Twenty four little hours
Brought the sun and the flowers
Where there used to be
Ok, so maybe the flowers are a bit of an exaggeration…but, we are finally beginning to see some signs of thaw around these parts. The redwing blackbird is singing his song by the Eel River, so it can’t possibly be long before the grass reveals itself from underneath a blanket of snow fallen on ice frozen over snow, can it?
This past weekend, our old friends at MLB Restoration came by to help us out. We’re really lucky to have a guy like Michael L. Burrey literally on our doorstep (I mean, I could walk to his house for lunch every day, if only he invited me…).
He’s a veritable encyclopaedia of knowledge when it comes to all sorts of historic crafts and trades, but of particular use to us is his understanding of early American architecture and building techniques. It takes a brain like his to fathom the great mysteries of our timber framed houses – nothing happens to them that he couldn’t have predicted. Michael has been both brains and brawn behind a project or two in the English Village over the years. You know that little fence thing that goes all the way around the entire village we call the palisade? Yeah, that was him.
The problem house in this case was Winslow, the two-chamber house at the top end of town. This house was built in two phases. First, a typical for us one room house with a cooking hearth was built, as an example of something that might have been here in Plymouth in the first year or two of the colony. Then, an “extension” was added a few years later, abutting the ocean side of the existing house, which we refer to as the Parlour. It’s a great house in which to interpret the growth and development of the colony, as you can clearly point out to our visitors how the house itself has been improved over the years. The clapboards that once were without are now within.
The houses in our exhibit are not built to last forever. We build them to exemplify early period, timber frame and earth-fast methods. They are meticulously researched exercises in experimental archeology which is exactly what makes them so interesting to a man like Michael Burrey. I would be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to thank Mr Preston Woodburn for his vision and determination to push historical recreation to its limits – that’s a huge part of what makes our village so special. I believe it was in 1994 that Standish house was the first to be built entirely in front of the public using period techniques. Now that’s what I call a legacy. Anyway, because they don’t have foundations (as the first houses here likely didn’t), the oaken posts that are set directly into holes in the ground are guaranteed to rot. The problem is, not all oak rots alike. In the case of Winslow, the two chimney posts on the outside wall of the house rotted much quicker than the two inside, causing a really fairly shocking wonk.
This is a problem we’ve seen before and certainly expect to see again. Remember what happened to Bradford house back in the winter of 2011/12?
All you’ve got to do is jack up the chimney, dig up the internal posts, saw a chunk off the bottom of each, replant them on top of some flat stones and then ease the whole rest of the chimney back to straight and level. Easy, right?!
The measurements told us that the chimney was 24 inches away from plumb:
Uncovering the principal rafter pair at the opposite end to the chimney enabled the guys to free up those rafters for the big move – the rafters and purlins are intentionally designed to move together as the house settles, kind of like a modern house designed to move with the shake of an earthquake. It also very clearly revealed the other end of the problem.
The hearth lintel had to be jacked up to give the entire chimney freedom to move once tension was applied. Then, in the space of five minutes, just like a trip to the chiropractor, the whole problem was put right. It seems like we corrected the weather, as well!
Rome may not have been built in a day, but we certainly got significantly closer to plumb!
Thanks go out to our artisans for all the preparations they made so that MLB could come in and do his thing, their work is not usually glamorous, nor is there much glory involved in it, but it’s so essential to the success of our exhibit. Thanks as well to Michael, Justin, Rick and Evan for coming out on such an inclement day to get this job done, Master Winslow and his family will soon be able to eat their turkey pottage in peace.
In other news, well, actually, this is fairly big news in the scheme of things, we’re interpreting a different year this season! Typically, we set our English Village in the year 1627. This was decided upon during the inception of our full-immersion first-person program for a variety of reasons both known and unknown. This year, however, we thought we could try something new, ermm… I mean, old. So we have gone back further in time for the whole year. We keep the Julian calendar around here, so today is New Year’s Day. This means that the first two weeks of our interpretive year have been set in 1623. A court day was called to elect a new Governor (And we elected Bradford again, but this time only for the third time) and decided that he needed five assistants, for, as he says, “if it was any honor or benefit, it was fit others should be made partakers of it; if it was a burden (as doubtless it was) it was but equal others should help to bear it”.
Now we can officially begin our 1624 adventure! There are a few things this year change requires us to forget, some of us have less children, less spouses, less beaver fur, more hope, you know, minor things…We don’t know that the newly arrived salt maker won’t make a lick of salt or that the Reverend Lyford will turn out to be a rather terrible liar, or that our highly-productive ship carpenter won’t survive his first year here…but for now, you can come down and meet them all! What a fantastic opportunity for us to refresh and renew our interpretation of our primary sources and look again at history through new (old) eyes.
Happy New Year, let’s make it a good one!