Nineteenth century print of Warren waterfront
When I first moved to Warren, I would drive to the "compact part of town", as the historians referred to it, and walk around looking at the architecture. The town, incorporated in 1747, was a shipbuilding center and whaling port and has retained much of it's small town maritime feel. As I became more knowledgeable about Warren's architecture, I started making mental lists of homes I would like to own... or at least live in. Talking with a friend one day, the conversation turned to old houses and she told me she had grown up in an old house Water Street. Come to find out it was one of the houses on my top 10 list. I asked knowing full well that I couldn't afford a house, for her to please let me know if it ever went up for sale. A year or so later Sandy called and said: "My aunt is selling the house." I said: "Great, can I get a look inside?" thinking that I didn't have a snowballs chance in ..... of buying. It was on my list of top 10 for no other reason than when I walked by I was impressed with its front. Even with a brown bricklike siding, a raw aluminum storm door, the actual door with glass window in the upper half, and so many dentils missing that the doorway looked like it needed to visit an oral surgeon, I was impressed.
(The fluted columns don't show up well in this picture and it's time for another paint job.)
I got inside.... saw how much of the original fabric was left and envisioned what it COULD look like with some work. To make a long story short, the owners were nice enough to hold the house for me for 6 month and my parents were kind enough to help me, CONSIDERABLY, with buying the house. So, it became mine.
There had been a fire in the attic and some of the beams seemed very charred. This proved to be only surface charring. My electrician told me as he was getting ready to do some notching out for wires that I would probably have to replace some attic floor beams because they looked like they were badly worm eaten... and then he proceeded to break 4 saw blades because he couldn't make a dent in those "worm eaten" beams.
(Chimney in the attic before the rebuild)
Above the roof the chimney had been reduced in size but had retained its original dimensions from the attic down. A total of four fireplaces were visible in the house, all of them covered. The house should have 6 fireplaces, I knew. I didn't yet know, since at some point a wall had been erected in front of that fireplace, that one on the second floor would prove to be a cooking fireplace with a bake oven. The downstairs bedroom fireplace wall was covered with what later proved to be a half inch thick layer of VERY HARD cement. I found it was cement when I tried to break up the "plaster" to see what shape that firebox was in and I had to chisel it off a small chunk at a time instead of it easily coming off with a pry bar.
(The cement didn't want to come off the bedroom wall)
The chimney would have to be rebuilt and dampers installed, I knew. Could the flues be podged or would they need flue liners? That would all depend on conditions when I opened up the fireplaces.
The upstairs bedroom paneled half wall had a hole cut into it for a stove and its cabinet door cut in adding a mantle. The style suggested the date that the house SUPPOSEDLY was (1770.. said the local architecture guide). However, since the deed research turned up a 1794 date for the house I was and still am confused because such paneling is usually associated with earlier dates. The paint history does not suggest this was installed from another house as the base color for it and the surrounding woodwork and doors all agree. It just goes to show that we have ideas about woodwork that might not be completely accurate.
(Second floor bedroom fireplace wall showing the added mantle and hole cut into the paneling for a stove pipe)
The corner posts were there and while the second floor lacked most of its doors, five of the downstairs doors appeared to be if not original then early. Several H-L hinges held doors, so I could get those reproduced and I even had a few Suffolk/bean latches attached to doors. Original floors were all covered with narrow pine flooring. What shape would the floors be in underneath? Overhead light fixtures were in every room. New paneling had been installed over the downstairs living room walls and I knew that moldings were missing in a number of locations. Still I thought there was enough evidence to be able to replicate what had been removed. The electrical and plumbing systems needed to be updated and there was no central heat. None of that mattered to me. Since there were only one or two electrical outlets in each room I saw this as a chance to put outlets where I wanted. The plumbing, well..I was going to move the bathrooms anyhow and no central heat meant I wasn't saddled with radiators or baseboard heat and could put in forced hot air. I also needed to plan how the rooms would be used. The original main bedrooms and the living rooms were obviously. The bathrooms were out of date, tiny, and inconveniently located, being off the kitchens and NOT off the bedrooms. It made sense to take rooms that had originally been unheated bedrooms and turn them into bathrooms. This however meant that I was reducing the number of bedrooms. When I bought the house the original kitchens had remained as kitchens with sinks, cabinets, refrigerators and stoves. I wanted to remove all signs of 20th century kitchens from these rooms so that required relocating the "modern" kitchens into another of the small unheated bedrooms. The parlor, not sure what else to call it, remained the parlor. So, when I bought the house I changed it from 3 bedroom, 2 of them small, 1 kitchen, 1 tiny bathroom, 1 living room on each floor to 1 bedroom, 1 decent sized bath, 1 small modern kitchen, and 2 living rooms on each floor. The rooms that had been the bathrooms became the only closets in the apartments, and even they require we rotate clothing and store out of season garments in the attic. There just WASN'T closet space in these houses. They didn't need much space to store their few articles of clothing.
During the whole process of purchasing and making plans for the restoration I was constantly reading and asking questions of friends who had restored houses. I was struck by the number of people who started out to restore and then found it overwhelming. The best advise I ever read was: "Don't take on too many projects at one time. One room or project at a time is enough.... Don't tear up the whole house... When looking at a room focus only on what the day's or hour's project is. Say to yourself: "Today if I get this door casing stripped of paint I'll be satisfied".. not "Oh dear, I have 3 door casings to do. When will I get it all done?" AND as quickly as you can get yourself ONE ROOM that when things seem to overwhelm you.... AND THEY WILL..... you can go shut the door and block out the mess. In my case the first room done was my new bathroom on the second floor and I often went in there... It was small. I could shut the door, turn on the space heater, warm up and look at freshly painted clean surfaces and the nice NEW tile around the nice NEW bath tub and say: "Some day the chaos of the outside will be over. AND it will ALL be worth it! "
During that time I lived on the second floor while I was working on the first floor. I had a gas on gas stove that provided the heat for that floor.
(This gas on gas kitchen stove which had originally been coal was the upstairs source of heat.)
Luckily the pipes never froze but I could scrape the frost of the insides of the windows. I could see my breath when I stuck my head out of the bed covers. That first winter I discovered flannel sheets and I credit my survival to an electric mattress pad. My evening routine was to lay my clothes out in the bathroom just before I would go to bed, and then shut the bathroom door. I had a small space heater in the bathroom set on a timer. The timer would click on 15 minutes before I would get up. I would roll out of bed and take 2 quick steps into the nice warm bathroom where I would get ready to start the day.
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