Category Archive: Akin House

The Eighteenth Century Cape Cod Post and Beam––Merging the Old with the New: Part 2.

Let’s get to the heavy lifting.

Structural Systems

Guided by the Department of Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties, we identified and tried to retain and preserve “structural systems and visible features of systems that are important in defining the overall character of the building.”

Sound structural systems are essential to an old house to ensure its longevity and viability going forward. Due to considerable structural deficiencies such as failing beams and posts, affected by age and insect/rodent infestation, hidden behind walls and other coverings until now, the requirements for future structural integrity to prolong the life of this house for another 250 years took priority.  Time also took its toll on other repairs (visible and hidden) from the restoration phases during 2005 and 2009. Temporary fixes such as steel posts to support the building in compromised weight-bearing areas were removed and replaced with traditional post and beam construction.

Employing a Careful, Surgical Removal

The entire house was stripped of its 20th century additions and repairs. Damaged plaster walls and laths were removed from the first floor. Plaster samples saved. Plaster removed with laths remaining on the second floor for the time being. Homasote-type highly flammable cellulose based fiber wallboards originating in the early 20th century also removed and discarded.

Fragments of wallpaper and other artifacts were carefully removed and saved for future display. The best examples of white washed wallboards will remain.

[A record of wallpaper fragments can be found in Blog entries in August and September 2017.]

Newly Installed White Oak Posts, Beams, and Joists

White oak joists had been added during 2005 with a steel column installed in 2009 to keep the house stable and secure, an ongoing challenge, until a permanent solution was implemented in 2017. New white oak posts and beams were installed in October.

 

 

As shown through above images, any architectural features original (or close to original) to the house have been retained when not damaged to the point of non-viability, i.e., sponginess to the touch or with a knife poke, or worse, deteriorating close to a dust-like consistency. A few original corner posts deemed strong and viable have remained. Some of the original joists were kept in place. While no longer serving any stabilizing function, these artifacts speak to the house’s original building characteristics.

Restoration work performed by Thomas J. Figueiredo Carpentry & Builders, assisted by John Taber.

Please check future blogs for more on this series.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Eighteenth Century Cape Cod Post and Beam — Merging the Old with the New: Part 1.

This series begins with a ca. 1930s image by local photographer Manuel Goulart. Situated on the corner of Dartmouth and Rockland Streets, the 1762 Akin House was a fascinating subject for this photographer. This little house with a big story to tell, a phrase coined by the late Anne W. “Pete” Baker, still has much to teach us.  Sometimes we must reflect on where we started to appreciate how far we’ve come.

The Cape Cod Style––A little background of early houses

Rare is the opportunity to preserve and restore New England 17th century houses although photographs of those old homesteads abound with the disclaimer that this one or that one was demolished and relegated to a landfill years ago. Architectural and research historians continue to invoke their special natures and places in history and we continue to learn from those early building styles, materials, tools and techniques imported from the old world.

In his 1990 seminal book, Antique Houses, Their Construction and Restoration, Edward P. Friedland who has studied 17th century structures and restored 18th century houses in Connecticut, writes about the still beloved Cape Cod style houses. “The one-and-a-half story house (the so-called Cape or Cape Cod) has been much neglected in the literature on early hours, yet the Cape was probably the most frequently used house plan in New England. Capes by the hundreds still dot the New England landscape, and the basic form is still being constructed today.  Don’t let these little house fool you; what they lacked in size was often made up for by a quantity of fine interior woodwork.”

Our Georgian era house [1750-1800] was built in the 3/4 one-and-a-half story Cape Cod style.

Recent Preservation and Restoration Work [August 2017- present]

We are fortunate that many 18th century houses remain although few with their original construction, features and finishes––in other words, saved by mostly private homeowners but with modern amenities. Those of us who care about historic preservation do what we can to preserve and restore as much of the original and early modifications as we can. To honor its architectural origins and style, an old house restoration often requires merging the old with the new. But, it must must be done carefully and faithfully.

The status of this property as town-owned property under our stewardship has enabled us to perform preservation and restoration work unencumbered by the need for modern amenities other than electricity.

