Limited parking spaces on the property, parking on the street or at the nearby Cushman School. ADA-accessible.
If it’s October, it’s time for our Annual Meeting. Again this year, we will be holding our meeting at the Akin House. “The Little House with a Big Story to Tell” will not disappoint.
Please join us!
If you’re a member and donor of DHPT, we already know you care about local history and historic houses. If you are fascinated with 18th and 19th century decorating styles, even in a modest farmhouse like ours, you are in for a treat. If you like the science behind the materials, this presentation will interest you as well.
For our October Annual Meeting, it is only fitting that we share the results of extensive research and conservation work, including scientific analysis, of Akin’s south parlor.
We are pleased and proud to announce that our featured speakers will be Studio TKM’s Lorraine Bigrigg and Deborah LaCamera, senior partners and conservators of fine art and historic works on paper.
Below, Deborah and Lorraine hard at work.
How Did We Get Here?
When a historic house reveals itself in ways not anticipated, it’s yet another reminder of the gift that keeps on giving at our Akin House. So was the case when, in August 2017, the plaster and lath were removed from the the walls of the south parlor to reveal three layers of paper that adhered directly to the original wide wood plank interior and exterior walls––two historic wallpapers with an intermediate layer of newsprint.
The ubiquitous veneer wood paneling so popular in the 1960s & 70s. Found throughout the house. Turns out to be an acceptable preservation tool to protect what’s underneath. 2003.
Twentieth century wallpaper, layers upon layers, over board and plaster & lath.
Underlying plaster & lath wall structure, circa 19th C.
Left: after all materials removed, the earlier features are visible such as the Greek Revival style fireplace and mantel flanked by two cabinets. Ceiling before it was stabilized and whitewash applied.
Above: view of the exposed walls of paper layers. Fall 2017.
Detail of ceiling bay prior to stabilization and whitewashing. “The exposed ceiling beams and ceiling boards (subflooring) they support in the sitting room have a rough, coarsely-textured, buildup of white material with a gray surface color. The material is irregularly applied with smooth passages and rough brush marks and appears directly applied onto the wood surfaces.”-Chris Shelton’s report. One bay of the ceiling while stabilized was left intact to show the original surface.
Many of you know the story of these rare wall coverings from our Blogs on this site. For months, we had grappled to determine the best way to address this room from a preservation and conservation standpoint. These had been “under wraps” since the mid-19th century, we believe, when Greek Revival style interior features was adopted by the Akin family inhabitants of that time.
This “project within a project” of interior preservation and restoration at the Akin House required some specialized expertise. We hired two firms to help us develop a conservation plan for this room. First, Robert Mussey Associates, Inc. whose principal and senior conservator, Christopher Shelton, conducted an examination of the room, took samples of paint layers and ceiling finishes, soon thereafter stabilized the ceiling, and made recommendations about next steps in a detailed report which also included results of his scientific analysis. We had many questions and Chris patiently answered all of them.
Claiming not to be an expert in historic wallpapers, Chris contacted Studio TKM Associates, Inc. to join the project which conducted its own assessment of this room. Studio TKM’s Lorraine Bigrigg and Deborah LaCamera joined the team. In a spirit of true partnership, assessments and findings were shared, with Lorraine and Deborah taking over where Chris left off. DHPT was so pleased and fortunate that we had such expertise in our midst.
Can you see “Monday’s Proceedings, Congress, Washington, May 1831” sandwiched in between the earlier palmette offset pattern paper and the greenish stylized vine pattern paper? Suggests the timeframe that the second layer of wallpaper was applied. This newspaper fragment also contains clues for further research of the period.
Another view of the south parlor before surface cleaning and conservation.
Wallpaper applied to the underside of the stairs leading to the second story. Discovered hidden by a cupboard above the mantel in the sitting room. This wallpaper was found in the collection of Historic New England, GUSN-296581, WP 368, ca. 1840-1860. Machine printed.
We are proud of the accomplishments to transform the 1762 Akin House from an abandoned and dilapidated building (many believing not worth saving) into a 21st century
heritage cultural center.
