Saturday, November 23, 2019

The Dairy's New Look

Our little dairy building was in a sad state when we moved in 6 years ago. This summer, however, saw some big changes. As we showed you previously, the roof had many holes in it, and the flooring was failing. Jason, once again, went to work and rescued it just in the nick of time.

 He got to work on the roof, removing all of the old metal and shingles. Of course, it immediately started raining. We did learn a few things about the building's history in dismantling it. The siding is not original, although it is probably late 1800s or so, and the space in the attic was likely a sleeping loft with a hatch and a ladder for access. There was also evidence that a window allowed light into the loft once upon a time, but the opening is now hidden by the slightly newer siding.

The roof framing beneath all of those rotting shingles was actually in really good shape, and the original pegs holding it all together are still doing their job after about 250 years. We think this building is the oldest "original" building on the property, dating back to the origins of the house sometime between 1746 and 1780. While the house has seen a lot of modification throughout the Foremans' tenure here, the dairy is still much as it was when it was built.

Once the roof was resolidified, Jason turned his attention to the interior. The joists all needed to be replaced, as did the front sill. Luckily, much of the flooring could be salvaged, although there was a huge hole over which someone in the past had nailed a piece of plywood. Naturally, Jason had some spare flooring he could use to repair the hole. With a new sill and flooring in place, the dairy is sturdy and will remain upright!

And, finally, the big reveal!

We decided to go with cedar shakes on this building, since wood would have been used originally, and with a smaller building, it is less to maintain. Jason also formed what is called a projecting comb ridge at the apex, a traditional feature that is also apparently a lost art. This type of ridge, used long before metal flashing became the norm, helps deflect water away and protects the exposed ends of the wood shakes at the ridgeline. Basically, the north side of the roof stands taller than the south side: picture a huge comb-over made of wood.

This summer marked the first time in 6 years that we were able to safely enter the dairy and walk around in it. It felt like such a huge step forward, since it had been neglected for so long. At least the main house was always habitable, not so for the dairy. Once we strolled around inside, we noticed some old writing on the crumbling plaster walls. While the cursive handwriting is challenging to read in places, some of it appears to be grocery lists and tallied costs. Perhaps someone quickly tallying and tracking the farm's expenses for the week?

The next step in the dairy's renovation is to replace the siding with beaded age-appropriate siding to match the house, repair the interior walls (we still need to decide on plaster vs. drywall), and of course paint. But, all of that is for another day.

Friday, October 11, 2019

The Dairy

Not only are we restoring our home, but the property also has three outbuildings which need attention too. The oldest of the three is the dairy building. We believe that it dates back to the mid-eighteenth century or so and was built around the same time as the original house (our current den and kitchen). It is the oldest "original" structure anyway, having had relatively few modifications over time. The roof is a mishmash of cedar shingles in the front and early 20th century metal in the back, with daylight streaming through in several places. When we moved in, it was in pretty rough shape and was severely overgrown. It certainly wasn't safe to enter, since the flooring and joists were all rotten and failing.

We began the hard work of clearing the overgrowth to see what we had to work with. It seems that many of the vines clinging to it had become integral to the structure.

While people generally recognize the need to rescue homes, many small outbuildings that were so important to the running of farms and plantations are sadly neglected. It's rarer to find intact examples of dairies, smokehouses, corn cribs, and even slave quarters, simply because these types of buildings were incidental to the main house. Their primary purpose may have disappeared long ago, along with the way of life that sustained the need for them in the first place. This type of architecture is just as important in hoping to understand historical land usage and rural economies as the larger plantation homes which are more abundant (but also sadly disappearing with each passing year).

Since our property is on the National Register of Historic Places, we have a responsibility to rehabilitate and maintain all of the buildings on our land and not just our house.

So we got our hands dirty!

First things first: we had to clean up all of the vines and bushes. Much of it we could do ourselves, but we thankfully have a friend with a digger and some free time. He came over and spent a few hours digging up all of the weed trees that had sprung up around the building over the last few decades. It's amazing what a little hard work can do! Once we got all of that stuff out of the way, we could take a look at the interior.

