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

Monday, March 30, 2015










While all the work and other details were being tended to at the house and in the office, Nancy was hard at work on the old Waycott furniture. The pieces most interesting were probably left from Mrs. Waycott’s  parents, the Eilenbergers, who had lived there before the Waycotts and the Orcutts.

Most of it was dismal but some of it salable with Nancy’s help.  The best was in the attic and consisted of Larkin chairs and bureaus.  You know, that oak furniture that was earned by saving Larkin soap wrappers?  What was thrown away not too many years ago was now in vogue.  Press backed chairs could be sold and were sold.

Typical of chairs found in the attic.
In the lean-to was the bottom of an old oak sideboard.  It was filthy.  Oil had spilled on it.  Old tools were in the drawers and remnants of linens that had been attacked by mice.  It did seem as though it might have possibilities with work.  Suddenly I remembered something under the eaves in the attic.  It was the etegere top for the sideboard with what-not shelves and beveled mirror soaring for several feet above the sideboard base.  It was a big job to clean and refinish it.   When it was back to its original condition we took it to Bob’s shop and he put it in the show window with a a spotlight on it.  It was gone in a day!  I can’t remember the price but it may have been $800.

Very similar to the oak sideboard found in lean-to and attic.
This was found on eBay.
Another gem was a pine cupboard.  That went equally fast for similar money. There was also a cottage chest or two, part of late 19th century paint decorated bedroom set.

This is a typical Victorian painted cottage bedroom set.  We found chairs and chests of drawers from these sets but
nothing complete...just miscellaneous pieces in poor condition,   These sets are so charming it is too bed we only found
fragments of these sets retired to the attic,  Internet photo.
 The remainder of the things were so unremarkable that today I can’t even recall them but little by little it was all sold.  Actually they were typical of what one might expect to find in an old run-down farmhouse.

Similar to pine cupboard found in house and sold.  This
example is from the Internet.
Two large sterling serving spoons had and “E” on the handle, probably for Eilenberger.  The pattern was Towle Canterbury from the 1890s. I gave these beautiful spoons to the new owners. 

This is a Canterbury serving spoon from Towle Silversmiths.  The pattern dates
to the 1890s and had the monogram "E".  That probably stood for Eilenberger,
the family name of Mrs. Waycott.  These I gave to Hugh and Jerry.  This example
is listed on eBay for $225.00.

 I think I kept a doorstop and give it to Hugh and Jerry later but don’t recall that there was anything else worth keeping or even vaguely memorable.


Distasteful as it was, we had to think about our ace in the hole.  We could subdivide and sell off two lots.  But first we were a little short of the necessary frontage.  Our lawyer confided to us that our neighbors, the Barneys, needed to replace their septic system and it might be just the right time to negotiate the purchase of a few feet from them to make the subdivision work.  We let our lawyer, George Hayes do the negotiating.  The deal was accepted and completed.

Now we could offer the whole package for $180,000 or the house alone for $150,000.  I prayed for a buyer to come along who would want the whole thing.  I didn’t want to be a party to subdividing.  Spring turned to summer and summer to fall.  We were more nervous than you can imagine.  We couldn’t give it back to the bank nor could we continue to struggle under the weight of this construction loan with the highest interest rates ever.

One day a Realtor from our office, Dottie, said cheerfully, “Pru, I have good news for you.  I have an offer for one of the lots.”  My heart sank.  This would bail us out but I had been holding my breath that we wouldn’t have to do this.  But do it, we did.  We had no choice.  The contract was signed.

In just a few days another Realtor from the office, Sandra, took two buyers from New York out to look at property.  She took them all over Rockport and Gloucester.  Late in the day they returned to the office.  They had not found anything they wanted.  They were introduced and I chatted with them.  They were selling a business in Manhatten and wanted to move to New England.

My brain clicked into gear.  Here were two people escaping New York City for a taste of New England.  What was more New England than our Moses Jewett house sitting there waiting? What could fit the bill more than our picture-perfect Currier and Ives farmhouse in the country?  “Sandra”, I said.  “Didn’t you show them the Moses Jewett house?”  “No.” she replied. “I didn’t even think of it.”  She didn’t think of it?  Our own office listing!  And she had dragged them all over Cape Ann for nothing. I had trouble containing myself and bit my tongue.

I proceeded to tell them about the house, got them excited, gave them the listing material, gave Sandra the key and told her to get them up there on the double.  They went and just as I fantasized, they loved it.  In fact, they were infatuated with the history, the restoration and everything about it.  And, better still, they bought it!

More heartbreak when they told us they would like all of the land, all six acres.  There was nothing we could do.  It was under agreement to Dottie’s customers and the die was cast. The last of the Jewett farm of 100 acres was now subdivided into approximately two acre parcels.


On November 17th the lot on the street east of the house was sold to the Fowlers who would build a house on the site.  The closing on the Jewett house was set for December 1, 1982.

The house the Fowlers built  next door later expanded and
improved by neighbors Ron and Gwen.
At this point David decided he would buy the lot in the rear that would be up a long driveway.  His plan was to build a Maine Post and Beam saltbox for himself, Shelley and his boys, Zachary and Spencer.  He would sell his house in Newbury but would need a place to live while building.

