Kevin: If you live on this street in Ipswich, Massachusetts, chances are your house is over three centuries old.
14 years after the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock, a small group of settlers resettled and came here and many of their houses are still standing.
Well, that's what brought us here, because we are gonna restore ourselves a First Period house here in Ipswich.
♪♪ Man: Got it?
♪♪ Man #2: Ah, that's it.
♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ Kevin: Hi, there.
I'm Kevin O'Connor.
And welcome back to "This Old House," where today we start ourselves a brand-new project here in Ipswich, Massachusetts.
Now, on the East Coast, Ipswich is known for its clams, but it's also known for its homes.
This town has more First Period homes than any other town in the country.
Jenn: Yes, and the houses built before 1725 are considered First Period, and some of these are even 1650s.
Kevin: Lot of old houses.
Richard: So many of the houses have these steep, steep roofs and then they have chimneys that are asymmetrically, just slightly off center.
Tom: The reason that they're asymmetrical is back then, they would start off with a little tiny house and then, over time, they needed more space, so they added on, so they'd put an addition on and maybe then they'd put a second floor on and maybe even put a lean-to roof in the back.
Jenn: Yeah, and this town was originally a Native American village called Agawam.
And the English came in, they bought it from the local chief, and renamed it Ipswich.
Richard: And those early settlers here, many of them were farmers.
They were fishermen, and some of them were boat builders here.
Tom: And if you think about it, these houses were really well-preserved because the harbors were too shallow for the big ships, so they couldn't get the equipment up, so basically people maintained their houses and they preserved them really nicely.
Richard: They did a good job.
Kevin: Had to work with what they had and keep them going.
Kevin: And we got ourselves one of these First Period houses that, no surprise, needs a little bit of love.
So we are gonna renovate it.
Let's have a closer look.
Tom: At first glance, I can see that it's a pretty small Gambrel, kind of modest.
But if you look over the ridge, you can see that there's a gable end of an addition on the back.
I doubt if it's original, but it looks old.
Kevin: Well, I like the location right on the river, just a couple miles from the mouth of the ocean.
Beautiful natural landscape to work with.
Richard: And there's a dock down there.
We'll catch you later.
Kevin: All right, well, we'll meet the homeowners.
Tom: Hey, Helen.
Bill: Hey, hello, hello.
Helen: Nice to see you.
Bill: Hello, Hello.
Tom: Good to see you.
Bill, good to see you again.
Kevin: So, we'd love to hear your story.
Actually, we'd love to hear the story about the house, too.
What's going on?
Helen: This house was originally owned by Nathaniel Hodgkins.
Kevin: What do you know of him?
Helen: Not too much.
But we know that one of his family members was an important figure in the Revolutionary War.
Helen: Colonel Joseph Hodgkins.
And the letters between Joseph Hodgkins and his wife, Sarah Perkins, are an important part of Revolutionary War history.
Bill: Yeah, if you read books about the Revolutionary War, these letters are regularly cited because they give such detail about the conditions during the Revolutionary War, like during Valley Forge.
Colonel Hodgkins was at Valley Forge, and he described in detail, you know, the challenges and misery of the troops at that time.
Kevin: And so why the house for you guys?
You know, why here?
Why this one?
Helen: So we bought this house in the pandemic.
We'd been wanting to move to this area for a few years.
I wanted to be on the water.
Bill wanted to be in town.
Bill: And finding those two is not easy.
Bill: So actually, this was the perfect compromise.
We've got the water right here, and we can walk to town in less than 10 minutes.
Tom: Well, it's a beautiful old house, that's for sure.
Bill: This style of house, the Gambrel, was very popular back in the 1700s because it gives you extra headroom on the second level.
So it's actually a very economical design.
Over 350 were built in this area.
Tom: That's a lot.
Bill: But today there are less than 50.
Bill: Only three in Ipswich.
Kevin: Oh, okay.
Bill: So we feel like it's our duty to -- to renovate and -- and preserve.
Tom: Well, I'd like to see the old part of the house.
Bill: Okay, let's go in.
[ Laughter ] Kevin: Helen, if you'll show me the new part.
Helen: All righty.
Kevin: That'd be great, too.
Tom: Lead the way.
Okay, Tommy, come on in.
Tom: Oh, boy.
[ Laughs ] Bill: Yeah.
Tom: Uh, well, that -- Bill: You know, the idea is that we really want to bring this back to its original beauty.
Tom: All right, well... Bill: That's -- That's our plan.
Tom: Look at this room here.
Some of this stuff is definitely not original.
Oh, this beam right here, these are actually bolted up there.
