Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Cotton Tenant Restoration

Welcome back, readers! This week the Heritage House Program is bringing you exciting updates on one of our houses, the Leonard Cotton Tenant house. A lot of progress has been made on the rehabilitation of the upstairs portion of this house and we are all very excited to see the finished product in the upcoming months. 

The Leonard Cotton Tenant house will be interpreted to an undetermined time period on the first floor of the house and the upstairs will be rented out to a tenant as soon as possible after the project is complete. The Cotton Tenant house has a long history in Strawbery Banke and is one of the houses that is perfect for rehabilitation. Leonard Cotton owned many houses throughout Portsmouth and the Puddle Dock neighborhoods. After building these houses he would rent them out to tenants in order to meet the growing need for rental property that existed in the ever-changing neighborhood. As immigrants flocked to Portsmouth, the demand for inexpensive housing increased. Many could not afford to buy their own property so men like Leonard Cotton helped to provide homes and tenements for families and people in need. This house is special to the Heritage House Program because its history remains very much alive with our goal to rent the upstairs portion of the house to a tenant. Just as Leonard Cotton rented his properties, we are happy to do the same to help the community of Portsmouth and ensure Strawbery Banke's financial future. 

While the word tenement often has negative connotations as being associated with the tenements of New York City, where dozens of families were at times crammed into a single space, another definition of tenement applies aptly to Strawbery Banke's situation. Mary Dupre wrote in the Historic Structure Report: 

"Agreement on the term 'tenement' varies. One variation of the definition appears to apply to Strawbery Banke tenements, particularly since many of these  tenements were built or modified especially to be rented.

1. a term found in older deeds or in boiler-plate deed language, which means any structure on real property. 
2. A building for human habitation, especially rented to tenants.
3. An apartment or room leased to a tenant (British)"

Much research has been done on the history of this house and one scholar, John Durel wrote an extensive history of the neighborhood in his dissertation, From Strawbery Banke to Puddle Dock: the Evolution of a Neighborhood, 1630-1850. He describes the phase of settlements in the cove area where the Cotton Tenant house is located in three phases. The first phase occurred from 1690 to 1760 in which the natural environment was adapted in order to suit human needs. The land around the cove and river were divided into lots and used mainly for manufacturing, commercial and residential purposes. Waterborn trade was the primary economic influence at the time and the main determinant of land use and organization. During this period the neighborhood was very open with many vacant lots and garden spaces. (Durel 1982: 138)

The second phase of the settlement of the neighborhood was from 1760 to 1813. This phase was characterized as a time of growing population that was fortified by and living off of an expanding economy and large increases in the volume of trade. Wharves along the waterfront were expanded, pave sidewalks were made, new warehouses were built, and the number of individual house lots and dwellings increased significantly. There was a large increase of commercial traffic on the streets and the neighborhood became crowded. (Durel 1982:139)

The beginning of the third phase was marked by the three large fires of 1802, 1806, and 1813. These fires happened at the end of a prosperous period which made it possible for the reconstruction and modernization of the central part of town where the fires had occurred. However, shortly after, the economy went into decline with a shortage of timber which was a main commodity in the time period. The neighborhood began to get old and crowded and commercial activity declined in the narrow streets. This lessened the traffic in the area but it also gave the neighborhood less reason to make improvements to the streets. Since commercial activity was moving to different areas there was not much wealth left in the neighborhood to permit updating or building anew, and so, the neighborhood was turning into an old place. It became the Puddle Dock neighborhood and could be characterized as old, old-fashioned and derelict, but also as special. (Durel 1982:140-41)

Evidence for Leonard Cotton owning a house was found in the 1835 Tax Assessment. There were two house lots on Atkinson Street that Leonard Cotton owned, both valued at $400.00. One of these lots was a stable, and not a residential space. Leonard Cotton bought what became 8 (and 10) Atkinson Street. He had removed an old house and replaced it with two rental units. This action is characteristic of the 1830-1850 time period and fits the mold of typical cove activity. Cotton continued to buy and rent out these properties, as well as others, until his death in 1872. He was a man of several trades and in earliest records is described as a cooper, and in later years as a grocer and merchant. He owned property on the wharves and became the largest rental property owner in the city of Portsmouth. Court records have been found involving Leonard Cotton. It is possible that tenants would bring court cases against him to sue him, particularly if he was not a very good landlord or what we might consider a "slumlord" today. However, of all court records found involving Cotton none have been against him. He was the initiator of the cases, trying to collect unpaid rent and funds due to him from by tenants or businesses to whom he had sold goods and merchandise. 