Maine Post and Beam house built by David at the end of
the long driveway. He called the address 1 Post Road just for fun..
It turned out that Hugh and Jerry, our buyers, would not be ready to move until the following summer so an agreement was reached whereby David and family would live in the Moses Jewett house until their house was complete.

There would be no mortgage or bank involved in the sale so the closing could take place right there in the house.  Hugh and Jerry arrived from New York and we all gathered around a big table in the old kitchen in front of the fireplace.  We had wine.  A toast was in order.  David conducted the closing and tallied up the assorted checks to make up the total selling price.  After the closing David drove the new buyers to the Registry of Deeds in Salem and the deed was recorded.
The back page of the deed.  The deed was done...literally!
The house that had been part of out lives for so long was
now theirs.
Was that the end of the story?  Not at all! A new chapter was beginning.

Work progressed on David’s new house with its long drive.  He affectionately called his new house the house at “One Post Road” after the name of our group, Post Road Development Corporation, and the historic reference to the old highway called the Post Road.  I guess you could call it a private joke.

It was the summer of 1983 when Hugh and Jerry arrived with a truck and moved into the Moses Jewett house.  David was in his new house.  The Fowlers had a built a new cape next door.  So many lot of changes since that September day when we purchased the old place nearly two years prior.  Following the Fowler a friendly couple, Ron and Gwen took up residence and became good friends and neighbors to Hugh and Jerry.

For their first Christmas, 1983, Hugh and Jerry had a party.  All of their guests were Realtors from the Vernon A. Martin office.  The only people they had met were Realtors but by now everyone in the office knew them.  What a house for a party.  Candles, fires in the fireplaces, great food and drink were in abundance.  This was the first of many. A pattern emerged.  There was a Christmas party each December, usually on a Sunday evening, and another in the late summer on the newly built bluestone patio outside the two back doors.  The numbers grew, people came and went, the cast of characters changed but the routine remains to this day.  No one who has ever crossed that threshold at Christmas can forget the ambiance, the fires, warm friendships and good times.

David and Shelley moved on.  Their house was sold.  The land was further subdivided.  So imagine my surprise when driving past the old place one day a few  years ago to see a new street sign on what had previously been David’s driveway.  And what did they name this new street? Post Road Lane!  I was incredulous. The inside joke from twenty years before had become a reality and now numerous families make their home on Post Road Lane.

Map showing Post Road Lane.  The Fowler house is on the corner of
Post Road Lane improved by Ron and Gwen.  The Moses Jewett House is on the left and  David's
house is near the bend in the road hidden in the trees.
Nearly thirty years later, Hugh and Jerry, our buyers, are still happily in the house.  The neighbors and friends keep coming.  It has been a good quarter century plus for the old Moses Jewett house

The Moses Jewett house in the snow.  Not the true red but very pretty anyway!

One more installment before moving on.  Hang in there!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015










Still in very high spirits we planned a big open house party by invitation.  We were so ambitious we decided to bring appointments from our own homes and collections to adorn the house.  We had a really big toy and we wanted to play house with it.  Today we would simply say we staged the house.

By the day of the party we had essentially furnished the house, if only for a short time.

I brought my dining room chairs and rug for the dining room.  My blue velvet wing chair would go in the parlor with its blue woodwork along with my blue Chinese rug and my mother’s tilt-top table that our handy man had just beautifully repaired and refinished for me; also the Queen Ann tea table that I had purchased from my friend, Jane Nelson, in Newburyport.  In the old kitchen would be my old pine box chair by the fireplace.

The working kitchen had room for my Windsor and banister back chairs, my old scale and some of my antique dolls and carriage would look great in the loft. My wash stand with great sentimental value was between the twin beds and a cute diminutive bench/settee was at the foot of the stairs along with my small oriental rug.

Nancy’s reproduction canopy bed was upstairs in the guest bedroom.  My friend, Noel, came from Connecticut to help me sew a new set of bed hangings in unbleached muslin for the bed. My mother’s antique one drawer stand was next to the bed.

David brought oriental rugs.

Donn Pollard brought Sheraton fancy chairs for the guest bed chamber and an antique portrait for the parlor. He also brought a wash stand for the guest room, a wing chair for the upstairs sitting room and a candelabra for the parlor.

Our handyman supplied the dining room table, a wonderful mirror with a reverse painting and some small items.

Bob Molinski contributed antique rope twin beds and quilts to cover them.

Yolanda Martin brought her pewter collection and portraits to go above the twin beds and a small table for the parlor.

More than that, Yolanda offered to make window treatments.  Nellie and I found remnants of material at the Handkerchief Factory in Exeter, NH and Yolanda sewed.  All the windows were draped with toile, stripes, small prints and unbleached muslin. There were swags and tab curtains.  It was an admirable selection of attractive window coverings.

The ever practical Yolanda also thought to bring soap, towels, waste baskets and other necessities for the party.

Only the dining room was left without window treatments.  At the last minute, the night before the party, I whipped up simple swags using rich ivory antique satin from old drapes for which I had no use.

Sometime earlier I had noticed a Chinese Chippendale camel back loveseat at Bob’s shop.  It was pretty awful.  It was covered in a disgusting faded and soiled pink material.  In lieu of welting it had black fringe.  The wood and fretwork was painted black. I decided that it had more potential than anyone realized and went to buy it.  I waited until all the other customers had left the shop.  I didn’t want to be seen buying this horror!

