May 2, 2018
A house’s construction style reveals the architectural period of origin and speaks to its time through the builder’s skill, technique and approach.
But no house stands still as if time has stopped. Over its lifetime, a historic house will reflect various periods because its inhabitants by nature apply their personal imprint, based upon economics or need, even taste and societal norms.
If we pay close attention to detail and identify its fabric and finishes by period and viability, the house dictates the direction a preservation and restoration must take.
The photograph above shows the original footprint of the brick work of the hearth with the outline of the much reduced hearth of the rebuilt Greek Revival fireplace. In addition to the interior wall oven and granite markers/supporters on either side of the original fireplace, the exposure of both hearths served as one of the clues that reinforced the existence of a larger fireplace. This discovery justified our plan to restore and rebuild the fireplace to its original size and scope, harkening back to the 1760s. [By the 1830s, such massive fireboxes and hearths fell out of favor. The Greek Revival style fireplace and hearth were safer and more efficient in its concentration of heat that could be better managed and controlled, thus preventing accidental fires. ]
The following images and commentary narrate the work performed at the Akin House during the first quarter of 2018.
Interior wall restoration and repairs required outside shingling on the NW elevations. New rear entry door for ADA-required access. A lift will be installed to the right with steps on the left side of the deck, with walkway leading from two parking spots to the left side of the rear of the house.
SW corner of the great room/kitchen: The wall sheathing of original boards covered with new pine wall panels. In this view, note the original corner post & plate with one of two original chamfered joists, feature of craftsmanship pre-dating 1762. The ceiling shows the underside of the new pine floors on the second story. It is entirely possible that house carpenter Job Mosher learned the old methods of housebuilding and used them.
The center chimney, chimney stacks, the fireboxes, and fireplace restoration work took up most of January 2018. The work in progress was just as fascinating as the finished product. The stabilization of this massive structure required tremendous shoring up to address the multiple, painstaking steps to achieve the desired results. Like the faithful post and beam reconstruction, all restoration work requires that years of expertise and experience be brought to bear. The Akin House structural work will be illustrated by education programs and didactic displays that seize upon these teachable moments to engage the public.
For the kitchen hearth to be functional, firebricks were installed to protect smoke chamber, flue, oven vent, and damper resulting in the safest working fireplace in town. The modern firebrick with restored interior works are hidden by the reinstalled original brick work facade using 18th century mortar formulations.
The aforementioned Greek Revival fireplace in deteriorating condition was removed to reveal the original rear wall oven showing soot and grease, tangible evidence of use by the early inhabitants.
Ninety percent of fireplace/firebox was reconstructed with reused English brick salvaged from the structure. These early 18th century English bricks, including the 10% brought on site and donated by Paul Choquette, were used as ballast on the journey from England to America. Today, these bricks are quite rare.
Since there was no granite slab in situ wide enough to serve as a lintel, we decided to obtain and install the above granite slab from the area to finish the installation.
Below, the granite lintels in the other two fireplaces in the Greek Revival style adopted by the inhabitants as part of house improvements, about the 1830s.
So ends Part 1 of the Preservation & Restoration Progress at the Akin House. Check back with us for Part 2. First Quarter 2018 Activity to be continued.
Masonry Work by Paul Choquette & Co., Historic Masons & Artisans, Mattapoisett, MA.