Renovating Whitmore Farm

The original Whitmore homestead and farm were in need of a lot of work when we bought property in November 2003. Three layers of siding (aluminum, then asphalt, then wood) made it difficult to assess the condition of the underlying structure, and even, the exact kind of construction. We suspected timber frame in the front of the house given the age of the farmstead, but assessing its condition was impossible.

dern road fall 2003

On the interior, the house had clearly undergone a renovation sometime in the late 19th century. This included moving the staircase and adding a center wall to create a center hall colonial, as well as changing out existing windows to 2 over 2 panes. An additional fireplace was added on the southeast of the house and the interior trim was Victorianised.

Interior paint colors ranged in psychedelic tones of purple, green and pink. The wooden kitchen floor had long ago rotted away and was replaced with plywood sheets setting on dirt. The indoor bathroom on the 2nd floor included a bathtub plumbed for hot and cold water, but no drain pipe, simply dumping water onto the floor to drain through the house. Thousands of flies swarmed the interior and hundreds of black snakes had taken up residence for several generations, so the house was littered with snakeskins.

Exterior work involved stripping the house of 3 layers of siding and lifting the house on 12 steel i-beams. The original mortarless, stacked-stone foundation had long ago crumbled away and the house was resting on bare earth. The bottom coarse of hewn chestnut log was in very poor condition and previous victorian repair work had involved shoring up the missing wood with stones and mortar.

Our timberframes joked (?) that they hoped the house wouldn't blow down on windy days, and hundred of pounds of timber framing teetered precariously - there had been so many cuts for doors, windows, plumbing and the like that all connection to the structure had been severed.

Initial plans to renovate the house slowly were ditched -the bank felt the house was uninhabitable and wanted a 12 month construction timeline. We knew we couldn't finish such a major overhaul in 12 months, but we forged ahead regardless. A new foundation footer was poured and a new stone foundation was created using the existing stones. The bottom chestnut hewn log was replaced with an antique 50' chestnut timber which took us 3 months to locate.

A structural engineer discovered that all 3 chimneys lacked foundations and had been simply built on dry earth. We gingerly excavated underneath each fireplace one quarter at a time and poured 200 bags of hand-mixed concrete under each stack.

The remaining hewn logs were exposed, cleaned, treated with boracare, rotten wood was removed, and interior defects were filled with e-wood. Chinking was redone inside and out with permachink after interior spaces were insulated with sprayed in insulating foam.

Victorian doors were replaced with original wood plank doors reminiscent of what we found in one exterior doorway and hardware was reforged using an existing strap hinge found on the property. Where possible, we used salvaged antique wood and original building materials.

18 months into the renovation, we celebrated a milestone when the first functioning flush toilet was up and running in the house. We retired the bucket to the barn and savored one of the luxuries we had previously taken for granted.

The kitchen floor was covered in salvaged brick from Baltimore after sub-floor liquid heating and a new, energy-efficient geothermal system was installed to heat and cool the house. Cabinets in the kitchen came from a kitchen remodel in Washington and bathroom vanities were blanket chests bought cheap at flea markets in our area. 

Finally, in the spring of 2009, we added a wrap-around porch and resided the house with white-oak siding in order to protect the 250 year old log from the effects of weather and sun.

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