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HVVA NEWSLETTER, April 2003, Part One
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The Annual TTRAG (Traditionals Timberframers and Advisory Group) Conference, Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Monday, March 22--I drove from Ulster County, down to Waccubuck near Croton, in Westchester County, an area of rugged terrain filled with boulders and wetlands but not yet the Mac-Mansions that are invading nearby areas. I went to meet up with Steve Miller, of Tea House Design Inc., to drive together to the TTRAG conference in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Portsmouth is now a city about the size of Kingston, NY It is one of New England’s oldest cities, having developed as an important port city in the 1620’s and was well known early on in the world of international trading. It was later overshadowed by Boston. Portsmouth is located on the Great Bay - a deep estuary like the Hudson River. The Bay goes 15 miles inland and its tributaries extend far into Maine and New Hampshire. The stubborn character of its people has kept the Great Bay clean.

About 150 people attended this 3-day, annual TTRAG Conference (Traditional Timber Framers Research and Advisory Group) held this year at the New Hampshire Conference Center and hosted and organized by Arron Sturges, a timber frame carpenter from Eliot, Maine, along with The Timber Framers Guild (TFG) and many of the area’s timber frame carpenters who, like Arron, know its historic buildings firsthand.

The Conference began at the Sanborn Mills Farm, a private not-for-profit restoration project that will be on going for many decades (hopefully seven generations, as the Iroquois taught). It is an 18th century site with large barns, a large house two dams, and two mills. One is a grist mill that has three sets of stones each powered by a separate tub wheel. The tub wheel is probably one of the earliest techniques for harnessing water power. It is a direct drive, no gears, nor many parts. There is one demonstrated at Sturbridge Village that powers their wool carding mill.

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The 1695 Sherburne House, with 1703 addition.

Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

This first period center chimney New England house sits on its original site at Strawberry Banke, now a collection of early vernacular house museums.

The lower mill is a sawmill. The mill frame has been moved to the side while the dam is being repaired. It will soon be ready to move the frame back in place. Our Hudson Valley friends, Jim and Susan Kricker from Rondout Woodworking of Saugerties, were at the site with Reed Bielenburg from Germantown. They will be doing the plans and drawings for the restoration of the Sanborn Mills.

Two excellent illustrated talks were given the first evening of the conference in Portsmouth, presenting an overview of the history, architecture, archaeology and geography of the area. The following day three buses left the Conference Center for nearby Durham to visit a working saw mill and a retired 18th century 6-bay English barn with a unique regional English tie joint. It is the farm of the Woodward family. Arron Sturges explained that the Woodwards used to keep cows in the early 20th century, and kept about 4-bays of them along the back wall of the barn but when there came all kinds of rules and agricultural regulations in the 1950s the Woodwards abandoned their dairy operation to focus more on their real love, which is sawing lumber. Because of this neglect the Woodwards barn has only the second bower, or place where the cows are kept, that I know of that doesn't have a cement floor. The other is the Snyder farm In Saugerties, New York. Like the cow aisles in later Dutch barns, these New Hampshire stalls were separated from the threshing floor by a horizontal plank wall with flap doors to service the manger. The Woodward cows were held in metal stanchions.

Later at the Conference Center, after Richard Harris, the English architectural historian and featured speaker had given his talk on Old World English barns (which included their structure, uses and their place in the farmstead, a broad and earthy picture). I stood at the end of a long line of young carpenters who were waiting to have their newly purchased books, Discovering Timber-Framed Buildings, a short and clear introduction to English framing, signed by its author (1.). I had left my copy at home but wanted ask the author just one question and not hold up the people lining up behind me. I asked, “How did the English farmers keep their cows, did they use a stanchion?” He thought a moment and drew me a picture with a few lines, which, like a fool, I forgot to ask him for, and it looked just like a stanchion and I asked him did he know of many of them and he said, “No, they usually just chained the cows to a stake.” and I asked him, “Where do you think that stanchion idea came from, the New World?” He thought again but said nothing

From the Woodward farm the three bus loads of TTRAG members were taken to Portsmouth and left off in the down town with a 6-page paper containing excellent written background on the six buildings to be visited, lots of pictures but no map. There was some attempt to send them on separate tours, so as not to overcrowd the museum houses, but soon most of the non-natives were lost, and by the end of the day many of the individuals had gone their independent ways, merging and splitting up, meeting again in cellars and bars and losing a friend in an attic.

Reconstructed Clapboard Siding and Leaded Casement Window of The Sherburne House. Portsmouth, New Hampshire
This is an accurate reconstruction of a circa 1700 New England House. The 3-inch wide clapboard was split from 3-foot bolts, often of oak. This was necessary when sawn boards were not available. It requires many nails, whereas the weatherboarding on Hudson Valley Houses, at this time, used wide sawn boards that required fewer nails.

The New England leaded window is quite different from the Dutch. It is made of trapezoidal panes, an earlier leaded window form that was becoming rectangular in Holland during the 17th century when they were introduced into the Hudson Valley.

Portsmouth is a city that is proud and aware of it heritage. In the 1950’s, at the low point in America’s history of preservation consciousness, when Urban Renewal was demolishing historic districts in cities throughout the country in the name of progress, some stubborn people of Portsmouth were able to turn the Renewal Bill around and begin their Strawberry Banke project, which today preserves and interprets some of the earliest houses in the area through restoration and in some cases by moving buildings to this site.

The Sherburne House, built in 1695 with a 1703 addition, is on its original site. It has gone through many changes over the years. Its present exterior is an excellent restoration, with unpainted clapboard and leaded casement windows, how it would have appeared in 1703. Its interior has been made into a teaching exhibit rather than a furnished house. It is an excellent example of a first period center chimney New England house, with its rafters, beams, and wall-framing exposed as much of it would have been in 1703.


The Warner House, built 1716-1718. Portsmouth, New Hampshire

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The “M” Roof of the Warner House showing added upper rafters with dotted lines
drawing after Philip H. Kendrick, R.A.

 

 

 

 

 

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The photograph of the interior of the Warner House (excuse the twisted electric wire) shows the type of upper rafters used to cover the original “M” roof. It is a traditional New England principal rafter system where the rafter pairs are triangulated with a horizontal tie-beam and these principals support short purlins that in turn support vertical roofing boards. The center post makes the principal rafters look like a king-post truss but the span is short and the post may act more as a support for the rafters because of their low pitch.

Many of the house museums in Portsmouth are maintained by private local groups, The Warner House is one of these. Originally constructed between 1716 and 1718, it was first built as a 2-story brick house with an “M” roof, a style popular in England at that time and can be seen on 17th century illustrations of the Dutch Reformed Church on Manhattan Island. A similar conversion from an “M” roof to a gambrel can be seen at Williamsburg, Virginia. Because of the difficulty keeping the “M” roof dry with its internal gutter, the roof of the Warner House was soon altered. Upper rafters were added, giving it a gambrel form. It is hard not to speculate on this as a possible origin of the gambrel form, but the house does not display its gambrel but hides it behind chimneys and a raised parapet gable. This roof conversion has preserved much of the original shingles, which appear to be modern in their length, rather than the circa 30-inch shingles of the early 18th century in the Hudson Valley.

Part Two, April 2004 Newsletter

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