This old barn, restored

History meets future: Rather than tearing down a crumbling  barn, Peterborough homeowner takes on project of a lifetime

  • Eric Blackmer in the barn he's renovating in Peterborough
  • Eric Blalckmer in the barn he's renovating in Peterborough
  • Eric Blackmer in the barn he's renovating in Peterborough
  • A view of Eric Blackmer's barn from the backyard of his home.
  • A new metal roof covers the barn Eric Blackmer is restoring in Peterborough.
  • Eric Blackmer in the barn he's renovating in Peterborough
  • Eric Blackmer studies a piece of post-and-beam joinery in the barn he’s restoring in Peterborough.
  • Eric Blackmer studies a piece of post-and-beam joinery in the barn he’s restoring in Peterborough.
  • Eric Blackmer in the barn he's renovating in Peterborough

Last winter, Eric Blackmer had to make a decision. Heavy snowfall had caused the roof of the barn attached to his Grove Street house to collapse. Nothing of value was stored inside the barn, so Blackmer hadn’t lost much. But the contractors he spoke to all suggested that repairs would cost quite a bit more than his insurance settlement. They recommended tearing the barn down and building a smaller garage.

“I couldn’t do that,” Blackmer said recently, as he sat in the center of the barn, surrounded by power tools, windows and roofing panels he plans to install and piles of salvaged wood. “I love this barn. It’s really old, probably built around 1837. It’s been changed so many times over the years. It had been an animal barn at one time. Later it was a carriage house. I fell in love with the idea of keeping it.”

Blackmer, who has lived in the Grove Street house since the mid 1990s, said he envisioned some new uses for the barn.

“The first idea I had was for a greenhouse,” he said. “At some point, I still will want to do that. And I’m a musician. I look around and say ‘This is a music space. There’s a control room over here. Here’s a space for performance.’”

Blackmer said he chose to become his own general contractor after talking to a number of people with experience in post-and-beam construction.

“The barn was beautifully built,” he said. “It’s pretty elaborate work, considering that they used just hand tools — chisels, bit and brace, saws and an adze. But the post-and-beam people have a hard time with doing something nontraditional.”

Blackmer makes his living building recording studios and he’s familiar with construction. So after he finished a studio job in May, he took a week off, and he’s been working on the barn pretty much full time since then.

“I’ve never worked with post and beam before,” he said. “So I’ve been learning as I go. It’s been a wild process.”

Blackmer’s quick to thank Tim Casey, a builder from Wilton, Daniel McMonigal, a friend from Minnesota who has been living with the Blackmer family, and Blackmer’s son, Oliver. All have been helping him out in some way.

The first thing they did was to take down a back section of the barn that was structurally unsound and use some of the lumber to repair other sections.

“I had to replace some of the main carrying beams,” he said. “A lot of wood had to be recut.”

Blackmer has stripped away most of the walls and flooring of the barn and is framing the building with 2-by-6 lumber to hold insulation.

The roof joints were rebuilt and a metal roof now covers much of the barn.

“I filled three very large Dumpsters with roofing and rotted wood,” Blackmer said.

He has a 16-by-16-foot sheet of Lexan, a polycarbonate material that lets in light, that he plans to install as part of the south side roof.

“The center section of the barn had to be raised,” Blackmer said. “I’ve taken up almost every bit of the flooring. I have a lot of 1 inch or 2 inch thick distressed old pine boards, of various widths, and I got big slabs of mahogany. I’m planning to use those to do the flooring.”

Blackmer has been creative in updating the barn’s design. He has six wide French doors that have been, or will be, installed to provide access to the barn from the back and side yards. One wall has a window that’s actually from an eight-foot sliding glass door, installed sideways to provide a view of the back yard. He’s planning to install an arched Palladian window above one set of French doors.

A lot of the new material isn’t really new, but came from ReStore, a discount home improvement center in Nashua that sells donated building materials, appliances, and home furnishing at reduced prices, with the proceeds benefitting Habitat for Humanity.

“It works on many levels,” Blackmer said about ReStore. “Things aren’t going into a landfill, Habitat makes some money, people get tax credits on their donations. Whoever thought of it was brilliant.”

He’s also buying a lot of material locally.

“Home Depot and Belletetes are getting their share, too.”

Blackmer actually got a permit to demolish the barn after the roof collapse, but members of the Heritage Commission encouraged him to rebuild.

“I’m glad they talked me out of it,” he said. “Everyone in the town and the neighborhood has been so supportive. [Code Enforcement Officer] Dario Carrara has been very helpful.”

His goal now is to get the building closed in before winter. Then he can concentrate on the interior.

“A lot of it just hard grunt work,” he said. “It’s sweat equity, really. This is a labor of love.”

Blackmer is planning to build a recording studio and performance space in the barn. He intends to install leaded vinyl, left over from one of his projects, on one wall to dampen sound coming from the barn.

“I have enough to do the whole side, so the neighbors won’t be bothered.”

He said he knows he won’t be able to use the studio for performances under current town ordinances.

“The town is pretty adamant about commercial use in the village district,” Blackmer said. “That could change someday. But as it exists now, this is just a barn.”

Dave Anderson can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 233 or danderson@ledgertranscript.com. He’s on Twitter at @DaveAndersonMLT.

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