Nancy stripped the wood trim and stained it a rich mahogany.  I found Nellie’s favorite “tree of life, bird of paradise” fabric and took the loveseat to Bonnie Kishbaugh in Hampton, NH for reupholstering.

On the day of the party I borrowed David’s Jeep and went to Hampton to get the loveseat.  It would go into the Moses Jewett house for the party and remain for a few extra days before being taken to my house in Lanesville. I was thrilled with the outcome.  It was so pleasing to me that I actually pulled over a couple of times and turned around to admire it in the back of the vehicle as I drove from Hampton to Ipswich.

Back in Ipswich things were coming together.  Cousins Ernie and Coralie had arrived from Dalton, the first guests. Ernie helped carry the loveseat into the parlor.  Perfect!

Meanwhile, Nancy, home in Gloucester, had a problem with her car.  How could she get to Ipswich from Lanesville?  In desperation she decided to thumb a ride.  (That would never happen today!) Lady Luck was with her.  She was picked up by Bob Hamlin from Walker Creek Furniture who was on this way to deliver a handmade reproduction pewter cupboard to a customer.  He agreed to unload it at the house and pick it up after the party. So Nancy arrived with this wonderful cupboard.  Into the old kitchen it went and was quickly filled with Yolanda’s pewter just as the guests began to arrive.  Bob Hamlin’s business cards were on the shelf.

Fires burned in the fireplaces.  The candle chandelier hung over the table.  Everything was picture-perfect.  We had a full house of admirers from near and far, including all the neighbors, Sue and Steve Stevens, from the Aaron Jewett house, Barbara and Wayne King, Hillman and Priscilla Barney, Dorothy Brigham, Edna Jewett and of course, Nellie and her eccentric husband, Hal.  By the end of the day music was playing and friends and neighbors alike were dancing in front of the fireplace in the old kitchen. A good time was had by all.  The house was launched into its new chapter.  Now we just had to find a buyer.

Summer was still mostly with us as we began this challenging project.  Fall came on quickly, however, followed by a long winter.  The lovely warm days turned to bone chilling episodes in the old house not yet heated.

There was often a fire in the big fireplace and I huddled there sitting on an overturned five gallon joint compound bucket, almost inside the huge fireplace as though it was an inglenook, just trying to warm up.

David and Tony checked in with the workers regularly.  I mostly remember my role as researching for solutions and then convincing my partners after I had worked out a problem in my head.  They were reasonable and not hard to convince. I thought that we worked well together.

Tony unexpectedly announced that he and Diana would like to buy the house for himself and his family.  I think it must have been a deteriorating real estate market and escalating interest rate that ultimately discouraged Tony and Diana and they backed off.

One day someone knocked at the front door.  I was as surprised to see a Lanesville neighbor standing there as she was to see me on the other side of the threshold.  She had been watching the progress not knowing that I had anything to do with it and wondered where we had found the bull’s eye glass.

Another time David and I observed two men walking up the driveway toward the house.  I freaked!  I recognized them as two purist house restorers and I was scared to death to let them in.  What would they think?  Of course, we did let them in.  They were antiques dealer, Roger Pheulpin, and Attorney Steve Green.  They looked around with interest and if they didn’t approve, they kept it to themselves.  We became good friends and I have enjoyed their acquaintance and knowledge ever since.

One day as I drove to Ipswich early in the morning I saw our always available handyman going into an Essex antiques shop.  He was carrying a small dog weather vane that had been in our barn.  I stopped to see what was going on.  He said that the tail on the dog was broken and he was getting it fixed for us. “Thanks”, I said and left feeling more than a little disturbed. He had recently been laid up with a badly injured leg because of a fall but was just getting back into circulation and again helping out.

The real estate office had a call one day from a motorist saying that there was lots of smoke coming from the big  chimney.  Someone went to the house and saw smoke inside.  The new oil burner had backfired and left a film on everything.  Professionals were called in to clean.  It was covered by insurance and turned out OK but just the thought of having all our work sullied before the house even hit the market was disconcerting.

On one of my regular visit to the house I headed for the cellar.  I opened the door.  The cellar stairs looked weird or were my eyes playing tricks on me?  I was having trouble seeing the stairs.  After a few seconds of bewilderment I came to my senses and realized the half of the staircase was under water!  Taking a long handled peel (a flat shovel used for removing food from the bake oven)from the big fireplace I tried to lower it to see how deep the water was.  When my hand hit the water, I dropped the shovel.  I had not hit bottom.  That water was deep!  The sump pump had failed.  Now I appreciated the wisdom of the old arrangement of trenches around the cellar and the hole in the foundation.

All these disasters and the house was not yet even on the market.

Eventually we did start having open houses.  The house attracted so much interest that many of the Realtors placing the open house sign at the end of the driveway were invariably followed back up the driveway to the house by passersby just wanting to see it.

The project was highly visible.  Several newspapers came for interviews and tours and there was publicity galore.

Nellie, our most loyal mentor and decorator, kept “coming over the road” to follow the progress.   

One Sunday after an open house we all gathered around the fireplace.  It was decided that Bob Fish and David would go to the shore and get mussels and Shelley Martin would cook them.

