Nails: one of the things I never knew I wanted to know about.
Who knew the study of nails would provide so many clues about the age of the red house.
The evolution of the nail goes something like this:
There are three generations of nails
Wrought nails: All nails were made by hand until the late 1700s. At that time England was the largest manufacturer of nails in the world. Nails were so highly valued it was common practice in the American colonies, when moving, to burn a building down in order to retrieve them.
Wrought nails were made one at a time by a blacksmith from a square iron rod. The rod was heated and then hammered on all four sides to form a point. It was re heated and cut off and placed in an anvil where a blacksmith would hammer the top to form the nail head. Until the 1790s and the early 1800s, hand-wrought nails were used to fasten sheathing and roof boards on building frames
Nail making was an important facet of life but not a practice restricted to the lower classes. Because nails were hard to come by it was common for families to make nails at home. Nails were made for their traditional purpose (to hold pieces of wood together), and also used as barter
Machine cut nails came into use around 1790 making it possible to manufacture nails on a much wider scale. The invention of the nail cutting machine rapidly put the United States in front in the manufacturing of nails and has lead the world ever since.
Type A Cut nails (1790s-1820s). Machine cut nails started out with just the nail portion being cut from a machine and the head was still hammered onto the nail by hand.
Even Thomas Jefferson was very proud of his hand made nails. “In our private pursuits it is a great advantage that every honest employment is deemed honorable. I am myself a nail maker.” Jefferson was among the first to purchase the newly invented nail-cutting machine in 1796 and produce nails for sale.
Type B cut nails (1810-1900).
Starting around 1810, the entire nail was cut from a machine, sheared off in a tapered shape. The head was also formed by machine. These nails were more square than rounded with irregular or square heads. They were also made with iron.
Type B cut nails were to become the most commonly used nails through of the greater part of the nineteenth century.
Wire nail (1880s-present)
Wire nails were developed mid to late 1800s in the United States and were originally for small things like cigar boxes. They are made from steel wire and are much cheaper to produce than cut nails. Wire nails came into prominent use by 1890.
We discovered that the red house has all three generations of nails. The hand wrought nails we found in the exterior plank siding of the house indicated it was built in the latter 1700s.
Type A Cut nails appeared in the lath and plaster we removed from the kitchen walls, indicating that the house was updated in 1810-1820. Both Type A and B cut nails were found in the third and fourth additions to the house so we can surmise that those additions spanned across 1830-1870s. Wire nails were found in the upstairs dormer added mid century.
There is no doubt about it… the red house is really old…well over 150 years old in fact… but just how old? We have no idea.
The MLS listing sheet misled us at the get go, stating that the house was built in 1810. One step into the kitchen and we knew that date was wrong. The wide pine floorboards
and the wrought iron strap hinges door hinges
appeared to be much older. Our descent to the basement disclosed massive hand hewn beams and sills and hinted at what may have been an original foundation and later additions.
As a side note, the listing agent happened to mention in passing Daniel Chester French had designed the living room and the gardens.
So…not just a really old house, but also maybe a famous house? That added a certain appeal and cachet, right?
Bring on the intrigue.
This September Will and I began the dirty, dusty demolition process in the red house. We started in the kitchen and dining room, the two rooms that face the street. As we yanked down the plaster and lath and exposed the ceiling beams we could tell we had a real antique on our hands.
Our demolition continued up to the second floor where more clues awaited us. We would stand and stare at the walls and beams and try to identify what we could. But we had no answers. We could only guess.
Sometimes it is all about who you know….
My good friend Lydia is a student working towards her Master of Science in Design and Historic Preservation degree in the joint program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Hancock Shaker Village. https://umasshsv.wordpress.com/ She loves dusty old houses and visited the red house to see our progress. She was able to tell us a few things from what she saw in the exposed walls and hardware but suggested that we contact Myron Stachiw, one of her professors, for the real deal.
And so we did.
Myron Stachiw received a BA in Anthropology (historical archaeology) from Brown University and an MA from Boston University, American and New England Studies (social history, archaeology, architectural history). Since the early 1970s he has worked in museums and historical agencies such as Old Sturbridge Village, Colonial Williamsburg, Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities as a curator, historian, and archaeologist; as a consultant to numerous state and local preservation agencies and museums; and as an adjunct and associate professor of history, architectural history, and historic preservation in universities in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. He is currently affiliated with the joint program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Hancock Shaker Village/ Master of Science in Design and Historic Preservation.