There is a long history involving Leonard Cotton and Portsmouth, and we are happy to keep alive his tradition of renting spaces to families and conducting business with locals. Please feel free to browse some of the pictures below to get a sense of the work being done, and progress made in the Cotton Tenant House.

Front view of the restored Leonard Cotton Tenant house
Portrait of Leonard Cotton, courtesy of the Portsmouth Athenaeum

Staircase leading to the upstairs portion of the house, to be leased to a tenant.  Here is also a great example of the wooden graining that was discovered underneath a layer of paint. Below is a close-up of the graining which Chief Curator, Elizabeth Farish hopes to keep intact.
Close up of the wood graining present on the staircase and cellar door. 

Brand new shower/bathroom (to the right) in the upstairs North Room.

North wall in the South room, upstairs. This wall will eventually house the dishwasher, sink, and stove for the property. 

East wall in the South room. These windows face Prescott Park and the Piscataqua River.
West wall in the South room. This is a great example of how we saved the historic integrity of the house by keeping the fireplace intact. Although it will no longer be in use, it was important for us not to change such a significant detail. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

Conant House Rehabilitation

Welcome back to the Heritage House Program blog! We all hope you enjoyed your Fourth of July and had time to stop by the museum to help us celebrate. There were a lot of exciting things going on here and we were all very excited to help welcome 101 new American citizens at the Naturalization Ceremony. Once again, we were also very proud to show off our Heritage House Program houses and get people excited in all the great things that this program will do for the museum and the residents that will occupy the restored and rehabilitated spaces. Today’s post is about the Conant House which is located on Washington Street in the North East corner of the museum.

The Conant House is not officially a part of the Heritage House Program but nonetheless it is a very interesting preservation story, and the concept for its rehabilitation/restoration is very much in line with the principles we carry out when rehabilitating an HHP house. Stephen Bedard of Bedard Preservation and Restoration LLC has signed a lease with Strawbery Banke Museum to rent a unit in the restored house for 33 years. More importantly, however, this lease includes that Stephen Bedard will be restoring, preserving, and rehabilitating the house. Stephen has been allotted two years to complete the rehabilitation. All architectural elements deemed significant will be retained. By the time the first snow falls (later rather than sooner!) he plans to have several different aspects of the rehabilitation accomplished, and we are looking forward to seeing the progress. Eventually the Conant House will be two residential units—a one bedroom unit, and a two bedroom unit. 

The Conant House is actually divided into three parts and the contractor feels that the architectural significance of the house remains in the main house and the first addition. The existing building will be kept as it appears now along Washington and Jefferson streets, which is basically how it looked ca. 1791/1795, before the latest addition was added to it. The main house was built ca. 1769 and the addition to the right hand side of the house was built somewhere between 1791-1795. 
View of the original house from Jefferson Street. The bump out in the back corner of the house if part of the addition that was added between 1791-1975

Front view of the Conant House on Washington Street. The front door and everything to the left of it is the original maine structure. Everything to the right of the doorway is the 1791-1795 addition to the house. 

Although most of the investigative work required in order to complete this project has been done it is very important to note that as construction is under way it is very possible that new architectural elements will be revealed. This helps us to understand the historic properties of the house and can even help to tell us when the house switched owners and what changes they made to the building. If any unexpected architectural elements are found Stephen will work closely with Strawbery Banke’s resident preservation carpenter, John Schnitzler to make sure that the house keeps as much architectural significance as possible.

