This Old House is Keeping Secrets
Happy New Year! We hope everyone had a lovely holiday season, despite the weather.
We’ve been quite busy in both our personal and business lives, but unfortunately, not much has happened with the house. We mentioned before that many approvals are needed to get the project moving, and at the moment we are still trying to hash those out. When it comes to preservation projects, there are as many opinions as methodologies, and not everyone always sees eye-to-eye.
We haven’t been completely idle though. We’ve discovered that our house is quite the mystery. Everyone involved has been operating under the assumption that the middle section of the house (and the giant fireplace) were built in 1744, with the larger stone section built in 1811. After all, someone conveniently labeled them as such.
In a major plot twist, it looks like this may not be the case at all! We got our first inkling of this when two different preservation experts noticed that the foundation of the larger section appeared to be older, with the middle section built onto it, not the other way around. Some reconnaissance in the basement revealed that the support under the 1811 fireplace appears to be designed to support two corner fireplaces instead of the single one, suggesting there was a dividing wall in the living room perpendicular to what is there now. It gets even weirder when you realize that at the opposite end of that part of the house, there is an offset fireplace, but in pictures from the 1920’s the chimney is in the middle of the house. We have a wandering chimney, folks. The plot thickens.
Marilyn Cummings of the Delaware Township Historic Advisory Committee kindly arranged a walk-through last week with Michael Cuba, from the NJ Barn Company. Mike is a historic timber-frame expert. Consider him an old house forensicist. He’s forgotten far more about old wood buildings than I’ll ever know. We spent several (freezing) hours exploring the attics and basement. Discovered some neat old marriage marks, tiny beaded details, well done (and not so well done) joinery, and one weird door that makes no sense. He confirmed that several details we were questioning were probably added in the 40’s. And then dropped the bomb that it’s not possible the 1744 section of the house was built in 1744. Or in the 1700’s at all for that matter. Based on the framing, he feels 1820’s is more likely. It’s looking more and more like the bigger part of the house was significantly renovated in 1811, and the Federal style fireplace fits right into that theory, with the more rustic addition added shortly after. OMG the handy date labels lied!
So, we’ve ended up creating more questions than we’ve managed to answer. Best we can figure though, from limited information, is that the house was significantly renovated, at a minimum, in the early 1800’s, 1910’s-1930’s and 1970’s. There are stone corbels with metal brackets on the front and back of the middle part of the house that no one can figure out the purpose of. There’s a well in the back porch, where the kitchen is going to go. It’s been capped at floor level, but it you pry up the plywood on the side, there’s a pit with an old tank and you can actually see down into the old well. A previous resident mentioned someone’s kid nearly falling down it, so I’d assume that was the catalyst for closing it up. Numerous other interesting little tidbits have been found. The front of the house definitely has nicer stonework. Once upon a time someone tried to jazz the country house up. Oh, and the stucco is actually Portland cement, which is super bad for the stone. Anyway, it’s been interesting to trying and piece the puzzle together, though I doubt we’ll ever know the whole story.
As a present to you all, here is a lovely rendering by our intern, Kris Welshman, showing a proposed vision of what the house might look like next winter, by which point we hope to be moved in.