Our project required sticking with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties.  Our contractor, Thomas J. Figueiredo, of nearby Marion, applied construction and repair techniques that comply with methods used when our house was built.  He was careful and meticulous to save as much of the original materials as possible while intent on keeping our house safe and erect for another 250 years. To do otherwise could have resulted in structural system failures and instability, requiring more structural repairs down the road.

Anyone can identify obvious deficiencies in a structure but without an invasive examination of a structure by a trained restoration carpenter what lurks within can be overlooked. The removal of wall panels and trim boards, lath & plaster and modern wallpapers revealed some great discoveries but also damaged and deteriorated beams, posts and joists, rotted and insect-ridden timbers.

The Figueiredo experience and craftsmanship, keen eye, attention to detail, and high standards have meant the difference between cosmetic work with superficial repairs and the desired end-result of a valuable cultural resource that will last for many more generations.

This series as aforementioned will cover in narrative and photographs the work performed by Tom Figueiredo which began in August 2017 and continues into 2018.

Please look for subsequent parts of this series, coming soon, and also visit Tom’s newly updated website.

 

 

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The Anatomy of an Eighteenth Century House Center Chimney, Part 4.

The featured image above is the “original” fireplace and cooking hearth with beehive oven in the great room/kitchen/gathering place of the Akin House.

This restoration was completed in January 2018 on the footprint of the original. We made an educated assumption that a granite lintel would have capped the fireplace at that time, a typical feature of the 18th century.  This one is not original to our house but a perfect companion to the reused bricks that make up the facade and firebox. The beehive oven was repaired to be functional along with the fireplace itself. With the exception of minor repairs, the beehive opening was not disturbed and shows evidence of 18th century life and much use.

Center Chimneys and the Cape Cod House Style

Central to the architectural style of our 18th century “Cape Cod” one and a half story house is the center chimney. The Capes, small in size and made of simple post-and-beam but robust construction, predominated the New England landscape and is still favored today as a beloved house design.  In comparison to the magnificent Georgian mansions of the same period, the modest cape lacked the elaborate finishes and flourishes––signs of wealth and prosperity––but a large center chimney with fireplaces in surrounding rooms were common features of the cape and the mansions of the period. Over the years, the inhabitants of the small 18th century capes would have added enhancements and decorative features commensurate with their means and fortunes.

At the dawn of the 21st century when our house was saved to be preserved and protected, very few such homes were extant in this area.

A Short Digression into History with a Taste of Irony

Elihu Akin (1720-1794) and his brothers enjoyed prosperity and influence in old Dartmouth, their material wealth exemplified by great houses, a tavern, and a profitable shipbuilding & privateering business in Padanaram Village (Harbor), then known as Akin’s Wharf or Akin’s Landing.

The Akins’ fortunes changed drastically when the British guided by Loyalists seeking revenge against the Akins for being expelled from the area essentially destroyed all of their holdings during the raid of September 1778.

It is no small irony that Elihu Akin and his family were forced to seek refuge and safety on Potter’s Hill to his second house and farm, our Akin House. We can only speculate whether Elihu Akin had money stashed away when he relocated to his farmhouse with 18 acres, purchased as an investment in 1769. Being a shrewd businessman and politician, he may have read the handwriting on the wall and put some coins aside. We do know that he spent his final days in our little house. Was he a broken man? He lived to see the outcome of the War of Independence, after all.

Back to the Restoration Work

During the month of January, the main event at the Akin House was the preservation and restoration work of the center chimney, chimney stacks and fireplaces gracing three rooms on the first floor.  Combined with the necessary restoration work, we discovered that major repairs were required to ensure the longevity of this grand brick and fieldstone structure.

Brick by brick, Paul Choquette Historical Masonry Restoration Artisans of Mattapoisett completed the careful and painstaking work required to resurrect the 18th century cooking hearth exposing and repairing the original beehive oven.  The ghosts at the Akin House and DHPT are quite pleased with the results.

The All-Important Center Chimney Work

To state the obvious, without a strong foundation––which we have in our cellar’s fieldstone foundation–– and an equally strong chimney spanning to the second story all the way to the exterior of our house, the Akin House as Hearth and Home can never be sustained.

 

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The Anatomy of an Eighteenth Century House Center Chimney, Part 3.

