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The Renovation of Peter Tufts' house.

Early in 1870, when a new-comer to Medford, I first saw, and in a way read the pages of Mr. Brooks' ‘History of Medford,’ which were reproduced in the last issue of the Register. I was also attracted by the steel engraving. Like other casual readers, I read and accepted it as historic truth. Inquiry about the old house brought the reply, ‘Oh, the old fort! Medford is famous for its ships, rum and old houses,’ which threw little light on [p. 71] the real history of the old house which is really a monument of olden time. We readily concede that, and in reply ask, how old? It is a remarkable structure. Who built it? and when? are reasonable queries and certainly worthy of an answer. Seen, while riding along the street during the years, like those Charlestown people who have never ascended the monument, I had never been upon its ground or within it till the time referred to by Mrs. Coolidge in her recent address.

All these views presented are worth careful scrutiny. Considering that this fine old house has been claimed as ‘oldest in America,’ a ‘big book’ might be written regarding the first and early houses, and therefore the oldest houses of the colonists, and of their form, plan and method of construction.

Peter Tufts ‘builded better than he knew.’ He adopted a rectangular form of two stories covered by a gambrel roof, practically a three-floored or storied house, enclosing space enough for his children to grow up in and set up homes for themselves. And he built its walls of enduring material, too,—bricks of Medford clay, hard burned and indestructible. Unlike the few which preceded, the chimneys with their fireplaces were built into each end wall of both stories and the flues brought together in the gables and ‘topped out’ in one stack or shaft. And these fireplaces were of generous size and fitted with cranes, water boilers, brick ovens and other accessories for cooking, as well as being the only heating plant of the time. With such thick, strong brick walls built, it only remained to put in floors, cover the enclosure with a roof, build stairs and partitions, and Peter Tufts had a dwelling outranking any in the Mystic valley. Steel beams had not come into use then, so the floor girders extending from wall to wall were put in, of oak timbers ‘hewn squarely to line’ and the corners finely moulded. Smaller flooring joists were placed between these, and on these were laid the flooring boards of pine of generous width. The builders did not forget [p. 72] to put in iron shackles (with an S-shaped head band on the outer ends) to anchor each girder to the exterior wall. A straight piece of iron would have served the purpose equally as well, but the S-shape required more smith work and more cost. And a plain brick wall without the moulded base and belt course would have been less expensive. But Peter Tufts was building the finest house in town, and the ornamentalfeature of eight (possibly nine) small elliptic windows was incorporated, two in each story, front and near the ends of the house, and two in each gable. ‘History repeats itself’—in recent years people have used the same decoration in their new dwellings, but they did not call them ‘port-holes.’

Since our visit to this house we have made effort to learn something of its condition at the time when it was restored or renovated by General Lawrence, its then owner. Interviews have been had with several well-known Medford men who worked upon it and whose evidence is credible. None fixed the exact date, but all agreed that ‘it was about 1890.’ Mr. Ernest Moore said he was about the house nearly three months while in the employ of General Lawrence, who had as architect Mr. Lyman Sise. Mr. J. H. Archibald, a well known builder of Medford, made the repairs and Mr. Moore had a general oversight of them. Replying to our query as to the internal condition he said, ‘It was a mess; everything torn out inside and old-finish stuff piled up in the attic’ What of the stairs? ‘All pulled down and new ones built.’ Like the old? ‘Yes, in the same place, but a door was put on the landing part way up, where there was none before. We found an iron rod at the floor that was a tie lengthwise the house, that we had to cut out and the General didn't like it.’ How about the partitions? ‘They didn't carry any weight and the studding joints were split from oak plank by an axe.’ What are the new ones? ‘They couldn't get any oak studding at Foster's and the General insisted on replacing with oak, so we got oak plank and had some [p. 73] sawed.’ Regarding the plastering, ‘all new and the old split laths replaced by the sawed laths in common use.’ What about the fireplaces? ‘All repaired as needed, by Northey & Vinal, who did the mason work.’ What supported the brick work over the fireplaces? ‘I suppose an iron bar, but don't know.’ What of the front doorway? ‘Oh, the General had a porch built over it, said, ‘fools might stand out of doors in olden times, but we need not now.’’ Any embellishment about this? ‘No, but he sent me to the brickyard to select the hardest and oldest-looking bricks I could find to build the two pillars of, and when brought, Vinal said he would not lay up such stuff for the General. But he did.’

Mr. Frank Blodgett worked there and was Mr. Archibald's foreman. He remembers that ‘the girder across the middle of first floor in the southern end of the house was in bad condition and was replaced by a new one, with some difficulty procured, and that some of those in the second floor were decayed at the ends and repaired by splicing in new pieces.’ By the shrinkage of that new stock this fact is clearly evident today. He also tells the same story as Mr. Moore of the new oak studding.

Mr. John Benson ‘made the new door frame with its sill of very hard oak,’ doing his work at Mr. Archibald's shop, and also there made the ‘window frames for the port-holes,’ meaning the sashes that enclose the glass and which are set in the brick work of the walls.

Mr. Otto J. C. Neilson who was a Medford boy carrying newspapers down old Ship street for Mr. Peak in 1872 tells of the neglected condition of the old house at that time ‘doors open and windows broken,’ and remembers that the ‘port-holes were then filled up with brick.’

Mr. Sise said that he ‘wanted the General to have the old style iron hinges and latches on the new doors, but they were fitted up with modern hardware.’

Mr. Blodgett said that the new interior finish all came from Brown & Co.'s mill at Somerville. The doors are [p. 74] all of modern style and make, and thicker than are usually found in old colonial houses. All windows were replaced by new sashes of modern thickness and hung with balancing weights. This also necessitated new enclosing frames placed in the old openings and reducing the glass width of each five inches.

Only the attic escaped the general renewal and here is the most interesting feature. The framing of the roof remains as original, about the only thing old in wood work now to be seen in the house, except the girders or large timbers in the ceilings of both stories. We were told that these were renovated by being scraped quite smoothly to remove the axe-marks of the hewing.

In 1884, a builders' magazine of New York sent its artist here, got a view of the house and made illustrative drawings of the roof frame and peculiarities of window frames and published the same in its August issue. This was probably because of a communication from Mr. Cleopas Johnson, who had told of re-shingling it thirty-five years before, and in his letter quoting Brooks' history.

Only the stairway is enclosed in the attic, and a lot of drawers and storage spaces fitted under its steep roof add to its convenience. In the eastern end there are no ‘port-holes’ as in the western. Mr. Brooks tells that Mr. Shedd, then owner, had to tear down and rebuild part of that end, which may account for the two regular-shaped windows now there.

Descending to the cellar, we found that it is excavated only half way under the western room, but some access to the western chimney is had for the smoke pipe of the modern heating plant now in use.

The brick walls are so covered by a thick vine-growth as to make a close or careful examination of them very difficult. Apparently at some time long past they may have been treated with some coating or wash, as has been the custom elsewhere.

We were accorded the opportunity of inspecting it by [p. 75] the courtesy of the present owner, Mr. J. W. Warren, who is erecting several new houses nearby.

This fine old mansion, so well worthy of preservation, was the home of a prominent citizen of the early town two hundred and fifty years ago, one who had much to do with the current matters of his time.

We are presenting the foregoing as a way mark in its history not to be lost sight of.

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