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

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

LITTLE ANTIQUE CAPE, LOST AND FOUND Part 2


This post will be brief compared to recent posts but I have some more information about the old cape and its odyssey around New England.

It was 1988 when the Kenyon's abandoned the idea of getting the little house put back together for their new home.  They had built their new post and beam house on their land in Gloucester so they advertised the old cape for sale all numbered and ready to go for $19,500.  It was advertised in Maine Antique Digest.  Obviously, it didn't sell.  I would guess that at the time of the advertising it was in the cellar of the new house which is where I saw it for the last time.


It was finally sold to Tom Farmer from Falmouth, Maine.  The Kenyon's had taken it from Massachusetts to Northport Maine in a school bus.  Tom Farmer probably had it for quite some time but that is just a guess.

The new owner bought it from Tom Farmer  as recently as the spring 2014 and they moved it to Casco, Maine a distance of 35 miles.They had looked at it in the previous fall of 2013 but did not buy it at that time.
Here is Cheryl, the owner, in front of her fireplace mantle
that was salvaged from another house in Massachusett.


In 2014 Tom Farmer revealed that it was about to be moved to Ohio.

Others had hesitated to buy it because the Kenyons had marked all of the pieces with oil based paint.  Potential buyers must have thought the removal would be a problem.  Cheryl, the new
owner bought a Quonset hut in which to store the old house and the rest went into her cellar.  Like deja vous for the traveling house.


Cheryl belongs to a reenactment group where she depicts the 1760’s - 1820’s with the Ancient Ones of Maine (a living history group)

Here is what she said about her purchase and what she did with itl

"I was in love with the gun stock posts so they were high on my priority list. In the end I needed a garage/barn more than I needed a full size Cape so I opted to build a barn and a mudroom addition onto my retirement home. The mudroom was made using various parts of the Georgetown Cape."

So now the work began using the parts of the old house.

"The mudroom was made using as many of the gunstock
posts as I could! The ceiling was made w boards from the Pine trees removed to make way for the barn and mudroom.
Heavy framing, gunstock corner.  Is that a chamfer on the beam?  Great gunstock post.

The wainscoting boards were about 22” wide and the mop board is 12” tall.

You can see the painted labels on the beams. I left them visible to reflect part of the history. I am not sure if the posts are oak or chestnut but they sure are heavy and solid!





"A friend and I plastered the walls. It is still a work in progress but I have no immediate plans to do any but use the room as is! I hope to incorporate other parts into my home as time goes on."

Wide sheathing boards with layers of paint.



Wide Boards from Georgetown














When it didn't seem as though the cape would be re-erected in its entirety, Cheryl made good use of many of the parts and will collectively use more as time goes on and other uses come along
Newly constructed barn.

A new room but showing plenty of antiquity.
Potting shed using some old material from the Georgetown cape.

This is where I will end for now but if I can possible get one of the earlier names on the house from its old location I will endeavor to discover its history going backward rather than going forward as we have be doing.

I hope you enjoyed the strange tale of the old Cape from Tenney St. in Georgetown, MA.  The final photo is of the entire property.  It's all here, not in its original form but utilized and loved.  That's what is important.  It is a miracle that any of it survived after thirty years "on the road"

Winter in Maine!


Sunday, December 3, 2017

OLD HOUSES THREATENED BY FADS

                                                    HAVE YOU NOTICED THESE TRENDS?

Times are changing!  Antique houses and historic building are in jeopardy. Here are examples of what is impairing them, some much more serious than others.  If only cosmetics are involved...OK.  When original fabric is involved it is not so OK.

For nearly fifty years I have gone on antique house tours from Maine to Florida and elsewhere in between.  They followed the same scenario.  Visitors were greeted at the front door and admired the hall and staircase before being directed into the front rooms.  The visitors admired traditional parlors usually with a fireplace, a Chippendale sofa, wing chairs and Martha Washington lolling chairs.  Oriental rugs covered the floor; swags and jabots adorned the small paned windows.

In the dining room the table was usually set fit for a queen with the fine china, sterling silver tableware and maybe some Waterford crystal glasses.  Sometime you were allowed upstairs and sometimes not but the entire first floor was on display.  Often less formal country kitchens welcomed you to the rear of the house.  Occasionally  there was an antique cast iron Glenwood or Crawford range or cook stove that was the pride of the homeowner especially if it could be used.  Butcher block was often the counter of choice in an old house kitchen.

