Lessons to be learned from Old Home Days. Historic photo: Newmarket Old Home Days
In 1815, Mount Tambora - a volcano on an Indonesian island - erupted with tremendous force. Its volcanic ash changed global temperatures and, thousands of miles away in New England, farmers struggled with a "year without a summer."
In Ashland (then a part of Holderness), a farming family somehow managed to grow their crops. Sally and Reuben Whitten decided to share 40 bushels of their wheat with 100 neighbors who were less fortunate, an act of generosity that was later recorded on a memorial stone by their grandson, in 1911.
The c.1800 house, however, stood more or less forgotten. It was moved in the 1870s from the hillside farm to the village for use as worker housing. In 1969 it was donated to the Historical Society, struck by a runaway truck, and moved again to a location behind the Whipple House Museum. With the 200th anniversary of the year without a summer approaching, the Ashland Historical Society decided it was time to pay it forward and embark on a rehabilitation campaign.
The largely volunteer effort was a lesson in perseverance. It took years of soliciting donations and grants, organizing work weekends, and researching the social history of the house. Thanks to a report by Jim Garvin (the former state architectural historian), the Society had a road map that guided their rehabilitation.
Work included listing the building to the State Register of Historic Places, repairing the hole in the wall created by the 1969 truck accident, repairing and reconstructing the windows, cladding the exterior with clapboards, adding a cedar shake roof, and finding a more period-appropriate door. The interior was left untouched, having retained much of its original fabric, despite a century of housing tenants.
The result is the rehabilitation of a humble house that tells a big story. According to co-chairs of the Whitten Project Committee, Katie Maher and Susan Macleod, the house represents the layers of Ashland's history, from its farming days to its use as worker housing after the town industrialized. "This little house holds those human stories and artifacts within its walls," they shared at the Awards ceremony.
And now the little house will reflect another story, that of a town coming together to honor the good deed of a family over two hundred years ago.
Ashland Historical Society
James L. Garvin
Starck Housejoiners, Inc.
Ashland Lumber / Belletetes
Built in 1664, the Jackson House is New Hampshire's oldest timber-framed building. It's also one of only twenty-three National Historic Landmarks in the state. Its age and significance meant that needed structural and drainage improvements involved years of careful planning and just the right team.
The project involved four components, aided in part by a $90,000 LCHIP grant:
1) Archaeological investigation revealed important 17th and 18th century artifacts, providing information about trade in early Portsmouth. In total, the investigation yielded 12,000 artifacts.
2) Improving drainage to arrest the deterioration of the building's sills.
3) Adding structural reinforcements to the house's lean-to in the shape of tubular steel, which is reversible, minimally invasive, and allows for visual distinction from the historic fabric.
4) Replacing the wood shingled roof and specific clapboards with in-kind material.
The Jackson House opens back up to the public on June 2 , when admission is free. Thereafter, the house is open the first and third Saturdays until mid-October. For more information, visit Historic New England's website.
Historic New England
Independent Archeological Consulting, LLC
Woods & Co. Civil Engineering
GNCB Consulting Engineers
Safari Construction Management, LLC
Edmunds General Contracting, LLC
Curtis Earth Works, Inc.
May is Preservation Month, and here are some big and little ideas of ways to engage in preservation activity.
Take care of your old home. Spring is a great time to evaluate repair needs and plan for the year ahead. An energy audit can also help you prioritize investments. Get ready for the next cold season with properly-installed insulation in your attic and around your foundation. “Re-tuning” old windows keeps cold air out and preserves original features of an old house. Check our Directory of Preservation Products and Services for key contacts.
Take a second look around you. Are there places you can’t imagine your community without? Start a conversation with other interested citizens, and consider planning tools like easements and tax incentives to turn a challenge into an opportunity. Support your local farm, and thank a neighbor who has fixed up his or her barn. Visit a local historic site that you haven’t been to in a long time or check out the cool NH Department of Natural and Cultural Resources's initiative this May, which will showcase our state's fire towers.
Be an advocate for preserving our heritage. Volunteer to serve on your local planning board, library board, heritage commission, cemetery commission, or downtown organization. Attend a local heritage event. Help with a preservation project, or enjoy dinner in an old inn or theater in a historic venue. Talk to your legislator about the benefits of the Land and Community Heritage Investment Program, New Hampshire's popular and effective matching grants program for historic preservation and land conservation projects. E-mail the Preservation Alliance to receive preservation news updates.
Support the Preservation Alliance by becoming a member or renewing your support. Give to local preservation efforts. Buy a “Moose Plate” conservation license plate for yourself or as a gift.
