About Me

Growing up in a small New England town with a mother who was an antiquarian it was inevitable that I would be exposed to old things. After graduating from UMass/Amherst I lived in Connecticut, taught school, married, and raised three children in suburbia. A move to Newburyport MA renewed my interest in all things old. This background has now evolved into research, writing, consulting and all the things I love to do.

Prudence Fish

Saturday, February 28, 2015








Prudence Paine Fish


Now that we had agreed that the working kitchen would be in the lean-to along with the first floor bath and laundry we were facing the challenge of creating a kitchen that worked for us both in terms of efficiency and aesthetics. Nellie had drilled it into our heads that there should be a continuity between rooms, an easy flow, and a psychologically pleasing transition of color, style and pattern and materials as one passed from one room to another.

After the removal of the old half bath and other
walls this is what the lean-to looked like. There
was not much to save except the outside walls.
We abandoned our original idea of trendy, contemporary, light colored laminate cabinets. (In retrospect, how could we have considered this?)  We now settled on pine cabinets with raised panels that made more sense. 
The kitchen cabinets were raised panel pine.  Today they might seem dated
but I still believe they were appropriate for the house.  We finished them
Mexican tiles with a charming handmade look covered the wall space between the counters and the overhead cabinets.

The slightly irregular Mexican tiles for the backsplash with an occasional painted
strawberry avoided the slick look of modern tiles. They have a handmade look.
A large multi-paned window was installed at the driveway end of the kitchen where we envisioned a spot for a small table and chairs.    
This view from the loft shows the initial progress in the new kitchen as seen
from above.
Here the cabinets have been hung on the back wall.

Here is the same view in the finished kitchen.
The woodwork was pine, the floor also pine. The floor was new by necessity. New floors would be stained and finished. All original floors would be painted. In this way we tried to please the future buyer who adores pine floors and also please someone with a more purist mindset by painting the original floors.  The new floors can always be painted and the new kitchen does now have a painted floor.

At the far end of the kitchen was the bath/ laundry combination.  Above this area we created a small loft accessed from the second floor.
Under the loft is the door to the newly created bath/laundry. The new Velux
skylights can be seen in the ceiling.
This modern kitchen would have a cathedral ceiling with two large Velux skylights. The two back doors also had small panes of glass on the top two thirds. This kitchen would be bright and sunny

For appliances we chose a Jennair stove with convection oven that vented downward. The dishwasher was Maytag, the sink double stainless steel with a single control faucet. This was before the days when granite and stainless steel appliances dominate kitchens and would become the standard by which a kitchen is judged.

Track lighting filled the illumination needs. The counter tops were a neutral Formica.
The downstairs bath received an imitation quarry tile floor. The pine vanity had a terra cotta Formica counter top. The shower stall was fiberglass.  

There were hook-ups for a washer and dryer in front of the sealed up door in the Beverly jog. Nellie came “over the road” with a small print wallpaper from Old Stone Mill (no longer in business)  for the bathroom walls.

This completes a description of our new kitchen. We maintained the pine of the adjacent area, provided good equipment for 1981 and an easy transition to the next space, the colonial period kitchen/family room.
Here is the finished back wall of the kitchen with double sink and Maytag
dishwasher.The finish on the cabinets was truly a pine finish.  The old photo
suggests that the cabinets were dark.  They really were not any where near that dark.
Best of all we had confined the equipment, appliances and modern functions of a working house to the added lean-to without invading the period rooms. Our mission to keep the original rooms as pure as possible was accomplished.  
The finished kitchen with antique toys in the loft.
Looking at these old photos makes me realize how much harder this would have been today.  Some decisions would be based on codes and requirements of the town.  That goes without saying.  More troublesome is the realization that the expectations of today's home buyers puts modern amenities and trends ahead of preservation.  What seemed like a nice kitchen at the time might well be rejected now as would the small but serviceable bathroom upstairs in the space of the old bath.  There has been no space relegated to a master suite with en suite master bath or Jacuzzi!  There have been no walls removed that were original, the windows are true divided lights and not insulated glass.  It would be difficult to be a preservationist and make the decisions necessary for today's market.

I'm glad this was completed in a simpler day and age!

Now that the "modern amenities" have been dealt with we will continue with the restoration of the 18th century rooms in the next installment.

