Carriage Barn Artifact Triptych

Intriguing artifacts tend to pop up in unlikely places. Rosslyn’s carriage barn, for example.

We’re currently undertaking structural improvements to the larger of the two outbuildings west of our home. In anticipation of a re-roofing project that will include stripping the old leaking asphalt shingles and installing a new standing seam roof next spring, we’re a little over a week into jacking the eastern-most interior bent in order to reduce the deviation of a sagging cross beam. In time all three interior bents will be rehabilitated and fortified to ensure that the circa 1820s building is structurally sound once again.

Rosslyn carriage barn artifact: rudder of the sailboat that sank?

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Sounds technical? It is. But elegant in its simplicity. I’ll save the engineering details for a later post when I can prove a visual illustration of what we’re doing. I don’t want to tempt fate into where little bit further along the process…

For now I’d like to share with you three totally unrelated artifacts that we discovered in the large second-story hay mow while tidying up for the contractors.

When we purchased Rosslyn, the carriage barn was still quite full of architectural salvage, stored lumber and miscellanea inherited from the previous owner who had use the space for almost four decades to store anything and everything that he couldn’t fit into the house. During the first few months after closing on Rosslyn we disposed of anything in the carriage barn and ice house that we didn’t anticipate needing. Any materials that we thought might prove useful later on we’re saved. Over 3-1/2 years of renovation, we added plenty of additional lumber and building materials.

When it came time to repair the too long neglected church barn roof, We knew that an engineer was needed to assess the structural integrity of the building. Although the overall geometry of the walls and roofline were pretty good for building of its age, it was clear that at least one of the bents was beginning to fail. Removing all of the excess weight from the second floor which was contributing to the sag in the floor was obviously necessary, but I needed an engineer to assess the current structural risks and devise a plan for stabilizing and safeguarding the building.

Rosslyn carriage barn artifact: joinery, gears, purpose?

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I’ll tell you the story about a clever Vermonter who calculated the alarming possibilities resulting from a heavy snowfall and who eventually engineered a minimalist and rather elegant solution to the problem.

But for now let’s take a look at these three artifacts which emerged during the cleanup process. I apologize for the poor quality and perspective of all three shots. I shot them quickly with my iPhone without stopping to figure out the best angle so that you can help me decipher the probable function of each artifact.

Of the three, the first is the easiest to recognize. It is a rudder from a sailboat probably in the 15 to 25 foot range, and I suspect that it originally helmed a sailboat belonging to Rosslyn’s previous owner. That story also for another day, but I’ll leave you with the hypothesis that this as well as other miscellaneous nautical parts found in the hay mow once belonged to a sailboat that sank in front of Rosslyn’s boathouse some years ago.

The second artifact is more puzzling. While the sailboat rudder is for all practical purposes intact, this mysterious artifact is but a fragment of some larger mechanism. Combining carefully worked wood with intricate joinery and what appears to be cast-iron gears of some sort, the utility of this artifact has long since expired. I am fascinated with the elaborate cast-iron fabrication and joinery. It seems surprisingly elaborate for what otherwise gives the impression of being some for some sort of farm machinery. Perhaps you have some insight? It would be pleased to sort out the former use of these artifacts.

Rosslyn carriage barn artifact: snow sleigh undercarriage?

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The last of the three artifacts looks vaguely as if it may have been part of a small sleigh. Perhaps a miniature sleigh that would have been used by a child? Although it does not seem to be equipped with full runners along the bottom which would allow it to slide effortlessly over snow or ice, it does have short runners that curve up at the front with small metal eyes, as if they might be used for a rope to pull the sleigh along.

Of course, I may be totally off target. This could be a piece of interior furniture or some agricultural implement with which I have no familiarity. In any case, like the previous artifact, I suspect this is missing essential parts.

What do you think? Could this be a snow slay for a young child? Possibly pulled by a pony rather than full-size horse? I invite you to wonder and speculate, and perhaps we will move a little bit closer to identifying all three items. And then, it might be possible to locate someone who has a need for these items. Certainly that would be the most rewarding update for this blog post, finding meaningful homes for all three Rosslyn artifacts. Let me know what you think!

About virtualDavis

A writer, storyteller and unabashed flâneur, George Davis (aka virtualDavis or G.G. Davis, Jr.) is the author of Rosslyn Redux: Reawakening a home, a dream and ourselves, a transmedia chronicle about rehabilitating an historic property in the Adirondacks with his bride. He blogs about storytelling, poetry, doodling, marginalia, flânerie, publishing, and other creativity-inspired esoterica at; posts sometimes exhilarating, often unnerving, occasionally euphoric, and always pollyanna "midlife mashups" at; chronicles his sailing adventures (and misadventures) at Sailing Errant; and delves into matters of parenting, babylandia, and childfreedom at Why No Kids? George formerly taught and coached at Santa Fe Preparatory School and The American School of Paris, and he co-founded and launched Maison Margaux: "Paris à la parisienne" in Faubourg Saint-Germain. He currently owns and operates Adobe Oasis in Santa Fe, New Mexico with his bride. George meanders on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, YouTube and Flickr.
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8 Responses to Carriage Barn Artifact Triptych

  1. Kim says:

    I want to make a guess on the 2nd photo and say perhaps it was part of a weaving machine? The third part I am thinking is definitely missing parts and size dimensions would be helpful, but I think it is a simple buggy that would have been pulled by one horse. The skinny boards in the middle would have been where the seat attached and the larger area on the back would have been open for carrying gear. It would not have had a top but would have had very large wheels that the body would have sat on top of. Let me know if I am correct. I had one as a child that my dad found at an auction. I put many miles on it!

    • virtualDavis says:

      A weaving machine? That never crossed my mind. Perhaps you’re right. Though I haven’t the vaguest clue what a weaving machine looks like, I do suspect this fragment was part of a more rugged implement. Perhaps something to do with harvesting. Although the joinery is precise, the materials are rugged. The texture is rough. I suspect that a weaving machine would be less robust. I’m probably wrong! Thanks for tackling the mystery artifacts, especially because you may be onto something with the third item. For some reason the shape of the side runners lead me toward the sleigh idea, but your hypothesis seems considerably more accurate. If the light is adequate tomorrow I’ll try get some more images and measurements. Any special requests? I’ll try some different angles too…

      • Kim says:

        I will look for the updated photos. Try to get one of those runners you are seeing. Perhaps its a simple bobsled although lighter than ones I have seen.

        No clue on the second item. Someone will for sure know what it is.

      • virtualDavis says:

        Sorry for the delay, Kim. On NYC / Santa Fe “walkabout”, but will head up to the second floor of the carriage barn as soon as I’m back at Rosslyn, end of next week. Photos and measurements soon!

  2. Kim says:

    Sounds like a great trip. Don’t worry about time. I don’t have any available at the moment anyway. If I see my dad I will ask what he thinks of photo 2 and 3. Not sure if I will see him by then, but he is into that sort of thing too.

  3. Kevin Cooper says:

    Artifact #2 looks like the workings of a Corn Husker or Butter Churn.

    • virtualDavis says:

      Corn husker. Butter churn. Hmmm… Both would make sense. Off to dig around the interwebs to see if I can find some images of old corn huskers and butter churns. Thanks, Kevin!

  4. Kim says:

    Just checking back to see if you have found any more clues in your research? Yes, I am still curious to see what these amazing pieces used to be or do.


Your thoughts?