A gateway property linking New Bedford to Padanaram Harbor, visitors are transported to old Dartmouth’s past on many levels––architectural, societal, cultural, archaeological, and economical perspectives––told through the lives of the Akin family.
“The little house with a big story to tell.”
Architectural historian of this region, the late Anne W. “Pete” Baker, coined the phrase in 2004. Fifteen years later, even Pete would be amazed at how prescient she was. As the work progressed under the stewardship of DHPT, the house has revealed unimaginable surprises that no one at the time anticipated.
The stories are made tangible by the house itself and by interpretive living history programming, such as the event we held on June 23, which many attended and is featured in a recent Blog.
We had a very successful event at the Akin House on June 23 called “Never Idle Hands-Living in Early America.”
We welcomed many visitors throughout this perfect day of
sunshine, community and conviviality.
This is the beginning of a tradition for a day-long event every year to kick off the start of Summer. We hosted talented and enthusiastic period demonstrators and re-enactors, gave tours of the Akin House, and talked local history. We exhibited historic artifacts, from our site and from the New Bedford Whaling Museum’s collection. We featured samplers and 18th century books.
Wall maps of Dartmouth caught the attention of many looking for context, then and now, comparing the visibly modern landscape to the areas and neighborhoods defined in the early maps.
Over five years ago, I had the opportunity to meet with Pam and Rob Cooper to show them around when they visited Dartmouth to find some footage about the Akin ancestors. At the time, the Akin House was in serious disrepair with restoration a work-in-progress. We visited the Akin Cemetery, parts of Elm Street and the shores of Padanaram Harbor which was known in the “days of Akin” as Akins Landing. We paid our respects to the Apponagansett Meeting House and its cemetery on Russell’s Mills Road. The Akins were known to be Quakers and there is a John Akin buried there.
[image below right from the Library of Congress]
Soon after, I met Maureen Taylor.
The Last Muster Project and A Revolutionary Trio have been long awaited.
Maureen has integrated her knowledge, experience and passion about early photography to her Last Muster Project, many years in the making. This has particular and poignant relevance to old Dartmouth. Whether you’re a local history buff, deeply into your own ancestry, fascinated by early photography, or you simply enjoy solving mysteries, you should not miss this presentation.
We pursue integration in our daily lives. It’s unavoidable. We like connecting the dots. We gain satisfaction from learning how it all fits together. This has been Maureen’s life’s work.
You can help Maureen with her project much like others have in producing Volumes 1 & 2. There are more daguerreotypes or other forms of early photography in private collections that portray survivors of the Revolutionary War. Check your attics, check those shoeboxes under your bed, in your trunks, those treasure troves of family photographs you haven’t thought of in years. Contact Maureen. She’ll be happy to hear from you.
The image above is an artifact found in the Akin House during its restoration. This 18th century two-tined fork is an iconic example of domestic life within the confines of this modest farmhouse, perhaps warmed by a fire blazing on a cold winter’s night. One can just imagine an Akin family member spearing a piece of roasted meat with that fork, discussing the events of the day, surrounded by family.
Image from cover of “The First American Cookbook––A Facsimile of American Cookery,” 1796 by Amelia Simmons. Dover Publications, 1984.
Drawing of one of the kitchens in the Coffin House in Newbury, MA when it was updated in the 1760s. Source: “America’s Kitchens by Nancy Carlisle & Melinda Talbot Nasardinov, Historic New England, 2008.
What were the topics of conversation during meal-times? The birth of a child? The death of a loved one? A marriage? Farming activities? The Akin family enterprises on the harbor? Taxes imposed by the Crown? Local politics? Dartmouth Monthly Meeting of the Society of Friends? Not much different than today’s kitchen table banter––from the significant, stressful to the ordinary.
It’s impossible to discuss the domestic side of the Akin family without mentioning their status as entrepreneurs, maritime traders, and presumably loyal British subjects. At the time the Akin House was built in 1762 by Job Mosher (b. 1737-d. before 1804) for his new wife, Amie Akin Mosher (1738-1804), the nearby village on the coastline was anything but dull.
