February 27, 2012

The story of an 18thc. New England house in BEFORE and AFTER photos~PART TWO

This is the only 'old' original photograph I  have of my house. This was taken in the late 1800's, but before 1902. You see a barn just to the left of what is now my taproom and woodshed. This barn is no longer standing, but I often find cow bones and teeth in the gardens by my stone walls. Farther to the left you see just a corner of what was 'Chas. Keyes General Store' in the mid 1800's. That building no longer stands, and there is only a bit of wooded land, and then another old house-turned-into-a-few-apartments next door. You can see the enormous amount of wood piled up in front of what was once the barn on my property, and see how important wood fires were in early New England; and they still are. This original photograph of the house is just one thing we found that will be given to whoever buys our house.
UPDATE 2014~ Our lovingly restored 18thc. cape is FOR SALE. See our house for sale blog information.

The brook in our yard in the first weeks of spring... and in summer~

Welcome to my second post chronicling my long journey restoring a dilapidated 1700's house, much of it alone, and with no funds to speak of.
In this installment, I present my 'main room'. This is the room with the cooking fireplace and 'beehive oven', as it is popularly known.
My little 230+ year old cape is a collection of rooms around a massive center chimney which serves 3 fireplaces and the 18thc. baking oven in the wall. This is the classic configuration of an early New England 'cape', as this style house is commonly called.

When I bought my house, all three of the original fireplaces and the bake oven were here, but they had had numerous bad 'patch jobs' over the decades, all with a variety of hair-raising styles of bricks of many eras. Some were shiny glazed, some pink, some bright red, some yellowish---all hideous. I knew when I moved in that the fireplaces were condemned and had to come down. You could crawl into one of the 3 fireboxes and look up and see huge holes in the masonry. I remember I did that the night I moved in, and I could see large patches of dark sky with stars.

I could not have known however, the magnitude of the job, or that an inebriated contractor would walk off early on, and leave me with a 4 foot square hole in my roof and a chimney taken only half way down to the upstairs floor, in November.
I had paid him some money. I could not afford to hire someone else---I would end up chipping out and hauling over 4000 old brick out of this house almost alone, so that new, beautiful and safe fireplaces could be built from scratch, replicating the originals.

I liken this job to the ant who ate the elephant----one bite at a time.

This is me signing papers making an offer on the house, July 1998, as realtors look on. (*Note: the dates on the BEFORE photos are incorrect).

This photo was taken by me the day I first went to look at the house. All furnishings are those of the previous owner. This was the fireplace wall. In this small photo you can't really see all the outlandish patch jobs to the bricks. The wooden fireplace wall is NOT the one original to the house. Those goofy panels were jerry-built by someone and each one was a different size! This picture does not adequately show how terrible it really was. All the old paneling in the room was badly and unevenly stained, and then slathered in nasty, shiny varnish.



You can see some of the nasty patch jobs in the old brickwork of the 'main room' fireplace.

The bake oven is fired up for baking. After many hours of keeping a ripping fire going, you sweep out the coals, swab down the oven with a wet rag on a stick, and "commence to baking"...

Glen built a beehive oven by hand, and exactly as it was done over 200 years ago. He built a proper shape with wet sand and laid many layers of brick over it. After a few days, we opened the door and shoveled out the sand into 5 gallon buckets, and there was a perfectly shaped oven.


You can see more of the horrible, later, blotchy stain and shiny varnish.  Note that all the trim in this room was painted a bilious orange. The former owners kept a chair in front of the closed door to the front entry because they were using it as a closet. (How silly!)
Oy....What can I say...
So sad...NO chimney...but one fine day a big truck and crane came and delivered my new fireplaces in the form of thousands of hand-made reproduction bricks, bags of mortar, etc. to my front yard.

