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Historical Features of the Valley Falls Farmhouse
This review of the Valley Falls Farmhouse is based on a quick one-hour visit by Julie Letendre Burrey and Michael Burrey of MLB Restorations on May 9, 2004. It was written by Ann Letendre.
The house is a Greek Revival 'cottage.' Based on the trim and moldings and cornice returns on the outside gable, it was likely constructed in the 1840's, however, it is possible that it may have been constructed earlier, and updated with these 1840-period appointments. The floor plan and central chimney (now removed) are indicative of an earlier period, but the house could have been constructed in 1840 using this older floor plan.
The house was also updated circa 1900 (Victorian era). At that time, windows were replaced and matchboard was installed on some walls. Several smaller renovations were done thereafter through the 1900's, the most extensive in the conversion to two apartment units. Further investigation is needed to determine the date of construction of the kitchen ells and other additions to the structure through the years.
The windows of the 1840's construction would have been six-over-six. The current windows (two-over-two) are from the Victorian era. They were made of good material and well-constructed, some using the rope & weights for opening windows. Where feasible, the windows should be repaired with like kind materials rather than be replaced. (Note: Julie and Michael comment that current restoration literature is citing increasing evidence that new windows on today's markets, particularly those with plastic parts and compressed woods, do not withstand the test of time. The long-term economics are showing that the savings in heat costs are offset by the cost of having to purchase new windows).
There was a central chimney located directly in front of the central entrance. Typical of this style house, there would have been three hearths, one in each front room, and one in a long room that ran across the back of the house. When the chimney was removed, the floor in that area was reconstructed with narrow floorboards. That is why there is a patch of narrow boards in the middle of the wide-board floors.
The chimney that is located in the kitchen wall in the front apartment between the kitchen and the unheated room is currently not being used by any utility in the house. It was likely installed in the 1900 renovation, and was used for a wood or kerosene stove. Julie and Michael recommend keeping the chimney rather than taking it down. It could be left exposed for room interest.
The wide-board floors are either oak or chestnut, and appear to be more like chestnut. The sub-flooring is made of wood called 'slitwork'. The wide-boards have been worn to only about one-quarter-inch thick in some places. These boards would have been thicker when installed in 1840 (or earlier).
Julie and Michael discourage sanding the floors and would recommend that the floors be painted rather than sanded. They believe that sanding will wear the flooring sooner than their lifetime, and that in trying to even out the floors, most of the remaining one-quarter-inch thickness would be removed. They also note that the original look for that period was a painted floor, and they would recommend painting the floors with a nice milk-paint that would have been used at that time. Milk paint is extremely durable and is now being manufactured by many paint companies. Further, there is historical value in retaining the old paint layers on the floors. Testing can be done to determine colors used in previous years.
The major beams are hand-hewn, and smaller beams are sawn. The beams are likely pine or oak, but given the dark basement and short evaluation time, it was difficult to determine which wood. Oak beams are associated with the earlier houses, and would indicate that the original structure was built prior to 1840.
The basement floor has squared granite stones-a very unusual feature. These same square stones form a 'patio area' outside the entry by the rear apartment. More research would be needed to understand why these stones were used and where they may have come from.
We have a 160-200 year-old house here, a piece of history. If we, the Friends, wish to maintain the historical integrity of the structure, it is recommended that we learn as much as we can about the structure itself and the original materials that were used. Restorations and renovations should employ these materials where feasible if, in our stewardship, we choose to follow this path.
Julie and Michael recommend that we apply for historic registry for the house, and that at some time in the future we have an Historic Structures Report (HSR) done on the house. HSR reports typically have three parts:
(1) Compilation of deed transfers, old photos, oral histories, etc. (a lot of this material has already been collected);
(2) An evaluation of the structure itself, materials used; periods of construction; this task would require about 12 hours examination by a professional in the field; and
(3) Recommendations on how to repair, restore, or renovate the house, and how to maintain it in the future.