After many years of being inspired by lovely and interesting houses, not all of them as formal as I just described I would return home; sometimes inspired and other times with feelings of hopelessness, thinking everything I owned in my house had to go.

Once when I lived in Newburyport, MA my own house was on a tour.  It was a lot of work but heart warming too as people admired things and for a number of years afterwards when I would be introduced to someone they would remark about things they had seen in my house and remembered.  It was mostly a positive experience.

After so many years of touring I became less eager to go.   Maybe it was really my worn out knees and I didn't want to admit that all of the stairs and in and out of the car were killing me.

Recently, for the first time in years I agreed to go on a tour of mostly antique houses.  Some of the houses I was familiar with and others I would be seeing for the first time.

As a friend and I approached the first house we were directed around to the back of the house but with lovely landscaping it was a treat.  When we entered the house we had to take off our shoes which was not a treat but a real pain.  I had not worn shoes that I could kick off easily but I complied.  We then entered the kitchen.  Treacherously shiny, slippery floors greeted us.  But here is the thing.  We were in the kitchen!  The back wall of the house had been opened up and an addition built in the rear.  We were in a huge space with the best of everything relative to cabinetry, appliances and granite counter tops.  This was the centerpiece of the house.  The dining room and parlor were anti climactic after seeing the "swell" kitchen.  

Both my friend and I were bored with the house.  It had lost its patina.  If I hadn't known better I would have thought I was in a reproduction house.  It was pristine!  And was billed as a 17th century house which it was not.  The given date would have made it one of the five oldest houses in America.  Not!

We continued on to the second house.  Once again we were shuffled around to the back door.  What was going on?  More of the same.  Walls had been removed to create the ultimate kitchen.  Everything was expensive and sparkling.  What the parlor and dining room looked like I hardly noticed.

On to the next house and  the same scenario again.  In the back door, walls removed to create a large space,  appliances nearly commercial grade.  Was this the quaint old house I had always admired?

We didn't finish the tour.  It was disturbing to hardly recognize these houses with their shiny surfaces, not an imperfection to be found.  How can that be in an almost three hundred year old house?

Open spaces, missing walls, and scraped, sanded and polished spaces are in.  Guests enter by the kitchen door because the enlarged kitchens have taken center stage.  Antique houses are being threatened by this latest craze.  As I predicted elsewhere, the day will come when the hostess or the housewife will get tired of everyone hanging around her while she prepares a meal and surely closed kitchens will have their day once again but how much damage is being done? Sanded and urethaned floors and expensive stoves with enough burners to run a restaurant are the style of the day!  If that's what you want, folks, build a repro.

The experience was disturbing and I came home, not feeling inspired, but feeling troubled.  The houses is saw could have passed for repros and I wished that the owners had built themselves new houses and left their antique houses alone.

I must not leave out the fad for exposing beams in the ceiling never supposed to be seen by human eyes once the house is built.  Old time housewrights must be rolling in their graves to see their rough adzed beams being displayed in an otherwise nice room.  Most houses were not rustic cabins but refined houses.  I covered that subject in a blog post recently and there was an unprecedented number of readers and responders.  Here is the link to that blog post in case you didn't see it.

https://prudencefish.blogspot.com/2017/08/beams-beams-and-more-beams.html

A fairly formal dining room but where is the plastered ceiling?  These crude beams were not meant for human eyes.
Another threat to old houses presents a much more serious dilemma.  It is lead paint.

For many years removing lead paint posed more of a threat than leaving it alone.  

Anyone born in the late 1970s or before has probably been exposed to lead paint.  New England houses are very apt to be a lot older then the 70s.  I have not been very sympathetic to those calling for the removal of lead paint in our houses.  It is disruptive, expensive and is a real threat to antique houses.  I have sincerely doubted that children were chewing on any part of the house.  It has always seemed to me that painted furniture or other old or antique objects that people have lying around or accessorizing their homes were much more apt to be the culprit.  A toddler might bite on the arm of a chair or any antique ornament on a low table such as families of old houses collect.

I just heard that a family I know with a precious one year old baby have discovered that the baby has elevated lead levels.  These are very conscientious parents and they also love their 200 year old house.  They are going to be moving out of their house for six weeks while their lovely old center chimney house has all traces of lead paint removed.  This is drastic and tragic for the interruption in their lives and the assault on their house and the expenditure.  But I understand the pressure they feel to remove harmful elements from their baby's environment especially if the state gets involved.