Monday, February 23, 2015








Prudence Paine Fish


With the big fireplace opened and all intruding partitions removed we could begin putting the colonial kitchen back together.

Without doubt, this would be the most dramatic room in the house with its cavernous fireplace dominating the room. This would become the focal point of this restoration and the important all-purpose room in the house just as in had been in colonial days.

In its original configuration when built this area would have been divided into three sections. The evidence was there but the changes took place long ago beginning when the house was divided. In its original form approximately 1/3 of the space at the east end toward the driveway would have been the first floor bedroom. Since many of the old houses faced south, it is common for the right side of the house to be the east side and the left side facing west, at least approximately so.  Today people would call this east room the “borning room,” a misnomer and term arising from the colonial revival period about one hundred years ago. This room was romanticized as a room reserved for childbirth but in reality it was a bedroom for whatever purpose needed. It was handy to the kitchen fireplace, warmer than the upstairs and practical for an elderly, sick, lame or other needy family member.
Here is the floor plan of a similar but typical 18th century center chimney house.  Notice that the front entry
here is called the "porch".  That name is not commonly used.  The cooking fireplace is this house has only one
oven.  The right hand wall in the kitchen is not located as ours would have been allowing a door into the parlor
directly from the kitchen.  The back stairs are approximately the same.  It is not a coincidence that this plan so
nearly approximates the Moses Jewett house.  There was a consistency and this plan is typical with minor changes.  
A smaller area at the opposite end of this large space would have been reserved for a buttery and a back stair. The largest space centered in front of the big fireplace, the heart of the colonial period home, and was the most significant living/working part of the house.

The back staircase in the Jewett house was missing. It was necessary to restore a functional staircase in the back. In a central chimney house the large chimney occupies the middle of the building. The front stairs turn by necessity allowing access to the two front bedrooms but no direct access to the back half of the house except through the front bedchambers. Therefore, a back staircase accessing these rooms and providing a more convenient direct route to the second floor is imperative.

The new back stairs.  Design taken from Capen
House in Topsfield which is really much earlier.
The carpenters built the staircase leading up to the room in the back right hand corner of the second floor. A few more steps across this room now accessed the attic door and stairs making it infinitely easier to carry things from the first floor straight to the attic rather than the circuitous route previously called for.

Fireplace wall has an added mantle and simple sheathing above
After pulling down plaster on the inside walls of the kitchen we uncovered much feather edged sheathing covering the entire interior wall. The only missing pieces were above the newly opened fireplace. A few scraps and remnants of that wall were left and reproduced. Although fireplaces at the period the house was built did not have mantles over the fireplaces, we took the liberty of adding a mantle in the old kitchen since there was nothing left from the original to alter. Mantles are nice. They provide a place for a clock, candlesticks, or holiday decorations and were often added to existing paneled walls but for most of the 18th century there were no mantles.

The ceiling was not original at all. There were several layers of squares, bad plaster and damage from old plumbing. It was then that it was discovered that in its early years the ceiling had been whitewashed and not plastered. This is unusual. This was not a first period house. But the evidence was clearly there. Old greasy whitewash clung to the beams and floorboards above. It was dirty, yellowed and disgusting but rather exciting to recognize that this second period farmhouse had not had a plastered ceiling for a long time. The absence of split lath indicated that the ceiling came much, much later. So we left the ceiling uncovered after cleaning off the now offensive whitewash. The open ceiling would be more authentic if it was whitewashed.  An open ceiling in a house of this period is not the norm, I would not have expected it but it seemed important to remain faithful to what we found. People love beamed ceilings anyway and we were able to justify its veracity.  We left it open knowing that it should have been whitewashed again but that was an option for a new owner to decide.  To this day it has not been whitewashed.

There had once been a door from what would become the dining room (designated as a parlor on the above plan)  into the small first floor, east end bedroom.  There was another door that had always led from this future dining room into the old kitchen.  In its present state it left two doors almost side by side connecting the same two spaces.  We handled this by covering the door on the dining room side and simply closing the door on the kitchen side. This change can be reversed at any time in the future.  No original fabric was disturbed.

