Bensonwood Volunteers

Bensonwood volunteers pose with their creation. From bottom, left to right: Sarah Kossayda and Sandra MacLean. Next row up: Candace Kao, Tedd Benson and Randall Walter. Next row up:  Hans Porschitz. Next row up: Timothy Hatton. Top row: Jeffery Shepard and Drew Dodson. At top, a timber is raised into place.

The Historical Society of Cheshire County’s newest facility, the Bruder House, has a new timber-frame pavilion. The pavilion connects the Bruder House to a chimney and hearth on a brick terrace.

On a brisk day in November, about 20 volunteers from Bensonwood in Walpole arrived at the Bruder House to raise the pavilion. The Bruder House (1839) and its new pavilion are located next door to the Society’s historic house museum, the Wyman Tavern (1762). The Historical Society acquired the Bruder House in 2018 to create more space for events and activities without altering the structure or footprint of the Wyman Tavern.

The new pavilion will provide an area for people to gather, outside but sheltered from the elements, to learn about the region’s heritage and be surrounded by its history. The pavilion will be used for hearth cooking demonstrations, summer camp activities and special events such as 18th Century Village Days and the Wyman Tavern Brew Fest.

The construction of the Bruder House pavilion was a fascinating process that began with collaboration. Architect David Drasba of Daniel V. Scully Architects and Ingram Construction had a conceptual design for a timber pavilion. The next step was for Architect Randall Walter of Bensonwood to model aspects of the pavilion such as how many posts there should be, how the timbers connect and how that would facilitate function.

The technology at Bensonwood has evolved to a digital process of fabrication. Designs are exported directly from a 3-D computer file, rather than transferred from a set of drawings via tape measure and pencil to layout for cutting.

Fabrication is done by a German high-tech industrial robot called a Hundegger, which moves and handles the timbers, and selects the tools for cutting, milling, planing and drilling of the timbers, all according to the precise digital specifications from the 3-D model. Then the timbers are assembled on-site.

Bensonwood has become known nationwide for reviving the craft of timber-frame construction using modern tools and methods. In the 1970s, Tedd Benson, the company’s founder, became intrigued with the craftsmanship and durability of the buildings that early settlers of New England had constructed using heavy timbers held together by mortise-and-tenon joinery.

Since then, he and his team have developed a number of innovative techniques, and have become leaders in timber frame design, engineering, digital fabrication technology and craftsmanship. Today, more than 100 people work at Bensonwood, many of whom have been there for decades. Many stunning photographs of their work can be found online at bensonwood.com.

Hans Porschitz moved to New Hampshire from Germany to join Bensonwood in March 2000 as a young engineer.

“I had learned about Tedd’s vision during a prior visit and I was inspired by what the company did for Timberframe work at that time,” he said. “I was also inspired by the larger goal Tedd and company had of building better homes for everybody. To tie the craftsmanship that resulted in good quality building to stand for ages to what we do now and adapt it to today’s world and technology is what inspired me to join that quest.”

As Porschitz observed, the Bruder House pavilion can be used to explain the structure concept of older timber-frame buildings very easily and clearly.

“Many of the older buildings in Keene, like the Wyman Tavern, still have in them the traditional building structures that relied on a post-and-beam concept, even though some have been concealed over the years with finishes due to various uses of the buildings,” he explained. “The pavilion is, so to speak, the ‘stripped to the bone’ version of the structure with its members of posts, plates, braces, rafters, etc. exposed.”

To stand under the pavilion, it is easy to appreciate the craftsmanship and the special space it creates. There is a visual interest to the exposed timbers, and we naturally understand the strength of the building, how it stands up and how it provides protection.

The Historical Society of Cheshire County conducted a fundraising campaign over several months to fund the production costs of the pavilion. Many generous gifts were received from members of the community, including a lead gift from the Aliber Family Gift Fund and grants from the Kingsbury Fund and the Madelaine G. von Weber Trust.

One of the most valuable contributions, of course, was the donation of volunteer labor by employees of Bensonwood to assemble the pavilion on-site. Randall Walter remembers that when the idea of donating their labor was suggested, hands shot up.

“There’s something about a barn raising that works at a community level,” he said. “It is a team-building exercise, getting together to participate in the craft. Where else can you do something in about six hours, that’s going to last for hundreds of years and be part of the fabric of downtown Keene?”

A short video by Benajil Rai about the Bruder House pavilion volunteer project entitled “History in the Making” can be viewed online at sentinelsource.com.