This couple think that the threat is coming from the painted floors.  When I mentioned the situation to a friend whose middle aged children are the same age as mine her immediate response was that we kept our kids in playpens and they didn't crawl around on the floors.  And most rooms had some sort of rug.  I really hadn't thought about play pens and if they are no longer in use why not?  Checking online I see that they are available.  Since these days I am not usually in houses with babies I'm curious if there has been a decline in the use of playpens as my friend suggests leaving more babies to crawl around on the floor investigating their surroundings.

Children must be protected but deleading an entire house is a drastic measure.  Perhaps I don't know how many children have high levels.  Surely most of us and most of our kids if born before lead paint was outlawed didn't even consider that our children were in jeopardy and I'm not convinced that they were.  Would it not be more likely that a child would mostly be apt to put an object in their mouth that they could pick up and hold in their hands?  Any object that is painted could be a culprit.  And what about novelty items that have come from other countries and sold here that aren't antique?

Once a child has been diagnosed something drastic has to be done and it is somewhat out of the homeowner's hands.  Going the route of encapsulating the painted surfaces seems a better way to go but perhaps there is no choice once the state is involved.

There is another threat to an old house and it doesn't have to be that old!

Everywhere I go I can usually see an insulator's truck parked at yet another house that is getting insulation blown into the walls.   Without a vapor barrier which old houses do not have the home owner could be headed for trouble down the road.  Without a vapor barrier the insulation gets wet, holds water and becomes a soggy mess and it's just a matter of time until it starts to impair the integrity of the framework of the house as the wood is constantly exposed to the wet insulation.

A house with no vapor barrier and no insulation is able to breath.  We have huge numbers of old houses in New England that might not still be here if they had blown-in insulation suffocating them.  One inspector claimed that 80% of the houses he inspected with blown in insulation had damage.  

This guy is insulating an attic floor.  That is good.  Walls are bad.
Another current trend is only temporarily detrimental because it is cosmetic.  It is when changes can't be reversed that there real trouble.  Here I'm talking about wallpaper and that obviously is cosmetic and not really damaging to the house.

By the 19th century there were numerous paper stainers and wallpaper was readily available.  Here in New England in the 19th century wallpaper decorated most rooms.  I have been told that in warmer climates there is an insect problem with wallpaper and  its paste thus not seen in the South as frequently.  

Wallpaper, for the most part, is out of favor.  It has been replaced by white paint throughout the house.  Not only is this not accurate treatment in an old house but it is boring. "Less is More" promoted by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in the 20th century has nothing to do with period decorating in an old house.  The white on white treatment has found its way into the decorating fads of the our country perhaps in part inspired by HGTV.  I will be so glad when this fad becomes history which it will.
Here is a wallpapered room in Hamilton House in South Berwick, Maine.  What could be more charming.  No white walls here.  I love this room!

White paint prevails everywhere.
There is one other color in vogue that you may not have heard of but it is making a fashion statement these days in houses of all ages and styles.  The word is"griege" It is defined like this.

The name might sound exotic, but greige is actually an amalgamation of two words; gray and beige. Most shades of greige are stronger on the gray than beige. But if you look closer, you will notice brownish undertones merging with the neutral gray color.

So now  you know what greige is, but will you know it when you see it?

But here is what is really getting my dander up these days!  Three times in the last week or two while looking at listings of antique houses for sale I have been floored by broker comments.

These listings describe beautifully the features and details of  what appear to be great "turn-key" houses until you get to the last sentence in the description.  "This house needs total renovation"  That is the conclusion of the broker for the house at  325 Main St. in historic Concord, MA and the same sentiment expressed for a beautiful brick house built at 1 Metcalf St. in Worcester, MA in 1939.
Here they are.
Concord, MA 1767
"Bring your creative eye...this property needs a complete renovation."  says the listing.  What in the world are they talking about.  A kitchen island with granite?


Worcester, MA 1939

 "A Total Rehab"  claims the listing agent.  Does total rehab mean sanding a couple of oak floors and taking down some faded wallpaper?