Next to the fireplace was a wonderful large copper pot that had been contributed by Bob Molinski’s friend, Michael.

Bob and David returned with the mussels and Shelley put them in the big copper pot with some wine and garlic to steam on the new Jennair stove.  We all sat in the old kitchen by the big fireplace awaiting this treat. Suddenly there was a terrible explosion in the kitchen!  Thoroughly startled and scared we rushed to the kitchen.  The copper pot was so big it had hung over the edge of the stove, overlapping but not touching the Formica counter.  As the mussels steamed the copper transferred the heat to the counter, the Formica inflated like a big balloon and then blew!  A big hole in the counter remained.  The damage was ultimately rectified by cutting out that section of the counter and inserting a large cutting board. What next?

Unbeknownst to us the most dramatic of events were about to begin. We were marketing the house in earnest.  The market was not so good.  The excitement of discovery and restoration was behind us.  So was the party.  Open houses and showings were the order of the day.

 After the party a few appointments were left in the house for varying amounts of time to take the emptiness from the bare rooms.  The plan was to gradually remove them when it was convenient but with no rush to do so.  

A new broker, Jackie Cordima, went to the house to meet a buyer shortly after the party.  She made a quick phone call to the office, “Pru, did you take your wing chair home? It’s not here”.  I rushed to the house.  The wing chair was gone.  So was the box chair by the fireplace and the oriental rug that had been in front of the fireplace.

A few days later Jackie went to the house and called me again. “Pru, your loveseat  isn’t here. The tea table is gone”.  No! Not my wonderful loveseat of which I was so proud.  My tea table is gone?”  It was true.  David’s rugs were gone too.  .  

In the ensuing weeks the Chinese rug, the banister back chair, my mother’s tilt top table, the scale with the brass scoop and my treasured washstand were added to the list.  The police were called again and again until they said something like, “It’s that Fish woman again.”  They didn’t seem to be too hot on the trail of a thief.  Yolanda, Donn and the handy man had already removed their things so they suffered no loss.

Jackie had discovered so many thefts that she began to think they would be suspecting her and but it wasn’t over yet.  Once again Jackie made the discovery.

Arriving at the house one day she tried to enter the back door only to find the Jennair stove lying on its face with the oven door handle broken off.  This stove that had been built-in had been wrenched from it spot in the kitchen counter and dragged toward the door until the handle gave way, the stove fell over and was abandoned.

One day while driving home to Gloucester I spotted my mother’s tilt-top table in front of an antiques shop on the road to Essex.  Oh, no! Our handy man had just repaired and refinished it for me!  It was beautiful!  The police came and took the table back to the police station as evidence.  Then came the bad news. The antiques dealer had purchased it from our handyman!  Then I remembered the weather vane incident.

Our handyman was a thief!  He restored my table, then stole it and sold it!  How dare he?

Another day one of his buddies who had helped with the boiler removal commented, “Richie really hurt himself when he fell through the barn floor.  That was really something.”  So that’s how he hurt his leg!  That’s when he stole the weather vane! Served him right that he hurt himself, the thief!

This problem was compounded when I discovered that my own house had been robbed.  Then Bob Molinski discovered his Ipswich antiques shop had also been robbed. We were living in the middle of a nightmare.

To sum it up, the police were ineffective, the court failed to convict.  I recovered my mother’s table but nothing else.  My wing chair, tea table, new loveseat, washstand, bannister back chair, rugs and so much more were gone for good.  I visited antiques shops over a large area and found a few things here and there in numerous towns which the police then took for evidence most of which I never saw again.  

I remembered all those times the handyman had come to the real estate office, even bringing me coffee in the morning and asking what my day was like.  Based on that he would raid my home or the Moses Jewett house.

We tried to put this behind us and move on but panic was setting in.  Our interest rate and carrying costs were skyrocketing.  We needed a buyer and we needed one fast.

Continued in Part 10

Friday, March 20, 2015







Prudence Paine Fish


After the installation of the back stairs it seemed best to consider that upstairs room as an upstairs sitting room, library or TV room because with the invasion of the stairs it was no longer private.  This room also accessed the attic now that we had reversed the staircase.

Cutting the hole for the new back stairs.

Construction of the back stairs.

The attic stirs were reversed so that from the
top of the new back stairs one went directly
to the attic stairs .  Great for accessing the attic.

From here a corridor led to a bedroom at the opposite end of the house.  Off this corridor was the second floor bathroom in the same space as it originally was found.  We installed a new cast iron tub/shower and a pine vanity.  In the ceiling a fan and a heat lamp was installed. Throughout the second floor we used nice sconces and lanterns from the Federal Street Lighthouse.

Here is the old attic door (formerly a closet)
with a new reproduced identical door leading
to a rear second floor hallway.

