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, August 13, 2016










It has taken a long time for me to post this last chapter on the house at Ipswich Village.  It was mostly the result of burnout after reconstructing and reporting all the details of the restoration of the Moses Jewett House.  This was compounded by endless printer and computer issues.  

After this long hiatus I am ready to resume stories of old houses or related subjects.  So here is the wrap-up on the Jewett house.  I'm hoping I have not lost all of the loyal readers who followed this long series and will continue to read a varied selection of stories to come. 

It was important to me to organize and record the details of the restoration of Moses Jewett's house and now I can take a deep breath and move on!


Looking back over these years and visiting the house as often as I have, there has been plenty of opportunity to review some of the mistakes and think about what we should or should not have done.  Most of my thoughts are positive without too many regrets.

One dilemma that we faced is a common one.  The windows were very bad.  They were not 18th century originals but they were old.  The glass was good with lots of waviness. In a perfect world it would seem that we should have restored them.  We didn’t actually think they were restorable.  We restored a few to use in the barn and they are once again in collapse.  The house started out to be a spec house, not a pure restoration but early on we knew we must do our best.  The windows we chose were wood, true divided light windows and they have held up perfectly.  My regret is losing all of that old glass.

It was our dream to put on a cedar roof.  The roof on the house was good but not wood.  The budget, however, dictated that we had to cross that off the list.  The new owners did follow through and put on a wood roof.   Unfortunately, it could not breath properly and did not last so it is back to architectural shingles.  What a pity.

There is a little mistake that haunts me.  We did not know at that time that the thumb latches and HL hinges should have been painted the same as the woodwork and made to disappear.  We left them black.  That will embarrass me forever.  I have begged the owners to cover the hinges but they like them and they still glare back at me….jet black.

Initially we  made the mistake of tearing out the dining room ceiling.  First of all we misjudged what we would find.  Secondly, we did not think we were doing any great damage.  The plaster was too bad to save, wasn’t it?  Wrong!  As we found out, the WORST plaster can be saved and all the rest was saved after that first mistake.  I am proud of the way the plaster looks in the light.  Not rough but just slightly undulating.  It is just right.  I’m so glad we were stopped before we took down more than we did.

Finishing the floors in a natural finish was probably a good idea, not knowing who our buyer would be.  They can always be painted but the only one that has been painted is the kitchen.

The skylights, questionable to a purist, have been good for light and air.  I don’t regret installing them nor do I regret the eyeball recessed lights in the dining room that shocked people back then.  Hugh and Jerry replaced the stolen chandelier with a wonderful antique brass chandelier for candles.  The eyeball lights on a dimmer supplement the candles perfectly. I don’t consider these modern touches a mistake by any means.

On the lighter side, I believe Tony learned while cleaning for an open house that you can’t vacuum the hearth when the bricks are set in sand.

After vehemently resisting use of the term “borning room” a misnomer from the colonial revival period, I fell into the same sort of trap.  It was common back then for restorers to call the old or antique kitchen the “keeping room”.  I’m not sure where this came from but we went along with it.  Later I realized this was less than accurate.  I have only seen that term on one old house plan. It was from the Federal period and it pertained to a sitting room.  I have since ceased to ever use the term but the damage was done.  Everyone associated with the restoration and especially the new owners have never failed to refer to the colonial kitchen with the big fireplace as the keeping room, a term of which I am sorry I ever heard or uttered.  It is corny.  I know better now but it’s too late.  The term refuses to go away and I have heard it used by the best in the business.

When all is said and done, I think it is miraculous that we did as good a job as we did.  Looking back I think we were naïve about the project but we did our homework, tried hard to get it right and absolutely did the best we could.

Did we make mistakes?  Sure, but most could be reversed and none were too serious or resulted in permanent damage


The lesson learned from this experience is that restoring an early house is exciting and fun as long as:

  •      You can afford to hire contractors
  •       It is not a spec
  •      You must have deep pockets
  •      Someone checks every day to catch mistakes before it is to late.                                                                
  •       Originality is respected
  •      You don’t try to make it into something it isn’t
  •      You are pro-active and do your homework
  •      You seek advice from professionals
  •      A Family isn’t trying to live in the house during construction

My rules for restoration, evolved though this experience are these:

      1.     Accommodate the old house and its floor plan.  Do not try to make the house  accommodate    you.

2.     Do not remove original fabric.  Plaster can be saved.  Horse hair plaster is not bad!

3.      Do not do anything that can’t be reversed.


It is now 2016.  There has been a lot of water under the bridge but the Moses Jewett house is still going strong.  Hugh and Jerry are retired but still there.  I have enjoyed many a Thanksgiving feast in the old kitchen by the big fireplace.  It has been over thirty years since the day I agreed to become part of the Moses Jewett house team.  Everyone involved with the house is much older, the cast of characters has changed, and some have passed on, including Bob Molinski, Nellie, Vern Martin and the thieving handy man.  Everyone has fond memories of the house and the hospitality of Hugh and Jerry.

May the good times in the old house at Ipswich Village never end!

My appreciation to all  who followed this series.  Thanks for reading!


1 comment:

  1. Hello Prudence, I have enjoyed and learned from all the entries in this series. I think that your decisions were largely sound ones, and always based on good motives--if only all old house restorations, speculative or otherwise, were done this well.