Return to Section Three: Post Huntington Owners
The house as it exists today was clearly constructed in four major phases, with several additional sub-phases contributing to renovations and alterations.
Phase I c.1715-1723
Construction of the Original House
The east half of house (two stories) with an end chimney on the west end was built for Nathaniel Huntington. The house originally consisted of two rooms, one on each story. It is unknown if there were any leantos in this phase. The fireplace in the hall or ground floor room probably measured at least six or seven feet in breadth, with a bake oven probably located in the back wall of the firebox. It is not known whether the second story room had a fireplace in its early years. The walls of the two rooms were probably covered with unpainted, feather-edged, vertical boards. A number of boards like this were found in the garret; the Warner House (now O=Donovan, c.1760), located on the common in Scotland, still has this type of vertical board sheathing in a portion of its kitchen. Evidence of a plaster wall around the large fireplace was discovered beneath the present c.1801-1814 plaster wall. It is unclear whether this plaster wall was original to the house or added during a later phase.
The ceilings in the hall and hall chamber were unplastered, with the floor, floor joists, and beams with chamfers overhead exposed to view. The floor would have been wide oak boarding, like the floorboards still in place in the hall chamber on the second floor.
Phase II c.1750-64
Construction of the West Addition
According to the 1764 will of Nathaniel Huntington, in which he left the east half of his house to his widow and the west half to his son, Eliphalet, and his young family, the house had already been expanded with the addition of two rooms, one on each floor, on the west side of the original end chimney. At this time a firebox was added to the original chimney on the ground floor only and extending out into the west room or parlor. The parlor chamber remained unheated. The floor in the west room or parlor would have been wide oak boards, as still survive on the second story beneath a later floor. The early finish of this room and that above it consisted of plastered walls and ceilings; the ceiling was plastered at the level of the bottom of the floor joists, with the major framing members chamfered. Unlike the rooms in the east half, the portions of the major framing members exposed below the plaster and wall finishes were whitewashed. In the entry, there was no plaster ceiling. Instead, the beams, floor joists, and underside of the floorboards overhead were all whitewashed.
Phase IIIA c.1760 B 1780
Construction of the Rear Leanto
The major change in this phase was the addition of the rear leanto. It was originally built without a firebox and seems to have been divided into three spaces: two corner rooms with walls and ceilings plastered to the bottom of the floor joists, with the plates and girts whitewashed; and a central space with an unplastered ceiling showing the exposed floor joists and other framing members.
It is unclear whether the fireplace had been added to the rear leanto by the time the probate inventory of Nathaniel Huntington was taken in 1767, though it seems possible. The inventory listed two sets of fireplace equipment, one set undoubtedly in the hall, which was the principal cooking, eating, and living room of the house, and a second set in either the hall chamber or in the rear leanto. By this date, Eliphalet and his family were occupying the west half of the house, so it is unlikely that the enumeration of Nathanielís furnishings included these spaces.
Unfortunately, a more specific determination cannot be made until major removal of building fabric is carried out, and even then the answer may be elusive.
A small stairway to the leanto garret, with stairs to the small cellar below, divided the west room of the leanto from the larger middle room. The central room appears to have been unfinished, with an unplastered ceiling.
Phase IIIB c.1760-85
Addition of a Fireplace in the Rear Leanto
A firebox and flue were added to the rear of the original chimney stack to provide a fireplace in the leanto. The fireplace would have projected into the room at this time. Physical evidence for this is visible on the rear of the second story chimney bay and in the floor of the garret, where scars reveal that portions of the frame were removed or relocated to accommodate the stone flue. Archaeological excavations carried during the spring of 1998 beneath the leanto floor confirmed the presence of this firebox.
The construction of this added firebox may have occurred anytime after the construction of the leanto, but it is more likely that it was added after the marriage of Eliphalet in 1762 or after the death of Nathaniel in 1767. It was not unusual for a second cooking hearth to be added when two family units, such as those formed by Nathaniel and Mehetabel and the young and expanding family of Eliphalet and Dinah, lived under one roof. Evidence for the addition of this firebox and flue sometime after the construction of the leanto is found in the cuts in the garret flooring and the new mortises cut in the girts so that the floor joists could be moved to accommodate the stone mass of the added flue.