It was a mess, to say the least. It looked like generations of people had piled up a bunch of stuff in there and shut the door. Thanks to an extremely holey roof, rain had gotten in and saturated all of the debris, the floor and the joists, so we had to be extremely careful about where we tried to step. The flooring had completely collapsed in one section, and the joists were lying in the dirt below the building. We swept it all out and found some pretty cool stuff, including the bone-handle fork and an early cut-glass serving plate that miraculously didn't have a scratch on it and now has a home in our kitchen. Once it was cleared, Garreth worked on removing the flooring, so that it could be dried out and salvaged.

We found that the floor joists are nothing more than roughly-hewn half logs, and that many of the timbers still bear the original carpenter's marks. Unfortunately, the joists were in too rough a condition to be structural, but we saved them, perhaps for a decorative use down the road.

At least the flooring itself was largely still usable, so we stored it in the biggest outbuilding so that it could have plenty of time to dry before reinstalling it in the future.

Floor joists after removal of flooring

Carpenter's mark
Finally, we found an interesting little detail under the floor and on one of the walls. Under the floor is a mysterious concrete pad, which Garreth naturally thought was a capped well that is definitely haunted. However, we found a paper label in the wall from Delco power. It seems that coupled with the remnants of knob-and-tube wiring we find in the main house, these are both indicators that there was a generator in this building and that Greenwreath had electricity fairly early in the 20th century. In digging in the crawlspace of the main house, we also found a telephone arrestor, a kind of early surge protector for your phone line. This tells us that by the early 1900s, the Foreman family was still doing well enough to afford such modern amenities.

Stay tuned to find out more about the rehabilitation of the dairy building!

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Back Together

We now resume the story of our dining room, many months after its demolition! It has been a very busy year here at Greenwreath, and we have gotten behind in our updates yet again! But, we will strive to be more diligent in our posts in the coming weeks, as things settle back into a normal routine. When we left off, we didn't have much of a dining room to speak of, but work continued...

With an antique chandelier from Dapper Dan's!
The mantle and most of the scraped wainscot was reinstalled. Unfortunately, some of the wainscot was so termite-damaged that it was nothing more than a paint shell. These sections were replaced with new wood, and Jason was able to replicate the damaged sections of trim to blend in with the original. We took plenty of photos to document exactly what changes we had to make considering the damage we encountered. With all of this in place, you can really see how colorful all of the original woodwork must have been at one point in time.

Finally, we hired the very talented Peter Vences to paint the wood trim, giving the room a more completed feel.

"Finished" room.
Unfortunately, within a month of finishing the paint and new drywall, we had a massive termite swarm and decided to cut holes in the walls in order to treat the wooden timbers. Two steps forward, one step back. But, we did discover that there was indeed a window in the wall by the dining room door pictured above - the sill is even still there. This confirms that this used to be an exterior wall leading out to a porch (which is now our front hall). The story continues!

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Little Things

A couple of weeks ago, we hosted what we hope will be the first of many events at our home. It was the Pitt County Historical Society's annual Fall Dinner, and we had about 50 attendees! We were nervous going into it, because the house is far from being finished, in either construction or decor. But, we had an overwhelmingly positive and supportive group of people, who couldn't say enough kind words about our efforts to date. It showed us that the community is routing for us and that many other people love the house just as much as we do and want to see it preserved. If nothing else, it proved that we can easily host all of our friends and family! To see photos from the day, check out Pitt County Historical Society's Facebook page, and if you are passionate about local history, become a member!

Our cozy front porch

Tiny spoon
While we were busy planning our own gathering, we thought it a perfect time to share evidence of past dining habits found in these walls. As you may have read previously, the dining room has produced some interesting tidbits, from historic paint to old newspaper. When we removed one floorboard to treat the underlying sill for termites, we found a sweet little pewter spoon, trapped between the two timbers. There is no telling how it got there, whether lost or placed there intentionally as a kind of offering (many times old house owners find bottles or shoes in specific locations).

