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in the “Hah Club” (Mrs. Allin’s garret)

This week the attic floor has finally been relaid — a big swath of it having been torn up weeks ago to run plumbing vent lines through the floor.

This is a vast expanse of untouched hand-planed 18th-century pine floor, nominally 1100 square feet (minus the chimney in the middle) — never sanded, never oiled. This west end, where the floor had been taken up, was the garret laid out to the use of widow Allin in 1802; the plank walls and ceiling were carefully whitewashed (the ghosting of later lath on the gable-end wall at left and the horizontal furring under the rafters behind Amelia is quite striking). This garrett could also be called the ‘Hah Club’, as that is what the Hoseason girls dubbed it in the late 1970s, as you can see from the crayon graffiti on the board-and-batten door beside Amelia. This picture celebrates the ‘Hah Club’ and the restoration of the beautiful floor! (Continued)

the Allins in the news

Yesterday the Providence Journal ran a fine, reflective commentary piece by editor Edward Achorn, “A little cemetery and the people who made America,” about his recent visit to the Allin family burying ground, down on Bay Spring Avenue, and the role the Allin brothers, General Thomas and Captain Matthew, and Thomas’s freedman, Scipio, played in the Revolution and the founding of the nation.

I realize with all our focus on Thomas Allin’s house, I haven’t posted photos of the Allin burying ground here, though I have visited it frequently since the Spring. There are many members of the extended family, descendants and cousins of Thomas and Matthew, buried in this ground, including many who lived in the house. Here are two photos taken this spring on one of my first visits to the graveyard. First, the general himself:

And this long view, with the grave of freed veteran Scipio Freeman in the foreground:

The dramatic setting puts Scipio at the front and center of the graveyard, with all the white folks clustered away at the back, between trees. The graveyard originally had another orientation: Bay Spring Avenue itself wasn’t laid out until October of 1802 (in the division of Thomas Allin’s farmland), and the side street, Adams Ave., didn’t exist till long after. The resting place of the people of color, meant to be something apart, is now in the place of honor, as the graves are approached past Scipio’s lone sentinel stone. (As Edward Achorn suggested, Scipio was likely buried among other slaves or free people of color, but only his stone marker survives above ground.) Many area graveyards embed subtle stories of the changing place of people of color in the community. Some time ago I posted on this in a graveyard near our current home in Rumford, with the beautiful graves of two slaves, Sherrey and Anna.

When I am able, hopefully in the fall, I will take more photos of the graves and, perhaps, work them into an annotated version of the Allin family tree.

kitchen fireplace 5: new hearth

Well, the new hearth is in — all eight feet across — and the marvellous new-old-stock bricks from Wickford don’t stink!

Contrast to last week’s gaping hearth pit:

out of death into (young) life

From the Huffington Post today comes something which has apparently been circulating since February: a children’s playground built within the graveyard of the Dutch Reformed Church of Rhinebeck, New York, with gravestones interspersed among the play areas & structures.

It’s getting some blog mileage in the creepy humor department, notably a fine sequence of dark puns as reader comments on digg. But I wonder what people really do think about it? Genealogists speak of it matter-of-factly, for example in one page offering transcriptions of some of the graves in the playground.

As a parent of small children, and someone who takes an interest in graves (and gravestones), I am not sure what I think.

a near miss

During work in the attic a couple of the papers which are pasted to the vertical plank walls have become dislodged, just as several of the planks themselves have also been dislodged. Our foreman had found a very small fragment of the 1758 farm accounts loose on the attic floor; I tucked it into my small bound notebook for safekeeping.

Imagine my distress this morning to find that my one-year-old son had despoiled the notebook, which lay on the floor, open, the fragment nowhere to be found.