A large soil line and other pipes led to the bathroom above. A tidy step-back pine cupboard was built to disguise some pipes and another was boxed in pine and resembled a vertical post. These offending pipes were neatly disguised.

The biggest issue was the fireplace hearth. There was none left. We had to begin again from scratch.

Richard Irons and his crew set the hearth in place. I objected. It seemed too shallow to balance such a huge fireplace. I imagined the fireplace tipping forward on such a small platform. More courses of bricks were added. I was still not satisfied. Nellie came “over the road”.  To the restoration masons she proclaimed that, “We have to understand life at that time period. We have to visualize how they lived, how they cooked, spun, did their weaving, candle making, soap making and socializing, all around the big fireplace.”  Then she startled the men by saying, “Why, in those days, who knows, they may have even slaughtered the cow on the hearth!”
The bricks are being laid out to replace the missing hearth.
Meanwhile, I had been impressed with the large hearth at the Paine-Dodge house known as Greenwood Farm in Ipswich, down on the edge of the marsh off Jeffreys Neck Road. Finding an image of that hearth in a book and with the help of a magnifying glass I had carefully counted the courses of brick in that hearth and hoped we could do the same.  Mr. Irons did not necessarily agree but I prevailed.

The following day as the last courses of brick were added to the big hearth one of the masons was heard saying to the other, “Well, do you think this is big enough for your average cow?"
Here is the very wide hearth that is probably
inappropriately wide but works well anyway.
Right or wrong, I loved it.  Many years later I learned that the one I had copied was not authentic after all.  Oh, well.  I still love it!

We had discovered early on that because the cooking fireplace predated the days of swinging cranes. 
there were brackets (I call them lugs.) in the chimney to support a lug pole. A lug pole was a green sapling that would be inserted up in the throat of the chimney resting on the two brackets. (lugs). Trammels hung from the lug pole to which pots and kettles were attached. Historically, the lug pole had to be monitored because they eventually burned out and needed to be replaced before a kettle of soup crashed to the hearth. Our masons dutifully replaced the lug pole. It was good for a laugh years later when a chimney sweep was called in and he reported with alarm to the new owners that there was a big stick up in the chimney and he would remove it for them. No!  Leave it alone! I’m happy to report it is still there.
Finally, it's a working fireplace!

We all brought belongings from our own homes to fill the house.  Today it
would be called staging the house but that term had not been applied in those days.
A damper was placed on the top of the chimney with a chain hanging down into the fireplace and fastened to a hook for opening and closing the damper. This works better than having an oversized iron damper that would be a struggle to open or close in such a large flue.

At one point the building inspector appeared and said the kitchen fireplace was not safe because it had an oak lintel.  He insisted that we wrap the lintel in sheet metal.  This oak lintel beveled on its face toward the fire, had been doing its job without damage for generations.  After adding the sheet metal we observed that the metal didn't even get hot.  The old time masons knew what they were doing and I have seldom seen one that had burned under normal use.

From all the changes, walls added and subtracted, stairs removed, hearth removed and more, the floor was a lost cause. We had to replace it. Here, as in the new kitchen, the floor was stained. Many potential buyers would love it and those that didn’t could always paint it.

Here is the finished room staged.  The extra door is on the left side of the fireplace and the second door is hidden by the projecting fireplace.
When completed this room worked well with the new kitchen and became the main living area of the restored house. The size of the big room, the size of the fireplace (and the hearth) still leaves visitors in awe.

This story will be continued in Part 5 with the progress in the creation of a new working kitchen.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015








Prudence Paine Fish


Early in the process we decided that it would be best to accommodate the house.  And that has remained my motto to this day.  "Accommodate the old house instead of trying to make the old house accommodate you."  That meant working with the house and what it was, a mid 18th century antique. That also meant not removing original fabric, enlarging spaces or cutting up existing spaces.  We would be committed to working within the confines of the existing house.  It would be a challenge to find solutions and a way around obstacles in order to achieve the desired result...a carefully restored house that looked like the 18th century but functioning as a 20th century house should function.

To make the house accommodate us would have meant loss of integrity and a heavy -handed approach with loss of original fabric.  No, we would overcome these challenges.


Our general contractor, the thoughtful, efficient, Paul Leone, was always on top of every detail along with the subs for wiring, heating and plumbing. Materials were always there in advance, the project moved forward in an orderly progression under Paul’s supervision. Coordination and scheduling were flawless.