I can actually feel the head of the lag bolt, so those are definitely not original.
I also look at the wainscoting right here.
These boards are all too narrow.
Originally, if there was gonna be a wainscoting in a room to accent the space, it would be one wide piece of pine because they had big old pine trees and they'd cut them down.
Bill: Well, there's so many things in this room that are not original.
I mean, the paneling, the shelving.
This -- This got put in later.
This all has to get ripped out.
I mean, this is infringing on space.
But, you know, these -- these gunstock posts, Tommy, I think are original.
Tom: Oh, yeah.
These are beautiful.
The gunstock post -- the angle, the way it comes down like that.
And this little beaded detail -- that was a way to dress them up.
All right, let's go to the next room.
So, Tommy, I got to show you these -- these doors.
I-I think these doors may be original.
What do you think?
Tom: They're definitely old, that's for sure.
You can see the old tenon sticking out where they mortised all the way through.
It's got a nice, wide mortise down here.
Full mortise, lock set.
I don't think the hardware is original.
It's got a flat panel.
I'm surprised that it doesn't have some type of a mold-- Oh, well, it had a molding detail.
Tom: You can see that it came off right here.
But they definitely look old to me.
Bill: And something worth keeping, right?
Bill: So, let's look at the windows.
I-I also love the windows.
The six panes over the nine.
It's a classic New England look.
Tom: The classic New England -- This is called an oriel design.
They call it an oriel design.
And the glass is -- is rippled, which tells me that it's old, but I don't think that these windows are original to the original house, because the house is so old, I don't think they could make glass this big.
You'd usually see even smaller design.
Bill: Well, so, I think that is about it for the things we want to keep in here.
I mean, look, we've got these built-in shelves -- that all goes.
Tom: Yeah, the floors.
You want to save the floors.
Ooh, what do you got going on in here?
Bill: All right, well, so this is an interesting room.
It's a little kitchenette, but this was a goat farm, and this is where they would make the goat cheese.
[ Chuckles ] Tom: Well, let's take a look upstairs.
Bill: Yeah, let's go.
This was probably a bedroom back in the old days.
Bill: First thing you notice is, look at these great old pieces of wood here.
Tom: The great old beam.
This is part of the bent system.
'Cause this is a post and beam building.
So, you know, the gunstock post that we saw in the corner.
Bill: Right, mm-hmm.
Tom: So that starts right there, the gunstock post comes up, carries the walls, carries the roof, the roof rafter of the steep pitch there, and then the shallow pitch above that.
And this beam right here -- this is another one over there, another one over there, over there -- These are called bents, the structural part of the post and beam system.
This is a five-bent house.
Bill: Well, and one of the things you can notice also is the extra headroom from it being a Gambrel, right?
'Cause if this were a Cape, these -- the ceilings would have much more of a slope.
Tom: I'm small, but I'd be hitting the roof right here.
[ Both laugh ] But, yeah, that's the beauty of a Gambrel.
Tom: What's the plans in here?
Bill: Well, the first thing is, we need new flooring.
I mean, the plywood is just not gonna work, and we're hoping to actually salvage old floorboards from the ell, reuse them here, and make them look like they were -- Tom: That's a great idea.
Tom: I love the fact that you're gonna save the old floors.
You're gonna renovate this old house because I live in an old house, I grew up in an old house, and I love to renovate them.
I think you're doing the right thing.
[ Bill laughs ] ♪♪ Helen: So, come on in.
Kevin: Yes, please show me -- Oh, my goodness.
Helen: So, welcome to our '60s or '70s era kitchen.
Kevin: What was it originally?
Helen: It could be an original structure.
Kevin: Back to the 1720s.
Helen: Because when you go to the basement, you'll see... Kevin: Oh, no kidding?
Helen: ...that the foundation is continuous... Kevin: Okay.
Helen: ...from this side of the gambrel, all the way...here.
Helen: And... Kevin: So, I see a staircase.
So this is a two-story structure.
Do you think it was originally two stories?
Helen: No, definitely, it was one story.
Kevin: Well, so, what's the plan?
Helen: Take the second story off.
It does kind of impose on that really modest little house from 1720.
Kevin: It completely overruns.
Helen: You know, from the street, certainly.
Helen: Then we're planning to bump out toward the street for a dining area.
Helen: We're also going to be making an addition off the back.
This will have a garage.
And upstairs will be laundry, an extra office or bedroom space, and bathrooms or a primary suite.
I would say that your architect has served you well here.
We are so pleased with how this has come out.
Kevin: Where do we start building?
Let's look here.
Kevin: I want to see what's up front.
