Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Survey and Photography: Illuminations

Early to mid-June was taken up by the excellent VAF conference in Gaspé, Quebec. Back in Salem County on June 17, I set the drawing work aside to get back to each farm and get my head wrapped around each building and each farmstead by looking at them in detail. I surveyed room-by-room, taking notes on materials, workmanship, finishes, hardware, and clues about alterations and the evolution of each house and barn. Instructed by the survey and by the drawings before that, I went back for a round of careful photography to record the important features and views I had observed.

After eleven buildings, I set to work writing the narrative and found myself up against my deadline of July 31 with no chance of finishing. In typical form, I requested and received a grant period extension from the folks at the New Jersey Historical Commission, my funding agency.

But the good news is...I've discovered some really interesting stuff in these farmhouses and barns. The barns are really surprising me with their age. Two of the farms have barns that were born in the time when carpenters were hand-hewing timber frames, then grew in a variety of ways in response to changes in agriculture and the economy. That gives us a good opportunity to look at changes in farm buildings over a long period of time, knowing that hewing frames was the earliest method of cutting wood. Sawmilling may not have been available or near enough to the site for economical use, or the technology was not yet used for cutting posts and beams. So, these hewn frames could represent the earliest period of the farmstead. Subsequent alterations would reflect changes in farming on the particular farms as well as the larger agricultural context in which these farms existed.

Triangle Farm in Aldine

The hewn frames at Triangle farm include the house, part of one large barn, and a crib house. Considering everything I saw in the house, particularly nails and hardware, I think it was built between the Revolutionary War and 1800. If so, it may be that the two outbuildings were built in the same period, all as the establishment of a new farmstead. The finishes in the house are simple and lack of paneled doors typical of more elite houses, and so may signal a tenant house, especially since before 1817, this farmstead was on a 300-acre parcel known as the "Gamble Farm" on which was a pre-Revolutionary War pattern-brick house which would have belonged to the landowner. Sometime before 1749 William Gamble of Dublin, Ireland had purchased a large tract in Salem County. Left to his son, John, and then to John's son William, this land was occupied by several tenants, as noted in a newspaper notice to them in 1762.

The house today represents an evolution that continued through the first half of twentieth century. Initially a two-story house with a one-story step-down kitchen, with the facade of each section fenestrated in three symmetrical bays, the purchase by John and Rachel Watson in 1830 seems to have triggered the raising of the kitchen wing into two stories with an entire new sawn frame, and the redecoration of the main parlor in up-to-date Grecian-profiled millwork.

Watson was a miller who in 1826 had just completed the construction a saw mill nearby, owning the mill and the mill pond property with a partner. The Watson's purchase of this house may have been driven by the mill venture, and their need to reside nearby. One John A. Watson who was this John Watson's father was a shipbuilder in Alloway village held interests in two schooners when he died. The sawmill may represent an enterprise to exploit the abundance of uncleared forests in eastern Alloway Township and lower Pittgrove in the early nineteenth century to provide materials for shipbuilding and other local uses, as well as for export. The rebuilding and remodeling of the house may reflect Watson's socio-economic status as an industrialist and trader, and/or an inheritance upon the death of John A. Watson in 1838.

The milking barn was structured as a three-bay English type, which is characterized by a central drive-through bay where hay from the field was unloaded and stored in the adjacent mows, and where the wood floor was used for threshing grain. A small number of horses, oxen and milk cows were probably keep there as well, as work animals. Though Watson was a miller, he, like most people, farmed for both family subsistence and may have participated in market trade that was growing in that period.

Gable-end of the Milking Barn

West end of milking barn showing hewn framing of the original English barn.

The barn was extended by sixteen feet with sash-sawn joined timbers. It is likely that John Watson, who occupied this farm from 1830 to his death in 1864 is responsible for this extension and the replacement and relocation of rafters for the entire barn. The timbers were probably sawn in Watson's Mill. There is no evidence that this extension had a drive -through bay, so it may have been primarily for the housing of a larger collection of animals.

The next stage was the addition of a two-level shed on the long side, which may have been built for additional hay storage above and either animal pens or a milking area on the first floor. Its circular-sawn timbers and nailed braces suggest a late nineteenth-century period, perhaps that of William Simpkins, a miller and blacksmith who married Watson's daughter Jane and acquired the farm in 1869.

Upper level of shed addition
Lower level of shed addition
This became the milking parlor that exists today, possibly in the early twentieth-century when Herbert and Hattie Smith were the owners. When the state began regulating milk production and hygiene on farms, the present setup of metal stanchions, concrete floor and whitewashed interior was installed. These stanchions could date from the 1920s. It seems that in that period also, the "calf barn" was added at right angles to the main barn. It does not appear that the calf barn ever had a drive-through bay like the early barn, but always penned animals and provided extra space for milking below and hay storage above.

Calf barn

Upper level of calf barn
Lower level of calf barn
There is one more farm outbuilding that dates from an earlier period. The "wagon shed" was a drive-through corn crib, or crib barn. It is closer to the house, and also has a hewn timber frame, except for the sash-sawn floor joists.

Crib barn

The cribs were dismantled, but the mortise pockets for stud wall on both sides of the barn allow us the"read" the cribs on both side walls that were used to store corn cobs to feed animals. Like the other barns, much of the first floor framing and cladding has been transformed to concrete block, as weather and rot took its toll on old sills and posts. But enough remains to allow a reading of the original design and use.

Hewn corner post in crib barn

Joists in crib barn showing robbed mortises of the wall studs of the crib