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

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


  1. As impressed as I am with the job you did on the house, the restoration of the barn really shows your commitment as restorers. The leather scraps were a fortuitous find that truly opened a window on local history--I hope that they were saved and documented. Also, is there any chance of adding a picture of them?

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