A little while later I thought of another place to look. Like most one-year-olds, he is none too fastidious, but is at times fascinated with the waste process. Sure enough, I found it crumpled in the kitchen garbage. The notebook has flattened it out again:

kitchen fireplace 4: the date stone

I meant to showcase this peculiar item earlier, but with the removal of the fireplace surround I finally have decent photographs of it. It is a slab of sorts, bearing the initials and (presumed or approximate) date of the attributed builder of our house, set into the left wall of the firebox of our kitchen fireplace:

Here it is up close. It measures about 9 inches wide by 18 inches tall (Continued)

kitchen fireplace 3: new old bricks are here

We arrived for a visit on Saturday just as the new old bricks were being unloaded. Our builder has offered us these never-used 18th-century bricks, which he had found stacked in the basement of a colonial house in Wickford. A size and color match for the old work. Laying them will begin tomorrow or Tuesday. So for now, there are two piles of bricks in our driveway. Here, the neatly stacked new old bricks from Wickford:

And here, the still-malodorous salvage (Continued)

kitchen fireplace 2: transformations

The problem of the fireplace stink came alongside other aesthetic and practical questions as we renovate. The fireplace is truly an enigma. I’ve already commented on the enigma of the two baking ovens. Our architect has measured and sketched the chimney system, and believes the original kitchen fireplace would have opened for the full eight-foot span of the chimney mass, with the original baking oven opening in the exact center of the firebox. At some point the right side of the firebox was boxed in and rebuilt to include the second baking oven and storage box below; both ovens are intact, and their backs can be seen from inside the smoking chamber. Here’s the system as sketched by our architect, Lombard John Pozzi of Bristol, Rhode Island:

When we bought the house the kitchen had a big paneled fireplace surround: (Continued)

kitchen fireplace 1: the stink

Friday afternoon I arrived at the house and backed carefully up to the garage to disgorge two enormous, ponderous eight-foot slabs of beech countertops from Ikea. After wrestling them into the garage, I was greeted by a familiar smell but out of place, coming from the dumpster in the driveway: the smell of the kitchen! I knew with looking that the hearth bricks had been pulled up and put in the dumpster. I had been smelling it since April but only recently realized that the kitchen fireplace stank of urine — apparently a previous owner had many, many animals and the fireplace was a latrine. Since we took off six layers of flooring in the kitchen to get down to the original 18th-century pine, the hearth bricks were now about 3 inches proud — the hearth floor had been raised at some point to accommodate the many extra floors. The dumpster showed an astonishing broken up layer of reinforced concrete, unusual (and completely unnecessary) which had been under the hearth bricks. Unfortunately the bricks — a mixture of original 18th-century bricks and newer ones, of different sizes — were pretty firmly set in the concrete, and had to be broken up.

Or fortunately, really. Out of a sense of duty I sifted through the malodorous dumpster for an hour and rescued a few dozen bricks of various vintages. Only a half dozen fire-blackened 18th-century bricks survived intact, and thankfully they smell the least. The newer bricks will sojourn in the backyard for a year or so, for use somewhere else — if they ever stop stinking.

And the kitchen, with the hearth gone, suddenly smells clean!

‘An Habitation Enforced’ — genealogy, manners, and a (Georgian fixer-upper) manor

I just found this story, “An habitation enforced,” in an odd volume of Kipling in the East Washington barn.

A young Gilded-Age Baltimore businessman, convalescing after nervous exhaustion, lands with his Connecticut wife for a rest-holiday on a farm in the English countryside. He regains his health as they fall in love with the place, eventually buying the decayed Georgian manor and farms, and adjusting to its slow rhythms. Only once they’ve bought the manor and are seated at the manorial pew in the parish church, do they notice a gravestone under the pew bears the wife’s mother’s maiden name, suggesting the coincidence of a blood connection. The link, mentioned precisely once by the couple, is confirmed through quiet and efficient investigation by the local tenants, while the wife’s only attempt to research the connection (a letter to a pompous DAR aunt in Meriden) comes to naught. So the whole village knows about the connection before the newcomers do.

The story is an ‘English origins tale’ par excellence, a rose-tinted paean to belonging. But what is important to the locals is not so much that the rich American newcomers turn out to have a blood tie to the manor, but that they don’t talk about it. For the English country way, as Kipling sees it, is that all that’s important to know — including this remote but crucial aspect of belonging — should be known without telling or asking. The old family’s motto, Wayte awhyle, could teach patience to a genealogist as well to a parvenu landowner.