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!

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

An Unexpected Find

We get asked pretty often if we find anything cool in the house or around the yard. Every once in awhile, something pops up unexpectedly. We know that people have metal-detected the property, so there may not be much left to find. But, luckily some of the coolest things aren't metal...

When we gutted our dining room (that story to come), we found a couple of things in the walls. One stud had been sistered to give it more strength. However, the previous owners did not remove the wainscot and didn't realize that the new sister stud was not actually sitting on the floor. It was instead resting on a lump of old plaster that had been dropped into the wall when the room was constructed or remodeled previously.

Stud resting on a lump of plaster.

Paper and plaster - there's even horse hair still in the plaster.
Unbelievably, there was old newspaper stuck to the plaster, which had worked its way into the fiber of the paper and preserved it pretty well. The type is even still legible. By some twist of fate, there are a couple of historical figures mentioned: Henry Clay, a General Sanders and Governor Joseph Kent of Maryland. Henry Clay, if we reach way back into the recesses of our mind (and Wikipedia) to recall middle school history, served as the Secretary of State under John Quincy Adams, ran for president several times, and was a founder of the Whig Party. Governor Kent only took a little bit of googling. Kent served as Governor of Maryland from 1826-1829. General Saunders, not to be confused with the beloved grandaddy of fried chicken, was a bit harder to track down. The paper is referring to Romulus Mitchell Saunders, a prominent politician from Milton, NC. Saunders was a man who wore many hats: lawyer, legislator, judge, and minister to Spain under President Polk.

After a bit more research, I found that the paper tells of a very public altercation between Clay and Saunders about the upcoming 1828 election. Judging from articles in newspapers around that time, it seems that the squabble happened in the summer of 1827. Saunders backed Andrew Jackson, while Clay supported Adams for re-election. In the end, Jackson won. The date of the newspaper (1827) coincides with the date brick in our living room chimney - the year that the house was extended for the third and final time. I love it when things all tie together!

On closer view, you can see the three named gentlemen.
We have so many more discoveries to share, so stay with us! Maybe with some digging, I can even figure out exactly what newspaper this is...

Sunday, September 16, 2018

The Cottage

So far, we have really only focused on the renovation of the main house. We also have three outbuildings in need of some rehabilitation. As our house becomes more and more stabilized, we have been able to take on some minor work on these buildings.

The Cottage
What we are now calling "the cottage" once served as the plantation office. We even found a description of it in a memoir by a woman named Elizabeth Sparrow McCord from 1938. When she was a child, Elizabeth and her family took refuge at Greenwreath during the Civil War. She calls this outbuilding the overseer's house. Early photographs we have found as well as aerial photos from Google maps show that this building had an extension off the back with the kitchen and bathroom. This has only recently been demolished, prior to our purchase. What we have remaining is the original 2-room layout with a central chimney and some pretty cool Greek Revival two-panel doors. Someday we will get to renovating the interior, but structurally it is incredibly sound. Much more so than the main house was when we moved in. The only real damage was to the roof where the extension was removed - the metal was never repaired to fit the old section of the building properly.

Damage to the roof
As Hurricane Florence finally dies down outside, we are reminiscing about a fairly strong thunderstorm that peeled back that section of roof like a tin can, letting rainwater in. There is a saying around here about old or abandoned buildings: "Once the roof goes..." It elicits these visions in my mind of an immediate collapse into a pile of broken timbers.

Peeled back metal with a sheet of plastic for protection

We sprang into action to prevent that from happening. Finding someone who can repair a standing-seam metal roof of this era (1950s) is a challenge in itself. The supply of material is not all that common, nor is the skill to blend a repair with the original. Luckily, we found Danny Whitely to do the job. He and his team got it done in no time, and the repair is perfect! One the roof is painted, you will never know that it was ever altered.

I can't speak enough about all the local craftsmen we are able to find, largely by word of mouth, in our area. It means to much to us that each project is done in a manner keeping with the nature of the property as a whole. Without all of these very talented people, we would not be able to accomplish this.

New roof!

Friday, September 14, 2018

Welcome Back!

After promises of staying more up-to-date with our blog, we are finally getting back to it after a more than three-year hiatus! So much has happened since then! Construction has continued, and now we are finally getting to the fun part of slowly putting our own stamp on the place with paint and furnishings. It's been a long time coming, and we still have a lot left to do!

Lucy, standing guard on the front porch.
This summer marked 5 years since we bought Greenwreath. Time has flown! Although I get impatient with wanting to do more decorating and personalizing (Garreth is far less inclined), this blog is a great reminder of how far we have come. So much of our restoration is behind the scenes, repairing things that hopefully no one will ever have to see again. But in some of the rooms at least, we are now able to have a bit of fun with truly cosmetic updates!

Let's take a look at the den. The last time we shared the den with you, the walls had been rebuilt. We also sourced 36 antique glass panes (courtesy of One Way Architectural Salvage and Antiques in King, NC) so that Jason could rebuild the sad, sagging window sashes from scratch. Using old glass gave us those unique, wavy little imperfections that look just right in the windows of an old house. Now, we have a comfy place to relax in front of the fire on a cold winter day!

Our newly-furnished den.
Much has changed even since the photo above. I do enjoy hunting down that perfect piece that will fit in a certain place just right, so all of the rooms evolve fairly quickly. Our his and hers chairs are some of our favorite purchases. We each picked out a chair we liked, and I chose coordinating colors and fabrics (thank you, Farmville Furniture!). I am not one for having everything match perfectly. My best friend was once putting together a gallery wall, and I asked what his theme was. He responded with, "Stuff I like." That really stuck with me, and it is how we have approached our home now.

We'll try to post timely updates as things change! We still have not painted the den walls, and I am ever on the hunt for the perfect curtains...