This is our last blog for 2017.  And what a year it was!

Preserving Dartmouth’s Heritage from the Foundation Up

Our mission statement is never truer than the work we are now engaged in to preserve, protect and restore the center chimney and all the complex piece parts which make up a whole unified structure.  How many 18th century houses have been examined so carefully in order to study and educate? If still extant, most were restored up to a point and renovated, perhaps only one fireplace and hearth brought back to original or “modernized.” The old materials simply discarded or taken off site to be reused elsewhere. Not so with the Akin House. We believe in reuse whenever possible; and nothing of value, like bricks and stones, leave the site. Like our forbears, we waste nothing.

The massive chimney foundation is strong and steadfast, supporting the center chimney stacks which connect to the three fireplaces, serving three rooms.  We see flat granite stones intermingled with brick and wonder why. Fieldstone was plentiful in old Dartmouth but bricks were cheap.

The cellar is nothing but fieldstone. Above ground, that’s another story.

The work in progress to restore the center chimney, as 2018 fast approaches.

Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy “ride.” How can such a little house have such a massive center chimney? Before any masonry restoration and repairs can be done, the massive chimney showing through on the first and second floors needed to be shored up. Incredibly hard work and dangerous when safety is paramount. How many 18th century houses are extant with the bare bones of brick and granite gracing the interior? Most were destroyed or renovated with little trace of the most significant features of these early houses. This Dartmouth treasure, a rare cultural resource, becomes more important to this community as “this little house with a big story to tell” bares its soul.

Paul Choquette & Co. Historic Masons & Artisans were responsible for the Akin House foundation work in 2009, shown above. In 2017, in partnership with our contractor, Tom Figueiredo, they are back to work on the center chimney configuration from the first floor up.

There are no better historic preservation masons in Massachusetts or anywhere else than Paul Choquette and his team.

The first order of business was to shore up the chimney structures. The first floor required a combination of a steel post along with 8 X 8 timbers to keep the fireboxes and chimney stacks from collapsing under the tremendous weight bearing down from the large chimney on the second floor reuniting the smoke chambers.

On the first and second stories, grueling and laborious grinding was required to loosen the old mortar to loosen the brick and granite for the next steps of restoration. With the first floor structure shored up, the next step involved strapping the chimney, shown below, with the surface mortar removed. A messy job indeed!

Another Akin House curiosity. What was the thought behind adding large granite pieces along with bricks? Granite can be found intermingled with bricks throughout the chimney stacks as well. Over time the granite weakened the structure, much like Portland Cement used in the 20th century destabilized brick structures.  This is another research topic for us.

Below photos: An appropriate use of granite as a lintel above this early fireplace in the formal parlor. Note the whitewashed chimney stack above this fireplace. Was it exposed at one time? Stay tuned for photos after restoration without the unsightly red paint no doubt applied for cosmetic reasons in the 20th century, hiding a vast multitude of sins. A quick fix in 2009 required some repairs such as the cement applied on either side of the firebox.

Thus ends this blog with an image of the dust from the old mortar collected in these buckets.

 

 

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Eighteenth Century Structural Systems in a 21st Century World

If these supporting timbers could talk.

Our featured image above along with detailed photos show a sampling of really, really old timbers used by the original builder to support the living space above the cellar. Imagine the 18th century work site loaded with these cut trees, sorted and arranged in rows to use in construction. Powder post beetles and mold have taken their toll long ago and most were removed and replaced over the years. We have decided to keep these samples and protect them from further deterioration to allow visitors to appreciate the craftsmanship.

To Integrate the Old with the New

Preservationists must walk a fine line between fealty to preserving the “original” [as built] and “new” [2017] structural post-and-beam replacements.  Much of the original materials used to build our 1762 house have deteriorated to the point of non-viability. As long as the improvements are done in the spirit of the old house’s post and beam construction and related methods of the times, these refinements will go a long way to guarantee the longevity of the Akin House for generations to come, indeed another 250 years.

Preservation is an investment and in the case of the Akin House, our work to preserve, protect and restore is a community investment. Since 2008, DHPT has been under a lease agreement with the Town of Dartmouth as stewards, caretakers and to oversee its restoration.