♪♪ I just spent 20 minutes in the basement looking for you.
I looked everywhere.
Richard: You know, every time we come to a new project, I always take you to the basement, take you through the history, you know, review that it was coal-fired, and then it was oil, then it was gas.
When this building was built in the First Period, it was only one fuel of choice, and that was wood.
And this was really the First Period to try to heat homes in America, and they worked hard at it.
You know, this is the raw material.
This is a cord of wood, and a cord of wood measures officially 4 feet high, 4 feet deep, and about 8 feet long, which is right to here.
So if we take these two together, bring them together... Kevin: You get about a cord.
Richard: It's about a cord.
Kevin: That's a lot of wood.
That's a lot of wood.
But a house like this originally could go through 20... Kevin: What?!
Richard: ...maybe 30 cords of wood, 'cause they were heating the building and also cooking on it.
Kevin: Spent your whole life just cutting wood.
Richard: That's all they did -- cut, stack, cut, stack, cut, stack.
And, also, the buildings were interesting.
They were built around the chimney massing -- this big hunk of masonry and fireplace would come up through the center of the building.
Then they would surround it with a poorly insulated building with barely any windows.
And we have evidence here that there was a center chimney on this original building right there.
Since that time, they've taken it down, put stairs in the middle, and put fireplaces at the end.
So that's long gone from this building.
Kevin: And how are we heating it today?
Richard: Let me show you.
Kevin: Finally, back to the basement.
Richard: That's right.
And this is the original basement.
You can see the foundation wall here.
There was an opening that blocked it in here.
You can see the history of some of the fuels.
This is the old oil lines.
There must have been a tank right here.
And right here, we're right at the base of where that original chimney massing used to be on that side of the wall, going up through the building -- that's all gone.
Kevin: This is under the gambrel going this way, and then this is under the ell?
And they have a dirt floor on this side, no basement over there.
And then they wanted some modern conveniences, you know, like electricity.
They wanted some water.
Kevin: [ Chuckles ] Yeah.
Richard: They had actually a city gas right here.
This would have been low-powered gas that would have been used for lighting before electricity.
And then this chimney here would have been for the original oil or coal furnace and probably had a heater for the kitchen upstairs.
And what we've got now is a gas-fired hot-water heating boiler that has some poorly installed baseboard all around the building.
Kevin: Much more modern than a fireplace, but for what it is, that's looking pretty tired, too.
Richard: That's right.
You know, considering what we're doing in this building, I think this thing is going to go to the same place as that original chimney.
Upgrade, here we come.
♪♪ Jenn: Hi, Helen.
Helen: Hi, Jenn.
Nice to meet you.
Helen: Nice to meet you.
Jenn: So, this is a beautiful piece of property.
Tell me why you fell in love with this place.
Helen: I mean, you're seeing it.
It's just, to me, just a magical spot.
And we're on the river.
Jenn: You can't beat that.
So, tell me a few things you want to do to improve the space.
It looks like it hasn't been touched in a little bit.
Helen: We've got a problem with invasive plants here.
Jenn: I know.
I noticed there's goutweed or garlic mustard.
And I even saw some Japanese knotweed up there and definitely some Norway maples in the background, so maybe clean that up a little bit.
Helen: Well, definitely.
And in fact, you know, we have a couple of areas of invasives that we plan to mitigate here.
Helen: Basically, right where we're standing... Jenn: Yeah.
Helen: ...we plan to have sort of a new meadow area.
Helen: So just planted with wildflowers -- you know, milkweed and grasses.
Jenn: So maybe once a year mowing.
Helen: So that this path that's taking us down to our dock... Jenn: Mm-hmm.
Helen: ...you know, is, you know, not surrounded by invasives.
Helen: And we're sort of doing something to try to protect this beautiful place.
Jenn: And that's what you should do to be a steward of the environment here.
But you need safe steps to get down to the dock, right?
Jenn: So, I mean, that's the easy fix.
So what about up near the house?
What are you thinking?
Helen: Right now, you know, we've got this sort of Victorian porch.
Helen: And so that's going to be expanded a little bit, and we'll have a patio closer to the ground so they'll be, you know, really -- Jenn: And you can see the views and enjoy the space.
And, you know, really try to plan for enjoying.
Well, I think this is a great start, and I can't wait to pick away at each space.
Helen: That's the plan.
Jenn: I like it.
♪♪ Kevin: Hey, Charlie.
Kevin: So, used to be a farm, I'm told, complete with its own barn, although this is probably [Chuckling] not original to the homestead.
Where the goat family stay and also chicken coop in the back and a slab-on-grade, plywood walls.
