In Amherst, barn building with a twist

  • A post-and-beam barn being built at Jim Hoerle’s home in Amherst, Foxcroft Farm. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • A post and beam barn being built at Jim Hoerle's home in Amherst, Foxcroft Farm. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • A close-up of the post-and-beam construction going into the barn being built at Foxcroft Farm. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jim Hoerle stands in the post-and-beam barn being built at his home, Foxcroft Farm, in Amherst. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jim Hoerle stands in the post and beam barn being built at his home, Foxcroft Farm, in Amherst. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jim Hoerle stands in the post-and-beam barn being built at Foxcroft Farm. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jim Hoerle stands in the post and beam barn being built at his home, Foxcroft Farm, in Amherst. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 9/22/2017 11:49:00 PM

AMHERST — Horses and cows, and perhaps some goats, will call a post-and-beam barn under construction, using centuries-old building techniques, their home next spring.

The prominent structure, with beams made from Douglas fir grown in the Pacific Northwest, is going up at Foxcroft Farm on South East Street.

“It’s been my dream for a number of years to build an authentic timber-frame barn,” said farm owner James Hoerle. “Now this will be here for another couple of hundred years and generations to come.”

Hoerle, 64, a retired builder, and his wife, Margaret, purchased the 92-acre site in 2013. Hoerle said he sees the barn as an important element of bringing the former Thompson Farm back to life.

Hardwick Post & Beam developed plans for the barn, which will have six stalls for Hoerle’s horses, that he currently keeps off-site, as well as dairy cows that he hopes to acquire. There will be lofts with significant space to store hay.

Hardwick CEO Christian Gudmund said handling a post-and-beam barn is unusual, but there are farmers interested in building them because of their character and durability.

“Post-and-beam is sort of a romantic notion to the horse farm,” Gudmund said.

Gudmund said once designs were complete, his company made a lumber list and sent this to Eugene, Oregon, where the Douglas fir timbers were cut to the right length and then shipped east.

His employees then spent six weeks cutting, using some small power tools but also hammers and chisels and hand planers, so pieces assembled on-site fit precisely.

Using virtually no nails, but rather true mortise and tenon joint construction techniques, including oak pegs, the workers constructed the frame for the 2,800-square-foot building to hold in place the large 6-by-10 foot beams.

Hardwick workers are still fabricating the authentic cupola, which is both decorative and functional, that will top the barn. The cupola includes eight custom-made movers to bring air into the building.

The cupola will look much like those on historic homes, including ones closer to the center of town near the Emily Dickinson Museum, Hoerle said.

With the frame complete, workers from R.C. Keddy Building and Contractors, also of Hardwick, are putting on the shingles and windows, and will soon begin adding the Eastern white pine vertical board to the exterior.

The barn is the latest part of renovation of the farm that included demolition of an existing dilapidated barn and clearing the fields and restoring them. There will also be fences so horses, cows and goats can graze.

Much of the land is soil that isn’t good for produce crops, but is good for haying, Hoerle said. This year, 60 acres were in hay production, serving area farms, including Muddy Brook Farm.

Earlier, Hoerle was paid $732,600 to put the property into the state’s Agricultural Preservation Restriction Program, meaning the land can’t be developed in the future. Hop Brook runs through a portion of the farm, and at its eastern edge is the Norwottuck Rail Trail.

While Hoerle said he doesn’t know how much the barn will cost, he estimates it is four to five times as expensive as metal barn. This shows an investment into the long-term viability of the property from the money he was paid to preserve the land.

The barn will also benefit the animals, with six stalls, each 12 feet by 14 feet, larger than conventional stalls.

“A little more room will make the animals happy,” Hoerle said.

The entrances will also be large enough to bring in the wagons with hay and get the hay into the lofts.

A small cellar area for mechanical equipment and perhaps eventually a cheese-making operation takes up a portion of the barn.

The unusual sight of the barn has become of interest to passing motorists, with most who stopped by asking when the church would be opening and having services, Hoerle said.

Hoerle said he plans to have period-appropriate landscaping between the barn and the 18th century farmhouse that he previously restored, along with a sign showing the name of the farm.

Being a steward of the land and protecting the view of the Pelham hills was an important part of the project.

“I hope to have one of the best-looking farms in Amherst,” Hoerle said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at


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