The cheeks of this fireplace would have projected into the room at least two feet. Archaeological evidence suggests it was at least five feet wide; more specific evidence of its size was either obliterated by its removal or is covered by the massive hearth stone for the existing fireplace.
The central room of the rear leanto (kitchen) had an unplastered ceiling until early in the nineteenth century. The soot-blackened floor joists and floorboards overhead attest to the long time that smoke was allowed to move freely along the ceiling. It is unclear what the wall covering would have been at this time B possibly vertical or horizontal board sheathing on the partitions and north wall, and the original exterior clapboards on the south wall, or original back wall of the house. The framing members were whitewashed and exposed (uncased).
Both the east and west corner rooms in the rear leanto were probably set apart by a vertical board partition. The rear exterior wall of the original house and its west addition were plastered right over riven lath that was applied over the exterior clapboard covering. The survival of this original clapboarding is remarkable - hand-riven oak on the hall side, sawn oak or chestnut on the parlor side.
Phase IV c.1796-1814
Removal of the Added Rear Leanto and Parlor
Fireboxes, Rebuilding of the Chimney with New Fireboxes, and Complete Remodeling of the House
This phase was marked by major changes to the interior and exterior of the house. It included the removal of the added fireboxes in the rear leanto and parlor; the reconstruction of the chimney with smaller brick fireboxes in the hall and parlor, a new stone kitchen fireplace with bake oven outside of the firebox, and a small brick firebox in the hall chamber, all incorporated into the mass of the chimney behind the chimney breast walls.
These changes to the chimney were accompanied by significant replacement of interior fabric, although it probably did not occur in one major phase of reconstruction but over a longer period of time in several smaller phases. The wide oak floorboards on the ground story floors in the parlor and hall were replaced with narrower oak boards. In the hall chamber significant changes were made: the paneled chimney breast wall was constructed around the new brick firebox; the previously exposed posts, girts, plates, and summer beam were cased, with a crown molding added around the room; and plastered walls and ceilings were added during this phase.
This work in the hall chamber, with some changes to the chimney and its fireplaces, appears to have been undertaken as the first stage in this major campaign of renovation and remodeling. It probably occurred in the 1790s or very early 1800s. If the former, it may have been begun by Roswell Fox, who occupied the property from 1796 to 1801. If the latter, then it was the first phase of remodeling and modernization of the old house undertaken by Jacob Burnett, after his purchase of the property in 1801.
The next stage of work, most certainly undertaken by Jacob Burnett after 1801, had the greatest impact on the fabric of the house and accounts for most of what we see today in the house. In this phase nearly all of the plastered walls and ceilings (with the exception of the hall chamber) were removed and replaced with mill-sawn (up-and-down sawn, not circular sawn) and split (accordion) lath and new plaster. The new plaster walls were then painted with a tempera paint and stenciled borders were applied to the walls around the doors and windows, chair rails, and beneath the ceilings. This treatment was given to hall, parlor, parlor chamber, and stair hall (first and second stories). Each space was painted a different color and decorated with a different stencil pattern. New chair rails, baseboards, door and window trim, and doors were added. At this time, most doorways in the house were enlarged, making them about eight inches taller and several inches wider.
A plastered partition was installed in the hall dividing the room from north to south into two rooms of unequal size, each with a small closet in the partitioned space. New mantels were applied in the hall and parlor, and in the rear leanto the central kitchen room was given its first plaster ceiling and plaster walls above new board wainscoting.
In the front stair hall, the stairs were rebuilt, as the trim molding profiles here are consistent with those found on the new mantels in the hall and parlor and around the door and window openings. Framing members in the floor of the landing on the second story were reused studs, removed from the north wall of the parlor chamber when that wall was altered during this phase of remodeling to allow the construction of a small bedroom for a domestic servant or hired hand.