[Amie Mosher was the daughter of James Akin (1706-1804) and Amie Fish Akin (1705-1746) and Elihu Akin’s (1720-1794) niece. James and Elihu Akin were business partners, keeping it in the family.]
Let’s put into context the evolving societal norms and the political upheaval of the times by examining life in mid-18th century Dartmouth up to the early 1800s through the lens of the Akin family, Quakers and slave-owners. It is not known to what extent they owned slaves but the old records indicate they did.
The Fugitive’s Gibraltar, Escaping Slaves and Abolitionism in New Bedford, Massachusetts by Kathryn Grover, [2001; LC 00-048878; ISBN 1-55849-271-2], stands out as one of the most significant treatises of New Bedford history. Cover to cover, it is a page-turner. Once read all the way through, it becomes an invaluable reference. While the Akins do not feature prominently in her book, the reference to the Dartmouth Akins as slave-holders among other colonists such as the Russells and the Howlands is well-documented.
Kathryn Grover writes in Chapter 2, entitled Origins:
“… In that year , 174 nonwhite persons lived in Dartmouth, Westport, and New Bedford. By 1800 the number of people of color in these towns was 405, an increase of 132 percent that brought their share of the population to 4.3 percent. These towns contained good farmland, but the growth in the economy was almost entirely due to maritime trade and whaling. The increase in the population of color is surely related to that maritime economy.”
Unquestionably, the Akins figure into this history given their vast holdings and prominence in what is now known as Padanaram Harbor, then referred to as Akins’ Wharf or Akins’ Landing, a measure of their influence and prominent role in the maritime economy.
Ms. Grover goes on, “[William] Wall identified the man of color in Birth of the Whaling Industry as having, like Venture Smith, come from Guinea, and he suggested a series of names typical among New England slaves and black servants––Pero, Quash, Pompey. Whether Wall knew it or not, Joseph Russell in fact owned slaves named Quash and Pero at the time; they were probably among the thirty-seven males of color living in Dartmouth in 1765. Russell, born in Dartmouth, was accepted into the Dartmouth Monthly Meeting of the Society of Friends in April 1766, though he may have ‘followed the Meeting’––attended its services and observed its customs of dress and address––before being formally admitted as a member. Six years after his acceptance, however, the meeting disciplined him and Isaac Howland II, also a slave owner, for ‘running goods,’ presumably military, intoxicating, or illegally acquired ones. Isaac Howland had run afoul of the meeting often in the past. In 1764 the meeting sent members to visit him both for marrying a non-Quaker and for being ‘in the practice of the slave trade,’ and it found the paper he submitted ‘signifying the sorrow’ for both offenses insufficiently apologetic until September 1765. Three months later the meeting permitted Howland to move to Rhode Island, where he learned spermaceti manufacture, and he then returned to New Bedford. Only a month after he and Russell were reported for running goods, the meeting declared both, with Rebecca Slocum, ‘offenders…by their keeping their Negroes in bondage when they are fit for freedom after they have been repeatedly admonished to comply with ye order of friends.’ By January 1774 Russell still refused to accede to the meeting’s wishes, but by September the visiting committee finally persuaded him to free his two ‘negro men,’ Quash and Pero. In April of the same year Isaac Howland freed his slave Pero. Howland has long been reputed to have been the last person in Dartmouth to free a slave when he manumitted Primus in January 1777, but John Akin still owned an Indian named Hazzard, whom he freed the next month. …[footnote 13]”
“13. On the transactions of the Dartmouth Monthly Meeting with respect to Friends who owned slaves, see DMM, 7 mo 1772; 1, 4, 9, and 11 mo 1774, and 1 and 2 mo 1777, the last of which is a record of manumission of John Akin’s Indian slave Hazzard.”
John Akin (1745-1801) was Elihu Akin’s son (1720-1794) by his first wife Ruth Perry Akin (1729-1790). In her book, Ms. Grover does not mention by name the other Akins as slave-holders and whether or not the Akins apart from John were Quakers in good standing. Therefore, it is not known if they had already acceded to the meeting’s wishes to free their slaves by that time.