Myron spent the better part of the day pulling nails, (nails…that is a topic for another post) poking his flashlight into dark corners, climbing up ladders and creeping into crawl spaces.
This is what we learned.
Myron was able to identify 6 stages of addition/alteration to the house spanning over a period of approximately 240 years.
Our renovation is #7.
The original structure was built somewhere in the mid to late 1700s but the exact decade is hard to pin down. It may have originally been a workshop before a residence.
The mind reels with possibilities……Perhaps it played a role in the American Revolution, which was getting into full swing in 1774 in Stockbridge. Troops gathered at the Red Lion Inn less than a mile down the street to join the cause. Who knows?
This is from Myron’s notes
The building’s frame is not that of a domestic structure, more like that of a workshop. The heavy framing, massive, closely- spaced joists, and the chimney scar at the gable end opposite the entry seem to support this theory. The heavy framing of the attic floor suggests lots of materials or other stuff was stored up there. The absence of what appears to be a framed stair opening in the original structure also adds to this assessment. What appears to be a framed opening just behind the current chimney may in fact be an access to the garrett – perhaps for a very steep stair or a ladder that was used when necessary to get up there. The absence of what appears to be a framed stair opening in the original structure also adds to this assessment. What appears to be a framed opening just behind the current chimney may in fact be an access to the garrett – perhaps for a very steep stair or a ladder that was used when necessary to get up there.
The structure may have been moved to its current foundation judging by the double sills, and three feet was added to include stairs to access attic, perhaps late 1700s.
I recall finding in the cellar that the entire structure sat on what seemed to be double sills. My interpretation at the time was that the building may have been moved to this older, smaller foundation, but cannot be certain about that now
The present roof system was added when the building was enlarged the first time to the rear (side away from the road). We measured the rafters which appeared to be the same length, and the peak was midway between the ends of the rafters where they met the plates, indicating they did not reuse the rafters at the front of the building and just add newer, longer ones to the rear.
The house was expanded to include a new side entrance and small bedroom- early 1820s-1830s. Some improvements to the original two rooms were made at this time based on the nails found in the lathe.
From Myron’s notes
The third expansion to the rear enlarged the depth of the back room with an extended leanto roof. That in turn was altered with the raising of portion of the roof leanto roof to a dormer.I recall pulling nails, but not the details of their age. The feather-edge paneling was applied with wrought nails, I member, and I think the lath was applied with type 2 (c1815-1835) nails. If I remember correctly, this correlated with the third expansion that enlarged the rear pile of rooms.
A large addition was added in the rear dating late 1800s to early 1900s. One portion was built directly over dirt where we discovered evidence of a cistern, and then poured concrete under the last 6 feet. Possible designed by Daniel Chester French or his architect, Henry Bacon.
Final addition was rear ell room (designed in colonial revival style
5) An entrance shed and bathroom downstairs added @ 1920
6) An additional dormer added upstairs mid century to add a bedroom.
7) and now our renovation which includes knocking almost everything down, restoring what we can…stay tuned!
Renovating a bathroom- ok no problem…but relocating it too???
Lets face it, one of the first things most people including me notice when looking at a house is not the basement, (which holds all the secrets by the way) but the appearance of the kitchen and the bathrooms. Sometimes it is all about appearances. And…these rooms often need the most updating and the price tag of renovations can affect negotiations on the selling price of a house.
We already had an idea of how much work we were in for because the cottage was condemned and the space the bathroom was in was beyond repair. The original bathroom in the white cottage was in a shed, attached to the rear of the cottage. It had been badly damaged from the fire in the barn about 15 years ago and left neglected.
Tearing off the shed and rebuilding a new structure to maintain the square footage was not in our budget. So not only did we have to remodel the bathroom, we had to relocate it too. This amount of work was a far cry from my former realtor’s quip about every house she showed me back in Fairfield County…”A little paint, a little wallpaper and it will be as cute as can be.” Right? I guess I have come a long way.
Will decided to do a lot of the demolition himself to help us save money. First he stripped the fixtures out of the bathroom and cut out the waste pipe. Ick. I had the easy job of photographing his progress and documenting it for this blog. When I saw the 300 plus pound cast iron bathtub lying on its side in the living room I wondered just how he managed to move it all this by himself.
Ever watch a Popeye cartoon? Popeye invariably winds up in a hopeless situation and pops open a can of spinach, which he always carries with him, and gulps the contents. Upon swallowing it his physical strength becomes super human and he saves the day. Sometimes I think Will has super human strength…I will have to find out where he hides his spinach.