In the parlor the mantel and built-in cupboard were added at this time, as well as the shutters for the windows. Evidence for similar shutters in the hall can be seen in the cased beam over the door in the east gable end, which was once a window. It does not appear that the windows on the front wall of the hall had a similar system of sliding shutters. Two iron hooks hanging through the plaster ceiling in the northwest corner of the parlor (now in the closet) suggest that the room was used as a bedroom as well as the most fashionable room or parlor. The hooks likely supported some sort of bed hangings. Parlors or principal ground floor rooms, especially in rural areas, continued to be used in some homes as bedrooms into the mid-19th century.
The corner rooms of the leanto had new plaster walls B but not ceilings - applied, replacing the earlier plaster over hand-riven lath surfaces. It is likely that the stairs to the leanto garret were rebuilt at this time and the board wainscoting of the kitchen walls applied.
The smaller nine over six windows present in most of the house were removed and replaced with larger twelve-over-twelve pane sash. On the south façade the window openings were also moved to provide more regular spacing, and required the patching of the wall plaster in the hall chamber. Only the windows in the rear or north wall of the rear leanto retained the smaller six-over-nine window sash. At this time the exterior of the building was also extensively remodeled. New clapboards, frontispiece, and window and cornice trim were added all around the house. Prior to applying the clapboards and new window trim however, a second skin of vertical planks was nailed to the front of the building, probably to provide a new, uncut surface for the new window arrangement. Interestingly, the clapboards applied at this time were hand-riven pine or cedar clapboards, unlike the sawn chestnut clapboards applied originally to the west addition in the mid-eighteenth century.
The argument that this work occurred in several closely spaced phases spanning the late 18th century to the early 19th century is a complex one and based on the sequencing of physical evidence in the house and on an interpretation of building technology and the timing of its changes, especially in the nails. The timing of the remodeling of the hall chamber B new paneled chimney breast and trim, replastering - as preceding the larger remodeling of the interior and exterior of the house is based on the fact there exists a patch in the plaster of the south wall of the hall parlor between the existing east window and a straight vertical seam in the plaster. Clearly, the finishing of the hall chamber and the installation of the larger windows and new exterior finishes were two separate phases. The question is how much time elapsed between the two.
The seam between the original plaster and the later patch in the hall chamber south wall is quite flat, suggesting that it was applied against an existing straight edge, like the window casing of the earlier window. When a portion of the plaster patch was removed, several things became clear. The original plaster on the walls was applied over very wide chestnut lath B boards that were about four inches wide and nailed to the wall at intervals of more than one-half inch with hand-made nails. The plaster patch between the present window and the seam is filled with accordion lath held in place with early machine-cut and machine-headed nails dating to c.1800-1815. In addition, the smaller opening of the earlier window is visible in the vertical plank sheathing beneath the new lath and in the molding directly above the window opening. Both are consistent with a six-over-nine pane double-hung sash window as the size of the earlier window. The use of machine-cut and machine-headed nails on the lath in the patch instead of hand-made nails suggests that the installation of the larger window in its new location about eight inches to the west and the patching of the plaster occurred sometime after 1800. This also means that the exterior and its finish, including hand-riven clapboards and window frames, doorway, etc., were all applied during this early nineteenth century phase. It should be added that all of the new plaster surfaces put on in this phase were applied over accordion lath held in place with early machine-cut and machine-headed nails.
Further evidence that the changes occurred fairly close in time is the similarity in moldings used in the hall chamber and throughout the rest of the house. The same band molding around the door from the hall chamber to the stair hall landing can be found on the staircase, in the stair hall, in the parlor around the doors and on the mantel, around the front door (interior and exterior), and in the parlor chamber. The crown molding used in the hall chamber as a cornice is also used on the window caps and as bed molding in the eaves on the front of the house.
c. 1820s-early 1830s
Wallpaper was applied over the stenciled walls in some of the rooms, especially the parlor, and probably some repainting of the woodwork took place. In the hall, the stenciled walls were whitewashed, as this form of decoration became unfashionable.
After the death of Jacob Burnett in 1814, the house was occupied by his widow, Esther Burnett, as her widow's dower. It is unlikely that she made more than cosmetic improvements to the house.