Gloucester, MA, Mid 18th century

"Raze the existing dwelling and rebuild upon 13,000 square feet" 
proclaims this Gloucester listing.  
This house is tired but does it have to be bulldozed?  It is an historic house.  To read more about Cape  Ann Cottages, follow this link.

https://prudencefish.blogspot.com/2014/03/the-18th-century-cottages-of-cape-ann.html

This has to be just the tip of the iceberg.  What a senseless attack on our inventory of traditional and antique houses.  When the "throw away society" that we live in comes down to throwing away significant houses something needs to be done.

For a long time I ran classes for real estate "professionals" trying to educate them to recognize period styles and how to go about selling them.  I reached a lot of people but it wasn't enough and what they learned didn't always stick.  And with the high attrition rate of real estate brokers many of the ones I did reach have moved on to other careers or retirement.  If you sell cars or pots and pans you have to know your product.  Not so in the real estate industry.  Just about everything else involving the sale of the house takes priority over the age and the history.  Misrepresentation is rampant when it comes to describing the house and particularly dating the house.

The Concord house comes with this glowing description before the announcement, the grand finale, that it needs complete renovation.  Read this about the house:

Offered for the 1st time since 1949 & paired w a generous 3/4A lot coupled w a Concord Ctr location, this Samuel Jones House c. 1767 provides exciting opportunities to bring a pure, unspoiled antique gem back to life. Tracing its roots to the dawn of Independence, this property is steeped in history (see attachment). Residents include famed poet & journalist William Ellery Channing, friend & 1st biographer to Henry David Thoreau as well as Franklin Sanborn, educator & ardent abolitionist who offered safe passage to fugitive slaves along the Underground RR. Current owners have painstakingly restored the house to reflect its original roots. Hndmade nails & hardware, original millwork, exposed beams, charming window seats, built-in cabinet & striking raised paneling over fp. Bring your creative eye...this property needs a complete renovation. Possible 2nd dwelling exists w approvals. 

I am not even going to start in on the subject of replacement windows and the ensuing damage to the integrity of the antique house.  This could be called a scam.  They have no business being installed in an antique house.  Windows could be the entire subject of a post maybe left for another day.

So don't get taken in by these fads and trends.  They will pass and you don't want to be left with an impaired house because some salesman talked you into insulation or new windows.  As I have already said, if you succumb to a fad that is reversible no real damage is done.  It is when original fabric is removed that changes become more serious.

Meanwhile, what can we do to stop this craziness and what do people really want in an old house.  Or in their heart of hearts maybe they don't even want an old house with its inevitable idiosyncrasies.

Enjoy the quirkiness of your old house, protect it and do thorough homework before you make changes.  And when you are no longer comfortable living in an antique with creaking floorboards and steep staircases, and not really devoted to that lifestyle,  give yourself permission to move on to something that is more to your liking.  



Post Script

Shocker of the day!  They seem to be turning up everywhere.  Once again, this is from Concord, MA, one of America's most historic towns, not only from its role in the Revolution ("the rude bridge that arched the flood")  but also for its literary contribution to America.  Henry David Thoreau,  Ralph Waldo Emerson,  Louisa May Alcott, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow who didn't live in Concord but memorialized the 19th of April, 1775 in "Paul Revere's Ride".  These greats are associated with  Concord and are the names that quickly come to mind when you think of this town.



This fine house is priced at $1,565,000

The real estate ad describes it like this:


"Majestically sited on 2 buildable lots, this iconic Concord property is yours to renovate or start from scratch with your visionary design."  The price tag is $1,565,000.  

Friday, December 1, 2017

LITTLE ANTIQUE CAPE, LOST AND FOUND Part 1


THE LITTLE HOUSE THAT COULD




"This house has more miles on it than my 26 year old Saab Convertible!"

These were the words spoken by someone who had just heard the story of this old house for the first time. You will also be dumbfounded by the strange odyssey endured by this tired house, so quaint and charming; that had stood for so many decades by the side of a country road, with its big chimney in the middle until so-called progress intervened.  The incredible journey of the house goes like this.


Tiny antique cape that formerly stood on a large lot of
land at 107 Tenney Street in Georgetown, way out in the country.

In the 1970's and into the 1980s an old man lived with his dog in the little house according to a friend who lived nearby.  She used to stop to talk to the old man but was never inside his house.


By 1985, the owner, assumed not to be the old man, no longer wanted it and the house had to go.  Enter Mark Phillips.

Mark Phillips was a fire fighter in West Peabody but with plenty of time off and with a passion for old building materials he roamed the countryside looking for run down, empty houses where he could get salvage rights to the old material.

