CHATHAM – Years ago, when folks wanted to move a building, the most efficient way was to take it apart piece by piece – a process known as flaking – and reassemble it at another location. Because it is so labor intensive, that's not done often these days, when it's easier to use modern machinery to simply pick up and move a building in one piece.
However, the historic barn at 68 Shell Dr. is too fragile to move that way. So the Nickerson Family Association plans to flake the barn, built around 1700 by the son of Chatham founder William Nickerson, whose name was also named William.
The 20-by-30-foot barn will be flaked over the next few weeks and put in storage while the association gets the necessary permits to reassemble it at its campus on Orleans Road, where it will be used for educational programs and to provide an example of early Colonial barn construction.
“It's a rare opportunity to save some of the original fabric that's part of Chatham and its early history,” said Robert Nickerson, president of the Nickerson Family Association.
Nickerson was before the community preservation committee last week to discuss the association's request for $300,000 in Community Preservation Act funds to cover the cost of rebuilding the antique barn. The association is currently raising the $30,000 it will cost to flake and store the barn. Two weeks ago the historical commission endorsed the project.
The owner of 68 Shell Dr., Joe Giacalone, is donating the barn to the association. He plans to build a new house on the waterfront lot, and will preserve the home built by William Nickerson II around 1700 as a guest house.
The barn may be the oldest in town, Nickerson said. As part of the project, the Nickerson Association is planning to hire a dendrochronologist to date the wood to confirm its age.
During the flaking process, Brewster consultant Ian Ellison, an expert timber framer, will document and evaluate each element of the building. Each piece will be numbered and a map created to guide reconstruction. Only the tools and techniques that would have been used in the original construction will be used to rebuild the barn, said Nickerson.
“Everything we're doing is going to be done by hand, as it was in the day,” he said. “We're not going to use drills, hammers, whatever. Everything is going to be like it was built in the late 1600s.”
Some of the elements of the barn, such as the roof components and shingles, are not original and will be replaced by new live wood that will replicate as close as possible the original material.
Ellison is a key person in the project, which is being overseen by Parker Homes, Nickerson said. The timber framer is on the team restoring timber frames lost in the 2019 Notre Dame fire, and worked on an 1850s-era barn that Nickerson restored in Harwich Port.
“He is a high-level timber framer,” Nickerson said of Ellison.
Pending approval by town regulatory boards, the antique barn will be placed on a concrete slab foundation between the restored 1829 Caleb Nickerson house and the Nickerson Association headquarters building. Engineers and surveyors are currently delineating nearby wetlands and developing plans, Nickerson said.
The process of reassembling the structure should take five to six months.
“We're going to have a barn raising when the time comes,” said Nickerson.
The committee did not vote on whether to endorse the Nickerson Association application, which is necessary for the funding request to go before town meeting voters in May. A vote will be taken at a later date, once all CPA applications have been reviewed.