In addition to being uncertain about how the tiny spoon made it into the wall, we are equally baffled about its purpose and origins. There is no maker's mark, unfortunately, but it does have a delicately beaded edge around the handle. Was this a very fancy child's toy, or was this a salt spoon regularly used by the Foreman's at meals? We may never know, but we will keep digging. Suggestions are welcome!

Bone handle fork

Another utensil we found while cleaning out the dairy building (more on that later), was a bone-handled two-tined fork. These types of forks have been found in various archaeological contexts, dating to the late 18th or early 19th century. Very similar forks were found at Thomas Jefferson's Poplar Forest, the site of Davidsonville in Arkansas, and at Plymouth, among many other sites in Colonial North America. The date of this type of fork suggests that it was among the first generation of Greenwreath Foremans' personal possessions. Whatever its story may have been, and however it ended up in a cardboard box in the dairy building, we were so excited to have found it. Once again, these little things tell us more about the life the Foreman family lived in their early days here in North Carolina.

This fork (or a similar one) was actually mentioned in an article in Greenville's Daily Reflector about the previous restoration of the house. It was among many artifacts discovered in Greenwreath's walls in the 1980s. While it's a shame to now have no knowledge of where the rest of these artifacts have ended up, we were thrilled to have rediscovered the fork. Greenwreath just keeps offering more and more little tidbits of its history with every new job we undertake!

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Laid Bare

When we started tearing out the drywall in the dining room, we weren't sure what to expect. What we found was evidence of a lot of interesting repairs and ghost marks of the room's old existence. As mentioned before, this room was the first addition to the original house. This room, more so than any other, has seen the most amount of change through the years, its layout altered again and again to suit the Foremans' whims.

We're not sure what purpose all that cross-hatched timber is serving.
HUGE bolt holding the house together.
The corner of the dining room between the fireplace and kitchen door for example, once held a staircase up to what we assume was a half story above. The ghost marks for the staircase's supports are visible in the stud and cross braces, and the newel post scar is still evident in the floor. The half-story was removed when the full second and third floors were added in 1827. This drastic change meant that since the walls were keyed into the original roof line, some enhancements had to be made for the room to be able to support the weight of the new structure above.

Flooring passing through the old doorway.
When we removed the wainscot from the wall abutting the kitchen, it was clear that the small kitchen door had been moved as well. With all of these renovations (moving the chimney, raising the roof, moving the door), we have come to think that the Foremans must have really had an attachment to this room to not tear it down and start over. If in fact the original house predates the Foremans' purchase of the property in 1780, as we now think it does (more on this later), it would make sense that the dining room, as their first attempt at new construction here would have held some sentimental value.

As in the other rooms we have gutted so far, of course we found termite damage. But, we also discovered old paint underneath the many layers of modern latex. It appears that the baseboards had been marbleized, like the stair risers in the entry hall. The wainscot at one point in time was painted a vibrant blue, and the chair rail and the trim above the baseboard was painted a dark navy or black. If this color scheme was happening all at once (marbleized baseboards, navy trim and light blue wainscot), it would have made quite a visual impact. Chunks of plaster behind the wainscot appear to be a cream color, so at least there was some neutrality to balance all of that boldness. We probably won't try to maintain a strict historical accuracy in the paint scheme...

Termites aplenty.

Faintly marbleized baseboard.
Dark blue trim and light blue wainscot.
What happens next is a story for another day!

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Fine Dining

While we take a break from the destruction of the dining room, we wanted to share a couple of little things we found near the house. We are surrounded by farmland, and since it has been farmland for the past 250 years or so, we do spot a lot of broken pottery dotting the neatly tilled rows following a harvest. It really comes to the surface after a good rain. When the fields are prepped for tobacco, the farmers dig trenches, really churning up all of those hidden little pieces buried deep in the soil. There are many different vessels represented, and they are all extremely informative when it comes to understanding what kind of life the Foremans lived.

