Historic Wrapping in Essex, CT



I tell you, I am fascinated to observe an old house being dismantled, revealing hidden mysteries that have been buried since my great-grandfathers were half the age that I am now.  If you are like-spirited, you will understand completely when I say there’s a spot in my imagination where I can conjure a trace sensation of time travel.  If you are thinking this is just silliness, you should stop reading right here.  You likely won’t enjoy this.  Enthusiasts of antique buildings, read on!

When I say that I measured this existing building on Little Point Street in Essex, CT, what I really mean is that I sleuthed it.   It was evident once I began surveying that there had been upgrades over the centuries, but a reveal of something unusual was in store.  Oddly, I calculated that the side (gable) walls were 3” thick while the front and rear (eave) walls were 11” thick.

A page of notes that are on file at the Essex Historical Society provided a clue.  The notes documented that the house was originally constructed in 1800 as a story-and-a-half gambrel structure.  But 100 years later, in 1900, it underwent a major alteration to become the two story colonial that stands today.



A partial demolition and removal of clapboards confirmed the notes and our theories.  The second story that was built in 1900 was constructed outboard of the original building.  In other words, the new structure encapsulated the former structure at the front and rear walls – the side walls remained original, since they shouldered no load from the new roof rafters.  See below – the original clapboards, bed moulding and trim are intact beneath the build-out!

IMG_3638 - Copy





In the photo below, notice the lines of the former gambrel roof structure.  The vertical boards are the original 1 1/2″ thick sheathing from 1800.  The horizontal boards are the sheathing from 1900.  Where they meet displays the line of the original roof, except that the original upper gable was lopped off.  It and the original ridge likely interfered with the new attic and new roof structure.  Basically, what was benign to the 1900 alteration was left intact, and what got in the way was removed.  The “furring studs” that were used to encapsulate the original clapboard and trim on the front and rear walls are actually the original roof rafters, re-purposed.  HA!  Is this not proof that “green” building practices are not in fact new to our times?




All the charms of the typical old New England house have been discovered, as well.  The carpenters’ pencil notes scribbled in antique cursive, joists that are actual tree trunks, a chiseled foot stone, rumor of haunting, et al.




The house will retain the two story form that was constructed in 1900, but a badly constructed addition onto the rear (presumably in 1900 as well) has been demolished to make way for a new addition that will complement the historic house, while providing the comfort of a 2015 lifestyle to its new stewards, a.k.a. the new homeowners.  New clapboard will re-bury the artifacts from 1800 for future imaginations to unwrap and process.

More progress posts will follow as this house alteration takes shape.  The new foundation is in place, as is the first floor framing.  I am excited to observe the progress, only a stone’s throw from my office on Main Street in the historic downtown village of Essex, CT.


  1. I look forward to the future updates, both visual and written 🙂

  2. Ariane Mermod says:

    What a charming story. So fun to trace a house’s story back to the beginning and to appreciate the ingenuity of the first rennovators! I am happy to see that the new owners also appreciate the house’s personality and will keep it and add to it. A perfect project for you!

  3. Jess Kritzer says:

    How lovely.

  4. Theresa Sistare says:

    Thanks, Joe. Not only do we love your awesome designs but also the back story you are helping us understand. Can’t wait to see the rest of the story unfold!

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