The new space for the bathroom was incorporated into the footprint of the cottage, relocating the bathroom into the space where the kitchen was. In the next cost saving phase of demolition Will muscled out the appliances and began to knock down the wall separating the kitchen and bedroom.
The floor plan of the bathroom was fairly straightforward- a tub with shower, toilet and sink. Regardless of how simple we wanted to keep things, the process of putting all the pieces together was at times overwhelming.
And there is always the never -ending saga of the disconnect between my taste level and my budget to contend with.
What I didn’t expect was the sequence of the decisions I had to make- they all seemed to be backwards. For example, the electrician asked me where I wanted the electrical outlets? I don’t know…the walls aren’t even up yet.
Next came the tiling. Timeless and classic, white subway tiles for the tub surround, and honed marble for the floor.
But just when you think everything is zipping right long, it all falls apart. The tile installation didn’t go as smoothly as planned. It was a bit wonky and it all had to be ripped down and re done. This stalled the project for several weeks.
Can you see how uneven all the tiles are? And…two different colors of grout. OOOPS
Next came the vanity, my favorite part of the bathroom. Will was inspired to do something fairly industrial and designed a steel frame, which we had made by Sam Finch of Finch Welding.
One of the hardest choices to make was the light fixture above the mirror. I don’t really care for it or the way it casts light.
But LOVE the medicine cabinet- we chose Kohler’s Verdera
And choosing towel racks? Oh boy- those almost put me over the top. We ended up copying the towels hooks used in our friend Bobbie’s house on Martha’s Vineyard. She does everything right when it comes to houses in our book.
The bathroom is up and running, but still not accessorized. Stay tuned for an image of the complete project.
Need any Acme Portable holes or Acme earthquake kits? No? How about some Acme Jet-Propelled Roller Skates? That is what instantly came to mind when we saw this sign.
Remember the infamous Acme Corporation featured in Looney Tunes’ Road Runner cartoon? Wile E. Coyote often purchases ludicrous gizmos from a mail-order company, the fictitious and ironically named Acme Corporation, which he hopes will help him catch the Road Runner. The devices invariably backfire in improbable and spectacular ways and the coyote usually ends up burnt to a crisp, squashed flat, or at the bottom of a ravine.
According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, the definition for acme is as follows: the highest point or stage; also: one that represents perfection of the thing expressed
Acme Kitchenettes Corp based in Hudson, NY has been in business manufacturing unique and dependable kitchenettes for over eighty years. Acme takes great pride in delivering the best kitchenette in the market, at very competitive prices. Customer satisfaction and fast and reliable service are what they hang their hat on. In our experience, we could not agree more.
Acme Kitchenette Corp. can manufacture specific to your needs and offers a variety of models to pick from. It is pretty amazing. “Efficiency” models run from 30-48 inches wide and feature a sink, 2 burner cooktops and refrigerator. “Full Feature” models come in widths ranging from 48 inches to six feet and include additional features-4 burner cooktops, gas or electric ovens, microwaves. Upper cabinets, dishwashers, range hoods come in the most deluxe models. “Barrier Free” models are also available, conforming to the strictest local and state codes for wheelchair and physically disabled accessibility.
To customize the perfect kitchen all depends on just how wide a space you have to work and what appliances you prefer. The choices for counter-tops and cabinet faces come next. Acme offers extensive options for counter-tops- the range swings from high-pressure laminates, solid surfaces like Wilsonart and Formica along with stainless steel. Cabinet choices include thermo foil, solid wood and bamboo.
Will and I went for the 60 inch model, 2 burner gas cooktop, electric range and refrigerator. Stainless steel counter-top and Formica’s Basalt Slate Matte finish for the cabinet base.
The Kitchen was perfect. The challenge we faced after we relocated the kitchen was giving it “soul”
A quick trip to Ikea for additional storage- we purchased a wall cabinet and a Stenstorp kitchen cart to add to the left of the kitchenette along with a shelf. We added a vintage lab cart from our old apartment on the other side for storage and chopping space. Doug Kent’s Goldie, a birthday gift from Will , sits on the shelf. And Voila- instant soul.
New Year’s day was a busy one for the red house. Here is a highlight of things to come. Dan Clark can manipulate this heavy equipment as if it were a delicately choreographed ballet, of bucket, cement and dirt. Truly amazing.