Stephen Bedard gave a tour of the house to Chief Curator, Elizabeth Farish, Director of Special Projects and Facilities, Rodney Rowland, and Historic Preservation intern Catey Fischer. Below are pictures taken by Catey on the tour. Please browse through them in order to get a better sense of what changes will be made, what architectural elements were discovered, and what we hope to achieve in the final product.    

This is a picture of the middle room in the main house. The main house had three rooms upstairs and three rooms downstairs. Stephen Bedard is headed into the back room.

This fireplace is located in the middle room of the original house but was not added until 1795 when Joseph Brown had ownership of the property. 

View of what was the front room in the main house. You can see the change in the direction of the floorboards in the two halves of the room, distinguishing the front room from the middle room. This front room used to be a tailor shop operated by William Ham. 

This hearth oven is located in the back room of the original house. It was originally a fireplace that was converted into a stove. Old newspapers were found inside the stove and baking oven dated 1840, so that may have been the last time it was used. 

This is a picture of what was the wall that lead to the backyard before the addition was put on behind it. Architectural evidence of a window and a door were found here. This would have been the exit to the yard where the privy was located. 

Located in the back room/kitchen of the original house this is the space where the cellar stairs were. The stairs are now covered by this wall, but plans to rehabilitate the stairs are in place.

These ballisters in the entryway of the main house are original to the pre 1778 house. 

This is a fireplace located in the upstairs back room. It is boarded up currently, but this is a great example of beautiful architectural paneling that we plan to save as construction continues. 

This is the front room in the addition. Dental crown molding pictured here can be seen all throughout the room. 
This is the front wall in the front room of the 1791-1795 addition to the house. If you look closely you can see that the windows are not evenly aligned with each other. Throughout the entire addition you can feel the tilt in the floorboards, but it is not due to rot or unsafe conditions in the house. The house was simply under-built when it was constructed so there are many places where it sags. 

Evidence of dental crown molding in the downstairs front room of the 1971-1975 addition.  This room was operated as a cafe and restaurant for many years and in the process of redecorating owners have stripped most of the room of its dental crown molding.  The molding will be restored.

This is the wall leading into the back room of the 1791-1795 addition. It was believed that there used to be a window and a door located on this wall but upon deconstruction it was discovered that there was only a window there. The window would have been located just about to the right of where the current doorway is located. This wall is a prime example of the point made earlier; that architectural evidence can be found after research is done. 

On the other side of this wall is the back room in the original house. Evidence that a scullery was located in this exact spot was found in the hole in the ceiling, pictured here. 

This is a picture of the wall in the hole in the ceiling pictured above. If you look closely, just underneath the nail you can see a line that shows change in the coloration of the wood. This helps us to prove not only that there was a scullery located here, but we can find exactly where it was as well. The picture below points it out, so you can see it more clearly. 

This is the part of the addition that will be taken down in order to add  more backyard space. 

Thank you all for continuing to read the Heritage House Program Blog! If you have any questions about our program you can e-mail us at Keep checking weekly to see more posts here about the progress being made on the houses!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Paint by Date

Welcome back, readers! All of us here at Strawbery Banke hope you are enjoying this beautiful weather after a week of rain and that you are planning to come visit in the near future!

As a living history museum, Strawbery Banke prides itself on maintaining historically accurate details in all aspects of our work. Strawbery Banke is unique to the living museum world in the fact that it is not just a colonial museum. The many houses here do not represent only one time period, but a range of several centuries so as to broaden the experience that we give. Strawbery Banke strives to show its visitors a change over time by rehabilitating and restoring houses to different time periods, helping to show the development of Strawbery Banke and the Puddle Dock neighborhood throughout history. The construction and architectural elements of the houses are only two aspects in the Heritage House Program that helps us to create a historically accurate site. Over the course of time, as can be seen in the architecture of historic houses, styles have changed and aesthetic preferences have evolved, and continue to evolve. This is evidenced in house structure, size, interior/exterior decoration, and even paint color. Earlier this week historic paint expert, Sally Zimmerman came to visit Strawbery Banke to help us get a better idea of what the exterior paint colors of a house in a given time period would be. Armed with paint indexes she took Elizabeth Farish, Chief Curator and Historic Preservation intern, Catey Fischer on a walk through the museum to answer their questions about how to make the Heritage Houses as accurate to their time period as possible through color...

