While the process of having the chimney rebuilt would seem to be an easy one, except for the cost, I found out as I began planning for it that this was not the case. Several years before I was ready to look for a mason I started the preliminary work. First, I needed to open the fireboxes so the mason could investigate the condition of what existed.
I opened the downstairs parlor firebox in 1984, breaking my own rule of not creating chaos in too many places at once. Five years later it would look like this.
I also needed to know the state of the hearths. I could see in the basement that the vent pipe for the hot water heater had been hacked into the first floor firebox, so the heater would have to be relocated and an alternate vent route created. This was done when I had central heat put in for the first floor. Until the new chimney was complete the venting pipe for the furnace and water heater would run parallel to the chimney, to be vented into a flu created when the chimney was rebuilt in the attic.
I had a pretty good idea that the hearths were still there in four of the other five fireplaces. It was the hearth in the upstairs original kitchen I wasn't sure about. How does one investigate? The answer was to take down a small section of the ceiling in the first floor. With a little exploring it became obvious that the original kitchen ceiling had been replaced and new ceiling beams had been installed RIGHT THROUGH where the hearth should be. This meant that those beams had to be cut and supported a different way. It also meant that the ceiling had to COME DOWN. That wouldn't be such a bad thing because with the ceiling down I could insulate it. I wanted the insulation not so much for heat but more to dampen the sound when anyone would move over head.
First, I had to find a mason who understood historic house chimneys, one who understood why I wanted the work to match existing brickwork. I had to book him. Mine said that he would be able to undertake the project in about 6 months. I had to find a source of brick. Should it be antique or reproduction? If antique how could I be sure it would stand the test of another hundred years of time. If reproduction should it be water struck or sand struck? What did I have to do to get the house READY for the mason. His crew, his two sons and he, started in July of 1987 and left in October. First they had to open up the fireplaces and take down the chimney. They had to remove mantles cut out the plaster --- take down bricks, insert flue liners upward from the throats of the chimneys, insert dampers and then rebuild fireboxes and the brick walls.
(The upstairs parlor fireplace after opening. The narrow pine flooring hadn't yet been pulled up to expose the hearth or the original floor.)
This picture of the upstairs parlor show the fireplace wall after the plaster had been cut away and the firebox opened up so a flue liner could be inserted.
Chris, my carpenter, came, reattached the sheathing and reinstalled the mantle. All it needed after that was plastering.
There is a cavity in the fireplace wall between the downstairs parlor and kitchen. When the masons opened it up the found an accumulation of almost 200 years of rodent nests. In this collection of shredded papers and other "stuff" was a thin silver spoon of the early 19th century style with an H engraved. I presume the H stands for HOAR, which member of the family I'm not sure. The other interesting find was a mummified rat. The rat had its mouth open and a corn cob stuck in it as if it had died from gluttony. (Mother always warned me I should chew my food well). Unfortunately for me, I had to leave for a while after the masons found it and they threw it out. I wanted them to save it and I was going to bring it out when I had company for dinner and use it as a display item saying: "... I think we'll have stew tonight!"
When you've seen ONE firebox opened up you've seem MOST of 'em. This was the downstairs bedroom chimney being reassembled. The broom on the right was wishful thinking. The pile of bricks on the left was far more typical.
The chimney rebuild was the one restoration project that "got old". Perhaps this was because it took so long or perhaps it was because there was brick dust everywhere for an extended period. I could clean the bathroom sink first thing in the morning and by 4 in the afternoon it would be covered with a thin film of red. To maintain my sanity and because I had complete confidence in my masons I went "south" to visit my parents in W.VA. and then over to Williamsburg, Virginia, spending 2 weeks away. The break from it all was a smart move.
It gave a whole new visual perspective to climb the scaffolding, walk the ramp and look at the chimney close up. Or should that be close "down"? I didn't take a camera so now have to settle for this shot taken from the house next door.
My favorite chimney rebuild pictures are of the old kitchens. This one shows the upstairs kitchen fireplace and bake oven. The open area at the front is looking down into the downstairs kitchen.
There was a time you could look up and see the second floor fireplace from the 1st floor kitchen.
But my VERY favorite is when I found the mason working on the hearth of second floor kitchen with his feet dangling into the kitchen below.