Richard Irons  To restore the chimney, fireplaces and missing hearths and dampers,  Paul brought in Richard Irons. How lucky we were! Today, some thirty years later, Richard is recognized as the master in his field and is still a good friend.

 Paul McGinley, an Ipswich resident with a great resume in the preservation field spent time with us discussing possible appropriate scenarios. Paul is still a good friend.

My dear friend,  the late Nellie Meras, from Exeter, NH responded to my call for help with colors, paint, wallpapers and general decorating and cosmetic issues. None of us ever forgot her advice repeated often when we were struggling to pick out a color. “Now remember,” she would warn us, “intensity increases with volume.” if she thought we were getting too carried away with a questionable color. Whenever we had a request for more paint, especially a color she mixed herself called “tusk”, she would immediately respond with, “I’ll be right over the road and bring it to you. And then we’ll go out for coffee…on me.”  And come she did in her little green wagon, many, many times. Nellie has long since passed on but her words of advice still echo in my ears and her friendship a fond memory.

Daughter, Nancy Fish, helped with paint stripping and scraping. She was a genius at staining and matching colors where repairs had been made, blending the finishes until the repairs became invisible.  She also worked feverishly to rejuvenate the furniture I had purchased from the estate to make it salable in Bob’s shop.

Son, Bob Fish, and Donn Pollard were ever present, day after day; helping hands doing a little of everything.  During breaks David taught Bob to play the guitar and he has never stopped.

A handy man, Dick Mackey, along with his helpers, carted off junk including old plumbing , boiler and radiators. He knew a little bit about everything and hung around a lot offering valued advice. More about him later.

Rodney Barrett, an old friend and skilled carpenter, ambitiously tackled the barn.

Rodney Barrett working on the barn
Jackie Cordima, a new broker in the office, worked hard to find us a buyer.  She showed it the house many times to prospective buyers.  These showing she will never forget but more about that later.

Teddy the Painter” from Haverhill and his crew of smiling, hard working, non-English speaking, Greek immigrants, prepared, primed and painted the outside. 

Yolanda Martin, David's mother and Vern's wife stepped up to the plate making appropriate curtains for most of the windows.  (Actually, we couldn't resist decorating, bringing over some furnishings and appointments and planning an open house party when finished.)  Yolanda also thought of little details such as soap, wastebaskets and other practical items.

Someone whose name I have forgotten, laid the brick walkway .

Cassidy Forge from Rowley provided the Boston post light and thumb latches. Cassidy designed and made the dining room chandelier equipped for candles.  The dining room would have candles over the dining room table and no electric chandelier.  Electric lighting would be provided in the dining room by recessed lighting over the fireplace on a dimmer.

The cast is long and some overlooked but all did their jobs well.


The Moses Jewett house represents the quintessential New England colonial farmhouse. It is right out of the textbook or a Currier and Ives print.  Stunning in the snow, it becomes a perfect scene for a Christmas card.

Such houses as these built in the 18th century usually had a five bay fa├žade; four windows on the first floor with a door in the middle. The second floor windows were tucked up high under the eaves. The front door entered into a tiny hall or entry with a three run staircase positioned in front of the big center chimney. These tiny halls were dark especially with the doors to the front rooms closed for heat conservation as they probably always were. 

So it was not surprising that the Greek revival door, in vogue before 1840, took New England by storm. Hundreds of old houses replaced their Georgian doors and surrounds with a new four-panel door and sidelights with panes of glass all the way down to the sill. Such was the scenario with the Jewett house.

Greek Revival Doorway, circa 1840
Lots of time was devoted to studying Georgian door surrounds in the general area for ideas and inspiration. We had no way of knowing what the original looked like. We could only guess what was originally there so it was pure conjecture and choice that prompted us. Always liking something with a slightly different twist, I focused on a door with fluted pilasters and a curved pediment instead of the more common Georgian triangular pediment.

As the Greek revival doorway was dismantled, pieces of the original emerged. They had been recycled into the Greek Revival doorway. We found one fluted pilaster that would serve as a prototype for identical replacements.