Probably 40 years old.
Charlie: Original roof, probably.
Kevin: Okay, so what do you think the plan is?
Charlie: Well, the plan is to demo the entire thing, slab and everything, and have a new structure built off-site -- one-stop shopping.
Kevin: Ah, so built off-site and then kind of put up in a couple days?
Kevin: It's a good idea.
You know, we did that down in the Rhode Island project.
It was a timber frame complete with mortise and tenon.
We were actually banging in the pegs, but it went up really fast.
And when it was sheathed and roof, we ended up with a shop garage downstairs, an extra bedroom upstairs -- it was a great little building.
Charlie: Yeah, this is going to have a full basement, garage door facing the water, so for storage, bringing stuff up from the water, and the first floor is going to have a living room, kitchen, bathroom, and a full kitchen.
The second floor will be a loft.
Nice little guest cottage, huh?
Charlie: Gonna be very nice.
Kevin: [ Chuckling ] It might be nicer than the house.
Charlie: It might be.
Kevin: I like it.
♪♪ Tom: Alright, guys, up here in the attic, where you said you wanted to save some old floorboards up here, and you got quite a few.
Helen: We sure do.
Bill: Yeah, we're -- There's a lot of places we're going to need these.
In the new addition, we're going to be putting in new floors.
In the old gambrel, we've got floors that were removed.
So these could be floorboards, but we could also use them for patching, too.
You can do all kinds of things.
Helen: And it's just beautiful old wood.
Tom: It's beautiful old wood, nice tight grain.
You got some wide boards here.
These obviously came from some other place in the house.
Tom: And that's what the old Yankees would do -- repurpose.
Bill: That's right.
Tom: So you guys want to... Bill: We're carrying on the tradition.
Tom: ...continue on that process.
Well, I got a tool right here that I used when I was a kid, and you can still buy them -- it's called a nail puller.
It's got a jaw like a parrot.
Bill: A parrot, yeah.
And that would grab the nail.
And this right here is a fulcrum.
So I would take it and put it on the floor, bang it around the nail head... Bill: I see.
Tom: ...that would be open -- come around.
And then as I pull it, it closes the jaw... Bill: Oh.
Tom: ...puts more pressure on it, and pulls the nail out.
Bill: I see.
Tom: So let me see if I have a nail down here.
I can show you how it works.
Tom: Now, that's not an old cut nail -- that's just a steel -- probably an eightpenny nail.
So I'd basically open it up on the jaws.
I stretch the handle out, and I bang it down.
[ Thumping ] Then if I have it, when I pull it... it grabs the head.
Bill: You got it!
Tom: Pulls the nail right out.
So now we can grab it with a bar or something like that.
Bill: One of these, right?
Put the bar on the side of the board like that so it won't pull up like I just did.
Bill: Oh, I see.
Bill: Comes right out.
Tom: Using the board as the fulcrum pulls it right out.
Tom: Alright, so we damaged the board just a little bit there.
Tom: But a lot of this would be cut off, anyway, probably.
Bill: Well, exactly.
So there's another tool right here.
This is called a cat's-paw.
Tom: And there's some situations I want to use this end -- other situations you can use that end.
So, let's see.
For example, I'll start here.
I line it up, but now I want to go in as straight as possible.
So I want to go down beside the nail.
Tom: I'm going to take it, holding it down tight to the floor, and I'm going to give it a couple of whacks.
Now I'm just going to tip it over on its side.
Tom: But you notice I'm taking a big chunk out of the wood there.
Tom: So now I take it, and I'll turn it around the other way and use this end.
Bill: I see.
Tom: And I want to basically aim it down, get beside the nail, tap it lightly.
Tom: At the same time, I'm going to roll it.
Tom: See how I got right under that head?
Comes right out.
Tom: Now I'm using the fulcrum of the point of this tool on the board -- that holds the board down tight while I pull the nail out.
Tom: See that?
Now, if I did it -- if I'd done it over here, the board would have come up with it, and you might split the board.
Tom: You want to try one?
Tom: Which tool you want?
You want this one?
Let's do the cat's-paw?
I like that.
You'll like it.
Bill: Well... Tom: A little bit of practice -- you'll be fine.
Bill: You're kind of digging.
You're digging for... Tom: Yeah, you're digging for gold here.
Tom: Hold it.
Hold it right up, like, straight.
So you want to drive it right down.
Tom: Alright, now what you want to do is you want to roll it a little bit.
See the nail starting to move?
Bill: Yeah, it's coming out.
Tom: There you go.
Push it right out.
So now you can either -- Bill: Now we come around this side, right?
