The Kerr - Carpenter - Haigis House: House Construction
It is again important to familiarize ourselves with the different parts of the Kerr - Carpenter - Haigis home as we discuss the construction of the home. This drawing of the home shows the different sections of the home (they are labeled on the right side) and red lines note where the house was cut into pieces for the move in the fall of 2006. Note from front to back the front porch, front addition, main house, rear addition, and Doctor's wing/office. Two sections of the structure were not historically significant and were not moved to the new house site: the barn connector, and the small wood storage area connected to the barn (top of drawing.) When the Foxborough Historical Commission toured the home in the spring of 2006, only two sections of the home had a basement--the right side of the main house and the Doctor's wing (this basement was added by the Haigis family in 1912.)
Different construction dates for the home had been suggested in the past ranging from 1850 - 1865. This was probably due to the fact that home of E.P. Carpenter on Maple place burned in 1864 and his family was soon living on the corner of Central and Liberty Streets. But it became evident as the dirt under the structure was removed and the bones of the structure were revealed that the construction date was older than previously thought.
Here we have walked from the home's front yard, with Central Street behind us, under the left side of the main home. Clearly visible are unhewn half log joists with the original bark visible.
As we turn left, we can see that the log joists are mortised into the larger squared sill. Throughout the foundation here the sill is supported by either blocks of granite or bricks resting on dirt. This type of log construction was not typical for a populated area such as Foxborough in the mid 1800's--by that point in time, local lumber mills would have harnessed either water or steam to produce large, identical beams. Furthermore, in other areas these types of finished lumer products were becoming increasing available via delivery on local rail lines. Please note that this type of log construction was still in use in the mid 1850s elsewhere in the United States, especially in rural areas.
The deed research conducted by Foxborough Historical Commission member Emelie Bonin later proved the house to date circa 1825 and this fits the construction methods used when building the main house. But, did other areas employ such construction methods? Is the remainder of the home as old?
Shown here are the joists under the Doctor's Wing/Office. Although somewhat obscured by the insulation, we can see that large log type beams are once again mortised into larger carrying beams. Some of these joists are more finished than the main house (some are squared off) while the majority are round. The absence of bark should not be a consideration since this area had a basement: The right side of the main house and the Doctor's wing both had a basement and both lacked bark on the log joists--this could have been removed by human hands to prevent insect damage to the visible parts of the structure. We believe the Doctor's wing/office date to the same general construction date as the main house.
As we will see momentarily, other areas of the home lack this type of log frame construction and it is safe to say that they are a slightly later construction. We can make some judgements based on this information: The main house and Doctor's Wing/Office existed on the property at one point as standalone buildings. Likely the home was built and housed the Kerr family while the Doctor's wing was probably constructed as the wheelwright shop for William Kerr.
Shown here is another cape style home on Central Street--we believe this is how the original Kerr house looked when constructed in the early 1800's. This same style and window placement is also evident in several other Foxborough capes.
Here we are again under the left side of the main house and we have turned slightly to the right. The log joists here are once again mortised into a larger timber resting on sleepers. Seemingly only a jack post and a small pile of bricks prevent the house from collapsing.
We have turned further right so that we are now facing Liberty street with Central Street on our right. The underside of the main house is shown on the left while the underside of the front addition is on the right. Note the squared, modern looking joists under the front addition--they are obviously newer than the main house/Doctor's wing. While not visible in the photo, these newer joists are also mortised into the surrounding sill.
We have passed under the main house (with Central Street behind us and Liberty Street on our right) and are here under the rear addition. Once again, we have squared more modern looking joists that are mortised into heavier squared beams and this construction looks to be more recent than the main house/Doctor's wing. Up ahead you may be able to see a hole on the left where part of the floor is missing (it was removed intentionally in preparation to cut the structure at this point) and we'll find one of our first surprises.
As we look from the basement to the first floor with the camera is now facing Liberty Street and Central Street to our right, we see that a long ago abandoned door has been uncovered.
For this photograph I have climbed into the first floor of the rear addition and found another surprise. Here we have a maker's mark on a wall stud: John W. Leatherbee - Lumber Dealer, Boston. John W. Leatherbee was 21 years old in 1845 when he married Sarah Augusta in Wakefield, Massachusetts. While we can date the stud to the later half of the 1800s based on this, a more precise date is not possible. Let us review some other aspects of the construction:
These subfloor boards under the main house show telltale signs of early sawmills: the perpendicular saw marks, or 'up and down saw marks,' were created by either water or steam powered sawmills. Here a saw blade would make one pass through a piece of lumber and the lumber would be advanced a unit of measure before this process would be repeated--the result would be marks as we see here. Foxborough did have an early water powered mill behind the Law farm on Mill Street, but it is entirely possible that the lumber was produced elsewhere.
The Doctor's wing originally had a chimney on the side away from Liberty Street which supported the kitchen fireplace or stove. Here we see the area that at one time housed this chimney and charred wood is both obvious and somewhat alarming. In colder temperatures, kitchen stoves were relied on not only for food preparation, but also for providing warmth and it was not uncommon that they were in use almost constantly at different times in the season. At some point in the structure's past either a small chimney fire broke out, or the bricks and mortar heated up to a point where they burned the nearby wood.
Definitive proof that the front addition was, in fact, an additon rests in this shot. This shot was taken from the attic space in the front addition facing the main house. Here we see the original shingles on the roof on the main house. Since these are now enclosed the roof of the front addition, we know this space was a later addition onto the front roof of the main house when it was a simple cape.
The home's biggest surpise exists in the attic. Shown here is a large (64 inches x 42 inches x 24 inches deep) cistern, but for what purpose? Foxborough Town Historian Jack Authelet spelled out the answer to the mystery in no time. Before the advent of town water, the Reservoir on Powder House Hill (behind the present day town hall) supplied water to the local Union Straw Works buildings. A windmill pumped water into the large reservoir and this was gravity fed to local buidlings. There is evidence that local Carpenter homes were included in this water supply and E.P.'s home was no exception. Instead of a water pump outside or in the kitchen, residents of the home simply had to turn on a spigot for fresh water. A series of levers controlled the flow of water into and out of the cistern and an overflow prevented accidental flooding in the home. Note the board on the right states "E.P. Carpenter Foxboro."
The final secret the house revealed was after it was moved to the corner of Central and Clark streets. A large circa 1825 cape home would normally have a large fireplace in the center of the home in order to have a fireplace in several rooms to heat the structure during winter months. Structural evidence under the home suggests this large chimney once existed and was removed when the Carpenter family improved the structure in the second half of the 1800s--the removal of such a large chimney would have yielded more livable space in virtually every room in the main house. In the center of this picture is an area of newer construction surrounded by log joists that we discussed previously. We now believe this entire new construction area within the confines of the log supports (two of which are hidden by the supporting steel beams) replaced what was once the central chimney. Note that two smaller chimney spaces do exist among the newer construction and these served to replace the large chimney.
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