GROTON -- "Do you know what a timber framer is?" Uwe Tobies asked third-grade students who visited Williams Barn.
"You build timbers!" shouted a boy.
Tobies, a timber framer, has participated in the Williams Barn Educational Project, "Life in Colonial Days" since it was organized six years ago by Groton Woman's Club. It's designed as a way for third-grade students from Swallow Union and Florence Roche elementary schools to experience life on a local farm during the late nineteenth century.
Built in 1840, the Williams Barn is the perfect setting to take a step back into local history. Once students and teachers stepped off their yellow school bus, they were immediately greeted by Groton Woman's Club members dressed in costume, Tracey Molaskey, Marie Melican, Carolyn Flanagan and Andrea Burrier, along with Williams Barn Committee member Alfred Leonard Wyatt.
Twelfth generation of the Williams family, Wyatt pointed to an old stone wall - a remnant of the house where he was born and grew up, and said, "The farm sat on 100 acres of pasture back then."
Wyatt told students he went to Boutwell School, first through sixth grades, but there were plenty of chores to be done on the farm, saying, "Milking the cows, after school, weeding the garden, helping around the farm and cleaning the chicken coop were chores that I used to do as a young boy growing up on the farm."
Hoping her students would get a sense of what colonial life was like, Nancy Murphy, teacher at Swallow Union, said her third grade class prepared for the visit by using a variety of books and websites. "It's one thing to look at pictures of colonial games but when the students get to play them, it brings history to life," Murphy said.
During their visit, students rotated through the hands-on demonstrations - quilt and butter making and old-fashioned games with Woman's Club members, soap making with Leo Wyatt (nephew of Alfred), barrel making with Jonathan Snaith of the Townsend Historical Society and wood working with Uwe Tobies, of Groton.
Striking in his uniform of black suede britches, vest and hat, Tobies, originally from Germany, said, "I am a timber framer, I build a frame of a house or barn with big timbers, that's what I am in every day life."
Tobies, who displayed his own tools, told students that he learned his trade and got his "uniform" in Germany.
"If you look around, you are right in the middle of a timber frame," said Tobies, as he pointed to the barn's interior construction of wooden beams and triangular joints.
He then explained to the young students how different pieces of wood fit together, saying, "It's like a big puzzle and I put it together."
Tobies displayed two wood beams of his own craftsmanship that showed an example of the strongest and most common joint, which he termed "tenon and mortise." "The key to creating a strong joint is to make a triangle and use wooden pegs or tree nails; no metal nails are used."
With that, students were given a turn to use his wooden mallet and pound a tree nail into the hole thus creating a triangular joint and strong frame, before moving on to the next activity.
Mrs. Burrier was outside teaching children how to play with hoops and sticks and said, "I think it's an exciting way to learn about the historic barn."
"All the students truly enjoyed the program and we would like to thank the volunteers for their time and expertise," said Murphy.