Mark discovered the old house on Tenney St. in Georgetown, MA and obtained the rights to the house only, not the land.  I'm not sure how long Mark Phillips tried to sell the entire house himself but eventually he listed the house with me, a Realtor, in nearby Ipswich who specialized in selling historical or antique houses.  This all happened in 1985 so the details are a little fuzzy after more than thirty years.
This ad for the old house must have appeared
somewhere but I don't know where.  Perhaps
it was in the Maine Antique Digest.



The house was shabby but had some integrity as an antique with a large center chimney and three fireplaces, one of which was a fairly large cooking fireplace with a bake oven.  It appeared to have all of its original pieces and parts but in a sad condition.  From one of the photos it appears to have had a small building behind it that looks like a "ten footer". It had already been torn down by the time I got there. 

Ten by ten (or similar) shoe shops dotted this neighborhood in the Georgetown and surrounding area where people in outlying neighborhoods supplemented their incomes by working on shoes for the Lynn shoe industry especially in the winter.  In fact, my friend who lived around the corner had a ten footer in her yard which was taken and saved by the local historical society.  By the time I saw the house there were no outbuildings remaining.  They had already been demolished.

(If you love old building take a look at these ten footers that dotted the landscape in Essex County, Massachusetts.) 
  
http://primaryresearch.org/ten-footer-shoe-shops-of-essex-county/

So the salvage man advertised the house with no results before he listed it with me.  It was just prior to the summer of 1985.

I was known for being the broker more interested in saving old houses than looking for the big commissions so I took the listing for this house.  I don't remember the price but it was well under $10,000.  I certainly didn't list it in anticipation of a big pay day.

When buyer brokerage first came into New England a broker in my office said, "Pru doesn't work for the buyer or the seller.  She works for the house."  I guess there was a kernel of truth in that because I sold the oldest, the shabbiest and most interesting houses finding satisfaction researching their history, giving them an identity and in locating a buyer who would breath life back into these old wrecks.  

Along came Peter Kenyon from Gloucester.  He had a house lot in a beautiful spot in the Annisquam section of Gloucester on which he dreamed of re-erecting the old cape.  He would spend the summer dismantling the house with the help of his family especially his school aged sons.

The sale took place and the Kenyons proceeded with the task of taking down the house. with a deadline of August 30th to have the house removed.  It was a family project.
The Bill of Sale for the house in lieu of a Deed because there was no
land involved in the transaction.  It became personal property.


Because they were buying just the house with no land it required a Bill of Sale for personal property rather than a deed.  It was legally the Kenyon's house now and had to be removed by them.

They worked diligently on the project carefully identifying and numbering each and every piece of the house which they removed.  I have no memory of where they stored the pieces and parts of the house but the following photos will give a idea of what went on and how they identified the pieces of  the house with their floor plan to assist when it was re-erected.
Peter Kenyon working on the house.

From time to time I would swing by in my travels to see how the work was progressing.  On some of these visits I dug up old peonies and Solomon's Seal that were growing in the yard, evidence of better days when someone cared about the house.  I still have those perennials.

The job was completed and I didn't hear anything for perhaps a couple of years.  That is when I learned that the Gloucester building inspector refused to give the Kenyons  a building permit for building a house with old material.  They were shot down!  They had a lovely lot and a quaint house but the dream of the antique house on this piece of land was never to be.

The Kenyons did what was about the only thing they could do.  They built a new post and beam cape on the lot.  It had a central chimney and 9 over 6 windows.  It was also much larger than the antique cape but not what they had planned.

They gave me a tour of the new house and there in the new basement, high, dry and safe were the pieces and parts of the old cape.  That was the last time I ever saw the house.

They later told me that they planned to take it to Maine where they could rebuild it without facing the problems they faced in Gloucester.
Plan of the antique cape formerly at 107 Tenney St., Georgetown, MA. You can see the labels on every piece to correspond
with the labeling on the actual piece so that the house could easily be put back up with every piece accounted for.

Near the entrance door you can see the debris fromoutbuildings that were demolished and not saved.
It looks as though a ten footer shoe or cordwainer's shop was lost in the demolition. 
(I just noticed the old knife box on the right, or is it a box for carpenter's tools?)
Here is a view of one of the front rooms after it was stripped or as we usually say, "gutted".
This mess is, I believe, the kitchen cooking fireplace with evidence of a bake over on the right.


