When I saw the contrast between the two wooden barn posts standing right next to each other, I knew I had found what I was looking for. I was doing reconnaissance for an upcoming Vermont Master Naturalist field day, and I needed to find some easy-to-understand nineteenth-century farm features that would capture the essence of the landscape in the two halves of that century. The beautiful old barn I was in had been built in several sections over the long farming history on the site, and, after canvassing the inside, I realized it would be perfect for the field trip I was planning.
The tall wooden post on the left was about ten inches wide and as many inches deep. It was etched with broadaxe marks distributed along its length as far as I could see. Hand-hewn is the word used to describe the marks, and, pausing a moment to look at them, it was not hard to imagine the person wielding the broadaxe. Even though the post had been standing here holding up this barn for something like 200 years, each broadaxe mark still showed which direction it had bitten from.
The post on the right was roughly the same size as the hand-hewn one. Its surface, though, was not hand-hewn. It was dark in the barn, and I had to get in close to really see the surface. But even though it was about 150 years since it had been shaped, the arcing marks of the large circular saw that cut it were still clear to see.
When the hand-hewn post was made, the landscape here was mostly wooded. The earliest settlers were making small clearings on their large lots, but they were spread out all across the town. There was a saw mill at the waterfall two miles away from this barn at the time it was being built, and the smaller barn siding pieces that were milled were probably cut there. But the posts (and beams) in the barn had not been taken to the mill. Hand hewing barn posts was typical of that time period, and these posts fit that pattern.
When the circular sawn post was made, the landscape here was mostly open. Farmers had cleared the landscape over the intervening decades for sheep and then dairy farming, although there would still have been wood lots in town that supplied the tree for the post. The saw mill down the road would have had a circular saw blade by the second half of the nineteenth century, and it was likely the post was milled there.
It would be easy for someone visiting this barn to walk right by these two posts standing a few inches apart. But if they had stopped and looked more closely, they would see that they are also separated by fifty years, and they came from two very different landscapes.