This is what we discovered by making many holes in Victorian plaster.  There was a wealth of feather edged
sheathing, never painted but covered for maybe 150 years.
The most rewarding find in this part of the house was that every single interior wall was lined with feather edged sheathing beneath Victorian plaster and lath.  As we excavated wall after wall we found the sheathing everywhere we looked.  Best of all it had never been
This photo shows the door to the guest bedroom on the right at the top of the back staircase.  Next to it is the new matching
door that will lead to the bathroom and other bedrooms from a narrow hall.

painted. The old plaster was removed throughout this area and the sheathing emerged to be cleaned up and admired after being hidden for maybe 150 years.  The striped flowered wallpaper  was in
the back left hand room with the back stairs that became a sitting room.
Here again you can see the old flowered wallpaper adjacent to the newly uncovered sheathing
Just when we thought we were finished and all was in readiness for marketing, I noticed as I came down the attic stairs that the wall beside me was wood.  Why wasn’t it plastered? The outside of the wall was plastered and already redecorated.  Could this be more sheathing?  Had we not discovered all of it?
This is another view of the area with cleaned up sheathing and
new backstair railing.
More sheathing it was.  The plaster was pulled down and the sheathing restored. This time it really was the end.  All of the ancient pine had been revealed.  The house had given up its last secret!


There was not much positive that could be said about the barn.  It was frail.  It was rotten. It was two stories tall.  There were two bays on the first floor and an appendage because the barn was not deep enough for a car.  It seemed best to restore the front as intended and add a few feet onto the rear of the building to satisfy the need for more depth. 
It is now late fall and the work going on in the house is visible.  The red paint, the new windows and restored door
are evidence of the good progress.  This picture shows the relation of the barn to the house.  Inside you can see the
staircase to the second floor.
Inside the door on the left was a steep flight of stairs leading to the upstairs of the barn.

The barn could not possibly have been more dilapidated.  It was barely
This old barn, however, did have some history.  The second story contained bits and pieces of leather. We soon discovered a chapter of area history.

In the 19th century Lynn developed as the center of the shoe industry.  This shoe industry soon provided winter work for area farmers.  This is how it worked.

Agents or couriers from the shoe company called “bag men” fanned out across the region, perhaps as far as Portsmouth with bags of raw materials for local cordwainers who would complete a certain part of the production.  The bag men would return after a certain length of time to pick up the completed work and drop off a new bag of raw material.  The finished product would be taken to Lynn for completion and assembly. They were then shipped all over the country.

Many cordwainers had a small building dedicated to this purpose.  Some were shared with a neighbor or relative.  These little buildings were complete with a stove or, if particularly early, a fireplace, paneled doors and simple finishes.  They were of nice proportions and some were architectural gems.  The nickname for these little buildings was “ten footer” representing the average size, although they varied slightly. Time has taken its toll.  Few remain, all are dilapidated and may not even be identified.  Many were located in the Ipswich and Rowley area.  Ipswich Village was the heart of the cordwainer cottage industry.

StonehamMA DoucetteTenFooter.jpg
Here is a typical Massachusetts "ten-footer" shop where farmers and neighbors
would work in the winter to supplement their income.  This one is listed on the National
Register of Historic Places.  At the Moses Jewett house the second floor of the barn
became the shoe shop.  The little shops, however, were scattered around the area.
Amos Jewett was one such cordwainer.  He sold the Jewett property to Daniel Boynton in several stages between 1835 and 1844.  Daniel Boynton was also a cordwainer.  If they had a “ten footer” it does not remain but they did have a barn with a nice second floor for a shop.  Apparently, the second floor became the center of this operation judging by the evidence left behind.

If you look on the second floor of the barn you can see the
wind braces of the timber frame construction attesting to
the age of the building
It is obvious that there was once a bigger barn on the farm.  What we are referring to as a barn was probably just an accessory building when this was a working farm. The only other notable issue with the barn was how it got a big hole in the floor (more later) and the miracle that it was saved and still upright.  But it was saved and today serves as a two car garage with storage above,
This is the barn as seen from the kitchen window.  Antique windows salvaged
from the house are being installed in the barn.  They are nine over six. Unfortunately
they were OK for a time but didn't hold up very well and now they are very frail. 
The inside staircase was removed and rebuilt on the exterior to make more room for cars.  When the stairs were removed a very long piece of wood was found.  Paul recognized it as the original corner board of the house and when held up to the corner it fit perfectly.

When restoring a house one needs to look very carefully at what it removed.  It was customary to recycle any material that could possibly be recycled and many pieces and parts turn up and can help determine original features such as the fluted pilasters recycled into the Greek Revival front door.

"Waste not, want not" was the spirit of those times.

For some reason I don't seem to have a photo of the finished barn.  If I don't find one before posting I may be able to take a picture this weekend and add it soon.

To be continued in Part 9

Friday, March 13, 2015










At the top of the stairs a turn to the left brings you into the master bedchamber as it would have been called in the 18th century.  Here was a major problem.

As described previously the back staircase had been removed leaving the front stairs the only way to access to the second floor.  The chimney in the middle necessitated going through one of the two front rooms to get to a back room.  This would not be an acceptable arrangement for a late 20th century buyer.

To overcome this problem, an owner in the distant past had found the easiest solution.  He divided the bedroom.  Three quarters of the space toward the gable end of the house became the bedroom reduced in size.  The remaining quarter closest to the stairs and chimney was partitioned off creating a corridor running from the front wall of the house to the back rooms of the house.  In this corridor was hidden the paneled fireplace wall with bricked up fireplace and non-existent hearth that should have been the main focus in a wonderful room.  The paneling happened to be the best in the house.

On the left side not showing was the added in wall so
what you see in the photo was the dark corridor from the door
that you can see leading toward the rear second floor rooms.

