Understanding the secrets to your home

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February 22, 2013, 7:57 pm
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(NECN: Lauren Collins, Concord, N.H.) - He’s never been to this site before.

"We're starting cold without any basic knowledge and we'll see what we come up with," he says.

Dr. James Garvin is New Hampshire's now-retired architectural historian and on this chilly afternoon, he’s lending his expertise to the Concord Heritage Commission, hoping to document a little bit about an abandoned farmhouse before it's demolished.
He walks into the old dining room and immediately notices "the house does not have a heavy frame. It does not have massive corner posts," as homes built before 1850 do.   

By looking to a home's style and delving into its bones, Dr. Garvin can tell when it was built, what purpose it served, and how it evolved over time. Walls can talk.

"Old buildings have a language and that language is embodied in the technology and style and in bits of human evidence," Dr. Garvin says.  
Dr. Garvin figures the East Concord house was built around 1850, a calculation based saw marks, chimney location, molding, and beam size and location.

As we comb through the physical evidence, a story begins to emerge about the people who've lived here and an era that's long since expired. The modest cape probably housed workers from the old farm across the street. It originally had just two rooms downstairs and someone, at some time, slept in the attic.

"These are valuable artifacts but they're going quickly,” giving way to bigger, more modern houses, as this one will in a few months," he says.

Dr. Garvin says old house owners can do this kind of forensic work themselves by looking to the clues that are buried underneath years of updates. In doing so, they become a part of history.

"We're all temporary custodians of a piece of property," he says. "If we take care of it and respect it we should expect to pass it on to many other generations as well."

Tags: new hampshire, Concord, Lauren Collins, History, old homes, Concord Heritage Commission, architecture, James Garvin
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