A year or so ago I joined a private Facebook group called Colonial Home Owners.  Many people post stories about working on their own antique houses, seeking advice or calling attention to great houses for sale.  

Recently a member of Colonial Home Owners from Maine submitted information about part of her old house reconstructed from an old cape from Georgetown, MA.  I quickly contacted her saying that I thought it probably was the house I had sold thirty two years ago.  She was doubtful that it was the same house but would search for the photos and documents she had saved.

After she located her old saved photos and documents there was no question.  It was the little cape taken down in Georgetown so many years ago.
A sheathed partition interior wall separating rooms.



This view, probably the old parlor shows that it had
wainscoting  in addition to a wide mop board.
Continuing this strange odyssey of the traveling house, it turns out that the Kenyons had packed the pieces of the house in an empty school bus and drove the house to Northport, Maine. Here Peter Kenyon began de-nailing and cataloging the house until suddenly interrupted when Ann Kenyon developed health problems.  The project was abandoned.

From wherever it was at that point it was now moved to a barn in Falmouth, Maine where it remained until seen by our Colonial Home Owners member, Cheryl Wilson Callahan.  Why did it need to be rescued right at that time?  Believe it or not it was in danger of being taken to Ohio.

Another bizarre twist to the story of the house is how  Cheryl, the present owner discovered it?  Are you ready for this?  It was listed on Craig's List, of all places, under "Salvage!"  and purchased from a middle man named Tom Farmer.





Thanks to the present owners the poor old thing was spared the insult of being uprooted to the mid West and has remained on New England soil where it belongs!

Now you know why another Colonial Home Owners member was moved to say,  "This little house has more miles on it than my 26 year old Saab Convertible!"   

To which I responded, "No kidding!"  Who else can say their house was salvage on Craig's List?

Like the "The Little Engine That Could" if these walls could talk they would be saying, "I think I can.  I think I can."

The story of the house now moves on to the final chapter in the hands of its new owners.




I hope, with the help of the present owner, I will be able to post again perhaps with photos and a story or two from the owners that rescued it.  Here is what Cheryl, the owner, said about the house,
"Unfortunately some parts were gone so it was not practical to put it back in its entirety... but it is still loved today!"

To be continued as a new post or a post script!

Thanks for reading,

Pru








Friday, September 22, 2017

HANNAH JUMPER'S HOUSE BY THE SEA



DOES THIS STORY MAKE YOU SAD?


Rockport's Hannah Jumper house dooryard with its
famous blue gate.

If a tourist or resident of the quaint New England Town of Rockport at the very tip of historic Cape Ann happens to peek between the row of three nice old houses located between the old Blacksmith Shop and Atlantic Ave. on Mt Pleasant St. they will be looking at an old red fish shack called Motif #1.

Motif 1, when I was young was called “Motive Number One” a typical idiosyncrasy as often found in an old New England town.  Motif 1 is familiar to people around the world.  It has been called the most frequently painted and photographed building in the world and it is a rare person who hasn’t seen its picture on a calendar or in a TV or Internet ad.  It has almost been forgotten that the original iconic building at the end of Bradley Wharf fell into the harbor during the blizzard of 1978.  It was quickly reproduced and life went on.
Motif #1 in Rockport.  Often called the most photographed
building in the world.
Conversely, if one were to go out on Bradley Wharf for a closer look at the red fish shack and looked back toward the town and Mt Pleasant Street they would be looking back at the row of houses mentioned above.  And looking to the left at this row of houses they would be looking at the back of Rockport's number two icon, the former 19th century home of Rockport folk hero, Hannah Jumper.

These two iconic buildings have drawn the attention of residents, tourists, artists and photographers since the 19th century and are familiar to people around the world but the attention these days is drawn to the Hannah Jumper house.

The perfect old apple tree in the front yard of this snug house on the harbor adds the perfect touch. But beyond the quaint scene admired by passersby, the Hannah Jumper house has a story to tell.  It was made famous not only for it charm but for the lady that lived there in the 1850s; Hannah Parsons Jumper, seamstress and house cleaner who moved into town in the early 19th century from the "Farms"  on Witham Street, an outlying area of Gloucester near Good Harbor Beach.
Here is the Hannah Jumper house in the spring, probably April with the forsythia in
bloom.  The apple tree is not leafed out yet

At this time Rockport was called Sandy Bay, the fifth parish of Gloucester.  Its independence  and the name Rockport didn't occur until around 1840.

