By Kristina Powers Aubry, former vice-chair of the Vicksburg Historical Society
Work on the Community Pavilion is nearly finished with the standing-seam metal roofing being put in place. The original plan had the roofing materials and electrical installations finished sometime around Thanksgiving. All other work was finished but the heavy-duty steel material was late in arriving due to manufacturing difficulties. Now the roofers are working in between snow storms and cold weather to get the attractive and functional roof in place.
Discussions during the planning stage of the project included the positive and negatives of putting a colored roof as opposed to the unpainted silver color. The silver would match the roof of the Village Garage and the Farmstead Barn in the Historic Village, both of which can be seen from the pavilion. One look at the deep green metal being put on the structure has reinforced the selection as the perfect color, according to members of the planning committee. “The green brings out the character of the wood used in the pavilion,” commented Margaret Kerchief, past-president of the Vicksburg Historical Society and one of the chief project overseers. “I wasn’t sure at first, but now I certain that this was the right decision.”
Once the roof is on the building, the final chore will be for Dan Oswalt of Oswalt Electric, to finish installing the electrical service from the base of the posts to the ceiling and installing the light fixtures. The electrical design was based on the needs for general use and the specific needs of both the Lions Club for their Summer Festival and the Vicksburg Farmers’ Market. Once the wiring is finished and the light fixtures have been put in place, the Vicksburg Community Pavilion will be ready for users in the spring.
One final piece of business is to raise the last $15,000 needed to complete the work. So many people have made contributions to the project since it began over two years ago. By an actual count, over 700 individuals, families and businesses from all over the U.S., Canada, Europe, South America and Australia have played a part in constructing the pavilion this far with both cash and in-kind donations. The Vicksburg Foundation supported in the amount of $163,000, the Kalamazoo Community Foundation for $10,000 and individual donations totaling $97,000. Additional donations of materials, consultations and services totaling an estimated $100,000 have been critical to bring this outstanding project so close to the finale.
Now, the Historical Society hopes area citizens will take up the challenge to ‘Finish the Pavilion.’ “Every donation we receive will bring us closer to raising every last cent we need to do it right,” said Bob Smith, new president of the Vicksburg Historical Society. “We hope that everyone who hears of the need for the last few dollars will look at it as an opportunity to put their name in the history of this outstanding project.” For information on benefits of donations of more than $500, contact the Historical Society at 649-1733. Tax-deductible contributions should be marked Pavilion Project and sent to: The Pavilion Project, Vicksburg Historical Society, 300 North Richardson Street, Vicksburg MI 49097. The Vicksburg Historical Society is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. With the last bit of help the Vicksburg Community Pavilion will be ready to be the site of many grand events as soon as the weather breaks, Smith reinterated.
The symbolic handing over of the keys to the new pavilion by the Historical Society leadership took place at the last December meeting of the Vicksburg Village Council. Having no keys to give since the structure has no doors, Margaret Kerchief and Kristina Powers Aubry, president and vice-president respectively, handed over a block of wood to Ken Schippers, acting village manager.
The two representatives of the Historical Society were leaving their posts as officers at the end of December and wanted to tie up loose ends of their two years of work on the pavilion and other projects.
It has been the norm in the past for any building constructed in the Historic Village to be given over to Village ownership, once it has been completed, as the park is Village property.
A unique arrangement between the Village, the Historical Society and the Historic Village was worked out in 2007 where the buildings’ interiors are the Society’s responsibility, but the land and the exterior of the buildings are owned and cared for by the Village of Vicksburg.
Thus, the ceremonial keys to the pavilion were handed over. Nevertheless, Powers Aubry and Kerchief cited the work that still needs to be accomplished for the spring opening of the Farmers’ Market. The steel roof, the electrical finishing work, and future construction of bathrooms will be needed to complete the project.
Additional funds will be needed but the Council accepted the symbolic keys with the caveat that the Historical Society would continue to raise money and complete the construction through Frederick Construction Company which has donated time and talents to coordinate the project.
Powers Aubry also gave an update on the Historic Village Committee’s strategic plan, which was finalized in December, so that she could feel that her work was done. She has been the long-serving chair of this committee that is appointed by the Village Council and answerable to it via yearly reports.
The plan includes other buildings that might be built in the Historic Village. A general store is envisioned with a sweet shop, such as Doris-Lee’s used to be. Much of their equipment was donated to the Historical Society a few years ago.
A small chapel to go with the gazebo already on the property would follow so that weddings could be performed in an enclosed place. Other buildings in the dreaming stages are an opera house, a granary, spring house, and a mint.