This wall would have to be removed to restore the room to its original look. Now that there would be a new back staircase there was no need for the offending corridor in which was found this beautiful and most sophisticated paneling of all.

The back of the this bedroom shows some of the paneling, a door
to the back hall and bedrooms and a closet. The partition had
been miraculously removed with hardly a mark on the ceiling or the floor.

With great care Paul’s crew removed the added wall without destroying the ceiling.  I didn’t think this could be done but it was.  The entire ceiling was saved and the floor to which the partition had been nailed was also brought back without damage.
Here is the paneled wall before restoration of the
 hearth and fireplace.  This lovely wall had been
previously hidden in a dark and narrow corridor

The fireplace and hearth were restored and a damper added.
Here is the same rear corner after being painted.
The room was then painted a lovely blue, the floor was painted and the room returned to its original look very carefully and completely.  What a beautiful room!
Looking toward the front of the house in the master

Unfortunately the colors are so distorted you
would never know that this is a beautiful room
with white walls and a Williamsburg blue on the
woodwork.  Tab curtains were made for the


The second floor hall landing looking
toward the second bedchamber. A little of
the bedchamber blue is showing as is the
"tusk" mixed by Nellie that worked so well.
The room opposite the master bedchamber (designated as the master bedchamber because it had the best paneling) was another room of similar size.  There were no special issues to deal with here.  There was a lot of feather edged sheathing on the fireplace wall and two paneled doors at the left of the fireplace opening two cupboards, one above the other.  

Like the parlor beneath this room there is an odd mix of feather edged sheathing
combined with panels and nice paneled doors.
The floor had particularly wide boards and the center had never been painted.  There was ancient linoleum and the border around the linoleum had been painted many times.  The floor was severely pitched away from the chimney that was holding it up.  It was slanting in the direction of the gable end of the house where the sill had rotted. Leveling this floor would have been much too invasive and would result in loss of plaster.  It was left alone hoping that antique buyers would understand and find it acceptable. Lovers of old houses have to have a certain amount of tolerance for the idiosyncrasies that go with an ancient building!

This is the plaster preparatory to saving it.  Looks pretty awful but
how perfect it was when finished.  The added piece of wood between the
windows is still a mystery to me but I have seen it in other houses as well. 
The major problem we had with this room was of our own making.  I had seen a color I particularly liked. It was a lovely rosy salmon color.  I picked out a color and painted the room.  As it dried it got worse and worse. We tried again.  It was almost hot pink!  Oh! My gosh!  Help!  Again, Nellie reminded us, “Intensity increases with volume”.  We should have heeded her advice. I thought it was burned into our brains. We should have had her mix the paint! What looks like a nice color can be quite unsatisfactory when seen in large quantity on an entire room.

After many tried we succeeded in finding the
color we wanted and it still looks nice. This
photo may not be quite right but it is closer.

The room was charming when we added some old pieces
of furniture.  The walls were actually white and the wood work
was the color of the door opposite.
  We dubbed the room the “bubble gum room” because no matter how hard we tried or how many times we repainted, it always came out looking like bubble gum.

 Searching for the right color I liked what I saw on a chart for Old Village Paints.  This was a little different.  We had to purchase a can of brownish paint, then a can of off white and mix the two together. Voila!  A perfectly wonderful, soft salmon emerged as this strange concoction was blended. On the woodwork it looked even better.  The bubble gum room was finally history and a lovely, warm, cheerful room was a sight for sore eyes.  The bubble gum nightmare was over but never forgotten.

The completed bedroom looked charming and sweet
but I am so disappointed that the photos do not show
the true colors.  The furniture is part of our staging the
house for showings.  In this we were ahead of out time.

Restoration of the hearth, fireplace and installation of a damper completed the masonry work.  A coat of paint on the floor and this room was ready for a new owner. 

To be continued in part 8.  Just a little more to go!

Friday, March 6, 2015








Prudence Paine Fish


 Oh, what a scene! Was there any hope for this room?  Optimism was hard to muster.

There was no sign of the fireplace. A blank wall covered with crumbling tan plaid wallpaper greeted us where the fireplace should have been. We had to excavate again, just as in the kitchen. It was a mess.

This is the mess that confronted us in the future dining room that would
become the scene for many elegant dinner parties down the road but not yet!.
There actually is a fireplace in there!  It has an oven.
Surprise, Surprise

Down came the Victorian plaster and lath, down came studs, out came bricks. What a nice surprise to find a rather large firebox with another brick oven in the rear. That meant three large bake ovens in one chimney. It was unexpected that we would find one here.  Perhaps this fireplace had been altered to accommodate two families. The hearth must be rebuilt and a damper added.

Above the fireplace was a cupboard minus its door. On the left of the fireplace was the door to the cellar. This was a major change and the door was Victorian. The cellar door should be in the front hallway underneath the staircase. We removed the offending door in the dining room. But wait!  What about that panel in the attic?  We were lucky.  It was the missing panel removed when the cellar door was created. It was necessary to find a door for the cupboard but after finding that the rest of the fireplace and surround fell into place.

That was the fun part. The rest was not fun.

The raised field panels on the fireplace wall ended at the ceiling, cut off mid-way. Something was wrong here. The ceiling must have been lowered. The panels were incomplete. We reasoned that the ceiling must have been lowered to cover the summer beam, a frequent solution for hiding the old summer beam when it was no longer aesthetically acceptable. This 1759 house must have summer beams. How could it not?