Tom: You've already created a divot.
Tom: But what are you going to do?
Where are you going to put the cat's-paw?
Bill: On the opposite side, isn't it?
Tom: You're going to put it on the board that you're trying to pull out.
Bill: Oh, okay.
Tom: Not on the opposite board.
Bill: I see.
Tom: Less chance of it breaking.
Tom: Now tap it lightly.
Now you've got a good bite.
And pull it.
There you go.
Look at that.
Tom: So you pulled it right out.
Let me show you another way.
So, I went to the garden shed.
I got a -- well, I call it a grub hoe.
I'm going to use this board over here as a fulcrum point.
I'm going to pull up with this hand right here.
I'm going to pull up, get under the board, under the -- Bill: Look at that.
Tom: See how that just came right up?
Tom: Now, that came up so easy.
Somebody must have pulled the nail out of there.
Bill: Oh, we did.
[ Laughs ] Tom: Oh, it was you.
Helen: Yeah, somebody did.
Tom: I wondered who that somebody was.
Bill: Yeah, I... Tom: Alright.
So now, technically, I can just keep pulling this board up, and that will pull the board up out of these nails here.
But what I would do is I'd pull it up just so far and either take the end or the handle -- put it under here.
Now I have a fulcrum that will pull the nails right out.
Tom: There you go.
Tom: So, from here, then we'll take our hammer, bang them in, and pull the nails out.
So now... what we have -- a space here.
So if I wanted to pull this board up right here with the same tool, I either have to use the old board as a fulcrum, or I can come on the side, use a joist right there.
Tom: Come under it.
And again, I'm not going to try to rip it -- I'm going to bump it.
Bill: Just bump it.
Tom: Bump it, bump it, bump it just a little.
Bill: Yeah, there you go.
Bill: And then do the same here.
Tom: Same thing down here.
Tom: I'm going to get under it.
Now I've got a space, so I can use whatever I want.
In this case, I'm going to use my handle again.
Got to pick the board up.
Up, up, up, up.
Get close to the -- it's as close to the edge as I can.
And then gently bump it down.
[ Creaks ] I would take the nails out right now, one at a time.
Don't let them all pile up.
Tom: So we've got the boards.
We're going to bang that nail down.
Hit this one.
Alright, now, I'm doing it on my boot because I have steel toes, but you don't have to do that -- I'd just put it on the floor.
Now you're going to pull the nail out.
Again, you're not going to just try to pull it like that.
You're going to bump it -- bump it like that.
And if you have a nail that's really hard to get out and you can't get it, take it, put the hammer on the nail like that, and don't go that way -- go this way.
It grabs it nice.
I'm going to get the nails out of the other side.
You might think that this is going to take time to do, but you want to do it this way.
Don't pile the boards up.
Now, this is important.
You're going to take these boards, and don't throw them in a pile -- put them back where they go, but don't put it here, so this end is over a -- not over a joist.
Because, if you should step on it, you'll slip off of it.
So I get to turn this board around 'cause it goes this way.
And I'm going to put it right back into position loosely.
Now you can still walk on the floor while you're working.
Looks like you guys are getting a lesson from the master, huh?
Did he tell you the whole thing about not stepping through the ceiling?
'Cause I've done that twice in the same day.
Tom: Yeah, he's experienced in that.
[ Laughter ] Bill: So, we got a long weekend ahead of us.
We're going to be taking out all of these floorboards, taking out the nails, stacking them up and... Tom: You've got your work cut out for you -- that's for sure.
Helen: We sure do.
Bill: Not going to recognize this place when you get back here.
Helen: But we're going to get some help from family.
Tom: Oh, that's good.
Kevin: And you know what?
Given the width of them and the age of them, I think it's a fantastic project worthy of saving.
And next time, Tommy, we're going to start digging into the walls of this building and see if you can find the original timber frame.
Tom: Yeah, it's going to be fun.
Tom: Can't wait.
Kevin: Well, that is coming up next time.
So, until then, I'm Kevin O'Connor.
Tom: And I'm Tom Silva.
Kevin: For "This Old House" here in Ipswich, Massachusetts.
♪♪ O0 C1 Kevin: Next time on "This Old House"... Ben: I think the two-story addition that they put on it in the late 1800s is dreadful.
Kevin: [ Chuckling ] Oh, don't sugarcoat it, Ben.
Ben: Oh, sorry.
Kevin: What don't you like about it?
Ben: Um, everything.
Kevin: [ Laughs ] Okay.
So, you ready to do some exploratory surgery?
Man: I mean, someone took out a 18th-century post and put in a regular 2x4.
They're killing me.