Squinting against the bright September sky, project foreman Rick Collins surveyed the scene before him. Something extraordinary was about to happen in the small town of Vicksburg. “I would go so far as to say that it’s probably been well over one hundred years since anyone has built a structure this way,” he declared. The 120-by-46-by-24 foot post-and-beam construction would take 70 timber framers and 2900 board feet to build…plus about 3500 paper plates (recyclable). More specifically: carpenters and apprentices from 20 US states, Canada, France, England and Poland; white ash, oak, black locust, poplar, and cherry donated from local landowners; and paper plates full of homemade food prepared by 330 members of the local community. All that after two years of dreaming, planning, and the fundraising necessary for the vision to be realized: a pavilion where the farmer’s market, summer festivals, and special events of Vicksburg, Michigan, would have their home for the next few centuries.
Assuming certain minor details could be worked out.
“Did you pick this portapotty spot? …because if you did, I’m going to start doubting your management skills. I’m about to pick another one.” The very no-nonsense Alicia Spence didn’t wait for the local historical society hosts to answer, but delegated the relocation of the mobile relief stations without breaking stride. Spence, project manager extraordinaire of the Timber Framers Guild, knows what it takes to deliver a project of this magnitude efficiently. That’s why she’s in charge—the HMFWIC, as it were. For the uninitiated, that’s “head-mother-bleeper-whut’s-in-charge,” to quote the English-accented carpenter who put it that way. Laughter followed from his mostly-American colleagues in “Braceland,” the tent where the group was busy building braces. Apparently, the HMFWIC is a universally understood referent.
Indeed, the pace of progress over ten early fall days required vast quantities of leadership, skill, efficiency, and people. According to Collins, who owns Trillium Dell Timberworks out of Knoxville, Illinois, “you need about five thousand man hours to do a project like this. Based on the crew we’ve pulled together, that means every person has to be productive for ten hours a day on this site.” Incredibly, that’s just what happened. “Although it’s not all been perfect, but I guess we don’t want to anger the gods,” said Kristina Powers Aubry, a host from the Vicksburg Historical Society. Co-host Bob Smith added good-naturedly, “Well, I’m more worried about angering the guys with the power tools.”
Made of Sturdy Stuff
This kind of work isn’t for the faint of heart. Every gritty, safety-goggled worker bent over a tool was putting his or her whole heart and soul into the endeavor. Richard Barnes, who owns a saw mill south of town, turned the logs to timbers, then he joined dozens of volunteers from the TFG and local community who put in long days on the construction. For many, it was their first timber framing experience. Some were getting a good dose of OJT from TFG instructors. Others were the kind of woodworkers who just might be using some of their grandfather’s tools as well as an iPhone FingerCAD app. It’s that reverence for old world ways combined with new age technology that is the hallmark of timber framing today.
Spence says, “Timber framing is about rediscovering this age-old wisdom of constructing things with the raw material of wood alone…to bring the language of the past into the codes of the present. It used to be, ‘ok, I’ve got a snow load on this beam, how much will it take before it’ll break?’ Today, we take the tree species, the wind volume; we do a drawing in 3-D to apply stresses on a building, and then look at all the variables. The computer analysis figures it out. We can push the envelope of what’s possible.”
“We take the ancient art of timber framing and apply the science of technology. It’s a true gift of the computer world. Then you can build the whole thing without power, and we’ve done that.” Alicia hesitated just a moment, adding with a wry grin, “there are a few die-hards…the ’take an axe, get an ox,’ types; but me? I do love that mortise machine.”
Free Room and Board
With so many workers coming from faraway places, the question of room and board had to be answered. A tent city was put up beside the community garden next to the worksite for anyone preferring a camping experience. Others were welcomed into homes around town. The Nazarene Church was available for showers. It was one of many churches that provided hot meals. So did organizations like the local garden club. Member Martha Stanley dubbed her peanut butter oatmeal chocolate chippers Lumberjack Cookies in honor of occasion. As the workers came through the line in the dining tent, she’d ask each one where they were from and visit with them. “They were so friendly and thankful for the food. That made me feel full,” Martha said.
Members of the community and local businesses volunteered countless hours to ensure that three squares a day were ready for the crew. The Rise-N-Dine, Subway, Main Street Grill, Apple Knockers Ice Cream Parlor, Erbelli’s, and Jaspare’s Pizza all donated meals, complementing the homemade fare from local churches, groups, clubs, even designated neighborhoods. Karen Hammond of the Vicksburg Historical Society managed the herculean task of coordinating meal donations and the business end of things in the dining tent. Not a day went by that someone who hadn’t even signed up for food duty would drop by with something to keep the snack table stocked. Hammond says she loved every minute of it.
“The feeling you get from working together to pull something like this off is incredible. We could have just had it catered, or left cold cuts and bread on a table for sandwiches, but we wanted to put the extra effort in to show how much this means to us as a community,” she reflected. “The whole experience was something that might have been typical in my grandparent’s time, but for us it was really something exceptional. We made new friends, and got closer to the ones we already had.”
