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.
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.
Brickwork in progress. Every brick reused and reinstalled. Rare and early 18th century English bricks used as ballasts when transported to the Colonies were used to make up for the shortfall. Ratio 90% Akin House bricks to 10% English bricks brought on site.
Two layers of modern firebrick, 8 inches in thickness, exceeding code.
Close-up of original beehive oven.
Detail reused brick with mortar to approximate 18th century formulations.
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.
Fireplace in sitting room/small parlor undergoing restoration.
Fireplace in the formal parlor, restored.
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.
The featured image above is captioned “Akin Place, S. Dart. Photo by Henry Willis of New Bedford,” donated to the Dartmouth Historical Commission by David Santos. We believe it’s Henry P. Willis (1853-1927). Research in the works to determine approximate date this photo was taken. Other than the 1905 photo by Fred Palmer, this is the earliest we’ve seen so far. Neighborhood undeveloped and mostly farmland. In 2018, the house exterior and footprint are virtually unchanged.
These scanned photographs were found in a scrapbook kept by local artist, historian and photographer, Theodosia Chase (1875-1974). It was donated to the Dartmouth Historical Commission. Note the caption on the photo at right: Richard Canfield’s Birthplace, Padanaram. Since Canfield’s mother, Julia Akin Canfield (1820-1884) lived in New Bedford with her husband, William Canfield (1809-1865), it’s more likely Richard Canfield (1855-1914) was born in New Bedford. After being widowed, Julia relocated to the Akin House where she lived until her death.
[More on Akin family genealogy and family anecdotes in a future post.]
Another photograph of the Akin House from the Dartmouth Historical Commission’s collection donated by David Santos. The caption states: J. (T.) Chase, Mrs. Rhonda Kimball Howes, related to Richard Canfield.” To the left side of the house (the north side) the barn can be seen, since demolished. Date unknown. This photograph was likely made by Theodosia Chase.
A circa 1945 Christmas Card from the Janiak family to the Weeks family in Dartmouth. Greeting cards, like this one, with an image of the family home were typical of the times. This artifact was donated to the Dartmouth Historical Commission by Mrs. Francine Weeks of Dartmouth.
By the caption with this published photo, it could have accompanied an article about Richard Canfield (1855-1914). Theodosia Chase’s photo of Miss Caroline Akin (1901-1978) in Quaker period dress was taken in the gathering room/kitchen at the Akin House and published in a newspaper, probably New Bedford’s Evening Standard, in March 1927.
According to Helen Akin Klimowicz, Caroline (Carolyn) Akin was the daughter of Charles G. Akin (1870-1953) and Caroline Swain Kelley (1876-1950). Remembered fondly by Mrs. Klimowicz, “Aunt Car” is the sister to her father Charles G. Akin Jr.’s (1900-1983.) Caroline married John Frederick Wareing (1902-1987) on August 15, 1938 and in their senior years owned a house on High Street, not far from the Akin Cemetery and the Akin House. They enjoyed sailing in their small boat named The Green Duck. Caroline Akin Wareing was proud of her Quaker heritage thanks to the influence of her maiden aunt Helen Akin (1834-1927).
Akin Family History Credits
It bears repeating that historian Henry B. Worth (1858-1923) wrote extensively about local history, Padanaram Village and the Akin Family. See archives on our website and visit the New Bedford Whaling Museum.
Peggi Medeiros, DHPT board member, local researcher, historian and author [New Bedford Mansions] has dug deeply into Akin family history, finding important nuggets that few others come across. Also check the archives on this website for her Akin Family narratives. Peggi continues her research on the Akins, uncovering new information all the time. Peggi writes a bi-weekly column about area history for the Standard-Times called “Mansions, Mansards and Mills.”
Thanks to the Akin Family descendants for their invaluable help in developing this blog. Without reliable and source-based information through access to the David Akin Family Tree (built by Robert Larry Akin), we could not tell the story of the lives of the Akin ancestors. Equally valuable is the anecdotal information [and artifacts handed down] provided by Larry’s cousins, Helen Akin Klimowicz, Katie Simenson, and Judith Akin Smith.
The story of the Akin House with its extensive family history about its inhabitants is rare among historic houses in the area. With a wealth of information at our disposal, we have been able to fill gaps in history, especially the lives of the Akins in Dartmouth during the late 19th and early 20th centuries because of the Akin descendants.
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.
Before: Steel post in center of the formal parlor
supporting a failing Summer Beam; temporary repair from 2009. Gone.
After: Joists connecting to newly installed Summer Beam in formal parlor. At this stage, plaster & lath ceilings not yet removed. Fall 2017.
Knee wall installed for roof/rafter structural stability. Note: Summer Beam detail from second story above.
Formal parlor below with detailed view of Summer Beam from second story. Tom Figueiredo assessing the work.
Merging the old with the new. The plate has been replaced with a new beam and the steel post removed.
Second story view of great room/kitchen. Plate replaced and steel posts removed.
Post and beam construction close-up.
Detail showing a scarfed joint connecting the new plate with a beam installed in 2005. Small Bedroom/Keeping Room.
Detailed view from second story showing the Summer Beam affixed to a cross-beam with screws and pegs.
Formal Parlor: Covered corner post, circa Greek Revival. Popular wood paneling of the 1960s-1970s. Gone!
Formal Parlor: Original corner post with beaded trim removed. It will remain.
Formal Parlor: Newly installed corner post to replace a non-viable post with inadequate repairs from 2005. See image below.
Formal Parlor: The Corner Post replaced by new one. Retained as an artifact for education purposes.
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.
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.
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.
Right: the 19th century beehive oven, constructed but never used when another fireplace was built in front of the original.
Close-up of original beehive oven.
Beehive oven interior, work in progress.
Brickwork in progress. Every brick reused and reinstalled. Rare and early 18th century English bricks used as ballasts when transported to the Colonies were used to make up for the shortfall. Ratio 90% Akin House bricks to 10% English bricks brought on site.
Two layers of modern firebrick, 8 inches in thickness, exceeding code.
The footprint of the later Greek Revival firebox.
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.
Above: Completing the flue installation; new flashing installed to prevent any future leaks.
Other images: second story work, flue installation in progress and final parging.
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.
A view of the chimney foundation built of large granite stones. To the right, mortar repairs from another era but repaired again in 2009 using the mortar formulation from the 18th century.
The house foundation on the south side, repaired in 2009. The cellar entrance to the far left and the east foundation barely visible.
Another view of the house foundation. Note the largest granite pieces at the bottom, partly below cellar grade.
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.
A view of the fireplace and hearth in the sitting room, exposing its granite shelf after the removal of the Greek Revival mantel.
To the left is the back side of the original beehive oven from the sitting room. The chimney stack shows a repair with later mortar.
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.
We will find that some large granite slabs were in fact a part of the original fireplace and hearth while others were used along with bricks for support or filler. The far left photo may be evidence of the early fireplace built with granite. Note repairs and brick instability in these photos.
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.
A close-up view of the firebox after the mortar was ground out for restoration preparation. To the right, a closeup of the whitewash. Applied for what purpose? Was this stack exposed originally? It would have matched the whitewashed exterior wall panels in this room.
Thus ends this blog with an image of the dust from the old mortar collected in these buckets.
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.
Closeup of small segment. Notice the nails and the fine workmanship to chamfer the timbers in place using an adze.
To Integrate the Old with the New
Preservationists must walk a fine line between fealty to preserving the “original” [as built] and “new”  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.
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.