When all of the old door and its surround had been removed including the clapboards in the immediate vicinity what we found, there, etched in the old sheathing above the door, was a curve. This was some indication of the pediment that was there originally and a confirmation that our choice was not too far off. That was exciting and after that there was no question, we would reproduce a curved pediment and we did.

The six panel door was salvaged from a Gloucester veteran's housing project that had traded in their good solid pine six panel doors for steel doors.  Nancy stripped years of paint from the door and applied a new natural finish.  The two small panels at the top were removed and replaced with bull's eye panes of glass.  
Reproduced fluted pilasters are in place as
well as the curved pediment.  The new six
panel door is hung but not stripped.  The
new bullseye glass is not yet installed.
These not only looked great  but allowed a little light into the hall.  An iron thumb latch and iron doorknocker complete the restoration of the all-important front door, the frontispiece of a Georgian house. The opening in the center of the curved pediment has provided a perfect niche for the beautiful prize-winning Christmas displays created for that spot in the years to come by the next owner, Jerry Bowman.
The house is taking shape but the peek at the old barn still shows its shaky
condition.  Notice the new true divided lite 9 over 6 windows now installed.
A Boston post light from Cassidy Forge was mounted on a substantial post near the new brick walkway leading to the beautifully restored door and its surround.

New post light on a cedar post.
A back entry was ripped off with another aluminum awning.

 Rear entry removed. 
New wood windows with true divided lights were installed. (The old windows from the 19th century were deemed to be too far gone.)  The chimney was repaired and parged.  In the rear of the house onion lights from Bow House in Bolton were installed next to each of the two back doors. The cellar bulkhead was rebuilt and stone laid on the driveway.  

There was another exterior door in the Beverly jog on the left side of the house.  The jog was in the 19th century lean-to.  The door was restored but permanently locked and the inside sheet rocked over in order to create wall space for the washer and dryer in the downstairs bath/laundry.  We theorized that it would be better to handle the problem this way without the loss of any original fabric.  One hundred years from now if someone has another plan for the house the change can be reversed easily and the door reactivated.

Seldom used door in a beverly jog was sealed off
from the inside and restored on the outside.  This is
an example of solving a problem but what we did
    is easily reversible.  No original fabric was removed.
Another of my mottos became etched in my brain with that decision.  That motto is "do not do anything that can't be reversed."  

It had been decided that the house would be red.  It had been white for as long as anyone could remember.  Red would take a little getting used to.  At some point along the way in the 19th century most early houses received the fashionable coat of white paint along with green shutters at the windows.  That was the scenario with the Moses Jewett house.  Older photos reveal the presence of shutters in the past but they were long gone. Since the shutters and the white paint are more or less representative of the 19th century we opted for an earlier look.

We decided on an oil based paint in Morristown red, a color available at that time from Benjamin Moore.  (This color is no longer available.)  Teddy the Painter came from Haverhill with his hard working , smiling Greek workers.  Their first day the house was still white as it was scraped.  The second day it was covered with gray primer.  The third day the house was red.  If you blinked you might miss a color.  Presto! Chango! They were fast!  Everything was painted red except for the window sash and only they were painted ochre yellow.  The door was natural.

The result pleased us very much and an early snowstorm presented us with a vision of a house taken right from a Christmas card or a Currier and Ives print.  We all rushed over to see it in the snow and to put a wreath on the front door.  The house was a show-stopper.  We were heady with success.  So far, so good!

Refinished door with bull's eye glass
The trim color was changed by the new owners but the red paint has remained.

This completes what was done to the exterior of the house.  


Initially, we thought that the colonial kitchen with its almost ten foot fireplace would make a super family kitchen.  It would be a functional kitchen with room for dining and sitting or kitchen/ family room combination.  At our first meeting with  our general contractor, Paul Leone, we discussed the kitchen layout.  At some point in the discussion Paul suggested that the sink should go over near the windows.  I stared at the cavernous fireplace, authentic and original, and then tried to picture the stainless steel sink on the opposite wall.  Something in my brain snapped at that moment and screamed, "No!".  This marvelous, wonderful, ancient room could not be a 20th century kitchen.  No way!  We must go back to the drawing board.