Here is the story of Hannah and her rise to fame as reported by the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce in their Rockport USA blog.

July 8, 1856, is an important date in the history of Rockport. On that summer morning, 200 wives, mothers, daughters and assorted supporters gathered in Dock Square to take part in an event that would have repercussions to this very day.
Hannah Jumper looking like a proper lady but with
a determined look on her face!
Brandishing hatchets, led by Hannah Jumper, they began their raid. In the words of Ebenezer Pool. an eyewitness. “…On finding any keg, jug, or cask having spirituous liquor in it…with their hatchets broke or other ways destroyed it…” Who was Hannah Jumper? How did so many law abiding. homemakers find the courage to follow her’?
Hannah Jumper, a tall, redheaded, 31 year old seamstress, left her family’s farm in Joppa and came to Rockport in 1812. Her talent with a needle and thread, along with her abilities to grow herbs and make medicinal brews from them, helped her to build a pleasant life in the small fishing community. Thus established, Hannah began to form lasting friendships with many of the women who would later join her in the rebellion against “demon rum”.
Fishing was the mainstay of Rockport. However, the weather only permitted this activity for nine months of the year. Instead of finding other employment during their enforced three month “vacation.” the men idled away their time and consumed enormous amounts of liquor.
Year after year, the economic deprivation caused by those periods of inactivity was worsened by the money spent on spirits. The women of the town grew increasingly frustrated and their patience wore thin. Hannah Jumper not only shared their feeling and their concerns, but she also became very outspoken on the subject.
Finally, in 1856 with the rise of the temperance movement and the early rumblings of women’s rights being heard, the women of Rockport met secretly to plot their historic raid. Only three men were considered trustworthy enough to be taken into their confidence.
On the morning of July 8, 1856 women from every corner of Rockport rallied around Hannah and five other women who had assumed leadership roles. Even at age 75, Hannah Jumper was still a formidable figure!
Secreting their weapons beneath lacy shawls, the protesters set out to destroy every drop of alcohol located in places they had marked (under cover of darkness) with a small white cross. Howls of outrage and threats of recriminations followed the progress of the “hatchet gang”.
Five hours later the weary but victorious women ended their revolt and went home to fix supper for their families.
One disgruntled target of the raid, Jim Brown, took the matter to court. The verdict, in favor of the women, was appealed time and time again. In the end, the original verdict was upheld and Brown was ordered to pay the court costs of $346.25 to the defendants.
Subsequently, Rockport became a ‘dry’ town, and remained so until 2005, when voters approved the sale of  alcoholic beverages in local restaurants.


Hannah Jumper’s house in Rockport.
This photo, shot in 2005, shows the sign promoting a vote to restore sales of liquor in Rockport—right in Hannah’s front yard! She actually launched her raid while living in this house, right down next to the harbor on Mount Pleasant St.    From "The Personal Navigator" blog.

Several years ago Hannah Jumper’s house came on the market for sale.  I went through it more than once.  The tiny crooked staircase, the paneling in the parlor around the fireplace contrasted with the view of Motif 1 from the large picture window in the rear of an added on living room.  The house was furnished with traditional furniture and antiques that invited you to sit down and linger for a while.  I was thrilled and considered it a great treat to have had the opportunity to cross its timeworn threshold.

Four or five years have passed and I have not paid attention or noticed any particular activity there until this week.  I live in Lanesville (a village in Gloucester) about four miles away so don’t often have reasons that would take me into this neighborhood until recently.  A Rockport friend alerted me that the old clapboards on the house were removed and she wondered about the necessity of doing this.  I went to take a look at what she was talking about and my heart almost stopped.  Every clapboard was gone revealing the wide sheathing boards of the house.   But that is not all. The fairly wide cracks between the sheathing boards revealed an interior completely stripped of all woodwork, plaster, paneling, mantels and doors.  It was an empty shell.  Even the ancient chimney with its fireplaces including the original cooking fireplace with bake oven was gone.
The Hannah Jumper house as it looks today, only a shell
with no chimneys or fireplaces.
My reaction was first of sorrow turning to anger that this could happen right under our noses just about obliterating Rockport’s (in my opinion)  icon number two. Even worse it is located in the Rockport Historic District. (In defense of the Historical Commission it has to be understood that they only have jurisdiction over the front fa├žade of the house or any part seen from a public way.)