Connecting the Past and the Present
Before dawn, the smells of a morning campfire and fresh sawn wood from the cut-post tent hang in the air. There’s something time-capsuling about the scent—how it would have been the same for workers 500 years ago. It’s an olfactory trigger to timber framing’s visceral connection of the past and present. “You look at an old woodcut from the Renaissance period showing all the work stations and processes involved in putting up a cathedral maybe 900 years ago—every aspect of the trade; we’ve got that same thing happening here today,” says Rick Collins. “Everything is happening right here. You could call me a ‘localvore’. I like seeing local people and resources doing local construction. That’s sustainability. It’s the closest connection we have to our past. We lost that through industrialization…we need to regain it.”
When the Timber Framers Guild does projects like the Vicksburg Pavilion, it proves that people can harvest their own wood, use local labor, and make something that the whole community can be a part of, says Collins, “I believe we should be doing more of that.”
Margaret Kerchief, president of the Historical Society, agrees this “has brought the community together in a shared experience that emphasized giving toward a greater cause without hesitation, and the pride in having achieved something lasting.”
The real “joinery” of the Vicksburg Pavilion is about the community coming together. It’s a community that includes people who might have come from somewhere else in the world. Kristina Powers Aubry put it this way, “We’ve met artists, poets, philosophers, and kings, white collars, blue collars, and no collars from all over the world here in our little corner of it.” Alicia Spence agrees. It’s not just the wood work, but what happens when all those woodworkers meet in the dining tent at the end of the day. They’re all there to share the workload as well as the blueberry pie. “I would say the community service element is really what makes this a matter of the heart. There’s a lot of ways to build something. You could put a pole building up—it’s faster and cheaper. But with a project like this, there’s an old-fashioned barn-raising feel to it. It joins us together in a way that’s so absent in American culture. It really brings out the best in people,” Spence explains. “We’re not just building buildings…we’re building community.”
Insights from Rick Collins, the project’s lead instructor and founder of Trillium Dell Timberworks, based in Illinois.
The community frame for the people of Vicksburg will be an important landmark for years to come. It’s an expression of Chris Newman’s vision. (Chris is their local timber framer.) Michigan, like much of the rest of the U.S., is a melting pot of cultures, ideas, and people, and so will this frame be. Built entirely of local materials, it’s got a variety of wood from a whole host of folks around the country and in the community itself.
Woods used in this frame: cherry, black locust, white oak, red oak, white ash, white pine, and yellow poplar. All of this material was sawn, locally, just weeks before. Today we are in full swing laying out and cutting the timber frame. We’ll be building the first of 11 trusses in our assembly area on cribbing.
Multiple species in a single frame can be a challenge, but this too is an expression of the local woodland. Tom Nehil and Ben Trojniak did the engineering for this project, and engineered the wood as well to place species in specific locations throughout the structure.
Using a variety of species is an excellent way to sustainably harvest timber that is not grown in a monoculture. It also promotes healthy forests and ecosystems by providing a variety of habitats, and it guards against the multitude of diseases that monoculture crops are subject to. Certainly this vision is the future of timber framing.
Then we’ll bring all of these pieces together for fit up in an assembly area separate from the cutting stations. Cutting 29,000 bd.ft. in a few short days is a challenge; this method will allow us to accomplish it quickly and accurately.
By Kristina Powers Aubry as posted on the Timber Framers Guild blog site
It’s amazing what one can learn about complete strangers in a very short time. As one of the three women who have tried to make a campground and building site homey and comfortable for the framers while they spend their days diligently chiseling, sawing, hammering and winching, we have learned a lot about the gang.
There are the early risers. Those rare few who stir before we drive in at 5 a.m. to get the coffee perking. They move slowly but deliberately through the dark, getting things started. And the late risers. We know that until we see the slowly ambling stride of the only one who just can’t hear the “dinner bell” ringing right near his tent, it’s not time to clear up the breakfast yet.
We know who, in spite of the near freezing temperatures overnight, comes to the table in flip-flops, bare footed, or in slippers; who likes quiet and soft conversation first thing in the morning; and who hits the ground running and ready for life with a roar.
We’ve learned how nearly everyone likes to arrange their food. Some are “all-togethers” who dish up everything in their own dish, making interesting combinations of flavors and textures; some the separate, tidy “no touching” arrangement of selections. There are the loaders whose economy of energy won’t require a return trip to the buffet; and the one-at-a-timers who like to savor each item on its own and make return trips.