And so that major plan was abandoned.  The kitchen would go in the restored 19th century lean-to. In order to integrate the proposed kitchen with what would become the colonial kitchen/family room, we decided to enlarge the door openings between the two spaces so that the two rooms would communicate better with each other.  Much of the plaster in this area was Victorian as this part of the house had undergone extensive changes over the years so there was no guilt in making the changes that would make our restoration more livable for a modern family.

On the plus side it dawned on us that by changing the plan we were relegating the bath, kitchen and laundry to the less important added on 19th  century lean-to insuring that the original rooms would be pure 18th century and free from 20th century intrusive equipment that goes with a working house. This was a really good move and the right way to go.

Only one bath on the second floor invaded the authentic space and that bath would be relegated to the space occupied by the existing old bath.  No new space would be borrowed or created.
Heave ho! The remains of the old bathroom
The two exterior doors on the rear of the lean-to had previously been the back door entrances for different rooms when the house was divided.  Both would remain.  The first would be the working back door closest to the driveway.  The second would give access to the downstairs bathroom or a direct route to the new back stairs without crisscrossing the working area of the kitchen.  Thus, the fenestration and doors on the rear of the house would remain untouched and the two doors would be an asset, especially for a family with children running in and out of the house.

This process of working through a myriad of problems without disturbing anything sensitive became our mission.  We even planned light switches to be as inconspicuous as possible in the period rooms. But in a nod toward modern times installed plenty of electrical outlets near the windows to accommodate window candles at Christmas!

Looking back I like to think we were as respectful and sensitive as practicality and budget would allow.

To be continued in Part Four.

Friday, February 13, 2015






Prudence Paine Fish



The day for passing papers arrived quickly but none too soon for our little group of investors still worrying about the competition.  With great excitement we drove to Peabody to complete the transaction.

Old deeds described the house as being on the post road so we adopted the name of Post Road Development Corporation for this project.

After dressing appropriately for the closing, I packed a change of clothes...old clothes.  I couldn't wait to get my hands on that old house and I knew it was going to be dirty and messy.

Furthermore, I had made a side deal with the sellers.  I had purchased the remaining contents of the house for $300.  My scheme was as follows.  After sorting through the junk, the salable items would be sold in Bob Molinski's shop, Ipswich Used Furniture, on Central Street. Furniture needing refinishing or repairs would be handled by daughter, Nancy Fish, and then sold at Bob's.  Nancy and I would split the proceeds from those items. This included an impressive Victorian sideboard and numerous pieces of Larkin oak.  Later the enormous overstuffed chairs were dragged out onto the grass in front of the house where they lay on their sides looking like great prostrated behemoths or as David may have said, "Beached whales."

After the formalities in Peabody we almost ran to our respective cars and headed north to Ipswich. As I pulled into Ipswich I made a quick stop at the Agawam Hardware to purchase a hammer.  Who knew what kind of demolition tools we would need before this day was over?

It was a perfect day.  Not a cloud was in the sky.  The weather was comfortable.  Old sweet smelling pink roses were blooming around the house and the big hydrangea was ready to blossom

Old pink roses bloomed outside the parlor window.

We Walked around the property.  In the field behind the barn someone had been growing wonderful gourds.  Fall was in the air.  They lay there in the sunshine, the epitome of autumn and harvest.  In back of the barn were beehives.  But we could not linger long outside in the sunshine. We needed to get acquainted with the ancient moldy heap that was now ours.

                                                                     September                            Helen Hunt Jackson      Watters photo

The golden rod is yellow.  The corn is turning brown.
The fields and apple orchards with fruit are bending down.

                         Endangered barn              Watters photo
Before going inside, however, David and Tony were determined to remove the aluminum awning from over the front door.  That had to go in a hurry putting the world on notice that things were changing at the old Waycott-Orcutt house.  A hornet's nest in the awning slowed the work only momentarily.

                                             Overgrown farm!                               Watters photo


The three of us attacked the house making exploratory holes everywhere.  Our immediate quest was looking for hidden fireplaces, sheathing and paneling.   Within the house we created piles of plaster and debris everywhere. What a mess we had made in so short a time!  Meanwhile, Tony's wife Dianna, was taking slides to record the scene.


The moldy smell was traced to a wet trunk of rotted material in the cellar. In fact everything down there was damp or just plain wet.  A network of small trenches criss-crossed the cellar floor.  There was water in these drains converging at a hole in the foundation  through which the water exited and flowed downhill toward a gully that was some distance from the house.