The fact that Ms. Grover references John Akin briefly in the above excerpt and in the accompanying citation from her notes of Chapter 2, Origins implies or corroborates that the Akins were no different from the other colonists who were slave-holders for a time. During those times, Quaker religious beliefs by the many enlightened persuaded some of their less ardent “members” to free their slaves in the Dartmouth community well before the rest of America.
The British Invasion
About 19 months after John Akin freed Hazzard, all hell would break loose for the Akins.
The Akins, who had switched loyalties from the Crown to embrace the American cause for independence––arguably driven by the economics of entrepreneurship and free trade principles––wasted little time eradicating Loyalists by running them out of their little harbor side community.
In September of 1778, soon after attacking Bedford Village [later known as New Bedford], the British were led to Akins’ Wharf [now Padanaram] by these Tories in what was surely an act revenge by Tupper & company.
Quite a bit is known about the role of the Akins and other founders during the War of Independence when the Akin men joined the Sons of Liberty. The History of New Bedford and Its Vicinity (1602-1892) by Leonard Bolles Ellis, published in 1892, is an invaluable resource.
We set aside the Revolution for the moment, to reflect on the role of the Akins and the conflicts arising from slave ownership contemporaneous to the period when our 1762 Akin House was built and during the ill-fated British invasion.
In the near future, this website will contain narratives about the Akins and the Revolution as we approach the 250th Anniversary in 2026. The Akin House is a “witness house” to the activities leading up to and including 1776. DHPT, as a sponsor, plans to host events to celebrate this important milestone in our nation’s history.
For now, visit the Massachusetts Historical Society’s website highlighting living history events, Revolution 250.
The above image of the formal parlor provides an example of the application of four historic treatments explained below.
The original pine wall boards installed perhaps just a few years after the house was built to add some Georgian formality to the room were reinstalled to surround the simple mantel over the fireplace and hearth, both Greek Revival. Electrified brass double light sconces recently hand-forged in a colonial design serve as ornamentation and sources of light. To the left, a doorway to the foyer in the Federal style. The corner beam is new construction and painted in whitewash.
Let’s take a moment to step back from the nitty gritty details of the work in progress at the Akin House to examine preservation philosophy and how well we are doing.
Each preservation project has its own unique characteristics given its historic significance of time, place and context(s), cultural value to community, architectural period(s), original elements, later features, repairs and changes over the life of the building.
Ultimately, the goal is to assure the longevity of our historic assets from a point in our times at which it was found or acquired to be saved. The Akin House, as noted in these pages, was one house that was viewed by many as not worth saving. That was then, some 15 years ago. This is now. Let’s revisit preservation philosophy and approach to our house in particular.
The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties and our Treatment of the Akin House
We referenced the Secretary’s Standards in a blog in November 2017 (see archives). To review, essentially there are four treatment approaches:
Preservation, Rehabilitation, Restoration, and Reconstruction.
Preservation places a high premium on the retention of all historic fabric through conservation, maintenance and repair. It reflects continuum over time, through successive occupancies, and the respectful changes and alterations that are made.
Rehabilitation emphasizes the retention and repair of historic materials, but more latitude is provided for replacement because it is assumed the property is more deteriorated prior to work. (Both Preservation and Rehabilitation standards focus attention on the preservation of those materials, features, finishes, spaces, and spatial relationships that, together, give a property its historic character.)
Restoration, focuses on the retention of materials from the most significant time in a property’s history, while permitting the removal of materials from other periods.
Reconstruction establishes limited opportunities to re-create a non-surviving site, landscape, building, structure, or object in all new materials.
To be practical about it, what lies beneath the visible fabric will often dictate approach. Many times it’s just rot and more devastation. So many who contemplate such projects ask themselves, is it time to cut our losses and walk away especially as funds appear to be elusive. Other times, as in our case, unexpected but remarkable features from many periods–– pre-Georgian, Georgian, Federal, Greek Revival––emerge, and drive us onward.
How does one make the right decisions in choosing and applying one (or more) of these four treatments? This “little house with a big story to tell” informed our approach. It proved impossible to simply choose one of these treatments or a specific period in its life. The Akin House is simply not that kind of house.
