Historians date this house to 1740 with its massive period central-chimney design. It was originally built in Connecticut and, in the late nineteenth century, moved across Long Island Sound to Sag Harbor before reconstruction in Southampton near Gin Lane. We secured the funds necessary to deconstruct this important historic structure, preventing it from being demolished and lost forever. Now we are fundraising through the Peconic Historic Preservation General Fund to secure a new site to reconstruct this unique example of early American architecture.
The early domestic architecture of the American colonies, applying the criteria of truth as the fundamental principle of architecture, was unmistakably pure. Up to about the middle of the eighteenth century, when the central-chimney period drew to a close, “utility” had been the determining influence on the evolution of each stage of a house plan. The chimney had been the central feature. From its position behind the stairs, it not only dominated, but also actually governed the floor plan. This decisive factor then gave way to other influences: Economy and intimacy of room arrangement were replaced with spaciousness and formality; massive construction was replaced by elegance and refinement of detail. This house, then, possesses both utility and refinement of detail, as shown in the following images, which reflect the massive timber frame structure that is completely original and typical of the first building period in America and their refinements of the craftsmanship and architectural details.
Early houses were extremely simple, and their simplicity was the naturally the result of finding forthright solutions to design problems, which were intrinsically anything but complex. The glazed transom design above the front door was more the result of actual need than a deliberate attempt at ornamentation, as shown below. Giving it the character of an architrave, moldings were applied to the casing and glass transom lights were added above the door itself, but enclosed by the doorframe. Simple crown moldings were added above the architrave trim making this entire composition dignified and well proportioned, though of the utmost simplicity and completely original. Original pilasters are found at either side of the entrance.
The original barrel-back corner cupboard, shown above and in the following image, has a prominent position in the house because of its classically beautiful form. The corner cupboard is generally to be found in the “best room,” or parlor. Its position against the outside wall was well fixed and it is rarely found against the chimney wall. The corner cupboard is always to be found divided into two parts, an upper and a lower, by a shelf that is generally placed about thirty inches from the floor. This cupboard has handsomely paneled doors, which are flush with the rest of the woodwork.
The crown molding at the top of the corner cupboard is only one of two crown moldings to be found in the interior of the house. This is a vestige of tradition in the early Colonial homes, where the broad-ax hewn timbers straight from tree trunks remain the only characteristic of ornamentation. In the earliest homes, built before the advent of plastering, the exposed portions of the girts, posts and summers, which projected into the rooms beyond the thickness of the walls, were left perfectly bare. It was the massive timbers made typically from oak, as in this house, that provided the needed sense of security that was exposed as decoration. Oak was the material chosen by the early builders for the house frame because they knew from experience that, although it was extremely difficult to shape and handle, once it had been put in place it undeniably stayed put.
Prior to the advent of plastering, wainscoting was used to finish the interior walls of the earliest homes in America. Consisting of broad pine boards with beveled or molded edges, wainscoting extended from floor to ceiling and it is quite remarkable that these original paneled walls found in this historic house exist today as a testimony to this elegant example of early American architecture. The occurrence of even a single room, which is wainscoted throughout, is rare.
The original six-panel doors are constructed very simply, consisting of cross rails tenoned into the vertical stiles and enclosing bevel-edged panels. The door panels consist of two lower panels equal in size to the two middle panels with the door hardware positioned mid- way. The two smaller panels sit at the top of the door and are horizontal rectangles, nearly square, with those below being rectangular and longer.
Even after the use of plaster for the front rooms of the house had become the rule, wainscot was still used for finishing the walls of the rear rooms, especially the kitchen and the less important rooms of the second floor. The plaster walls carry on from the floor to ceiling wainscot requiring a baseboard to finish the plaster against the wide plank floors. It might be said that the original wainscot shrank to become the present baseboard.
A very unique and original architectural feature of this 1740 Colonial house are the raised panels integrated into the lower section of the window frame detail or just beneath the nine- over-six (9/6) sashes. These raised panels are further evidence of the house actually consisting of two early structures that were combined because the raised panels are integrated only into the interior three window frames in the front corner room of the main floor and the front window at the top of the stairs and adjacent two front window frames in the master bedroom. This interior woodwork is outstanding because these panels are one of the few examples of ornamentation in the house.
The original winding staircase was deconstructed completely assembled and remains intact. The staircase is found directly in front of the massive central chimney, a design detail that became the rule and established stair placement throughout the first building period. Stairs from that period also became standardized in dimensions and type. There appears to have been no fixed rule as to whether the stairs were made right- or left-handed (right-hand stairs are those which have the handrail on the right-hand side, so that the person ascending the stairs turns to the right; left-hand stairs reverse this arrangement).
The original balustrade exists intact and reveals the early form of turning and finishing the wood. Simple but elegant. The newel post at the bottom of the stairs is typical of the period. It is turned and finished with a molded cap that is formed by the mitered intersection of the handrail. There is no newel post at the top of the stairs, only the winding of the handrail to join the top horizontal section.
The wide plank flooring observed throughout appears to be original. It is indeed very old, but simply because floors received more actual wear than any other part of the house, often having to be replaced, it is difficult to say if all of the wide plank flooring is from the original house. A variety of hard pine succeeded oak as a flooring material and this material is of that native variety.
As we mentioned earlier, wainscot as a form of interior wall covering gave way to plaster, although the use of wood as a covering of the fireplace walls persisted until a later date. The paneling of fireplace walls from 1740 – 1750 onward is nearly always of great beauty and elegance and forms one of the most distinctive features of the house. The paneling, shown in the image below, above the mid-20th century fireplace, is original. The use of paneled woodwork on the fireplace wall did not persist after 1800. As reported in the Southampton Press story written by Michael Wright in 2006, the mason who reconstructed the chimney actually revealed his identity by signing the stone: W. Darby, dated his work January 11, 1944.
The niche in the master bedroom, shown in the following image, reflects the transitional period for the refinement of detail. Here we see the only other crown molding in interior of the house, the other being at the corner cupboard on the first floor. The moldings shown in this niche are fabricated by hand with a set of specially designed planes. Inasmuch as every builder had his own set of planes, the individual builder often employed moldings or combinations of moldings, which remained particular to their work and strongly flavored by his taste. The imperfections found in the niche molding reflect the handcrafting of the wood.
So join our effort to secure a new site to reconstruct this unique example of early American architecture. Your contribution to our General Fund will help make the reconstruction a reality.
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