NO MORE FIREPLACES--- Here you are looking at what USED to be the fireplace wall in my main room, and what once had been an apprx. 10 x 10 foot 'room' of solid masonry. To the left is the back of the fireplace opening in the dining room. Straight ahead you can see the back of the fireplace opening in my bedroom and the back of an original built in wall cupboard that is also in that room. You are looking at a sight not seen in over 200 years. 4000 old bricks had to be chipped out by hand, from the chimney all the way to the rock and dirt of the ground, and taken out of the house by hand in 5 gallon buckets. I did much of this myself. It then took me a couple months to load them into a friend's pickup truck and haul them to the dump to dispose of them one load at a time.
I was new to New England having come alone over 1000 miles to move here. My neighbor lady across the road came over with 4 children under the age of 11, (three of them triplet girls), and another wheelbarrow, and we all chipped away at those thousands of bricks.
(Several years later my neighbor who had come to the rescue with her kids to help me all those years ago told me that after seeing the disaster area that was my home, she had gone home and told her husband, "I feel so sorry for her. An army of church ladies couldn't get that house clean"! But I did, and alone, after doing every job.) 
Down in the old masonry, I found an over-200 year old, hand-whittled child's fishing pole. It now hangs over a door in the room. To hear the rest of the story see this previous post~
This old 18thc. fishing pole is another item that will be given to the new owners who buy our house.

None of the 3 hearths on the floor in front of the fireplaces were still the originals, so they were jack-hammered out with a neighbor's help. Here my fabulous mason contractor and friend, Glen, and his helper work to expertly reconstruct 3 period fireplaces and a working beehive oven. Because this was all going on in December and January, and all supplies were in the front yard being brought in all day long through the front door, it stayed open all day. I couldn't have the heat on, so I and friends who were helping me paint, scrape, etc., wore heavy sweaters, hats, and fingerless gloves all day.
Getting ready to pour a new foundation to support the massive center chimney...It is so neat to see these lath and old boards that had not seen the light of day in over 200 years.
 I wrote a little story of how I came to be here, and that I was undertaking the restoration of the sad old house alone, and rebuilding my life shattered by a tragedy. I added a photo of me and my little dog, Phoebe, dated it, and sealed it into a plastic ziploc bag. My mason Glen later bricked it up deep in the center of the new masonry; a time capsule that surely will never see the light of day until I am long gone and this house crumbles...And now, just a few 'AFTER' shots of this same room...The fireplace is warm and comforting, and I have cooked many a meal in the period bake oven.  
(*Ignore the dates on the BEFORE photos. The camera was not set properly. All of this was taking place in Dec. 98-Jan. 99)


Adam made the bake oven door for me from ancient wood as a Valentine's Day present one year...I did the faux 'burn marks/smoke' painting on the fireplace surround to 'age' it.


There is one more 'BEFORE' photo I would like to share with you. This is a picture of me taken in Dec. of my first Christmas in my home, only 3 months after I moved in.  I was a widow of tragic circumstances. I was 47 years old.  I had no husband and no money. I moved here alone, with only my little dog, Phoebe,  for company on what I always told her was "the big adventure of our lives"...

December 1998~My first Christmas in my new old home.

*TO SEE MORE, INCLUDING THE LATEST UPDATED 'AFTER' photos of our home, please visit our website TOUR page~

February 25, 2012

Handmade ladies' 18thc. China silk garters and beautiful period shoes now for sale in our Sutlery!

*UPDATE February 26th~Thank you to all of you who have just  purchased!

At long last! I am now offering ladies' 18thc. style 'fancy' garters on the SUTLERY page of our website as of today. 
I made each pair myself of gorgeous 100% heavy print China silk, with satin ribbon ties.
As you can see, they look beautiful with the 'Cream Pearl' period style shoes that we also sell. I've seen other shoes on other sites, but they just cannot compare to these, and it's very true that "you get what you pay for"~ Our shoes are made expressly for dancers and are high quality, padded, and very comfortable.

I hope you will visit and order your pretty shoes now, and treat yourself to a pair of luxurious silk garters as well! 

*UPDATE 5/12~We have sold out of our minimum shoe order. We may again offer these shoes for sale again if I get email requests from a lot of ladies who would like a pair~)