Black transferware sherds
These two little black transferware sherds (in archaeology, ceramic fragments are referred to as sherds - this is not a typo) were found about a month apart, but in the same area of the field. At first we weren't positive that they belonged to the same vessel. We do find quite a lot of transferware, but mostly blue. The black color is a bit more unique, at least in relation to our house.

"T Mayer, Stoke"
We were very fortunate to find that the larger of the two sherds clearly displays the maker's mark, a T Mayer from Stoke. This rarely happens on an excavation. Delighted that it was so distinct, I undertook a quest to track down any information! Transferware was the first means to replicate and mass-produce the hand-painted porcelain favored by the upper classes. The process involved transferring a printed pattern onto porcelain, which meant that it was also more affordable. Much of it was produced in Staffordshire, England. T Mayer, as it turns out, was Thomas Mayer who operated a factory in Stoke from 1826-1835 before moving to Longport in 1836. Since our sherd is stamped Stoke, we were able to date it fairly precisely.

With an identified maker, we could then start looking at all of Mayer's patterns to narrow down our search. This took more time. We finally stumbled across an example of Thomas Mayer black transferware at the Victoria and Albert Museum in the UK. To our delight, we could make out the sails of two ships dead center in the middle of the plate that appeared much the same as ours, and the diamond pattern on our smaller sherd matched the rim pattern of the intact plate at the V&A. The pattern: Oriental Scenery.

While we were feeling quite victorious about the identification of the plate, we were determined to take it a step further. Could we actually find a piece of it? Garreth took to ebay and madly searched for any piece of Oriental Scenery. Once again, success!

T Mayer, Oriental Scenery. Courtesy of the Kenyon Museum at Greenwreath.

The two matching patterns
There are definitely concentrations of ceramic finds and bricks, leading us to believe that those are the spots where missing outbuildings may have been. We would love to know where the kitchen building stood. It would be great to get an archaeological crew out to do some surveying...

The value in collecting these remnants of the Foreman family littering the fields around us lies in what they can tell us about the house's past. We are invested in the Foremans' story, and these objects are a window into Greenwreath's history. As such, they will always remain with the house. They will be painstakingly cataloged and their find location will be referenced. Archaeology at work and at home! We look forward to all of the research to come!

*For more information on transferware, the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab has amazing resources online. Patricia Samford is quite the scholar on all manner of historic ceramics, so check out all of their very informative (and accessible) research.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Attacking the Dining Room

When we moved in, it seemed that the dining room was the least of our problems. If you recall, it looked something like this...
In the beginning...
We primed the walls thinking that the drywall was in good shape and we could paint it when we were ready. As time went by, however, and we were busy dealing with the larger projects, this room got a bit worse. Evidence of termite damage became more and more apparent. There was definitely a reason for the separation in the wainscot after all. One day, I was striding through the little doorway between the dining room and kitchen, when I felt a bit of a crunch. It was time.

When the walls started to come down, there was more termite damage than we were initially expecting (or hoping for), as well as the huge surprise of a live termite colony in the floor around the hearth. We also found many old repairs and evidence of the room's evolution.

This room has lived through a lot. It was built in the second phase of construction sometime around 1791, not so much as an extension but as a second building erected a measly 6 inches in front of the old house. When the room was finished, it would have made the house into an L-shape with a chimney on the front in addition to the two older stacks on the sides of the original house. A second staircase was also added to the left of the chimney. When the house was extended again in 1827, the front-facing chimney stack was moved to the side to make the new, bigger house more symmetrical, and the staircase was removed. It is amazing that given all of these drastic changes, the room was not completely demolished and rebuilt from scratch. It probably would have been easier, or cheaper. Our builder, Jason, rants about it.



We learned a lot about the house just from this room alone, some of it puzzling, some of it interesting (like the newspaper), all of it part of the journey. Stay tuned to see us tear further into the dining room!