By Charlie Klingenberger
The sound of power tools slicing through huge wooden beams fills the Pavilion. Sawdust coats the floor and a piney smell from the protective finish fills the air.
All this week, some 40 volunteers from the national Timber Framers Guild are working in the hangar-like building on the edge of Washington and Lee University’s campus, constructing the frame for the expansion of Project Horizon’s headquarters, including Lisa’s House, the local shelter for victims of domestic abuse.
Leading the work is Grigg Mullen, a professor of engineering at Virginia Military Institute, and his fellow timber framers, who have come from as far away as the United Kingdom for 10 days of hard work in a traditional craft they love.
The official mission of the Timber Framers Guild is to foster traditional building methods, including the use of mortise and tenon joints, not nails or bolts, and using larger beams than those found in contemporary homes. The use of mortises, slots cut into timber to accept the tongue-like tenons, dates to the Middle Ages in Europe, and some structures built 500 years ago are still standing.
The mission of Project Horizon is to provide “safety and support for victims of domestic and sexual violence and child abuse in the Rockbridge community” in partnership with the greater community.
Many in the Lexington area have opened their homes to host the timber framers during their time here, and some 15 local churches and other organizations have organized all of their meals.
Judy Casteele, Project Horizon’s executive director, said this expansion and the increased facilities will be important for extending the organization’s reach in the Rockbridge community. It can be easy to ignore the problem of domestic of abuse and its cycle of violence, Casteele said. Even in such an idyllic place as this, she said, “there’s still violence in the home.”
Joining the volunteer timber framers are approximately 45 cadets from the Virginia Military Institute performing their Spring Field Training Exercises.
The Timber Framers Guild was founded in 1984. “The running joke is that the guild was formed to turn aging hippies into business people,” said Mullen, VMI Class of 1976.
In 1999, members of the guild constructed and raised the frame for the current home of Project Horizon. Many of those same timber framers have continued to come back to Lexington every year for projects around the area. Now they are here to expand the structure they raised 16 years ago.
One of the keys to stopping violence in the home, Casteele said, is to make sure that the community is invested.
The relationship between Project Horizon and the timber framers dates back to 1997, when Lorri Olan, assistant director of Career Development at W&L, announced at R.E. Lee Memorial Church that Project Horizon was looking for help building a permanent home in Lexington. Mullen, a member of the church, said it took him about three or four weeks before he woke up one morning and realized, “I think I know a way we can make this happen.”
Rob Geoghegan-Morphet, a carpenter by trade who drove 700 miles from Ontario, Canada, described the guild as one big family.
Robert Smith, a resident of Lexington and since 1997 and a guild member, characterized the group’s projects as ones “that can be shared by a lot of people.” Here in Lexington they’re helping to “craft a community.”
Lisa’s House, which includes living space that provides shelter for the area’s victims of domestic abuse, will be expanded. Currently, it serves about 100 women and children a year. In addition, over 300 people benefit from Project Horizon’s other services, such as counseling. With the expansion, there will now be overnight facilities for male victims.
Timber framers and lobbyists
Mullen estimates that the guild consists of about half professional timber framers and half hobbyists.
Tom Barfield, a timber framer and retired Army officer from Alexandria, came to Lexington for the first time in 1999 to help build the Project Horizon’s first home and has come back every year since. For him timber framing is “a hobby, not a profession,” but he said, “it’s not light work at all.”
Those working on the project are a diverse group. Among them are Cadet Chris Gray, a Civil Engineering major from Mechanicsville, and Allan Peoples, a timber-framing hobbyist from San Francisco, who sported an old-fashioned bowler hat while working on Tuesday.
In keeping with Project Horizon’s strategy for ending violence and abuse in the home, Casteele said she hopes that many from the area will come to the organization’s headquarters at 120 Varner Lane in Lexington on Saturday to watch the timber framers raise the new structure and celebrate the occasion as a community.