Watertown History

More Treasures Discovered Relating to the Edmund Fowle House

Renovation work began on the Edmund Fowle House about a year and a half ago.  Our well-known and much sought-after Architectural Conservator, Andy Ladygo, has spent many days, nights and weekends exploring the nooks and crannies of this 1772 house.  There was so much hidden original fabric that, as the layers have been peeled away, he has been able to decipher not only the original layout of the house, but also many details related to the trimmings.

During the 1870s renovation, a corner section of the original kitchen was partitioned off and turned into a china cabinet for the adjacent dining room.  The walls were plastered and shelves were installed.  In January, 2007, this closet was dismantled and a portion of the 1870s plaster wall was removed from this corner, where the cooking fireplace once was.  Old, wide, plank walls, as well as hand-wrought nails, could now be seen here.  Andy was able to determine the height of the kitchen fireplace mantel from discoloration on the wood here.  The original plank wall was painted gray.  There is a triangular "ghost" that marks the shape of the end piece of the wooden mantel that went across the top of the fireplace.


The "ghost" of the original kitchen mantelpiece can be seen in this photo


Also discovered under the 1870s plaster in this section of the room was a 2-inch long original piece of the cap molding over the wainscoting from the 1770s!  Another, smaller piece was discovered later.  Although the piece is only an inch long, it will serve as the model for the recreation of the cap molding in this room.  The position of the molding also indicates that the wainscoting was 48 inches high.


The original kitchen became the Historical Society's library; the bookshelves in the photo on
the left cover the location of the cooking fireplace; the small piece of cap molding and the
"ghost" of the mantle were found in the area denoted by the circle; a china cabinet was
located on the other side of this wall; the photo on the right shows a close-up of the
newly-discovered 1772 kitchen cap molding above the wainscoting


Evidence of a window was found in the wall of the original kitchen that is now shared by the #26 Marshall St. entrance hallway.  A door to the outside was originally located where the window is now.  An old threshold is now visible where the original door was located.  We are working on an appropriate and safe way to interpret these findings.

We found out last year that the 2nd staircase going to the 2nd floor was original and exited into the original kitchen.  The plaster on the wall that abuts the staircase has been removed, exposing the original plank wall.  Each plank has a decorative beaded edge.  This same style was used for the wainscoting, as careful examination shows the beaded edge on each board of the wainscoting.  The beaded edge on the wainscoting had been painted over, so it was not noticeable all these years.  Evidence of the original grayish paint can be found on the plank wall.

The plaster on the ceiling has been removed above the original entrance to these stairs.  A deliberate cutout in the ceiling has been revealed.  This was for headroom when entering the stairwell.  It is approximately 3 feet square and 5 inches deep.  It is outlined with wood.  The wood directly above the stair was cut at an angle, suggesting that the angle cut would prevent anyone from bumping their head when going up the stairs.  The angle and part of the cutout was painted a light yellow, while the rest of the cutout was painted gray, like the plank wall.

The 1870s (or later) floorboards have been removed in the original kitchen, revealing the sub-floor, which is made up of the widest boards you have ever seen.  Some of them are at least 2 feet wide.  The removed boards will be replaced with recreated wide floorboards that would have been there originally.


This photo shows the original plank wall (A), the original stairway opening (B)
and the locations of the original window (C) and door to the outside (D)


The ghost of the large bottom stair of the staircase can be seen on the sub-floor.  Two coins were found between the floor and the sub-floor--a 1916 Mercury Head dime and an early 1800s penny.

Our architectural firm, McGinley, Kalsow and Associates, has engaged Preservation Carpenter and Mason David Webb to carry out some of the restoration work on the first floor.  The panel over the fireplace in the right-front parlor had fallen out of place, leaving a gap of approximately 1/2 inch.  Many years ago, someone had quite effectively hidden this gap using molding.  The added molding has been removed and Mr. Webb has reconstructed the edge of the wooden panel to bring the fireplace panel back to its original look.  With the help of Andy Ladygo, he has also reconstructed the brick firebox in the fireplace.


The right-front parlor fireplace with plaster fill (left) and with reconstructed brick firebox (right)


Many of the treads on the formal staircase in the entrance hall have been repaired with wood infill and epoxy resin.  This seamless repair will be unnoticed once they are painted.

David Webb is also working on recreating the sizable colonial kitchen fireplace.  A salvaged, age-appropriate swinging-arm fireplace crane, used to suspend cooking pots above the fire, has been acquired and will be installed shortly.

We reported in our last newsletter that a 3rd fireplace was discovered on the 2nd floor and was part of the Council Chamber when the Executive Council for the Provincial Congress met here in 1775-1776.  The photo below shows the existing, substantial, wooden fireplace surround.  Although the difference in paint color makes the right and left sides of the surround appear different, they are, in fact, the same.  The right side was painted a different color after it was enclosed in a closet that was added when this large area was divided into two smaller rooms many years ago.


