Monthly Archives: February 2018

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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