Restoration Strategy

Guided by the Department of Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties, we identified and tried to retain and preserve “structural systems and visible features of systems that are important in defining the overall character of the building.” The house contains some original corner posts and beams and wall boards which have been integrated with the new. We saved some choice architectural artifacts that were no longer viable to the structure for didactic display as part of our education mission.

Sound structural systems are essential to an old house to ensure its stability and longevity going forward if a historic house is to be protected and preserved.  Otherwise, this cultural asset should it go the route of deteriorating rubble will lose all value.  Due to its considerable structural deficiencies such as failing beams and posts, through aging and insect/rodent infestation, future structural integrity took priority to prolong the life of the Akin House for at least another 250 years.

The images below are of the second story restoration work begun in 2005 when the roof was repaired and rebuilt.  Are the early structural features, rafters and collar beams, from the Georgian era [1750-1800] or replacements during the Greek Revival period [1830-1850], or, a combination invoking three centuries in the life of this house? Much more to follow on the old and the new post and beam construction. And……much more to study.

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The Anatomy of an 18th Century House Center Chimney, Part 2.

A Tale of the Beehive Ovens

One of the most dazzling discoveries of the original fireplace was the wall oven, also known as a beehive oven due to its domed construction design. This oven was situated in the back of the firebox. We asked ourselves, how common was this?

According to Edward P. Friedland, author of Antique Houses, Their Construction and Restoration, Dutton Studio Books, 1990,  “Bake ovens of the earliest fireplaces appear in the rear wall of the firebox, a location that eventually shifted in the first quarter of the eighteenth century to the more convenient location at the side of the fireplace.”

This shift in practice from the rear to the side would be attributed to several reasons besides convenience, i.e., unintended consequences such as safety risks due to fire eruptions endangering persons and house. Inhabitants reaching inside with tools to place dutch ovens and other foodstuff containers in the rear oven could be awkward at best. The fireplaces were wide and deeply set to enable a full array of kitchen crockery in the oven and over the coals (to roast meats, heat kettles, etc.) but not without risk of injury or worse. According to Friedland, “Bake ovens were frequently rebuilt since constant use in the summer and winter burned out the brick.”

A fireplace with bake oven in the rear. [Edward P. Friedland, page 33, photo 50.

The three fireplaces on the first floor connected to three chimney stacks which then reunited to make a center chimney stack to the roofline. The beehive oven sitting in the middle of the chimney stacks raises many questions. We know that an earlier fireplace sits behind the one we showed in Part 1. We speculate that the later one dates about the mid 19th century.

Since, according to Friedland, the rear oven design fell out of favor by the first quarter of the 18th century, how do we explain this style in the 1762 era house, attributed to having been built by Job Mosher as a wedding present to his wife Amie Akin, niece to Elihu Akin? Is it possible that Job Mosher built his house reusing an earlier foundation and chimney structure on its footprint?

The images below provide a close-up view of our interior beehive oven, showing signs of use and repair. We can only wonder when inhabitants last laid eyes on this oven and indeed used the earlier and larger fireplace.

In comparison, below photos taken in August 2008 show the beehive oven constructed to be on the right side of the fireplace and hearth, ca. mid-19th century.

We noted how clean and perfect this oven was.  Was it never used? Rebuilt? We have more to learn, so stay with us on this journey of discovery.

 

 

 

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The Anatomy of an 18th Century House Center Chimney, Part 1.

This is the first in a series of photo articles about the discoveries of the Akin House center chimney, its three chimney stacks and fireplaces dominating the three main rooms. These blogs will lead up to the plans for the restoration work based upon our findings.

To determine the forensics of an old house, like our Akin House, requires a disrobing in a manner of speaking. We have suspected that there might be a second firebox behind the one in the kitchen/gathering room we have been showing visitors since our 21st century commitment to its preservation and restoration.

The featured image above shows a corner view of the Akin House center chimney, exposed.  To the left is the fireplace/hearth in the kitchen /gathering room.  To the right, the fireplace/hearth in the formal parlor.

Below are images of “before” photos to illustrate the conditions of the kitchen hearth which visitors have viewed for several years. Our restoration strategy calls for a historic period as close as possible to the original date that the house was built. Our intent is to be faithful to the building methods and techniques of the times to respect the house’s origins.

