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.



A photosafari through my cellar

This post is intended only for Mid-westerners and their westerly neighbors.  If you live in Vermont or New England or really anywhere East Coast, please leave now while you might have the tinniest modicum of respect for me.  If you continue you will likely say to yourself “that looks exactly like my cellar” and also “wow, she is really obnoxious and whiny” and you may never be able to look me in the eye again.


Just us flatlanders left?

I’ll continue.  A “basement” in Michigan is either finished (so a second family room) or unfinished (a place to store boxes, do laundry, and hide from tornadoes).  In Vermont, at least in a 200+ year old house, a cellar is where the mechanical stuff goes.  And also where one can keep one’s spider web collection.  And that’s it.  My only experience with an old cellar before moving to Vermont was that of the Firestone Farm in Greenfield Village which prepared me for this about as well as going to the French part of Epcot prepared me to visit France.



It all begins with the stairs.  It is impossible to descend the stairs without your head becoming completely covered in cobwebs.  I suppose it might be possible for me to dust or clean the stairway but I really cannot imagine having the time or inclination.  Ever.


Immediately to the right of the stairs is this lovely collection of pipes and faucets.  My home is “heated” (I use the term loosly as we are never actually warm, instead the “heat” is there mostly to keep our temperature ever so slightly above freezing) by radiator, baseboard heat, and also forced air.  Some rooms have all three, many rooms (every bedroom) has none.  Why three?  Why not simply expand one system?  I have no idea.  So maybe the faucets are radiator-related.  Maybe someone over the years just thought they looked nice.  I have no idea.


This is the oil tank.  In New England, people heat their homes with “oil heat” which is found deep under the ground in rare pockets where the remains of unicorns and fairies have decomposed in just the right conditions to create it.  It is priced accordingly.  The oil comes to our house via tanker truck and one must descend the horrible cobweb stairs periodically to manually read the oil heat tank level and then try to guess when the next $650 shipment should be ordered, usually monthly.  Yes.  $650 a month.  I’ve mentioned to many people here that it used to cost $120/month at the very most to heat my 5 bedroom home in Michigan but I’m pretty sure they don’t believe me.


Next to the tank is the “root cellar”.  That light bulb has long ago burnt out and, thanks to the flash on my phone, this is the first time I’ve ever seen inside.  Wondering what’s in that chest freezer from the 30s?  I dare you to open it.  No, really, I dare you.


The electrician thought that this might be the remains of the original cooking stove.  Can you imagine eating food that had anyway been prepared here?  Disgusting.  Please admire the loose and loamy dirt on the floor.  Our dirt here is almost pure clay, so why is this loamy?  Wait, don’t answer.  I’m better off not knowing.


A cheery window. I’d like to thank whoever decided to put the breaker box ALL THE WAY AT THE FAR END of the cellar.  Seriously.  Great idea.  Our house was wired for electricity in the 20s when people owned three electrical devices total and never updated so a breaker is tripped at least every other day when we dare to do things like run the dishwasher and have a light on at the same time.


I’m guessing this might have been a coal chute at some point.  Or not.


One of two tree stump stools, thoughtfully placed in case you want to sit down and really soak up the atmosphere down here.

So there you have it.  Please think of me and my poor basement-deprived children the next time you all go downstairs to watch a movie on the big screen.




Hey, look at that, I have a blog.  I nearly forgot.  I started selling at the farmers’ market (I think that’s where we left off) and then I started volunteering at the kids’ school two days a week and then we went to Maine.  So it’s been a busy time.

Maine was lovely, thanks for asking.  It’s 3.5 hours from our house and I’d never been before.  We rented a cottage near the beach in York and ate obscene amounts of seafood morning, noon, and night.  Leo and I had lobster rolls for breakfast twice.  Owen (who is allergic to shellfish) had mussels at every meal (they’re mollusks) and we managed not to sicken him with all the shellfish nearby.  Ice cream was consumed nightly.  Joe threw enough rocks into the ocean to raise sea levels globally by at least an inch.  Patrick carried around a pound of sand in his diaper wherever we went (ow).  It was lovely.


The house is actually getting towards being done.  I really didn’t think this day would ever come (which is funny because it’s only been a few months).  The upstairs bathroom still needs tile and I think we talked about a coat of paint on the pantry.  The outside of the house needs major attention but the inside is pretty close.