Preservation activity creates local jobs and keeps more money circulating in local economies than new construction, and is part of the landscape that attracts visitors and businesses to New Hampshire. For you, it also can be an activity that makes you feel good and connects you to special places, old friends and new ones.
More at www.nhpreservation.org or by calling 603-224-2281.
Perhaps you just purchased an old house (congratulations!) or maybe you've lived in one for some time and have grown curious about its history. Where do you start?
It's always a good idea to first read up on your town's history. It's useful information to know if your town changed names or counties over the years, annexed land, or had certain development patterns. This comes in handy when you do keyword searches later on.
Before you hit the books or ask Google, study your house and its setting. You can learn a lot about your house's history based on its architecture, materials, and the landscape. Houses evolve over time - so sometimes this practice takes a careful eye. It's fairly common to see Greek Revival houses get Italianate porches, for example. It's also fairly common to see ells, barns, or dormers added decades after a house was first built. (And sometimes your ell or barn may be older than the house.)
Does the landscape include mature trees or flower beds where a house no longer stands? Maybe there are granite steps leading to nowhere, or a cow run connecting a barn long since gone to a pasture since grown up.
Inside, look for details like doors, exposed nails, or framing. These things can help pinpoint a construction date. If your house is more recent (say after WWII), look for catalogs online that advertise materials like linoleum, metal cabinets, or louvered windows.
Not all houses were photographed back in the day, but chances are your local historical society or library may have a good collection of images. Having historic photographs is very helpful in determining when things were added or removed from your house. You may be able to find photographs from lifelong residents, neighbors, or former inhabitants, too.
If you're looking for images from the 1970s onward, you may have luck looking through old tax card photos at your town office.
If you live in a grander house, or one with a prominent owner, try using Google Books or archive.org using keywords like your town, address, names of previous owners, and occupations. You never know if an agricultural journal profiled Farmer John Kimball or if an architectural trade magazine highlighted your house.
Maps are great resources, too. In New Hampshire, there are a few go-to map resources:
c.1860 Walling Maps were cadastral maps made at the county level, and many are available online at the Library of Congress. If you don't see your county listed, you may have better luck finding one in person (they're on display at the NH State Library, in many county offices, and at some historical society museums).
c.1890 Hurd Maps are also wonderful cadastral maps worth exploring, and are available through the David Rumsey Map Collection.
Sanborn Fire Insurance maps were made for insurance companies to assess risk between the 1880s and 1920s. They're most common in densely settled areas, or where industry was located, but they reveal interesting context. Dartmouth has digitized an extensive collection, and those are available for here. They're also available at the Library of Congress website.
Birds Eye Maps are drawings of towns, often made in the decades after the Civil War. Many are available at the Library of Congress website, or by doing online searches.
If your house is very old, or if you want to research land owners before your house was built, the NH Historical Society has many towns' early proprietor maps, which show how towns were divvied up into ranges and lots.
Deed research is a good step once you fully understand your property and have some names associated with it. While some counties offer online searches, not all counties are the same. It's sometimes worth it to travel to your county seat and spend an afternoon poring through paper records; this way if you get stuck (and you very well might if your property history has subdivisions and hard-to-read print), you can ask the registrar experts for help.
If you don't have an account to Ancestry, consider spending a day at a nearby library, university, or historical society that does have an account. Census data is the best way to understand who lived in your house. While the sorts of data collected changes between decades, you'll be able to determine things like the ages and professions of your house's previous owners.
Three things to note about the census: some census data is missing due to archival fires at the federal level (1890 especially, but also 1820 for some towns in Grafton, Rockingham, and Strafford Counties); census search engines sometimes cannot translate the handwritten names, so it's worth it to look at your town's entire sheet or enter in old neighbors' surnames that are easy to translate and look from there; and the public can only search up to the year 1940.
If you know that your earlier homeowners were farmers of millers, there's a good chance you can find additional information about them through the Industrial and Agricultural Schedules. These were done in 1850, 1860, 1870, and 1880 and provide details about the amount of corn, cheese, and carded wool your person of interest produced. This data isn't available online, so head to the NH State Library's genealogical room where it's on microfiche.
Other Great Sources
City directories (many available online or at the local library) are great resources if you live in a more urban area, or if you've discovered that your house once doubled as a lawyer's or doctor's office.
If you suspect your house was built from a kit (likely if it dates from the early 1900s), try searching online for catalogs that may include its design. There will be clues in your house, too: look for labels or stamps on lumber or on the back of trim. Sears and Roebuck was just one of many mail-order companies, so keep your searches broad at first.