When Esther Burnett died in 1835, her estate was insolvent. The property was divided among a number of heirs, and John Burnett, brother of Jacob, purchased the shares of his co-heirs and occupied the house until he sold the property in 1839 to Daniel Tyler. It was probably John Burnett who added the layer of newspaper and new wallpaper to the walls of the parlor sometime in late 1837 or later. Above the first layer of wallpaper, probably applied by Esther Burnett, was found glued to the wallpaper pages of the Norwich Courier, dated September 13, 1837. Above this a new layer of wallpaper was applied. Evidence for this remains in the parlor closets.
Phase V Late 1830s/early 1840s
Addition of the East Ell
A small frame structure was erected against the east end of the house. The addition of this ell required a few changes to the house. The foundation of the original house in the northeast corner and along the north wall of the cellar was rebuilt, as a new cellar was excavated under the attached building. The cellar bulkhead, centered on the east gable end of the house, was closed and a new bulkhead created in the east end of the ell. The stairs in the leanto to the garret, formerly located in west end of the leanto, were taken out and moved up against the east end of the house. This provide access to the leanto garret and to the ell garret (the old stairs used in this new location, and the direction of the turn of stairs was reversed). A small pantry was constructed in place of the stairs in the west end of the leanto. These changes required moving/removing the partitions between the kitchen and the two corner rooms, and relathing and replastering the ceilings in the two corner rooms, which until this time, seem to have retained their original plaster ceilings applied over hand-riven lath.
Sometime during the 1830s or 1840s the hall and parlor fireplaces were closed down further with smaller brick fireboxes, and fireframes were installed.
Wallpaper and paint continued to be applied.
In the parlor chamber, a brick stove flue connection was made through the east wall into the chimney.
Sometime in the third quarter of the nineteenth century, two small closets were constructed across the north end of the parlor.
Sometime in the nineteenth century, a partition between the leanto kitchen and the east room was moved several inches from one side of the girt overhead to the other side. Later this partition was removed entirely. At some point during this partition moving/removal, the rear door from the leanto kitchen was moved east several inches.
A door from the parlor chamber to the rear leanto garret was installed in the north wall of the parlor chamber. The nails used to fasten the door trim indicate it was built after 1840.
Along the rear of the house, two small leantos measuring about ten feet square were built. One was added to the rear of the east ell, and the second was placed around the rear door from the leanto kitchen to the back yard. There is no indication that these structures contained chimneys. One or both may have been used in dairying. The Kimballs referred to the east leanto as their toolshed.
20th Century: The Kimballs
In the early twentieth century the lower twelve-light sashes of the windows were replaced with single-pane sashes.
In the early twentieth century, a partition was installed by the Kimballs along the cased summer beam in the hall chamber. This required the replacement of the twelve-over-twelve-light window with a smaller nine-over-six-light window to allow room for the partition. This may also have been necessary due to extensive deterioration of the window frame and wall sheathing due to water damage.
The Kimballs also removed the partition in the hall, a door was put in place of the window in the east gable end of the house, and a new window was put in the south end of the east wall in the hall. This probably coincided with the alteration of the east ell to include a porch on the south side with a concrete porch floor in the 1940s. It was probably at this time that the concrete curbing was poured along the west and north sides of the house foundation, and the time that the western rear leanto was removed. The eastern rear leanto survived at least until the 1950s before it was removed.
Additional changes by the Kimballs included removal of the old English-style barn and sheds, construction of several concrete-walled farm structures, and a wooden silo and underground storage pit.
This description is far from complete. Extensive exploration within the building's fabric will continue for years to come as conservation and repair work is undertaken, and the sequence and dating of changes will continue to be refined. This current interpretation is not the final word. Every new look at some heretofore hidden portion of the building will change and refine the interpretation.
The full report is maintained within the archives of the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center of the University of Connecticut Libraries.
Return to Section One: Summary
Return to Section Two: The Family
Return to Section Three: Post Huntington Owners
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|This page last modified on 01/01/2004.|