls to a familiar face around TOH job sites: John Aiello of J.M. McLaughlin Excavating. "I'm going to use the cellar of the ell like a giant mixing bowl," he says on demo day. "I'll try to knock all the debris into the cellar, then crush it into small pieces for the recycling center."
First things first: Before John revs up his excavator, Tom and his subcontractors disconnect all the building's systems. Then Tom uses a reciprocating saw to literally cut the ell free of the main house and barn. Meanwhile, a town inspector certifies that the building contains no hazardous materials like asbestos. Demolition permit in hand, TOH director David Vos is finally ready to yell, "Action!" Aiello swings into gear, and within two hours the ell is, well, history.
A latticework of steel beams under the barn floor will bear the weight of the structure for weeks while TOH general contractor Tom Silva and his crew replace the rotting floor and sill.
"Look what I found," says one of Tom Silva's workers, pretending to toss an iron ball the size of a grapefruit at the TV crew, who are sitting around the dusty parlor floor eating lunch and talking about the project. "A cannonball!" reply four people in unison.
"Where'd it come from?" asks producer Deborah Hood.
"A cannon," says Tom, with a smirk.
In fact, it came from inside a bathroom wall. It's anybody's guess when or why it got there. Someone suggests it could have been used as a sash weight. Executive producer Bruce Irving theorizes it was left as a prank by an early builder who wanted to "confuse archaeologists of the future."
We'll probably never know its origins, but we do hope to have an expert date it. Meanwhile, no one is more impressed than Norm. "In twenty-five years of working on old homes, we've never found anything really cool," he observes. Until now.
Where to Find It
Jeremiah Eck Architects Inc.
Northeast Building Movers
North Hampton, NH
James M. McLaughlin, Inc