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March 29, 2013

Breathing new life into old house

Restoration revives early 1700s home

The Old Haskell House, in one form or another, has sat perched on Lincoln Street, just off Essex Avenue or Route 133, since long before Route 133 even existed.

But the house that dates to about 50 years before America declared its independence is not only still standing; it’s undergoing a major restoration, with a preservation specialist and a contractor repairing the house, paying close attention to details from siding to nails.

An Illinois family, with a passion for early 18th century homes, bought the house last April, intending to repair and preserve the home originally built by William Haskell in the early 1700s, then renovated in 1920 with additions.

But, Howard Grote came across more surprises than just the expected hidden gems, like newspapers dating back to the “Roaring Twenties” that had been stuffed into wall cracks, and “nogging,” a layer of bricks and mortar set between the north wall of the original house and the addition, that had acted as insulation from harsh north winds before the 1920s add on.

”Mr. Grote found out it was built by his tenth great grandfather,” said Prudence Fish, a local expert on historic houses.

One exposed side of the house reveals vertical wooden planks, about two feet wide and running from ground to roof. Scratched on tally marks punctuate the plank frame boards, etchings created by sawmill workers who lived about 300 years ago. That plank frame construction, which would have been covered with horizontal siding, is a build unique to Cape Ann circa 1710 to 1715, according to Fish.

”More and more old Gloucester houses, if they’re uncovered, you see this old construction,” said Fish, who joined in a tour of the house Thursday.

House preservation expert Warren Lanpher, arrived in Gloucester from Rhode Island in January and moved into a small bedroom upstairs as his own temporary home and work space. Lanpher hired local contractor Jason O’Connor, and they and Bob LoPiccolo have been hammering carefully away since, pulling back boards and peaking into history.

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