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Building the old way with timbers and pegs

“When the old way of seeing was displaced, a hollowness came into architecture. Our buildings show a constant effort to fill that void, to recapture that sense of life which was once to be found in any house or shed ...”

— Jonathan Hale, “The Old Way of Seeing”

It could have been a perfect spring afternoon like this one that day in 1872 when the Snowy Butte Creek Mill stood complete and grand and ready for grain haulers.

I’d wanted to talk with Ian Dilworth about his work and company, Treeborn Timbercraft, the men in charge of crafting a new frame for the destroyed mill just as it was newly built nearly 150 years ago. Each time I passed the steady progress happening on North Royal in Eagle Point, curiosity grew.

I’d see him and his helper working long in the hot summer sun and choking smoke last year. They pounded and scraped and shaped those giant timbers into a monstrous skeleton in the old tradition — a sturdy frame under which new and old memories would come alive again for centuries, possibly. I admire the quality and old world craftsmanship Ian’s mode of construction demands, with mortise and tenon joints.

We met at a picnic bench behind the antique store while Little Butte Creek continued beside us as it had for longer than any of us have been alive. Ian and his wife, Rachel, and family live in Ashland. I asked about his company.

“We specialize in the traditional timber frame joinery. We did the specialized stuff with the mill project.”

Rebuilding such a giant historic structure to original specifications had to be a treat.

“It was such a great job for us because it’s preserving the history of timber framing around here,” Ian said. “There really is not much timber framed like this was. To be able to resurrect something like this was really special for us. And just living in this area and knowing that it’s here and that we did it, meant a lot to us. A lot of love went into it.”

I couldn’t imagine where they would find timbers that size, but Ian told me it was surprisingly close.

“About 90 percent of it came from the mill right out here on Crater Lake Highway, Oregon West Lumber. Some of the bigger stuff had to come from up north near Salem. All the beams are Douglas fir.”

The old, charred timber is unusable in the rebuild. Ian and his guy needed three months to build the framing. Raising the frame took only a day once everything was assembled, then the crane lifted it up and in place. You can view this on the Butte Creek Mill website.

“They’ve been trying to save as much as they can to preserve the history. The whole thing is pretty massive.”

I learned what sparked Ian’s interest. “I grew up in Pennsylvania and there was a timber-framed barn around every street, and I grew up on a farm that had a timber-framed barn. Out of high school that’s what I did, we took down old barns. We’d come down and de-peg everything and label it all, clean it all up, put it up the same way and turn it into a house for people — multimillion-dollar houses people made of barn frames. I just loved the heavy timber construction and all the joinery with the wood. I really wanted to pursue that as a career. I took a couple classes, moved out west in 2009, and was fortunate enough to find work timber framing in the Rogue Valley.” Now he runs his own company.

Treeborn Timbercraft builds everything from small pergolas and decorative entryways to big barns. “We’ll even do a house.”

View examples of Ian’s work at www.treeborntimbercraft.com.

Peggy Dover is a freelance writer. Reach her at pcdover@hotmail.com and at www.facebook.com/peggy.dover.