Notice the space for a cupboard above the fireplace.  Particularly notice the
small panel upper left that is not finished on the top.  You can see the ceiling
The ceiling was horrible beyond description so we tackled the messy job of pulling it down. Two problems emerged immediately. There was no summer beam. There was just a system of large floor joists; beams really, but parallel. That was the first disappointment.

Next, we found that the panels at ceiling height were not complete above the plaster line but just ended as three sided panels with no tops. It was original!  That seemed strange, to say the least. Even stranger were the two round holes in the newly uncovered raised field panel over the door to the front hallway. What purpose did these holes serve? Obviously they were very old because the room had been re-plastered and all of this paneling covered probably in the mid 19th century. It wasn’t until long after we sold the house that I understood the reason for this “transom panel”.

Our contractor, Paul, was lucky to find a paneled door that fit the
cupboard over the fireplace.  Former cellar door is on the left.
The future dining room wall on the driveway side had buckled due to a rotted sill, but more particularly, a rotted and rolled sill. The wall had to be torn out to window sill height and rebuilt starting with a new pressure treated sill. When all was said and done there was not enough of that wall left to save so it had to be replaced. 

The wall of the dining room was torn out up to the windows because
of the rotted and rolled sill that had caused the interior wall to buckle.
There were sill problems on all four sides of the house that were replaced.
The kitchen wall likewise had to be replastered because of the door to the little bedroom that was no more. That had to be covered and made to disappear. 

On the left is the door that previously accessed the first
floor bedroom.  Notice the old wavy split lath.
And because we had destroyed the ceiling in our quest for the summer beam and panel tops, a new ceiling was in order.
This is what the dining room looked like as the buckled outside
was repaired and the door to the old bedroom was covered not
to mention the mess we made pulling down the ceiling looking
for a summer beam that we were sure we would find but didn't.
That was not all. The pine floor was in very bad condition. Some of the boards were paper-thin, the rest we used for repairs elsewhere. A new floor was laid. Like the new floors in the old kitchen and the new kitchens, it was stained. We hoped it would appeal to the buyers who didn't like painted floors.They could always be painted at a later date but that would be the new owner's choice.

So all the repairs were made and new materials introduced. It looked like a new room. The ceiling was too smooth and the corners where they met the walls, too plumb. Perhaps crown molding around the ceiling would take the sting off those sharp edges. Nice old molding was found at Whitey Davis’s salvage yard in Salisbury and installed. That helped. We tried to mimic the earliest color, a soft green. The room began to look better. Perhaps that wallpaper that Nellie had would look nice. I had planned to use it at my house but decided to donate it to the Moses Jewett house at the last minute. It was a Chinese Chippendale paper. Nellie called it “bird of paradise, tree of life”. The formal name of the pattern was Chartwell. Chartwell was manufactured by Thomas Strahan in Chelsea, Massachusetts. The pattern dated to the 18th century. The paper matched the paint perfectly and the outcome was pretty. It is still there and still looks good. The present owners have no plans to change it…ever.
    This photo shows the door from the dining room to the front entry.
     The panel with the holes goes above that left hand door.  The right 
hand opening was the entrance added to go to the cellar but we 
found the missing paneling and restored it to original.  Above it
      is one of the panels with no finished top.  It just disappears into the

To enhance the integrity of the house we chose not to install a chandelier in the dining room. Cassidy Forge made us a chandelier for candles that would hang from a hook over the table. The center was the wooden hub of an old wagon wheel. Branches and cups for the candles were added. It looked great. Unfortunately, the pleasure it gave us was short lived. The chandelier was stolen! Much more about that to follow.
The chandelier was made for us at Cassidy Forge from the hub of an old
wagon wheel that they had been saving for just the right job.  This was it!

In order to provide modern illumination, two small eyeball lights were recessed in front of the fireplace and operated by a dimmer. These lights spotlighted the paneled room end and fireplace and the degree of light could be controlled so that it did not compete with the candles. Many people were shocked that I would consider this modern lighting. It was the right solution. 
 At last the room had come together and holds its own with the rest of the house. I’m not sure anyone remembers that so much work was done in this part of the house. It all looks compatible, has mellowed with age and now has a patina to match the rest.

This is really the same room after the restoration
was complete.  It is hard to believe what a mess it was.
 Later I understood the two holes above the hall door. The answer became apparent when the new owners tried to have dinner parties with a smoking fireplace that didn’t draw well.  Over a number of years they tried different ways of building fires: smaller ones, bigger ones, fires in the rear, fires toward the front. They optimistically always claimed to have found the solution only to be driven out in the middle of dinner by smoke, usually on a cold winter’s night with the front door and a window open to let the smoke out.

 Now I understood the purpose of the holes in the panel over the hall door. That fireplace had smoked for two hundred years! The holes were to let the smoke out into the hall or out the front door without opening the door from the dining room to the cold hall. This was not a new problem!

