Monthly Archives: December 2017

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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