The Historic Preservatonist

Hawk’s nest atop the silo

We got a little surprise after Mass on Sunday.  As we topped that last hill on the drive home, we realized there was a car in our driveway.  A car with Massachusetts plates.  And then, something like Goldilocks, we discovered that there was no one in it!

The guy who owns our house, our friend and boss, had gone to high school with this guy who later got a ph.d from Boston University in historic preservation.  They had been talking for some time about this guy coming up from NY (where he now lives) to see the house.  There are a newly arrived from Philadelphia cadre of Brazilian carpenters (keep with me here) who will soon descend on the outside of our house to get it in to shape (I love that real life always has weird detail like that.  A whole gang of Brazilian carpenters!).  So really, the expert came in the nick of time.

The historic preservationist had been in Northern Vermont to check out an old log cabin and, all very last minute, stopped by.  The company COO let him in to our house.  As I work at the Farmers’ Market on Saturdays and am dead tired afterwords (having heat-sensitive MS and standing for 7 hours in 85 degree weather is quite a combo) my house is at it’s absolute messiest on Sunday mornings.  So I was mortified, yet also a little thankful I didn’t have any notice as I likely would have flipped out and stayed up cleaning.

They (the preservationist has an assistant) had already been through the main house and barn but they had missed the servants’ quarters.  So I took them back in and then followed them around like an over-eager puppy because an expert on my house was standing IN MY HOUSE.

They took moisture readings and about ten million photographs and lots and lots of notes.  They looked at tiny little details like the mullion shape (the window on the left is older than the window on the right).

window2 window

He said the first one was original (probably 1810, we had thought the house was built in 1806 but he thought that was too early).  The white mullion has a shape typical of the Greek Revival period and is a little later (btw, I wasn’t scribbling this all down so I apologize should any other experts read this and I’ve messed it up).


The butternut moldings that surround every single door and window (well, not in the servant’s quarters, but everywhere else) were added during the Victorian era.  In my mind it is these moldings that really give the interior it’s personality; I can’t imagine what it looked like before they were added.  He dated the moldings by examine the joinery and edge shape.


As an aside, it seems like so much of the dating of things in his field has to do with everyone doing what is popular at that moment.  What happens when the individualistic folks do interior design?  I guess that by definition they are the exception.  And, though I like to think of myself as the quintessential upstream swimmer, I totally fell prey to the granite kitchen counter epidemic of the 2000’s so I guess we are all simple sheeple who go along with the herd.

barnWho wants to sit on my barn couch? And you thought my cellar was bad.

(You probably thought those window pictures were bad, but clearly the photography is just getting worse and worse)  There are multiple barns on the property.  The one next to the house was built around the same time as the house.  The main interior is a big open space with an old set of kitchen appliances, a derelict power wheelchair, and our collection of bikes, pool toys, golf clubs, etc.  The above picture is of one of the two “under rooms” (I’m sure there is a correct term but I have no idea what it is).  The preservationist kept referring to the barn as “significant” so I may stop thinking about it as the enclosure that houses our junk.
We have a giant industrial fan, which will come in handy in case we ever need to film a 1990’s style Nine Inch Nails video


The original “bathroom”, this tiny room in the barn would have contained a bucket.  I love that there’s still a mirror there.  Just in case you’d like to freshen up.


Every single porch column (and there are many) has been turned in to bird residences thank to woodpeckers.  Some of the holes are at head level and you can be standing outside, then there’s a rustle nearby and several birds will fly out of the columns.  Creepy.  I’m sure those Brazilian carpenters will have fun dealing with this.

tombstone (1)We had been told by some neighbors that some former owners (and, for a two hundred year old house I think it’s pretty cool that it’s on owner #3 or 4, depending on how you look at it.  The family name changed due to marriage but it was the same family for the first 175 years) that the marble paver at the base of our front stair was actually a stolen tombstone!  Leo and I have been discussing just how exactly to deal with this for weeks now.  It’s huge.  And marble.  And it’s very well buried in the ground.  So how should we get it up to see if there is writing on the reverse side without breaking it?  And, if it is a tombstone, how will we figure out which grave (now unmarked) it goes to?  These are home maintenance issues that just never came up in suburban Detroit.

So we asked about it.  As it turns out, the preservationist had done his doctoral thesis on the architectural reuse of gravestones (actually, the thesis title had about 40 words in it, my little mouse brain translated that into the above title).  So, in the entire world, there are probably only 1 or 2 other people who are qualified to tell us if this is a pilfered gravestone.  He said “no” which is 17 kinds of awesome as we never could exactly figure out the logistics in getting it up and returning it to it’s intended spot!

An official preservation plan is being written up right now, which I cannot wait to read.  He thought it was  a shoo-in for the National Register of Historic Places.  So the exterior paint continues to peel and the columns still have birds in them, but we are in fact moving forward on getting that fixed and getting it done correctly.



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