The red house really is a wonderful place to be in. It is a happy house. It is full of light and welcoming energy. At the end of the day, when Will and I sit down in front of the fire to catch up on the news, not one evening goes by without looking at each other and saying,
“Can you believe we live here?” We are indeed so very very fortunate.
It feels good to fill the rooms with friends and family. I wonder a lot about who lived in the house before us, and if they all felt the same way.
This holiday season we put the red house to the ultimate test and hosted four generations of my family (which happens to span 89 years in age between patriarch and the twins) and everything worked, everything flowed, everything was perfect. Just ask Grace and Henry who figured out how to run in circles around the downstairs, playing peek-a-boo and dissolving us all into gales of laughter.
So yes, a day doesn’t go by when I think I have to get back to posting on the blog- to keep you all updated and to tell you all how all that hard work was worth it. It is not that I don’t want to, or am no longer interested- I do have a lot to post about- but it is just…. call it Christmas, call it working, call it my new role as airbnb chambermaid…call it too many excuses right?
And then this happened- a comment on my blog that magically appeared and has given me just the reason to start posting again :
I came across your blog about the red house that belonged to Marion Hague. I was doing some research on Marion Hague, who happened to be my great, great aunt. My father, James D. Hague was the last owner of the North Star gold mine in my family. I would love to tell you more about Marion, Eleanor, et al should you be interested.
I couldn’t be more excited about contacting this person, and finding out more about Miss Hague- I have missed writing about her.
“I always called it Miss Hague’s house. She was an old lady who lived there for years. She had one of the first cars in Stockbridge. Her license plate was the number 3.”
Susan Leroy Merrill, Yale Hill resident.
Miss Marion Hague owned the red house from 1914, perhaps even earlier, until 1971 when the house and contents passed onto the local Episcopal minister upon her death. I was so excited to find the letters and her cancelled checks that it has led me to do a fair amount of research, digging up clues and trying to string together random snippets of information to find out more about her.
Doing the research about Miss Hague has been like slipping down Alice’s rabbit hole and the next thing I know I am somewhere else, my own version of Wonderland-Miss Hague’s world, and weeks have passed and I haven’t posted a word.
Surprisingly this has also become six degrees of separation for my husband Will, who is related in various ways to several of the main characters in Miss Hague’s life that I have stumbled upon, including the artist Lydia Field Emmett who also owned one of the three plots of land in the deed, Frank Crowninshield who started Vanity Fair, and Joseph Hodges Choate, lawyer and diplomat.
My research into whom Miss Hague’s parents were has become a fascinating look into American history..think gold mines…abolitionism…artists… There is much much more to discover and post.
This is my teaser alert….
Miss Hague’s father, James D Hague, Harvard educated, was a mining engineer in San Francisco, Ca. He purchased North Star Mining Company,Grass Valley California, in 1887. It was the second largest producing gold mine in the country. Miss Hague’s mother was Mary Ward Foote, great grandaughter of General Andrew Ward who served under George Washington in the Revolutionary War, also cousin of Harriet Beecher Stowe, American abolitionist and author, and sister in law of Mary Hallock Foote, an American illustrator and author.
How is that for starters? It only gets better from here.
Ever wonder about the people who used to live in your house? Were they happy living there? Were they nice? Did they have a zillion dogs, or a gaggle of happy children? And ever let your mind wander and wonder what you might find left behind in the back of a closet or under a floorboard?
Our tenants, who resided in the red house when we bought it, had been there for ten or so years before we began demolition this fall. They told us that there were two benevolent ghosts, one who smoked and one who turned on the lights and often cooked bacon in the wee hours of the morning, especially near Thanksgiving.
I am sure the number of stories of the red house formed during its six lives spanning two plus centuries are enough to make my head spin.
A few weeks ago we discovered generous clues to the story of one of the owners of the red house, Miss Hague; three letters written to Miss Hague and a fistful of her cancelled checks in the walls of one of the downstairs rooms.
For starters, here is an excerpt of a letter written to Miss Hague from Joseph Choate Jr., dated January 10th, 1896.
Thursday, January 10, 1896
Many thanks for you letter of December twenty seven, which arrived duly, and gave me great and unusual pleasure. I was a little enisled knowing that no letter would come from you for a month of so after your departure, I imagine no one could reach you for a similar period. Which shows what the study of logic will do for me.
And now I am off and running, talking to neighbors, scouring the Internet, trying to fill in her story.
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!