Oral history can be a great way to connect to your house's more recent history. Ask old timers in town (or maybe you are the old timer - in that case, write it down!) or former inhabitants about quirks you've noticed. Even the mundane can prove interesting.
With your collection of keywords, enter in names of owners into Google Books or other online databases. You never know what will come up. Maybe someone was a master of a local grange, a suffragette, or a state representative.
When you feel like you've researched all you can research, consider listing your house to the National or State Register of Historic Places. Both are honorary programs, which means that they don't come with regulation. By joining the historic register, though, you're providing greater context to our state's architectural history - which is very helpful for professionals and other homeowners.
You should also type all of your findings and create a report to pass on to the local historical society or next stewards. And remember, what you do to your house will add to its history. Leave behind photographs for your local historical society and record changes that you make. The future will thank you.
Three cheers for often-overlooked historic preservation heroes: all you caretakers of old houses out there. When the snow melts, many will start a new list of annual maintenance and repair. That stewardship gives our communities character, and the work supports New Hampshire’s economy. And there are opportunities to do even more.
Old House Preservation Makes Sense and Cents
Studies show that labor-intensive old home repair and other kinds of historic preservation activity support well-paying jobs, enhance property values, and keep more money circulating locally than new construction. With the boomerang generation to accommodate, old houses also provide lots of space and flexibility. Old buildings also can be divided up, offering “micro” home possibilities that are popular in cities like Portsmouth and Concord as well as in rural areas.
Irreplaceable Assets of Communities
These buildings are irreplaceable. Imagine our communities without those small, red capes standing on old farms; the rows of mid-19th century Greek revival homes with wonderful porticos leading in and out of villages centers, and the welcoming early and mid-20th century homes clustered outside of downtowns.
The New Hampshire Preservation Alliance’s Old House and Barn Expo, March 24-25, offers opportunities for old home owners and enthusiasts to collect information and inspiration. Looking ahead: Young buildings will soon be historic; about 40% of the housing stock in New Hampshire was built before 1970. N.H. RSA 79-E and accessory dwelling unit policies offer property owners of historic homes access to new incentives and opportunities. And long-time experts, and new generation of craftspeople, are eager to offer advice and assista
The experts at the Old House and Barn Expo can offer you suggestions for finding comfort and convenience in old homes.
Old Design Features Help Meet Today’s Needs
Old house owners and enthusiasts are using old fashioned strategies as well as technology to find comfort and convenience in their old homes. Southern exposure make certain rooms extra cozy. Your floor plan may offer separation of space for privacy. Pantries and build-in cabinetry provide storage space. Perhaps you can close doors to heat less of the house, and use the “stack effect” to cool your house in warmer seasons With the boomerang generation to accommodate, old houses also provide lots of space and flexibility. Old buildings also can be divided up, offering “micro” home possibilities that are popular in cities like Portsmouth and Concord as well as in rural areas.
Blend Old with Technology Aids
You can record measurements or test colors using your own photos and free or low-cost apps. Programmable thermostats and home management systems with remote features can lower energy costs and stress. Steve Bedard of Bedard Restoration and Preservation noted that he is encouraging people, especially second home owners, to consider systems that monitor water breaks and low temperature. Bedard’s two talks at the Expo will cover how to assess a building before you start a project, and many issues related to comfort and convenience in older structures.
Psychological Health Effects for Old House and Barn Owners
Many old home owners feel attached to the social and architectural history of their place, and welcome the chance to be a steward of it for the future. Others are proud of the craftsmanship embodied in the structure, and are pleased to “go local” with materials and help for repairs. Research also reinforces what most of you know innately: beautiful places – along with social offerings and community openness – attaches people to communities and boosts their psychological health.
Beyond the Humans
Horses, sheep and chickens enjoy the comfort of old barns, right? And Pope Memorial SPCA Concord-Merrimack County will be at the Expo to inform attendees about barn cat adoption and care. Their Cat Placement Program is for cats who are not adoptable into a home, but could live in a barn or other secure outdoor place. They recommend a pair if you have no other cats living in those spaces. The Preservation Alliance’s members who are barn and barn cat owners report that their daily routine of barn cat care helps them keep track of barn maintenance issues. The cats also help control rodent population, and are fun to have around.
It took a while but the cats at our farm are now friends. Thought you would like to see them warming themselves in the window of the barn together.. Taz, the female, is still a little wary of us but Corey, the male, likes to sit in the rafters of the barn and watch us. He also comes when we call and open the cat food. But he doesn't get too close…Thanks again for helping us adopt them. They are working out fine and they are happy.