Old-time masons knew how to build a fireplace that would draw well. What happened to this fireplace?  My theory is that the fireplace was altered long ago. Probably the oven was added. Maybe it had something to do with the various divisions of the divided house. The mason may have done the best he could to accommodate the occupant with a large firebox, a crane and an oven but the balance and the draft were changed forever. The fireplace smoked then and it smokes now.  My theory is that the fireplace was altered and an oven added when Moses left his two maiden daughter the use of one third of the house while his son, Aaron, and his family had the rest including the big cooking fireplace in the old kitchen.  Maybe a new kitchen fireplace was created in the front room for their use.  And using that fireplace meant cutting two round holes in the panel over the door, each hole the size of a baseball, to let the smoke out from a fireplace that will never draw well.

The new owners finally gave up trying to make it work and have resorted to a gas log. It looks pretty good, throws heat and allows for a cheerful fire at a dinner party. I guess it’s the only solution there was. It's better than having to evacuate the room during a holiday dinner!  The bottom line is that it is another change that can be reversed. This makes it a good thing. 

It is hard for me to believe that with all my photos I do not have one of the finished fireplace wall but I don't.  So my last picture of the dining room is of the table with the chandelier hanging above it just days before it was stolen never to be seen again.

The completed dining room.  There is the new crown molding around the ceiling.  The
colors in the wall paper are more natural beneath the window.  The custom made chandelier
made by Cassidy Forge hangs over the table.  A few days after this picture was taken, the chandelier 
was stolen never to be seen again.  The woodwork is actually a soft sage green that works perfectly with the Chinese 
Chippendale wallpaper.  The age of the photos and the camera do distort the period colors.  The wall paper is quite soft
and not as strong looking as in the old photo.


The tiny hall has a three run “captain’s” staircase with a closed string ascending to the second floor. It winds up tightly against the chimney from left to right.
Feather edged sheathing and an unplastered
ceiling were original to the entry hall.

Halfway up the stairs a fairly large door opens into a closet in the chimney. Closets such as this are not all that common but are seen occasionally.  Aaron Jewett’s house just up the street, until recently belonging to the Stevens family, had a similar closet in the chimney.

The closet in the chimney
The panel under the stairs was reopened to its original use as a cellar door. Again, as in the antique kitchen, we discovered a white-washed ceiling under newer plaster. We allowed the unfinished ceiling to be exposed.

The woodwork was painted with Nellie’s “tusk”, a versatile green/tan color. For the walls we chose Katzenbach and Warren’s “Charles the Third” wallpaper from the Williamsburg Collection. It was extravagant but wonderful paper for an early setting. 

Charles III wallpaper.  One of the oldest patterns known.  This
 was from the Katzenbach and Warren Williamsburg Collection.
Tin sconces near the front door and a hanging tin hall light hanging from the second floor ceiling completed the hall restoration. These tin lights, authentic copies, came from the Federal Street Lighthouse in Newburyport, a store much loved by restorers and now greatly missed by restorers.

Bulls eye glass has been installed in the front
six panel door and a tin sconce mounted beside it.
From the entry hall looking into the dining room.
Sometimes these halls are called stair halls, some
times they are called entries or even passageway.
In this photo you can see the wallpaper as it
really looks


At this point the worst of the first floor was finished and looking good.  We were beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

A peek at the next room, the parlor, from the front entry.



After all of the other serious projects on 
     the first floor the work needed in this room 
seemed quite routine.
Actually, much less work was needed here than in the other first floor rooms.

After we destroyed the dining room ceiling we were told by Paul that they could save all of the plaster and they did. No more ceilings or plaster were removed except where Victorian lath and plaster were removed to reveal original paneling or sheathing.  The plaster that was saved looks just right.  We were amazed at what the crew was able to do to salvage the old plaster.  It has held up and still looks great.

All of the plaster was saved in the parlor. The fireplace was opened and a new hearth built. A damper was put in and the fireplace was ready to go after Richard Irons had created a new boiler flue in the back space in the center of the huge chimney.  The only other options would have been to build a new disfiguring chimney on the back of the house and that was too expensive and too unsightly anyway. So that was really  not an option for the budget or for resale.  Or the fireplace could have remained blocked but we wouldn't think of leaving a fireplace blocked especially in the parlor.  Today we would have used a direct vent to the outside but that was not an available option at that time although they were available just a few years later  .  We worked out the problem very neatly and satisfactorily.

The parlor fireplace had a small cupboard above it like the one in the dining room.  In this
room the cupboard and the paneling were intact.  Some of the wall covering was feather
edged sheathing and not sophisticated but typical of a country farmhouse.
The paneling here was na├»ve.  It was a mixture of raised field paneling and feather edged sheathing. There was a cupboard above the fireplace just as there was in the dining room.

A pretty corner near the fireplace. More about the candle
stand later. Some feather edged sheathing can be seen on the
 left side.

The floor was comfortable; worn but salvageable. The woodwork was painted a slate blue and the floor a harmonizing but darker blue. The walls were left white.

No special or unusual problems were encountered here. That was a break! The restoration of the first floor was complete!

Here as in the rest of the house where there were plaster ceilings that were saved.  The disaster in the dining room is the only exception. There is remarkably little to comment on in this room.  Most of the changes were simply cosmetic.  It is completely original.

Notice the furniture used for staging here as well as in the old kitchen.  There will be more to say about that in a future post.

Onward and upward to the second floor in the next installment.
The gable wall of the house staged with items from our homes and Yolanda's toile drapes at the windows.

To be continued in Part 7