The seven lives of the red house

Red House

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 DSCN0379

Wide plank floor boards
Wide plank floor boards

and the wrought iron strap hinges door hinges

The front door leading into the original structure - note the wide planks  and original strap hinges
The front door leading into the original structure – note the wide planks and original strap 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.

Original post in the corner of the original structure
Original post in the corner of the original structure

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.trunnnel

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.

Chimney scarChimney scar…

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.

Mryon adds,

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

red house basement
red house basement
Basement of red house
Basement of red house

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.

first floor bedroom
first floor bedroom

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
The "Daniel Chester French" room
The “Daniel Chester French” room

5) An entrance shed and bathroom downstairs added @ 1920

the shed including bath
the shed including bath

6) An additional dormer added upstairs mid century to add a bedroom.

Dormer added in the red house to create another bedroom space- love these windows
Dormer added in the red house to create another bedroom space- love these windows

7) and now our renovation which includes knocking almost everything down, restoring what we can…stay tuned!

 

 

4 thoughts on “The seven lives of the red house”

  1. How interesting! Love hearing the history of this wonderful home…..look forward to hearing more and maybe learning about the families that left their mark.

  2. Love those wrought iron strap hinges….to me the big intrigue is what kind of workshop it may have been…and “garret”…what a great and evocative word!

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