Share ideas about how you find comfort or convenience with old homes and other buildings at the Expo or with a note to email@example.com.
The N.H. Preservation Alliance's generous sponsors help make the Old House & Barn Expo, and preservation work across the state, possible. Meet them at the event!
Ahlgren & Son Builders Building Green the Old Fashioned Way
Old school craftsmen using high tech solutions, building green the old fashioned way. “We can help with building preservation and structural repair as well as select new construction," said Josiah Ahlgren. "I like the expo because of the community of people with shared interests in history and architecture,” he added. Visit their booth at the Expo. ahlgrenandsonbuilders.com
Fifield Building Restoration & Relocation LLC Restoring New Hampshire from Foundation to Steeple
Historic preservation company with 40 years of experience restoring 18th and 19th century structures. Have restored houses, barns, churches and churches, steeples. Also schoolhouses, springhouses, blacksmith shops, water-powered saw mills and buggy sheds. Visit their booth at the Expo and meet their conscientious, reliable craftsmen. Web link here.
Help for Three Centuries of Old Homes, Barns and More: First Period Colonial Preservation/Restoration
Restoring 17th, 18th, and 19th century period homes, barns, public structures and outbuildings. Structural timber frame repairs to fine hand planed interior and exterior decorative elements, consulting, and period woodworking. Visit their booth at the Expo, and their web-site: firstperiodcolonial.com
Preventing Lead Poisoning: Old House Rx with the Healthy Homes and Lead Poisoning Prevention Program
The Healthy Homes and Lead Poisoning Prevention Program will be at the show to educate people about lead safe work practices for home renovators and when hiring a contractor. New state legislation mandating lead screening in young children offers reminders that older structures can contain lead, and safe practices are essential for home residents as well as renovators, noted Gail Gettens, manager of the Healthy Homes and Lead Poisoning Prevention Program for the State of New Hampshire. “As we work to preserve and maintain New Hampshire’s old and historic homes and barns, it is important for DIY’ers and contractors to understand the risk of lead exposure during renovations and repairs. Learning lead-safe work practices and following EPA and State ‘Renovate, Repair, and Paint’ (RRP) laws are critical to protect yourself and your children from lead poisoning,” she said. Visit their booth at the Expo and attend the session on safe lead practices on Saturday, March 24 at 2 p.m. Web link here.
Save Energy While Retaining Windows's Beauty with Innerglass Window Systems: Solutions!
A glass interior storm window that outperforms almost any replacement, yet maintains the integrity and beauty of your historic windows. Visit the session on old wood windows on Sunday, March 25 at 10 a.m. and visit their booth at the Expo. stormwindows.com
Concord, NH Based Company Offers Strategic Communications: Louis Karno & Co.
A strategic communications firm, helping organizations and entrepreneurs with public relations planning, social media and digital marketing. Business, municipal, agency and non-profit clients. Recently, Louis Karno managed communication and community relations by the City of Concord, NH, for the 18-month Concord Main Street Project. The award winning project has transformed downtown Concord - and the city ended it with more businesses on Main Street than it had before the project began. The $11 million renovation of the historic downtown district aimed to improve the accessibility of the City core and improve visitor experience and safety, leading to a more vibrant economic community center. lkarno.com
New Hampshire PBS Inspires with Rough Cut and Other Engaging Programming
Inspires Granite Staters with engaging and trusted local and national programs on-air, online, via mobile, in classrooms and in communities. Maybe you enjoy their Rough Cut with Fine Woodworking, This Old House, travel, food, children’s or current events programming? Visit their booth at the Expo, and meet Tom McLaughlin from NHPBS’ Rough Cut with Fine Woodworking on Saturday, March 24 between 1-5 p.m. nhpbs.org
The NH State Council on the Arts Supports and Promotes Traditional Arts
Enhances the quality of life in New Hampshire by stimulating economic growth through the arts, investing in the creativity of students, making the arts accessible to underserved populations, and preserving heritage arts. “New Hampshire citizens recognize and appreciate this important sector of New Hampshire’s creative economy,” Kayla Schweitzer, Heritage and Traditional Arts Coordinator, N.H. State Council on the Arts said. “Through the perpetuation of traditional art forms, skills and knowledge, these craftsmen offer an irreplaceable link to our heritage and are important to the character of our communities and our economic vitality. Enjoy the demonstrations sponsored by the Arts Council throughout the Expo. nh.gov/nharts/