Bedford History: Barns of Bedford

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a series of columns about Bedford history written by Robert Brooks, a 55-year resident and history buff. He has served as a selectman (12 years), library trustee (15 years) and founder of Parks and Recreation (1975), and served on numerous other boards throughout his years in town. The column will appear monthly. This is Part 1 of a two-part series.

In 1888, Gordon Woodbury, a member of a prominent Bedford family, purchased a large tract of land at the corner of South River Road and Kilton Road that also included a large square house known as "The Soper Place."

Woodbury’s intention was to build a large barn complex and start a dairy business. The barns would become known as the largest barn complex north of Boston for many years.

Upon completion of his design, he engaged the Taffe brothers, Charles and Andrew, of Bedford, to construct the 50- by 100-foot main barn. The brothers traveled to Littleton, more than 100 miles, to personally choose the seasoned spruce timbers, 8 by 8 inches and 50 feet long, and haul the timbers by horse team to the Bedford site. The 20-acre site was purchased for $16 some years earlier by the family.

In today’s world, a trip to Littleton on Interstate 93 at 70 mph would take about 11/2 hours. Just imagine the task the Taffe brothers had to contend with in 1898, with the only choice being one long dirt road with a team of strong horses plodding along for days on end.

The full-frame layout was started in fall 1898. The brothers worked all winter laying out framework for the main building to be 100 feet long, 50 feet wide and three floors high. All the joints, braces and crossbars were put together. Two sections of the full height and width were mortised and fitted together on the ground.

In spring 1899, the frame was completed and the townspeople gathered for the raising. Fifty men, using long prop poles, heaved each section upright. Others lifted the connecting members into place, and the Taffe brothers climbed aloft to set the wooden pegs that locked the frame together.

Of the hundreds of mortised and fitted joints, only one failed to fit. With this corrected, the skeleton of the building stood upright and solid. Even without roof or sides, the three-story, 50- by 100-foot barn stood rigid and strong, just as it does today.

The carriage house section and milk room, with turret, were added after the completion of the main struture.

There was much merrymaking that day. The designer’s son, Dr. George Woodbury, a well-known New Hampshire historian, remembers his father telling him of the raising. With the frame raising completed, Woodbury sent the Taffe brothers to the "pitching hole" in the center of the building to carve their names into the main timber. The irony of the situation was that neither of the brothers could read or write. So Woodbury wrote it out and they skillfully cut the legend "A.J. and C.D. Taffe" into the main beam, where it can still be found 116 years later.

Next: Part 2 of the Woodbury estate barns, from the 1950s to today.

(Source: "History of Bedford, N.H., 1737-1971.")