They had no authority over the interior.  With the main chimney, the heart and soul of an old house, also removed should that not have been under their jurisdiction?  It could certainly be seen from the public way, Mt Pleasant St. and also from Motif 1 out on the wharf and from Bearskin Neck. Was there a permit and approval from the Rockport Historical Commission for that demolition?

By happenstance several months ago in another ancient Gloucester house I met a man who told me he was working at the Hannah Jumper house painting and stripping the wood around the fireplace.  At that time I gave him the name of a restoration mason to give to the owners and stressed how important it was to have the chimney evaluated and restored by a restoration mason.  The message was delivered to the owners but as far as I know was not acted upon.

I really don’t know what has transpired since the day I visited the house other than painting and normal maintenance .  Apparently, there were some structural problems to the underpinning which are always repairable even if difficult in that waterfront location.  I want to know why the paneling wasn’t saved (if it wasn't) or the bricks from the chimney or the old doors.  I want to know how such an important antique house came into the possession of an owner with so little sensitivity to the house for which he had paid $750,000 dollars.  Maybe the problem was not lack of sensitivity but simply bad advice of from workmen, neighbors or tight lipped townspeople who like to mind their own business by not saying anything or getting involved.
Demolition uncovered a section of early skived
clapboards with rose head nails.  Jim Laverdiere photo

Back in Gloucester my friend, Peggy Flavin, went to work researching the deed.  It appears that the house dates to about 1738.  It is of an unusual form.  After 1730 or so all of the cottage houses on Cape Ann had the newer style gambrel roof.  Hannah Jumper's house has a steep pitched roof, the only one from that period that anyone remembers seeing on Cape Ann where the gambrel roof style prevailed.

The house was a hall and parlor house which means a chimney and front door in the middle and a room on each side, one a hall (kitchen) and the other a parlor.  There were two chambers (bedrooms) above, one over the hall and one over the parlor.  The house was only one room deep and probably four room in all.  At the right hand end of the house a small barn was added or moved there at an early date.  Other additions were added onto the rear of the house.

The house was carved up from time to time as portions of the house were sold.  It would be expected that the apartments would be side by side as they were in recent years.  Surprisingly, in this case it was the little second floor rooms with slant ceilings that were sold off from time to time with the right to pass through other parts of the house.  One deed even suggested that the front door had been moved but might be moved back to its original position.  So architecturally it is a cape style house with a pitched roof and a chimney in the middle; a real hall and parlor house of the early second period.
Here it is as it looks today, Sept. 2017.  The apple tree is
thriving but not much else.

It is too late to put Hannah's house back together.  Too much of the original fabric, actually every inch of it, is gone.  But the interior could be reproduced.  According to the Gloucester Times a demolition crew from out of town was hired to complete the destruction of the house, an endeavor which took three weeks to complete according to the newspaper. I would hate to think what that cost the owner but is probably why he can no longer afford to restore the interior and is planning a free-flowing, contemporary interior.

Rockport has been plagued with other demolitions in recent years.  Will this deed be the event that will galvanize the town to put the brakes on this heavy handed, inappropriate approach to so-called “restoration"?  

It would appear that there is little regard for preservation here or anywhere and yet I know that this is not true.  Almost one year ago I wrote a post in this blog about the gutting of houses.  In the first twenty four hours after the posting 1,000 readers had viewed the blog so I know it hit a nerve.  People from all over the country were responding.

As I wrote this story I received an email from a Rockport resident who said, “I can't stand the decimation of the Hannah Jumper House - - just awful!

So I ask, when will this demolition stop and what will you do in your community to prevent a scenario as upsetting as the demolition that has taken place at Hannah Jumper’s house?

Maybe the spirit of Hannah Jumper will once again galvanize the community to act and defend preservation in Rockport.


POST SCRIPT
The response to this post has been HUGE.  I think the destruction of landmarks is really beginning to hit a nerve and elicit strong reactions.  People just don't like it and resent seeing familiar icons disappear or be irrevocably altered in the name of progress or improvement.  Don't hesitate to add your voice when you see bad things happening to places you love and respect.

This charming painting of the Hannah Jumper house was posted today (9/24) by Bing McGilvray.  It was painted by Roger Elliot Gilson, 1960s.