The following images were taken in December 2017 shortly after the removal of plaster & lath, wall boards, and other materials covering the center chimney configuration, “midway” through our forensic examination.

We have been documenting the progress of the work with photos since this phase started in August 2017.  These selections tell the story of the early construction of this house through the features of its most basic characteristics which will transform it into a cozy home of the Revolutionary War era—fire for warmth and cooking.

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Hidden Wallpaper in the Sitting Room, Another Mystery

To our surprise, we found more unusual wallpaper in the sitting room at the Akin House. While it hasn’t been closely examined, nor photographed to the best effect, this recent discovery begs many questions about the origins of the practice of applying wallpaper in an area that is seldom seen. The fact that it was found in a cupboard would indicate perhaps another room or the existence of an open and larger storage area at one time. This particular cupboard is on the left side of the fireplace, abutting the stairs to the second story. The remarkable artistry of this decor was never noticed by those of us who worked on the preservation of the house for over a decade.

A view of the corner cupboard, above left of the fireplace in the sitting room. Note the staircase to the second story.

Photos of the wallpaper taken from the depths of interior of the cupboard.

We again consulted with Sally Zimmerman, Senior Preservation Services Manager of Historic New England (HNE).

She noted that it was not the first time she has seen wallpaper in a place under the stairs and hidden. She added that it could have been used as a liner, albeit a decorative one, for the cupboard, or possibly for some other space, if there was a different floor plan. “That was the case at [an]other place, in Maine, where it was found in an area under stairs and in a closet which might have opened into another space at one time. We never nailed down that other cupboard and its paper so maybe just a mystery!”

We also looked at American Decorative Wall Painting–1700-1850, the New England Edition by Nina Fletcher Littler, published in 1989 by E. P. Dutton. We found a similar decorative feature on a staircase

While this rendition is free-hand hand-painted in brown on a gray background, as the caption indicates, it is striking in its resemblance to our wallpapered stairs.

About the Dutton House

According to the Shelburne Museum website, the Dutton House portrays the home of an 1820s New England entrepreneur and his family. The house was built by Salmon Dutton in Cavendish, Vermont in 1782 and served as both as family residence and—at various times in its history—a tavern, an inn, and office space for several different enterprises. Dutton House was moved to the [Shelburne] Museum in 1950 when a road-widening project threatened the structure. It was the first dwelling relocated to the grounds. Check out the slide show of the Dutton House.

https://shelburnemuseum.org/collection/dutton-house/

Back to the Akin House

Several years ago, the late architectural historian, Anne W. “Pete” Baker speculated that it was possible that the staircase was not original.  In any case, we have yet to find the original. But this discovery opens up some new possibilities about the origins of this wallpaper, hidden in plain sight in the cupboard. This finding creates another research project.

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The Mystery Behind the Early Wallpaper in the Sitting Room: Part 2

An extraordinary room revealed

This unremarkable sitting room turned out to be a rare example of early decorative wall coverings that no one could have expected or even imagined. In fact, we were astounded by what we found underneath the 20th century features and materials predominating the room. The Akin House surprised us yet again!

What’s the mystery?

The early decorative wall coverings came to light in August 2017. No one knows for certain when the original wallpapers were last seen. It appears that when the owners made changes to this little house, they just kept adding and covering. The first reveal of this room as it might have been in the late 18th century was nothing short of impressive.  The ghosts of this house had reappeared in the guise of the decorative arts of that time.

We consulted with Historic New England (HNE) to determine if similar wallpapers were to be found in their collections.

HNE’s Sally Zimmerman suggested that I speak with the folks at the Center of Painted Wall Preservation. https://www.pwpcenter.org

Although the Center specializes in historic painted walls such as murals and stencils, and not wallpaper, Director Linda Lefko was intrigued by our findings and agreed to embark on the research.  She contacted the Center’s experts in the hope that someone might be familiar with this type of wall decoration.

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Mystery Solved!

Following consultations with members of the Center’s advisory panel, this is what they learned. Arsenic was a significant clue.

