May 08, 2012


Who am I to begrudge a house of a certain age a little nip and tuck?  After a couple of centuries of hard living, there are bound to be a few more cracks and a little more sag than in the bloom of youth, and there comes a time when it just makes sense to let the professionals fix the things that can no longer be covered up.
Demo underway.  Note the patch from the strange small window added in the early 20th century
With that in mind, we recently decided to reshingle the front of the Enos Kellogg House.   Beyond the worn paint, cracked shingles and fine layer of mildew, we were long overdue to remedy a butchered window installation job that had left the front of the house with double sills and mis-sized casings on each window.  As fixing these issues would require stripping the facade of the vast majority of its shingles, we decided to go all in and tackle the entire thing.  This would also give us the opportunity to insulate and wrap the wall, which should make future winters a lot more comfortable. 

To save money, I stripped off the bottom two thirds of the shingles myself (I hate heights and wasn't up for prying off shingles from the top of an extension ladder), and volunteered as daily clean-up crew for our contractor.  Our carpenter, Cesar, then set up a pump jack and removed the remaining shingles. 

As the shingles (first half of 20th century replacements) and old sheathing (likely 19th century replacements) came down, we made a few notable discoveries.  First, there were a variety of mouse nests (including a huge one in the wall of our bedroom, where I have heard critters scurrying about each winter for the past 10 years), hundreds of acorns deposited by the furry visitors over the past century, and a few dozen desicated corncobs, remnants of our home's original insulation. 

Pressed tin ceiling patches peaking out from shingles
Generating a little more excitement, tucked on top of the beam that holds up the second floor, Cesar pulled out a long clay pipe stem, a black wool stocking (I am guessing 19th century, but really have no idea) and a small, grungy bottle.  After a thorough cleaning, the bottle turned out to be a beautiful green blown vial with a pontiled base and applied lip.  By coincidence, the same day that I cleaned out our bottle, I saw a nearly identical bottle listed on ebay, described as a Revolutionary War era medicine bottle.  While I'll never know for sure, it is possible that both the bottle and pipe stem had been sitting on that beam since the wall was originally closed up in 1784.

The other good find in the wall was a 1940s-50s green, conical Christmas light bulb that must have gone through one of the old mouse holes in the baseboards of the house.  While the bulb itself is nothing special, I'll take it as a wink in my direction from the house, given my affinity for Christmas decorations from that period. 

The last discovery behind the shingles was a little less welcome than the pipe stem, stocking, bottle and Christmas light.  As seems to happen every time we open up a wall in our house, we found a six foot rotten section in the beam between the first and second floors.  After my contractor dropped the terrifying "structural engineer" phrase, we decided to engage in a practical test before proceeding further.  I went inside to a second floor bedroom and jumped up and down on the floor directly over the worst of the rot as our contractor and carpenter watched from the outside.  No movement!  Another perfect illustration of the beauty of 18th century timber framing - strong old wood and over-engineering can compensate for a wide range of sins.  Thankfully, Cesar was able to cut out the rot and sister in new lumber in only a few hours.
Original oak sill - rock solid after 225 years
With the framing fixed, in went the insulation, up went the plywood sheathing, house wrap, and window casings, and then the shingling began.  With the shingle courses on the adjacent sides of the house typically not lining up on the same horizontal plane, it took some careful planning by Cesar to lay out the courses, but the end result was excellent.  I doubt that the house has looked this good since the 1780s.  Once again, the benefits of using experienced craftsmen who know and love old houses proved to be the key to a job well done.  If anyone in my neck of the woods needs an amazing old home contractor, I can't recommend RJ Aley enough.  Jud and his team have worked on our house since we moved in more than ten years ago, and I shudder to think how our restoration would have gone without them.

With the shingling now complete, we are ready for paint, once the weather cooperates. 


  1. wow! amazing house! 225 years old... you are BRAVE folks! LOL - it looks great!

    1. Thanks, Sarah! It certainly has been an adventure.


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