What was interesting down there was the chimney base.  It was huge with a feature I had never seen before.  There was a massive brick arch running from gable end to gable end (or east to west) as we expected.  What surprised us was that beneath what we expected to be the big cooking fireplace was another arch running from north to south and intersecting with the "side to side" arch.  When I say intersected I don't mean that you could pass from one to the other.

Side to side arch.  It is off center to accommodate the second arch running front to back.
The rear arch had a back wall that was part of the chimney but not broken through.  This was a very impressive arch.
The rear arch, kerosene drum and old steam pipes

The amount of water that flowed through the small trenches on the floor was also impressive but not on the positive side.  Needless to say, the cellar was not my favorite part of the house.

This water would never do. This was, after all, the 20th century and this system although working was worse than make-shift.  And so we poured a new cement floor, the trenches disappeared and the hole to the outside was plugged. A sump pump was installed. The cellar was cleaned up and looked great but the sump pump was awfully busy keeping up with the water.

 Some powder post beetle damage was taken care of and the beams scraped of all the damage.


 We decided to stay with oil heat. There was gas in the street but not in the house. An old house down the street had just been demolished in a gas explosion and that made me nervous.  Plus, at that time oil was cheaper. The old boiler and radiators were carted off by our volunteer handy man. We settled on a Weil McLean boiler with a Becket burner, a combination that was highly thought of at that time.  Today it would be Boderus, Veissmann or some other brand never heard of at the time. We didn’t like hot air, the radiators were gone for good, and that really left hot water baseboard heat as the best, if not only reasonable option available then.  Today there would be other possibilities.

We reasoned that the more heating zones, the more efficient the system. It was decided that three zones made sense; one for the sleeping area on the second floor, one for the formal rooms (dining room and parlor) and the third zone for the family living area; the kitchen, first floor bath and colonial kitchen/family room.  This made it feasible to lower the heat in the formal front rooms in cold weather if desired or the sleeping areas if preferred. Flexible lengths of copper pipe, a new invention at that time, allowed the copper piping to go around the big beams without drilling through them to accommodate non-flexible pipes.

We left a propane gas hot water heater in the cellar so that the new owners would have the option of switching over in the summertime. With the gas hot water heater taking over, the boiler could be shut down in warm weather for economy.

The wiring would be completely new with a 100 amp service (the standard at that time) with circuit breakers.


Moving to the attic, all of the floor boards were removed, thick fiber glass insulation placed between the joists and the floor re-laid.

A change was made in the attic staircase. The stairs rose up from a location near the east bedchamber, a somewhat inconvenient access point when carrying things to the attic for storage. There was also a closet in the same area underneath the attic stairs opening from another room, the room at the head of the back staircase.

                                                                         Attic staircase is reversed 

By flipping the direction of the stairs, access would be easy and direct, a straight shot from the new back stairs. The newly created closet would now be next to the main bedchamber. That arrangement was much more sensible and was easily accomplished with no loss of fabric.
The septic was a cesspool that was working OK. To make it continue to be sufficient, we added a dry well for gray water. This system would no longer be acceptable by today’s standards nor acceptable to a present day buyer but at that time it was legal and fine and has continued to function properly to this day.


The object of our greatest and immediate attention was the area of the house which had originally been designated as the kitchen and the location of the big cooking fireplace, the heart of an 18th century house.

The area around the chimney where we expected to uncover a big fireplace consisted of a closet or two, a corridor to another room and the most recent kitchen.

A maze with partitions, a closet or two, a corridor and another room
occupied the space where we had anticipated finding a fireplace
Half of the fireplace is opened.  Brick wall on right divided it.

We disconnected the big stove, dragged it aside and began to demolish the wall behind the spot where the stove had been connected with a pipe into the chimney and where we thought there should be a hidden fireplace. We hoped it would be a big one of the walk-in variety.  The demolished remains of wood lath and plaster began to pile up.
The old gas stove pushed aside and debris piling up

Eventually we broke through all of the layers and found a bricked-up, filled -in fireplace opening. The  flue pipe from the old gas stove was attached in this area.  There we found the fireplace we were anticipating, right where we expected.  It had an oven located in the back wall, the sign of an early fireplace, along with the expected straight jambs and oak lintel.