We didn’t have enough sufficiently viable or extant original materials to conserve the whole house in its entirety applying Preservation methods alone or by choosing a specific period to preserve, Restoration, so as to reveal that one period, such as the pre-Georgian style when first built.
This may offend some purists, but our philosophy required pragmatism. Indeed, we incorporated all treatments, selectively applying each where appropriate to ensure that this house survived for a few more centuries. In its future, maintenance will be key.
Unquestionably, the Akin House’s historic significance to the Town of Dartmouth, other considerations factored into our approach.
Physical condition: If not for a few who saw the potential to save this house, most would have pronounced it ready for the wrecking ball. Photographs of 2003 testify to that case.
Proposed use: As a “study house” and education facility for living history programming, the Akin House has been transformed from a private residence to a public space. This transition is less “new use” and more adaptive to telling the story of its inhabitants. After all, it started out its life as a domicile built by British citizens under the rule of the Crown. What came next is the stuff of turmoil, rebellion and insurrection––the Revolutionary War.
Mandated code requirements: Decisions were made for safety and to accommodate the needs of modern visitors without compromising much of the house’s historic integrity. For a thriving community facility, the house needed to be electrified. (A small example of the old knob and tube electrical wiring remains for display purposes.) We installed a split unit to provide heat and AC for the comfort of visitors during occasions when the house’s inner climate can be oppressive or bone chilling. The functional cooking hearth in the keeping room has been rebuilt according to modern safety codes for 18th century cookery demonstrations. A new deck was built at the rear entrance to provide universal access through an automated lift. A walkway has been constructed for visitors leading from a couple of restricted parking spaces to the deck.
The enemy to saving historic houses are its conditions of wear and tear, or worse, serious damage or deterioration––obstacles that can discourage many from embarking on a preservation (ad)venture. Not so with DHPT.
A Review of Second Quarter Accomplishments
This report provides a summary of the Akin House project for the Second Quarter 2018. Our Preservation Philosophy is in evidence––part preservation, part rehabilitation, and part restoration––come to life––all conducted with guidance by the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties.
The Earle-Swift House, Mishaum Point, South Dartmouth, MA
[also known as the “Arrowhead House”]
The owners of a 2.68 acre parcel have applied for a demolition permit to tear down this historically significant house built in the late 1720s using a gambrel house style which was typically seen in Plymouth County. It was relocated to its current site at Mishaum Point about 1927.
The Dartmouth Historical Commission, of which I am a member, held a public hearing on Monday, June 25. The owner presented her concerns and plans for the site. Following a presentation and discussion with the owner, the Commission voted to declare the house “PREFERABLY PRESERVED” a technical term from our demolition delay bylaw to impose a 6-month demolition delay. This is considered a time-out to work with the owners to come up with alternatives that could save the house and accommodate their plan for the property which we hope could result in a win-win.
We thank the owners for expressing an interest and willingness to work with the Commission and preservation experts during this delay period.
This endangered historic house has received a great deal of reporting from the press since the demolition delay was imposed on June 26, 2018.
In an editorial in the New Bedford-Standard Times on Sunday, July 15, 2018, it is clear that this house has captured the interest of the SouthCoast community.
Old Dartmouth History of the Early Eighteenth Century: A Tale of Founding Settlers and One Important House
Ralph Earle who died in 1718 owned farmland purchased from Captain Benjamin Wing. Earle devised his farm to his only son, Barnabas Earle, who built the gambrel style house between 1723 – 1735. The farm and house later known as “Arrowhead House” was passed on to Earle’s nephews, John & Benjamin Slocum.
The Early Twentieth Century Journey of this Important House
It was moved from its original location at the head of Apponagansett Bay (about 250 Russell’s Mills Road) by Mrs. Robert W. Swift, mother of Humphrey H. Swift and his wife Pam, in 1927.
Mrs. Swift had it taken apart, board by board, and reassembled on her property at Mishaum Point. It was placed on a granite outcrop forming a natural hearth for the two fireplaces in the living room, marrying the natural landscape to this historic house as though these distinctive cultural assets were meant to be together for eternity.
