A New Look at an Old House

What is new with our old house in Ipswich, Massachusetts?

My husband John and I have started reaching out to members of the academic community and to other professionals in the historical community to help us date our home, which is very old. It is a “first period” house.

Our house was built from white oak.

Although we are not yet certain of the actual date of origin, we believe it is the original Shatswell House, which was built by 1646.

cabinet for blog

Pictured above is some paneling we uncovered, which includes an extremely old cabinet.* It resembles paneling found at the Philip Call House, located up the street.

*Notes: The cabinet had no hardware when we uncovered it. The hardware in the photo is not original to this building; I’d found it in my travels and it seemed to fit the space. The molding above the paneling appears to have been added later.

The Shatswell House may have been built before 1646, but that seems to be the earliest confirmed date. Our deed dates to 1634 although this does not indicate that our house originates to that date. We do know that parts of our house were built in the 17th century during the first period of colonial construction, but we don’t yet know the actual date of origin.

In order to determine the correct date, we’re planning to utilize various methods of scientific analysis, including a dendrochronological study.

While all this is in motion, I’m going to put this blog on hold for a bit and focus on whatever new information comes to light.

Regardless of what may happen, it is important to remember that there are very few 17th century homes still standing in this country. All of these first period houses are handmade works of art, wrought through extraordinary perseverance and endurance.

These homes are national treasures, which need to be protected. They need to be protected in order to be preserved.

While this blog is on hold, here are some other photos highlighting what we’ve already uncovered. I’ll plan to update this blog post with new thoughts and photos from time to time.

paneling for blog

Again, this detail resembles paneling at the Philip Call House. Notice the area on the left, where the woodwork differs. This must have been an opening to a door at one time. There is another structure on the other side of this wall. We believe that structure was an addition to our building, built at a later time.

door to the east

Here is a closer look at the woodwork that covers what we believe was once an exterior door. It faces east.

The following photo shows the dome interior of an extremely old beehive oven that we discovered along the stairs to our basement.

beehive oven

Here is the face of that beehive oven, along with other sections of that mysterious hearth:

alcoves

The following photograph (in our attic) shows where the 17th century chimney has been appended with newer brick. Although this section of chimney is very old, we believe that the original (above the roofline section of) chimney is still hidden – within the second floor stack – because this house started as a single-story home (with a bit of basement).

attic chimney

The following photos show some of the bones we discovered while remodeling our first-floor bathroom (which has an earthen floor, adjacent to, but apart from, the basement). These bones were in a cavity that may have been a mud and stick chimney, which could originate from the time of settlement, which would correlate to the time of the deed (1634).* My theory is that these bones were cooking refuse, and chefs living here later used that cavity as a sort of garbage disposal. (To protect the land from roaming wolves? It could have been safer not to discard such refuse in one’s yard?)

*Note: In 2016, as soon as we realized there was a man-made structure within the dirt floor, we contacted the Town Historian who came to look at it, then we sealed the space, and have not since opened it. We plan to open it again once we have an archaeologist onsite to study the structure. (There are still plenty of bones in there.)

goat skull

A very interesting goat head.

wild boar jaws 2

Some wild boar jaws.

Before recognizing a structure, we uncovered approximately 2,300 discrete bone fragments, which isn’t really as many as it sounds; some fragments were tiny. For example:

bones for example

The following photo shows the ancient hearth we uncovered in our dining room. The central bricks are attached with clay (not mortar); the bricks in the outer area are connected with wattle and daub. Although this hearth is very old, we have recently learned that it was rebuilt long ago (perhaps around 1700) and the lintel was lowered. An early, 17th century high hearth is hidden behind this one:

fireplace overall

A second-floor hearth rests upon the wooden shelf shown above; that hearth is supported by the two brick columns shown below that shelf. Before we can fully open and reveal the very early 17th century hearth, we will first need to establish a new supporting structure for that second-floor hearth.

The kitchen was an addition to our building, yet wattle and daub was used in its construction. Here is a closeup of some wattle and daub discovered in our kitchen: 

wattle and daub

Here are some (inverted) “marriage marks” discovered in the kitchen:

IMG_2224

The following photo shows a handmade hand-cobbled colonial shoe discovered in a wall near an old hearth:

whole shoe

Here is an example of some of the Georgian paneling in one of the upstairs bedrooms. Each bedroom contains a full wall of Georgian paneling.

IMG_0623

Although we understand that the Shatswell “Planter’s Cottage” is very old, based on what we have already learned and discovered, we do not believe that cottage is older than the earliest core of our house. We’re hoping that archeological and dendrochronological studies will provide us with definitive answers.

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