The existing surround for the second floor fireplace


This large fireplace surround was recently removed temporarily, so that the contractors could work on the structural masonry for the fireboxes.  Upon examination of the backside of this unit, Andy Ladygo noticed that there were notches and marks that indicated where it had once been attached, at a 90 degree angle, to the fireplace surround of the newly-discovered 3rd fireplace.  This tied in to the discovery in 2006 of the small, original plaster ceiling located behind the corner of this fireplace.  The conclusion is that the 3rd fireplace surround included a narrow fireplace closet on the left side.  The hinges for the door connected with the fireplace surround that still exists.  Our architectural firm has designed a similar fireplace surround for the 3rd fireplace that includes the small closet.

The North Bennet Street School students have found what appears to be the original attic door.  It was located in the basement.  They have taken it back to the carpentry school to refurbish it, as they have done with several other old doors from the house.  Worn or damaged pieces, as well as places where later doorknobs and such were located, are being infilled seamlessly with small pieces of wood that will not be detectable once the door is re-stained or painted.

Contractors have replaced an original beam under the 2nd floor that had been notched in several places to accommodate water pipes for the bathrooms.  This beam also supported the two claw foot bathtubs, as well as the the ceiling for the room below.  The contractors thought it was a wonder that the beam had lasted this long.


An original beam located under the 1870s bathrooms had
been notched out to 1/3 of its original width in one place


Our architectural firm has engaged Historic Preservationist Sara Chase to conduct a paint and wallpaper analysis of the house.  The outside of the house and the grounds are being restored to the 1871 period.  Last fall, Sara gave a presentation to the Historical Society showing the colors of the outside of the Fowle House at that time.  The house was yellow, the shutters were green and the window sashes were black.

Sara is almost finished with her analysis of the inside of the house.  The analysis of several of the rooms has been completed, including the original kitchen, which had dark charcoal gray wainscoting and a light yellow ceiling.  The wainscoting in the Council Chamber was dark red-brown, as was the rest of the wood trim in this room.  The fireplace panels were medium ochre, with a verdigris glaze--very elegant and fitting for the group of distinguished and well-to-do gentlemen of the Executive Council.  The rooms will be restored with these details.

The 1870s addition to the back of the house, which comprised two kitchens, is being renovated and will serve as our visitors center.  The 20th Century storage/mud rooms on the back of the addition will become our office area.  The wall between the two rooms has been taken down and the ceiling has been reinforced.  Insulation and a heating vent, as well as electrical outlets, have been added and the walls have been plastered.

Much work has been done on the Edmund Fowle House and much more is still to be done.  We are fully documenting the progress with still photos and video.


Paperwork Treasures from 1775

You may recall that our architectural firm engaged a professional researcher at the beginning of this project to seek out historic documents relevant to the Edmund Fowle House.  Frederic Detwiller of New England Landmarks visited the Massachusetts State Archives and found several invoices from 1775 for furniture and for work done on the Council Chamber.  We reported on some of his findings in our January, 2006, update.

Historical Society Council Members Joyce Kelly, Pam Pinsky and Marilynne Roach, who also serve on the Furniture Committee, recently made a couple visits to the Massachusetts State Archives to locate these invoices.  They hoped to find clues on the furniture invoices to the dimensions, styles or materials used for the furniture purchased for the Council Chamber and Clerk's Office and used by various committees that sat in the Edmund Fowle House during the 1775-1776 period.  Unfortunately, the invoices did not give those details, but they, along with others found, are fascinating and are helping to tell the story of what happened and what important decisions were made in this Revolutionary War era house.

Several invoices were submitted by Edmund Fowle, including one for "going Down to Cambridge to get a Man to Alter the Stoves in the Meeting House & finding a horse" and one for "Carrying a Letter down to General Washington."  A bill dated January 5, 1776, on behalf of James Swan asks the Committee "to take into consideration...of those that were engag'd in the Lexington & Bunker hill fights...by which he lost a coat & Got his Gun broke" and asks for reimbursement of his expenses.  Another certifies that "Paul Revere has Printed and Delivered to us the Subscribers 100,000 Bills..." on December 9, 1775.  We have read in our local history book, Crossroads on the Charles, about Paul Revere printing currency in Watertown.  Now we have a copy of the invoice he submitted for payment, signed by 15 of the 28 members of the Executive Council.  A February 1, 1776, invoice is submitted "for a Chest to keep the Money in while the Committee are signing the Bills."  One from January 16, 1776, for Thomas Cushing is "for Expences from Philadelphia to Watertown on Acct of Bringing four Boxes of Money from thence."

The original invoices are located in the Massachusetts State Archives and are available for viewing on microfilm.  We were very excited to discover that there is a reel of microfilm with the unpublished minutes of the Executive Council from the time when they met in the Edmund Fowle House!  The Historical Society has purchased a copy of this microfilm.  We are very excited by this find and can't wait to explore the contents.