Friday, February 15, 2013

Diversion: Opportunity on the edge of obliteration

The Sinnickson-Clancy House as it appeared in 2006. It was a well-known sight on Salem-Pennsville Road. The front block was added circa 1850 to a late 18th century hall-plan house. Such early frame houses are rare to find unaltered. It was vacant for many years and I had wanted to get inside to document it. Never did.

After meeting to confer over her Wistar wagon shed drawing this morning (Feb 9), Beverly Carr Bradway, Sharon Washburn and I set off on a mission to record the remains of the Sinnickson/Clancy farmhouse in Pennsville. Its demolition was on pause over the weekend, and now was a window of opportunity to record before it was totally inaccessible under fill. "It can't take long, it's just the foundation." Famous last words, as we spent four hours on a sunny, mildly cold afternoon measuring and photographing.  

North end of the Period II, circa 1850 section. Brick piers once supported a chimney.

We found the hole empty and scraped pretty clean of architectural material from the house. It was stone and built in two periods.

Looking south into the Period I basement (left). Period II basement was attached as an ell.
One fragment of a basement window frame in the rear section suggested an eighteenth-century origin. The opening had been bricked up in the past, but on the interior, one side of the oaken frame with three pieces of wooden grille bars still attached stood as evidence.

Bricked-in basement window frame with fragment of wood frame.

Wood grille bars are a sign of an early house.
Both sections were built of the same stone (not the native Jersey sandstone, but schist possibly from Pennsylvania) and whitewashed on the interior. The older, Period I section was 18x20 in plan, its broken east wall discernible where the two sections joined. At the west end was pile of brick and stone rubble that was the ruin of a large fireplace support. 

Looking toward the Period I basement. Sharon Washburn gathers fragments of architectural evidence.

We dug and clawed enough debris away to discover a fallen brick relieving arch, tell-tale of an early chimney support. After exposing the limits of the whitewash on the wall, we measured the dimensions of its extents at the back wall. It was seven feet wide and two feet deep, enough for a five-foot wide cooking fireplace. There was probably a winder stair above the space in the right-hand corner.

Debris from fireplace support in Period I section after digging for signs of its original location.

Me photographing the foundation. Photo by Beverly Carr Bradway.

Faded into the past.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Crew II: Training at the Casper Wistar Farmstead

1825 Casper Wistar House
Today (Feb 4) I began the training aspect of the grant project. I have dreamed of having trained, local building recorders to help me document the built landscape here in Salem County and southwestern New Jersey (I must include Cumberland County in my study area, being the other part of John Fenwick's original tenth portion of West New Jersey, other wise known as Fenwick's Tenth or Fenwick's Colony). So I included a training componenet in my project proposal this time.

The idea today was to have two crews of three begin documenting the Casper Wistar Farmstead, with two experienced crew chiefs on the boards (recording measurements and drawing the building) and the others running the tape measure. Beverly manned the board at the wagon house with Dave and Maria measuring. I took the house with Stephanie and Suzanne.

Wagon House
I am blessed with such a talented group. Beverly is headed for the University of Delaware's Historic Preservation Program next Fall and took the recording training last Fall. Maria is a registered architect who has measured many buildings for historic restoration projects, but wants to learn "the UD way." Stephanie, who I met on one of the county arts tours at her table in Alloway, had studied the related discipline of archaeology in college. Dave and Suzanne are the owners of the Wistar House, which they have opened for tours several times in the past. Dave is a past president of the Salem County Historical Society, and is currently the Mannington Township Historian.

The crew: Dave and Suzanne Culver, Beverly Carr Bradway, Stephanie Long Fazen, and Maria Cerda Moreno.
With temperatures in the high 20s F, we worked outside until lunch. Once warmed up, we succumbed to the offer for a tour through the house, which took the rest of the afternoon. However, having that understanding of the house and its history will help us as we start measuring the interior. The house has some very unusual amenities. One is a portion of the basement that has a floor about four feet deeper than the rest of the house. Its historic function is unknown. Another is the closet of feather bed racks in the attic. Though this gracious Federal style house dates from 1825, the existence of one corner fireplace suggests that a portion of it dates from before the Revolution. Whose house was it?

The land here goes back to Bartholomew Wyatt, the English Quaker immigrant of 1690 who purchased 600 acres of land in 1692/3 and 250 acres of wild marsh in 1708. He built a log house near Mannington Meadow and Puddle Dock Creek (not far from this house) and later a brick house a half-mile north on Mannington Creek. He left the 850 acres to his son, Bartholomew in 1726. This Bartholomew (II), in repayment of a debt, left his son-in-law, Richard Wistar, 691 acres of land, meadow, and wild marsh in 1765. Richard Wistar was the glassmaker of Wistarburg, well-known as the first successful glassworks in the English colonies. Richard, who resided in Philadelphia, left a 640-acre portion, to his son John, who settled there with his wife Charlotte Newbold, apparently in an existing house on a different site. John left his son Casper Wistar a 151-acre farm in the tenancy of one Jonathan Knight, who probably occupied the older section found in this house. Casper and his wife Rebecca Bassett Wistar rebuilt the existing house on this site in 1825, displaying the construction date on a downspout scupper.

1765 Survey of Division of Lands between Bartholomew Wyatt, Jr. and Richard Wistar. The Salem River winds on the left, and Mannington Creek at the top. Puddle Dock Creek is the small stream at the bottom. Some of these property lines survive in the lands parcels of today. (Salem County Historical Society)

More details to come...

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Second Day: Twenty Degrees Warmer and Dropping...

Wyatt Farm in Mannington Township, September, 2012.
On Thursday, January 31, measuring continued at the Wyatt Farm with Becky Sheppard, Cate Morrissey, (Lord) Alex Till, (Lady) Alex Tarantino, Keisha Gonzalez, Jenn Nichols, Ginny Davidowski, Michael Emmons and myself. Cate's and my crews worked in the house, completing the basement plan, first floor framing, and first floor plan. After lunch, Cate's crew moved to the barn and mine moved to the second floor of the house. Becky's crew labored all day in the cold granary. I took no photos, as I was in the measuring groove!

At lunch, the group gathered in the kitchen to eat, enjoying conversation in the presence of the very large and ancient cooking fireplace and hearth. A question I hope to resolve is, what period is this portion? Did it come first, or was it always the kitchen wing of the double-pile section? The interior of the fireplace shows evidence of change, such a second bread oven.

There is a very worn tread on the stairs to the second floor that Mr. Hancock used to slip on nearly every day, it is said. Upon exploring the layout of the house Professor Sheppard found the same step and took Mr. Hancock's traditional tumble, but no harm done (thankfully!).

Also dropping was the temperature. Starting around a bearable 49 degrees F in the morning, it dropped into the thirties by mid-afternoon. When brain freeze began to set in, the day was called at about 3 PM.

Thursday was a good window between a warm day of rain the day before, and a cold day of snow the next. Moving right along...

Next week, we hope to finish at the Wyatt Farm.