We were confident that we would find a cooking fireplace.  The clue we relied upon was in an old deed which divided two halves of the house deeded to different owners.  The property  line was described somewhat as follows: through the middle of the front door, through the middle of the chimney to the back of the kitchen fireplace. Then the line went several feet to the right until it came to the girt, then followed t.he girt to the rear wall of the house.  That was pretty clear evidence that we would find what we were looking for.

So, heartened we kept going,  demolishing everything that had been built in front of the big fireplace when it was no longer needed.

We finished the excavation. Although the features were correct the proportions were strange. It was an extremely tall fireplace but not as wide as expected. Something about it was way off. Something was amiss.  It was almost square. I tried to act excited because, in fact, we had found a cooking fireplace with a rear oven but inside I was feeling an uncomfortable twinge of disappointment.  In truth it was a let-down and not the fabulous walk-in fireplace I had dared to anticipate.  I'm sure my partners felt the same way but my recollection is that we were rather subdued.

But after shining a light up into the chimney David announced from inside the firebox that the right side wall terminated up above his head in the huge throat of the chimney. A few bricks were knocked off little by little with great apprehension.  Were we doing the right thing or damaging the fireplace that we had? 

Soon David was standing on a mountain of bricks and mortar on the fireplace floor. Then more and more courses of brick were knocked off until David, who was working inside the fireplace (Tony and I were outside) was able to scramble over the top of this brick wall (with a flashlight) dropping down into another dark space.  He was in a duplicate fireplace with a second oven; a mirror image of the first fireplace! What was going on?  Again, the answer was in the old deeds. We had bought the divided house complete with a divided cooking fireplace…one half for each family.

After smashing his way out of this dark hole of a second fireplace David emerged.  He was in one of the closets that had not yet been demolished!

The fireplace opening was supported by an oak lintel that was chamfered on the bottom.  Up in the throat of the chimney remained the old wood cross pieces that held the lug pole before cranes came into use.  From the lug pole, a green  sapling resting on the supports, would have hung trammels that supported pots over the fire.  Two good brick beehive bake ovens were some distance apart on the back wall of the firebox.

Entire fireplace revealed with lots of debris
          remaining. As the dust cleared and the mountains 
   of debris were shoveled away, we took a good
look.  Eureka!  
A huge walk-in fireplace of enormous proportions with two large beehive bake ovens stared back at three happy restorers.  It was almost ten feet wide!  They really don't come any bigger.  What a bonanza!

Smaller holes here and there with less destruction gave us confidence that the house was very intact with much original fabric. Everything was buried under later layers of studs, laths, plaster or brick.  Paneling was evident in the four front rooms and feather edged sheathing in all of the interior walls of the rear rooms.  Most of the sheathing had never been painted, sealed away for at least one hundred and fifty years.

As some of the ceiling plaster came down it revealed the surprising evidence that the old kitchen ceiling had not been plastered.  It had been an exposed ceiling with whitewash for a long time before it was plastered. The whitewash was smoky, yellowed and greasy, demonstrating that it had been exposed long after most houses had plastered ceilings.  But this was a country farmhouse.  (It was then determined that the front hall had only been plastered during the Victorian period, as well.)

It got better and better but a new problem was emerging.  Our "spec" house for a quick pick-me-up and resale revealed itself to be a serious antique in serious condition; an important but dilapidated chunk of Ipswich history with all of its pieces and parts.  We had to make some weighty decisions.

                                       Cleaning out the firebox of a huge fireplaceI

Dumpsters filled up rapidly
Compounding the dilemma was the awareness that we had no idea who the buyer would be. That meant keeping salability in mind. We needed to find a balance that would satisfy the purest but not inhibit appeal to a more general audience and marketplace.  It had to be good, well done but not become an old house museum.  It would need nice baths and a nice kitchen with good equipment.

Our team would have to be very careful and research each decision.  I took this assignment very seriously.

We needed to go by the credo of the National Trust on Historic Preservation which says:

“It is better to preserve than repair, better to repair than restore, better to restore than reconstruct.”

It was time to begin putting the big fireplace and the old kitchen back together.

To be continued in part 3.