We have learned that not only models are vegetarians. The mountains of fruits and vegetables that have been consumed in the past 10 days would make the Department of Agriculture and the FDA giggle with glee. One afternoon a local stopped by to see what was going on and noticed some bananas on the table. He asked if we picked them up at the local grocery in the mornings. When we told him we did, he understood why, when he went in to buy his, they were all gone. He left and returned with 7 bags of bananas to keep us supplied and he was able to buy a few of his own for a couple of days.
We know the milk-drinkers, the coffee-holics, and the water- onlys. We know that even as produce-conscious as the framers are, sweets are part of the picture, too.
I’d estimate over two thousand cookies of all shapes and sizes have passed through the dining tent with only a few crumbs remaining. The nine home-made, fresh Michigan fruit pies for dessert at lunch will go down in TFG food history. So many residents have taken the project to heart that they started dropping by with unsolicited trays of cookies and baked goods.
Of our 50 participants, to whom 10 days ago we were just being introduced, we have learned many things. We now think of ourselves rather like the sisters who know a lot, wouldn’t tell a soul about the private things, but know how to make things “right” when we see the gang heading to the dining tent. We’ve met artists, poets, philosophers, and kings, white collars, blue collars, and no collars from all over the world here in our little corner of it.
We have also decided two things.
First, it will be tough to have to go back home and start cooking just for ourselves and our families after 10 days of exceptionally good, brought to the tent, meals.
And we will miss every one of our new timber framer family when they go back to their homes.
It is said that an army marches on its stomach. In Vicksburg last week, an army of volunteer carpenters marched to work each day after being fed by community volunteers. The workers have built a towering pavilion in a unique style that will stand as a testament to timber-framing construction.
They have been fueled by the generosity of the many Vicksburg area residents.
Hundreds of people whipped up delicious food for volunteers from the Timber Framers Guild who began work on Thursday, September 12 and finished their part of the project on Sunday, September 22.
Between 50 and 60 workers were fed three meals a day, along with snacks between times and lots of coffee to keep everyone awake, according to Karen Hammond, the food committee chairperson. Initially, she made numerous calls to food purveyors, community organizations and bakers who annually help with the Historical Society’s Christmas bake sale, to supply the meals and snacks. It was a task that took over three months of planning in anticipation of the buildout dates along with help from her committee members.
Hammond and Margaret Kerchief, president of the Historical Society, were on site every morning at 5:00 to get the coffee going and assist the many organizations bringing food for breakfast at 7:00. They stayed until after lunch, and dinner was served at 7:00 p.m. each day to coordinate the serving and cleanup efforts, even to the point of Hammond taking the silverware home each night to wash up for the next day’s meals. They were assisted by Kristina Powers Aubry on many of the days.
The carpenters, or “lumberjacks” as Hammond fondly referred to them, showed their appreciation by thanking everyone profusely and eating most everything in sight. They often remarked that they usually come to these build-outs to lose weight and now were gaining weight instead. Some of the meals were served off site at area churches along with showers at Lakeland Reformed Church and Chapman Memorial Nazarene Church.
These accommodations were most appreciated by the builders after a long day of toil and sweat. One of the builders brought his dog “Scruffy” who also appreciated all the handouts from the cast and crew.
When I signed up on-line at the Timber Framer’s Guild (TFG) website as a volunteer on the project, I really had no idea what to expect.
I had been on the initial planning for the Pavilion project as a member of the Vicksburg Lions Club, but there’s a big step between preliminary planning, sketches, and the assembly and constructing of this amazing structure.
I thought I would be picking up trash and/or in some way taking care of the needs of these expert Timber Framers so they could complete their work.
But I was able, as were a number of other volunteers, to learn about the craft by actual hands-on work. The TFG is dedicated to the propagation of the art of old-time mortis and tenon framing. It was a wonderful experience that I will never forget, and I feel I have made friends for life with people I worked alongside during this project.
I was humbled by the dedication of the Timber Framers to this project, and their knowledge of their art. I was humbled by the organization skills, and patience to teach others their craft. We worked 10-hour days and at times they also worked into the evening. The Timber Framers had such a passion for their work that they frequently did not want to stop for meals. They were just so focused on their work and did not want to leave something undone. For me, it was so motivating that I tried to stay with them as much as I could. But I was 30 years older than most of them, and not used to this kind of physical work.
I learned so much about the craft because they wanted me to learn and develop the same passion they have.
I can look, as other volunteers can, at that structure and know what braces I made, what posts I did joinery on, what pegs I drove in, and especially the assembly of the trusses. Our community’s response to this project was amazing. Not only because of the wonderful meals (the crew said they have never eaten so well anywhere), but by the way the Timber Framers were recognized by folks in the community.
The framers said they have never been thanked so much by folks passing by, and people on the street.
It really meant a lot to them, and it made me even prouder of our Vicksburg community. This was truly a special project built by special people for a wonderful community. Thanks.