Historians noted that layers of old wallpaper and newspaper were removed to expose the old feather-edged pine paneling which she (Mrs.Swift) then rubbed with bees’ wax.
[Sources: Henry Worth historical narratives prior to 1909 plus other accounts from the 20th century]
Photograph by Fred Palmer, ca. 1904, on Russell’s Mills Road site; published in Henry Worth’s “Houses of Old Dartmouth”, 1909, ODHS.
Why is this House so Historically Significant to the Town of Dartmouth?
Unquestionably integral to Dartmouth’s Early History and its Founders
Its Rare House Style: This style was widely used in Plymouth and and in very few cases adopted in old Dartmouth. Except for later replicas, those few 18th century original gambrels in Dartmouth are long gone!
One of the oldest extant houses, of any style, in very good condition.
Built shortly after the King Philip’s War (1675), its original location [250 Russell’s Mills Road] was just a stone’s throw from Russell’s Garrison.
Historic houses that are relocated generally do not retain their original architectural elements. This house is different!
Its relocation to Mishaum Point about 1927 breathed new life into this early 18th century house.
It was methodically reassembled by what must have been expert craftsmen giving this house strength, structure, stability and support.
This house includes early 20th century craftsmanship with rare and preserved architectural elements and features from the early 18th century.
Unless someone happens to have explored the depths of Dartmouth’s early history or knows about ancient cemeteries in that area, many simply drive by, totally unaware of this location’s significance, nearby 250 Russell’s Mills Road. Only the very attuned and sensitive should feel the presence of ghosts.
The Historical Commission and preservation advocates tour the house and grounds on June 16, 2018. A wing and a few other notable enhancements include dormers.
The Stunning Interior of Original Features
Left image, a view of the room showing the two fireplaces adjacent to each other. Floor ca. early 20th century with an original subfloor beneath. Green paint, a modern touch, brightens up the room. The ceiling joists are examples of late 1920s construction when craftsmen reassembled the house. Post in center of room would have been added for stability.
Above, original wall panels and raised panel doors above the fireplace add a simple elegance to this room.
Wonderful examples of second period architecture (1710-1740).
Above, Firebox and brick work rebuilt ca. 1927 likely using brick from original site on Russell’s Mills Road. Outcropping of granite in situ serves as the hearth.
Right, doorway to the second story.
Open shelves typical in early houses for storage.
Doors, Doors, and More Doors
Original door leading to the back yard. To the left of the door can be seen a distinctive original gunstuck style corner post.
Raised panel doors of second period of architecture (1710-1740) surround the keeping room. The original wall boards located around this room in excellent condition as well.
Original door latch strikes a stark contrast to the lightly toned raised panel door. Note early hinges.
Raised panel door opens into a small adjacent room, perhaps a bedchamber.
Verso of the raised panel door seen into the adjacent room. Formal contracts with informal door construction.
Close-up of early H-hinge.
This door found connecting the second floor wing to the original main house. This raised panel door and latch in beautiful condition just as the others in the main house.
Historically significant raised panel door protected by a storm/screen door.
This original latch has been duplicated in modern homes. A classic!
A look at the bits and pieces adding to historical significance. Details and patina matter!
High contrast image of a gunstock post without the distraction of the corner walls.
Mortise and tenon presumably secured by a peg crafted later.
HL-Hinge, most common in the early 18th century..
An cabinet closure, practically crafted, known as a dog.
Latch detail on raised panel cabinet in keeping room above the fireplace.
Detail of H-Hinge feature.
Little evidence of powder post beetle damage. This section only one found. No longer active and long gone!
The roof rafters would have been cut and numbered at the mill and assembled on site. The roman number identification system found throughout the house.
More about Dartmouth’s Demolition Review ByLaw
Visit the Historical Commission’s webpage for more information about the Town’s Demolition Review Bylaw:
In making its assessment about whether or not a house is historically significant even before it holds a public hearing, the Commission relies on the Inventory of Historic Houses and other structures. For buildings, this is known as a Form B.
The Massachusetts Historical Commission maintains a database on the historic inventories throughout the Commonwealth, commonly known as MACRIS.