In Lucinda Hawksley’s book Bitten by Witch Fever–Wallpaper & Arsenic in the Victorian Home, published in 2016 by Thames & Hudson, Ltd., London, she writes “In late eighteenth century England, the physician Thomas Fowler concocted a solution of 1 per cent potassium arsenic (‘liquor mineralis’) for the treatment of fevers and headaches.” She notes that Carl Wilhelm Scheele, a Swedish/German chemist introduced arsenic to green pigment to create what became known as Scheele’s green. She goes on to write “It is understandable that the use of white arsenic pigments, beginning with Scheele’s green in 1775, was not immediately perceived as a health hazard.”

By the late 18th century, wallpaper manufacturers soon added arsenic to create the bright colors embraced by the public. By the late 19th century, its toxicity could no longer be ignored, regardless of William Morris’s protestations to the contrary.

While the Center for Painted Wall Preservation didn’t actually date our wallpaper, the arsenic in the wallpaper explains the unusual effect of the design, some of it left intact even after about 250 years. Insects were repelled by arsenic. It is not farfetched to suggest that the wallpaper in our sitting room is very early. Did anyone fall ill or die because of this toxic decor, we may never know.

The Center’s report (below) solves the mystery and shows an example of this phenomenon by a fellow conservator in a 1830 house in Topsham, Maine. Richard Nylander, retired senior curator of HNE and a wallpaper specialist also noted “The block foliate pattern, probably of the 1840s, is typical of wallpaper designs of the 1845-1860 period.”, also pictured in the Center’s report.

Please read on:

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We thank HNE and the Center for Painted Wall Preservation without whose help, this mystery might yet to be solved.

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The Mystery Behind the Early Wallpaper in the Sitting Room: Part 1

The above image was photographed in 2003 showing the sitting room as found during the examination process of saving this house.
Please note that this article is in two parts. This is Part 1.

Introduction

It’s always important to provide context when discussing historical subjects and objects. In this case, our subject is antique wallpaper, and to we contemporary folk historic and worth studying.  Used as an important feature to enhance the walls of a room, it can transform a drab and uninteresting space to a decorative marvel. Wall coverings capture a realism of a past societies and their homemaking cultures.
 
We are fascinated by the history of wallpaper, especially all wall coverings prior to the 20th century. The wallpaper we found at the 1762 Akin House has engendered a great deal of curiosity.
 
When were wall coverings applied over the whitewashed boards in the sitting room? Soon after occupancy, several years or decades later?

[Please refer to other articles about wallpaper in our 2017 archives. We will discuss the original features in other rooms and the lives of the inhabitants in later blogs.]

A little background

Just imagine the feeling of the rooms when Job Mosher and his wife Amie Akin (Elihu’s niece) moved into their brand new but modest house in 1762.  In that time, the pine and oak wall panels would have been whitewashed, applied for utilitarian purposes such as to deter vermin, and to brighten up the living spaces, especially at sunset when firelight and candlelight were the only sources of light. Perhaps sparsely furnished with braided rugs and homespun textiles covering the windows, these are likely the characteristics of the original home. We cannot know for certain what this young couple could afford  in creature comforts or how much help in the way of a dowry that Amie received.

Given its size, the sitting room or small parlor was probably used for intimate family gatherings. We can imagine life in the 18th-19th century in that room–a rocker, a candle stand, a bookcase or small desk with chair, and a couple of soft chairs over an area rug, a small pile of firewood in the corner. The fireplace would have generated some heat for warmth even in the uninsulated cold winters.

This use of this room by 20th century tenants also remains a mystery although our hope is that someone will come forward with photographs and anecdotes of life during those decades.

Why is the sitting room so important now?

During the initial stages of preservation and restoration planning, this room never held as much attention when compared to the rest of the house. The presence of ghosts was not as acutely felt. Equipped with a fireplace and cabinets on either side of the hearth, the room’s 20th century wallpaper was an attention-getting red pattern style that added a pleasant enhancement. This room didn’t show as much wear and tear as the other rooms. By that time, the fireplace was covered with board. During house tours, this room was filled with display tables for visitors; at other times, it was used for storage.

The images below show the room in the 21st century.

This summer, the preservation and restoration work required that we remove most of what is seen in the above photographs.

Now on to Part 2.

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