Update on the 1750 House: Old Siding, A New Shed and Artifacts Found in the Garden

We are getting closer. Little by little, snippet by snippet, the history of the 1750 house is slowly unfolding. Between three trips to City Hall, one trip to the local historical society, one email to a state senator, and two emails to a special collections archivist, headway is being made in figuring out the timeline of previous owners and past events. So far we have learned that the 1750 House was once owned by a US Senator and also by a university. It once housed a woman-owned sewing business called The Cotton Company, and we’ve learned that the time period between the 1920s and the 1940s played a pivotal role in both the maintenance and the modernization of our Early American colonial.

At this point, tracing the history of the house has only led us back to the mid-20th century – a mere sliver of time in its 272-year-old life. Next week, I’m hoping an appointment with the university archivist will yield some new details and preferably get us over our current research roadblock so that we can dive into stories of life spent here in the 1800s and then the 1700s. Fingers crossed.

In the meantime, the house itself is still our most obliging storyteller.

This post features our latest batch of historical finds found in the backyard. It also features our first construction project and the story of how Canada plays a part, literally, in the longstanding history of both the house and the garage.

Let’s start with the found objects. Each of these pieces helps us date things that occurred on, in, or around the property a little more accurately and provides a better understanding of who might have lived here and when. Some of these objects have been found while digging up stones for our rock wall garden beds. Other times, they just magically appeared as we went about our daily activities. On rainy days especially, the earth, when it is soft and soggy has a tendency to reveal a token or two. Poking out of the dirt like presents, they are the ultimate gift of history from the ground up.

Half of an Antique Griswold Stove Damper (circa 1910)

When I pulled this out of the soon-to-be sunflower patch, I thought it was a fragment of some sort of religious garden art because of the cross. As it turns out, it’s half of an antique stove pipe damper that was made around 1910. Patented in 1889 by Matthew Griswold of the Griswold Manufacturing Company, it was used in regulating airflow for a wood-burning stove and was imperative in keeping coals hot and a room warm. Even though the house still retains its original, working fireplace, this damper might be a clue as to how it was heated in the winter months. Incidentally, Griswold manufactured many products for the domestic market, not just stoves. One of their most popular items were cast iron skillets for cooking. Imagine if we found one of those underground!

Vicks Drops Pharmaceutical Sample Bottle (circa 1930s)

This find was one of those that just appeared plain as day, the morning after a thunderstorm night. Measuring just 1.75″ inches tall, it’s a miniature glass bottle that once held sample sizes of Vicks medicine intended to relieve colds and congestion. Available at local pharmacies in the 1920s/1930s, this was like the travel-size version of toiletries that we are accustomed to today. On the bottle, it says Vicks on one side and Drops on the other.

This blue bottle joins another 1930s-era find from the yard – a metal bakery truck toy that we found in the dirt at the base of a tree just off the patio the day after we moved in.

Given the next youthful find below, I suspect that some kids made the backyard a playground paradise during the 1930s/1940s. When we lived in a very old, historic town in Georgia, half a decade ago, we learned all about treasures that can be found around the base of trees. Kids’ toys, teacups, jewelry, and other charms were sometimes forgotten about left-behinds after a leisurely day spent under the shade trees. Left untouched, these objects were overtaken by nature, eventually becoming buried deep in the ground. Decades or even a century or two later they can resurface due to soil erosion, flooding or heavy rains, bringing with them intimate glimpses of the past. So while it is not unusual to find old items near the base of a tree in a yard, what is discovered is very unique and personal to each location.

Marbles (exact age unknown)

Between two very tall cedar trees, these two marbles were found in the mud on two different days. Marbles were no stranger to kids’ play throughout the 20th century but they were most popular between the 1870s and the 1930s. The largest manufacturer of marbles in the world was Akro Agates founded in 1911 in Akron, Ohio.

In trying to date the two that we found, I never realized what an artistic world marble-making was and how varied the types and patterns actually are. Arko specialized in a wide range of beautiful designs, but research any type of marble and you’ll see they all have unique characteristics. Some have thin veins of color, others fat ribbons. They come in crystal clear and also milky opaque shades. Some catch the light like crystal, radiating a rainbow of colors while others are dense and made of solid hues.

The ones we found in the garden are of the variegated-stream variety with a milky base. These two showcase ribbons of one singular color (red and yellow in this case) around the entire marble.

It’s tricky to date these two since they are of a pretty classic design. They could have been made as early as the 1900s or as late as the 1960s. I’m hoping we will find some others to give us a better idea of when they may have been played with here in the yard.

Our next find was a breeze to date, as it belonged to one of the most popular items of the 20th century…

Ignition Key for a Ford Model T (circa 1918-1927)

We found this Ford Model T key, stuck in the dirt at the far edge of our property which borders 32 acres of wild woodlands. Made between 1908-1927, the Model T transformed transportation in the 20th century.