For those of you who love to get into the details, the Form B Inventory on this house can be viewed here:
(Note that on the cover page the construction date should be ca. 1725, not ca. 1760.)
A very special thanks to Linda DesRoches, preservation professional and Dartmouth early house expert who’s done her share of historic house preservation. Thanks to the local press for reporting on this house.
Please contact members of the Historical Commission with your comments. See above.
Or, contact Diane Gilbert through this website, or at [email protected] or (508) 965-7265.
“A Chamfer: A sloping or angular cut to round off the corner or edge of a board or timber.” (Edward P. Friedland)
The above image is a profile of a chamfered joist, one of two joists that are original to the Akin House construction, left extant in the great room/cooking hearth room. This technique was employed in the 17th century with many examples, some plain or decorated, featured in The Framed Houses of Massachusetts Bay, 1625-1725 by Abbott Lowell Cummings, 1979. [ISBN 0-674-31680-0]
Our antique house has been dated to about 1762 as evidenced by our research, but not far-fetched to assume that house building techniques going back to earlier times might well have been used into the 18th century. One might speculate that carpenter Job Mosher could have learned this technique from old timers or “mentors” of his day. Or perhaps, Job Mosher recycled these joists from another even older house. The reuse of materials was commonplace.
The building date of a house on its site doesn’t necessarily imply that earlier construction styles and techniques weren’t used. Well advised to keep in mind that the “devil is in the details.” In this case and many other cases as we try to understand and learn from extant old houses, these details and motivations are buried with the folks who really know.
Now for the Good News
There are only two such original joists in situ along with a few remaining original beams, corner posts, collar ties/rafters. Compared with demolition by neglect, a mixture of old with new far more desirable. We coined this “pragmatic preservation.” Better than nothing? You bet!
Back to the Joists Sitting Happily among New Construction
View from the second floor from October 2017. Note the two original joists side by side with new oak beams.
Close-up of the joist connected to the plate.
Another detail of a joist.
This joist end connecting to an original girt, above the hearth.
Notice the scraped bottom edge of the joist. Since these timbers were imperfect or uneven, a certain amount of trimming was required to install the plaster & lath ceiling, long since removed due to severe water and other damage in the room.
Modern Whitewash as a Means to Differentiate the Old
and the New
The newly installed oak timbers to replace the damaged ones were painted with whitewash in April, 2018. This effectively shows the original construction work against the new. We opted for whitewash because its use was prevalent in early houses and no one will mistake this finish as historic. Some evidence of early whitewashing can be seen on these original joists.
The Akin House as a “Study House”
In a Building History of Northern New England (2001, ISBN-13: 978-1-584-65-099-7) which applies to all New England houses, James L. Garvin writes on page 10.
“The principal framing members of seventeenth-century houses––the posts, girts, and summer beams––were usually planed (or more roughly smoothed with an adze) after hewing. They were frequently decorated with molded chamfers on their exposed corners or arrises. These members were intended to be exposed to view.
“After 1700, with few exceptions, the framing members in dwellings were intended to be covered, either by wall or ceiling plaster or by casings of planed one-inch boards. It is almost always a mistake to strip away such a covering and expose any part of the skeleton of an eighteenth- or nineteenth century house in the belief that the builder intended this.”
Tradition supports Garvin’s view. Why have we chosen to leave the ceilings and corner posts exposed? There were no viable plaster & lath ceilings or original ceiling panels left to show, never mind preserve or restore. By 2008, the walls not much better.
Formal Parlor as found in 2004. Photo by the late Tim Sylvia.
Great room/large kitchen area as found in 2004. Photo by the late Tim Sylvia.
By 2008, wall finishes had deteriorated.
Horsehair plaster detached from lath, opening for vermin.
Akin House as Study House
Our long-term goal was always to present the Akin House as a “Study House”, its severely damaged existing conditions supported a study house strategy. The new post-and-beam reconstruction co-exisiting with the original underscores a skeletal approach to show the forensics in certain interior locations of the house––yes, the house as historic artifact illustrative of the ways to save and preserve a historic asset.
An education for visitors if ever there was one, and for house stewards, preservationists and historians, interpretive opportunities galore.