Before and after on the bathroom

Today the Vermont sales guy had a function to go to so we were short staffed.  Burlington has a little bit better sales than Rutland so I went there.  In Rutland I usually gave out 50 or so samples.  In Burlington I gave out 206 before I ran out of cups!  It was quite a day.  They were having a week-long jazz festival in the same park as the farmers’ market.  That started at noon so the last two hours of the market where nearly impossible to talk to people because of the extremely loud music.

I live near a woman who invented a type of rug punch (fascinating, no?)  After reading about her one night and then hearing multiple mentions of rug hooking, I got it in my head to try it out.  So I did.  It was a lot of fun (and I still have the other half of my 4 hour intro course to do) but it just killed my hands.  The hand surgeon had given me the steroid shots two weeks ago and they’ve already worn off which I think means that surgery is in my near future.  That also means that I probably should not sign up to spar in the next karate tournament (the only adult category is 18+.  Those 18yo whippersnappers should know they’ve dodged a bullet).  I could just compete in a different category, I suppose, but many of the forms popular with the ladies involve doing the splits or some sort of acrobatics and why oh why DON’T THEY HAVE A MIDDLE AGED CATEGORY BECAUSE I CAN’T COMPETE AGAINST TEENAGE GYMNASTS???

So, there you have it, from the farmers’ market to the structure of karate tournaments.  We still have 2.5 weeks of school left here before we move in to summer mode.  I still can’t decide if it will be more or less chaotic then.  I guess I’ll find out.


First day at the farmers’ market

I’m honestly not even sure how my selling whiskey at the farmers’ market came about.  I was bored, I remember saying that.  Not bored as in “I have nothing to do” (ha ha, quite the opposite really) more of a mental boredom where I am sick of doing the five million things I have to do.  So, somehow I fell in to selling whiskey (a product I am not overly familiar with).  I was told I could add my own products to the table too, and that’s right up my alley.

I decided that barbeque sauce was the expected product with whiskey and that seemed rather boring (and that’s what I’m avoiding) so I started with mustard.  I made a Dijon with whiskey instead of wine.  It was ok.  I also made a spicy sweet mustard with jalapenos and chipotles and whiskey.  That one came out quite well so I canned a batch.

Mustard still seemed a little boring.  I was looking for more (I realize that this entire line of thought would strike most as boring.  Other people sky dive or race cars or do stuff like that.  I turn to condiments for excitement.  So sue me.)  The inspiration hit when I was in the car: I’d do a donut, a WHISKEY DONUT, with bacon!

The first batch came out really, really tasty.  The whiskey gives it a wonderful warm nutmeggy sort of flavor and the bacon is subtle.  Perfect!


The market has to pre-approve all products and, unfortunately, I was too late for this week.  But next week will see me frying donuts at 5 in the morning on Saturday.  Living the dream!

I left the house at 7 in order to get to the market at 8 for set up.  It was pouring rain.  No lightening, luckily, but the rain was intense.  I managed to unload everything myself (I have carpel tunnel issues in both hands and need surgery so I was a little worried about that).

At 9am the market opened and I was offering whiskey tastes.  It was a very interesting crowd willing to drink whiskey in the am.  There were a few weather beaten old men, the sort I guess I would have expected.  But there were also several women who were enthusiastic fans, some younger and some older.  I guess whiskey is one of those things that appeals to a broad cross-section of society.  There were college kids (I carded them, all were born when I was in college and yet, by some cruel twist in the time-space continuum, were of legal drinking age.  I’m still trying to get that straight in my head).  There were seniors.  Men, women, upscale, and rough around the edges.  There was a group home whose residents seemed rather keen on sampling but the home staff shooed them away.  Even the old man with the face tattoos who had a nearby market table distributing free literature on keeping pet fish (I have no idea if or how he makes money doing that) was a fan.

Leo came with the kids around noon so we could switch off.  I was actually kind of sad to leave as things were really picking up.  I can’t wait to go back next week with my mustard and donuts.

The Rug

My husband has advised me that this “is boring”.  I like stories, especially old stories.  But, just in case you don’t, I recommend you scroll down to another post.  Or leave a comment telling him he’s wrong (pick #2! pick #2!).

Esther Lewis was something of an Addison County institution.  She came to Vermont back in the teens, as a child, with her parents.  They had been living in New York City but her mother, a Vermont native, longed for home.  They packed up their tiny apartment and took the train from New York, changing in Rutland to the Addison branch.