As America’s first car, over 15 million were made in its 19-year run and in that time period, only 18 different styles of Ford ignition keys emerged. The two styles of ignition keys that date from 1908-1918 look more like a cross between a skeleton key and a padlock key…

The first Model-T key. Image courtesy of the Henry Ford Museum

After 1918, Ford Model T keys were made of brass and each key contained a two-digit number on the backside ranging from #51-#74. The key we found is imprinted with the number 68…

Ford Model T key #68

That means it was made sometime between 1918-1927. If the key was fully intact instead of just partially it would have looked like this (minus the “b” underneath the Ford logo) …

In that same area at the edge of the woods, we also found a bumper jack stand and a big swatch of rusty metal seat spring webbing…

We aren’t quite sure if this is all connected to the Model-T key, but we plan on building a fire pit in that area so there will be more excavating to do over there later this summer. Perhaps one day we might discover a whole car!

Pottery Pieces (antique to modern)

Pottery pieces are pretty much an hourly find these days. I think we have pulled enough glass and ceramic shards out of the soil to practically make an entire kitchen full of dish and drinkware. They all range in age from antique patterns to brightly colored midcentury solids. One day we even found a dollhouse-sized mug with the name Sarah printed on it. Although the mug itself is not old (you can find them online here) it might offer a clue as to the name of a little girl who once lived here.

On the kitchen front, the building inspector was delayed by many weeks in getting all of his permit inspections done. So we had to wait patiently for him to catch up before he could come to look at our plans and issue our permits. Luckily, once on-site, he approved all of our already executed electrical work and gave us the green light to officially start framing in the kitchen. In starting that project, we found another architectural marvel – an original peg – from when the house was built in 1750.

This round peg is just one of many that have continued to hold up the framework of our house for over three centuries. It was only when the 1800s-era addition was added in back that nails were used anywhere in the house, otherwise, it was the peg plan from day one. If you remember from our last kitchen update, we saw a few of these during the insulation clean-up project poking through some of the beams in the kitchen. This one was a part of a section of wood that had to be removed so we got to see it up close and free from its wooden surrounds. Measuring in at 2.5″ inches long with a diameter of 1″ inch around, it is lightweight (only 0.5 oz), rough to the touch, contains absolutely no odor, and is super strong when pinched between two fingers.

While we waited for the permit appointment, a new project emerged. In need of more storage space, we added a small shed on the side of the garage to hold all the garden equipment. It is petite in size, but big enough to double as a potting place as well. It also adds some nice dimension to the yard.

In keeping with the house and the garage, we are siding it with the original leftover red cedar shakes and painting the trim a creamy white for now to match the color scheme already in place. Eventually, the whole house, garage and shed will get repainted (a different historical color) but that won’t be until sometime next year.

While framing up the new shed, we found another clue to the house’s history on the backside of one of the shingles…

Bloedel Stewart & Welch Cedar Shingles (circa 1931-1951)

There was just enough legible info on the paper label to do a little research on where these shingles came from. Based in Seattle, Bloedel Stewart & Welch owned and operated a handful of tree farms in Canada during the early to mid- 20th century. This is a photo of one of their mills in British Columbia…

Aerial view of the Bloedel Stewart & Welch mill on Vancouver Island circa 1933-1951. Photo courtesy of the University of Washington.

The shakes for their Red Band series were harvested from enormous cedar trees at their mill in Vancouver between 1933 and 1951. Below is a photograph from the Bloedel Stewart & Welch archives at the University of British Columbia featuring one of their photographers posing with a giant red cedar in 1942. Giant indeed.

Photo by F.A. Fraser. Courtesy of the University of British Columbia.

The company was active between 1911 and 1951, but the Red Band series was in circulation from the early 1930s to 1951. This is a photo of the label completely intact…

Photo courtesy of the University of Washington Special Collections.

From what we can tell, the shingles have far exceeded their lifetime expectation of 40 years, as the ones on the house are still so strong and sturdy. Product reviews aside, finding this hidden paper label was really exciting. Now it tells us that the house and garage were clad in shingles sometime between 1933-1951. We always suspected that shingles were not the original siding but until this discovery, we had no way of knowing when they were added. Right after we found the Bloedel Stewart & Welch label on the garage shingle we found another exciting surprise underneath a series of shingles on the house…

Clapboard siding! That means that back in the 1750s, this clapboard was most likely the original siding. And by the looks of it, the house was painted white. So now we know its original color. Not all houses were painted in the 1750s. Some were left natural. For the ones that were painted, there was only a handful of colors to choose from including (but not pictured here) white, red and burnt red (which is the color of our house).

Photo courtesy of Yankee magazine .https://newengland.com/yankee-magazine/living/homes/history-new-england-house-colors/

The garage on the other hand was originally sided in rough-cut timber underneath the shake shingles, which now makes us wonder if it was even a garage to begin with. Perhaps it was a small barn for animals or an outbuilding for storage or maybe it was where the Model-T was housed.

All this proposes new siding conversations for future deliberation. When we paint the house we may decide to go back to the original clapboard style to keep it as architecturally authentic as possible. And we’d like to keep it inside the historically accurate color palette. So there is a lot to think about between now and then.

Almost finished, the shed just needs the cedar siding attached, the trim along the vintage windows and a back door which will either be a sliding barn door or a set of antique french doors that open out into the yard. Whichever we can source, in that department will make the doorways fate.

More photos to come, once the shed is completely finished. Hopefully, by that point, we will have learned some new history about this old house during our special archives fact-finding appointment. Until next time, cheers to cooler weather, happy gardens and stories from the dirt.