The first stop on their tour was Lowd House. Lowd house is a part of the Heritage House Program and has been restored to what it would have been in 1810. Currently the Lowd House is painted in a yellow ochre color, which Sally informed would be an accurate color for this time period. She started by explaining that there were three main elements that were looked at when deciding on paint color: body/clapboards, trim, and window sashes/doors. She defined the process of distinguishing as follows, "the body is the clapboards or stone, everything else is trim--unless you can walk on it, or it moves (i.e. windows and doors)" Typically these three different elements would each have their own paint color, however, this color varied depending on the time period.

Lowd House

Sally explained that in the early 1800s the body color and trim color would offer only slight variation in their shading. If the house was painted a yellow ochre color like Lowd, the window sashes and trim would be a slightly lighter color, but most likely some shade of yellow or off white. It was not until the 1830s and later that we started to see darker shades used for shutters and doors. She also pointed out that bright white colors that we see on houses nowadays would not have existed earlier than the 1920s because we had not harnessed the same chemicals (titanium dioxide) that are used to brighten the paint. As a result off-white was common in the 19th century. Much of the paint that was used in the first half of the 19th century would have been based off of several different earth tones, such as the yellow ochre that Lowd House is currently painted. The explanation for this is simply that the people of the period needed to use what was available to them because chemical pigments did not start showing up until the 1850s. Before then, people had to rely on natural pigments to color the paint which was a basic mixture of white lead and linseed oil. Outdoor paint colors needed to be more durable to survive the rain and heat in the summer and the long New England winters. Blue and green were very uncommon for the outdoor paint color because blue was not a durable pigment and blue is needed to make green. Shades of yellows, reds and browns would have been more commonly used in the early half of the 19th century. However, all the paint was hand mixed and measured by eye so it is possible that two houses from the same time period, using the same paint color can vary slightly based on the amount of dry pigment that was added to the white lead and linseed oil mixture. While exact colors were not always consistent, basic shades were similar during any given time period.

Example of how the trim and window sashes are different colors, but only slightly. It was not until the later half of the 1800s that trim and window sashes had a darker contrast to each other. While the colors are accurate, typically the body color would not match the trim color, as it does here. Good thing we have Sally to help us out!  

The standard in the 19th century was for houses to be three different colors. Currently the Lowd House's clapboard and trim are painted the same color, with a slight variation in the color of the window sashes. Typically there would be a third color on the house somewhere, most likely on the door, which is the case currently with Lowd sporting a green door. It was not uncommon for a simpler house to be monochromatic, whereas a fancier one would traditionally have three colors in its paint scheme. The three color paint scheme was still around in the latter half of the 19th century, which can be seen on the Jackson House. Sally pointed out that in the later years of the 19th century the triple color scheme was still the norm however, the trim, window sashes, and doors would most likely have been painted darker colors and the body would have remained a lighter shade. The typical window and trim colors for the time period shifted from a brownish-yellow to  a tudor brown, brown, or ochre color. The doors would also be painted a shade of brown but darker than the windows and trim or even a brown-red color. 

In contrast to the wooden build of Jackson and Lowd Houses, the Shapley Townhouse was also a stop on the tour to get more insight on what would have been a historically accurate color for a brick building to use for the trim, windows and doors. Sally informed us that it was very common to look at mortar color in order to determine the paint color that would be used on the exterior. They did not want to the windows to stick out with colorful shades, but instead it was common to try and match the window sashes and trim to the color of the mortar that was used to adhere the stone or brick together. The idea was to make the wood look like stone, which is the plan for the townhouse once it is painted. There is a bump out on the second story of the Shapley Townhouse which is currently a brown-yellow color but will eventually be painted a color to match the brick.
Trim on Shapley Townhouse windows as they are currently painted. These will be painted to match the color of the mortar in between the bricks.

The bump out on the Shapley Townhouse that will be painted to match the brick.