The population of Addison County didn’t really warrant a rail line of it’s own.  Instead the Rutland line was built as a link between New England and points West.  The Central Vermont Railway had already linked the Massachusetts line to Canada and the Rutland Railway would not stand by as they were boxed in.  So the Rutland built a link, over difficult terrain and at quite an extravagant cost, to run a train through a sparsely populated area whose residents could hardly afford a ticket.

After arriving at the East Shoreham station, the family piled in to grandfather’s wagon for a trip back to the farm.  It was springtime and the mud, thanks to the enormously high clay content, would ball around the wagon wheels until they arrived home nearly 3 times their original size.

The family settled in to the farm and Esther grew and eventually became a nurse.  As part of her occupation, Esther would visit and check in on many of Shoreham’s residents.  As the years went on the positions became reversed and the residents of Shoreham periodically checked in on the aging Esther.  She had never married and insisted on living in her parents’ farmhouse in much the same manner in which she was raised.  Modernity came to central Vermont but Esther didn’t much care for change.

Her stubborn insistence on living life exactly as it was in the 20s was also a facet of her appeal.  Neighbors would send their children over to check up on her and help her make soap or tie brooms, learning a dying skill in the process.  Esther saved all of her old clothes to be made in to rugs and it was rug making that 16 year old Jennifer Buchanan was sent over to learn.

Jennifer’s parents had grown up in Shoreham, occasionally being patched back together by Esther.  It was Esther that gave them their polio vaccinations.  Esther was even in the room when Jennifer’s mom got the news that she would become a mother.  So in part out of neighborly concern and in part to show their daughter a world before Walkmen and MTV, Jennifer was sent to Esther once a week.

Though initially unsure about Esther, the visits became highly anticipated by both parties.  Esther would bake a cake to share and Jennifer would often bring a treat such as apples, cheese, or even citrus fruit.  One day, Jennifer was held up after school at an Art Club meeting and, in an attempt to make up time, raced over to Esther’s farm.  Upon arriving, she asked to use the bathroom and was led out to the barn to find a tiny room with a bucket on the floor.  Jennifer always made a point of stopping by the bathroom at school before a trip to Esther’s after that.

One day Esther decided to show Jennifer the art of rug hooking.  She went out to the barn (the very same barn with the tiny closet and bucket) and came back with an armful of rags and an old burlap feed sack.  They carefully ripped the old clothes into tiny strips and sorted them by color.  The burlap feed sack was trimmed to a nice rectangle on which Jennifer drew the outline of a cat.  Over the weeks then months of the winter of 1991, Jennifer hooked the cat rug under the watchful eye of Esther.

Once the rug was complete, Jennifer gave it to Esther who proudly placed it on top of a trunk in her room, one of the very same trunks her parents had used to move from New York City.  Two years later, Jennifer left for college and five years after that Esther passed away peacefully at home having stubbornly refused all suggestions (no matter how strongly made) to give up farm life and move to the newly built nursing home in town.

Having no children of her own or really any blood relations left at all, Esther’s estate was to be auctioned off and the proceeds donated to the town library fund.  Jennifer, busy with her new life, didn’t hear about Esther’s passing for a week.  She asked her mother, still in Shoreham, to get that cat rug from the house so that she could have it as a souvenir to remind her of Esther.

The auction house had already cataloged the contents of the house by that point and Jennifer’s mother had to wait for the auction. Collectors and antiques dealers from all over New England (some even from as far as NYC) came for the auction.  Nearly 100 years worth of objects were in that house.  The barn alone contained 3 different butter churns and countless farming implements and equine accessories all destined to be hung on the walls of various chain restaurants to give them that “homey feel”.

When the cat rug came up, Jennifer’s mom was ready.  Unfortunately so were several New York City antiques dealers who didn’t see a teenager’s first rug hooking attempt from 1991 but an ancient piece of folklore whose original materials did indeed date from the 1930s.  Jennifer’s mom dropped out of the bidding after it passed $100; the rug eventually sold for $3,000.

Disappointed at not having a reminder of her time with Esther, Jennifer briefly contemplated a career hooking rugs as it might pay more than the $25,000 a year she was making as a junior assistant in the marketing department of a bathroom fixtures manufacturer. But she knew it would never be the same without Esther.


***This is a half-remembered story that was told at last month’s Shoreham Historical Society meeting.  Esther Lewis was a real person and the major milestones in her life above are true, at least as far as I can recall.  “Jennifer” stands in for the actual teenage girl whose name I cannot remember.