Chapter Six

Thatched roof cottages at Plimoth Plantation (reconstruction of early Plymouth settlement).



Planks, Plymouth, and the Influence of the Dutch

We have already described the wattle and daub walls of the Vincent and Isaac Robinson houses—two of the Island’s oldest. Recently, wattle and daub has been found behind later plaster walls in the Mayhew-Hancock house in Quansoo. These houses must be late examples of the earliest building techniques from the time of first settlement when almost all parts of the structure were “hand-made” from materials easily gathered and close at hand. Foundations were fieldstone, frames were hand-hewn from trees nearby, roofs were thatched with salt hay or rushes from the marshes, and the walls were filled in with woven work of green sprigs daubed with clay and a binder of hay, straw, or hair. Of course, there were problems. In nearby Plymouth, it was found that when left exposed to the driving coastal storms the clay washed out of the walls. One such storm of February 4, 1621 “caused much daubing in our house to fall down”[1] reported Governor Bradford. In all the early settlements, it was soon found to be necessary to cover the house further with an exterior sheathing. Again, this had to be made with hand tools from wood readily available. Oak was almost always chosen. Logs, four to six feet in length were split with the grain by means of a special tool called a “froe” or “frow” into wedge-shaped sections to produce often crude, uneven but sufficient clapboards for protecting the walls.[2] These were fastened with hand-wrought nails directly to the studs without an underlying sheathing, as we would use today. Their ends were beveled and lapped where they met on a vertical stud to make the joint more nearly waterproof.[3] By 1628, most if not all the houses of Plymouth were sheathed with clapboards, as Isaac de Razier’s description of the town confirms:

The houses are constructed of clapboards with gardens also enclosed behind and at the sides with clapboards so that their houses and courtyards are arranged in very good order.[4]

The English settlers of the Island, under similar circumstances, may also have covered their half timber or “stud and nogging” walls with hand-riven clapboards. This of course we must surmise, as no early examples of this kind of weatherboarding or references to it exist, and later the preference was for shingles. But it seems a likely expedient, and one that was adopted in all the New England colonies.

Building, thus, with thatch for the roof and walls of wattle and daub probably protected with hand-riven clapboarding, and making do with dirt floors covered periodically by rushes or hay (as we know was the case in the Vincent house kitchen for the first year or so) largely or entirely eliminated the need for any kind of boarding.[5] In the early days, boards were unobtainable unless hand-sawn, which was an extremely laborious and difficult task, and therefore avoided whenever possible. This type of house construction was not necessarily a primitive feature of pioneer communities in the New World. The same conditions held true in many parts of rural England in the first half of the 17th century where sawn planks were also difficult to come by. Martin Briggs has described houses in southeastern England, where many of the Pilgrims came from, which had thatched roofs, wattle and daub walls, and “ground floors …simply made of earth or mud, beaten hard. …Sometimes bullocks blood was used, mixed with the mud, to give a dark surface when polished.”[6]

During the 1670s, on the Vineyard a small revolution must have taken place in house construction. On the mainland, water-driven sawmills had begun to be set up, and from this time on, a ready supply of sawn lumber began to change the character of the totally “hand-made” houses. As far as we can determine, there were no sawmills on the Island until the late 18th or early 19th century. However, boarding was apparently shipped in from the mainland by the 1670s or before.[7] These imported wide pine boards were known as “Bayboards” because they were brought from across the sound or bay.[8]

Thus began a transformation of the Vineyard house. Wooden floors and interior partition walls could easily be built. Small cellars were dug beneath the new floors. Thatch was evidently replaced at this time with more fireproof wooden roofs. Here, the boarding was laid vertically over the old purlins, and hand split shingles, easier to make and tighter than clapboards, were used as an exterior covering. This meant that the roof pitch could be lowered, and rafters of roughly the same length would suffice with a pitch of thirty-five to forty degrees to cover a house that was now two-rooms deep. Boarding also was used as the exterior sheathing of walls giving a tighter, more uniform surface than the old hand split clapboards.

When Anne Baker was restoring the Vincent house, she found that the exterior horizontal boarding to which the shingles were nailed was evidently very old. Whether this was the original sheathing or one added later is hard to say. However, these boards showed marks of even weathering indicating that they were briefly the exterior covering for the house. The edges were beveled with about a forty degree angle so that the top board made an overlap with the lower one, thus enabling the sheathing to more readily shed water. Shingles, however, were probably soon added as the weathering was not very deep or extensive.[9] On the later Little-Goff House of 1707, when recently the shingles were stripped from two walls, it was discovered that a second layer of horizontal boarding covered the original layer of vertical planking. These horizontal boards were carefully finished, planed smooth with beading on the lower edge, and fitted together with tongue and groove joints to make them more weather-tight. Obviously, they were intended to be seen, not shingled over, otherwise why plane them, bead them, and carefully fit them together with tongue and groove joints? The addition of the weather-tight horizontal boarding would have added another layer for insulation purposes, and made the house tighter and less subject to wind leakage in the walls. In addition, it was evidently intended as the exterior sheathing of the house in place of shingles or clapboarding. Apparently, however, it was soon decided to shingle these boards over, for they show very little indications of graying or weathering. Cummings has found similar instances of this in Massachusetts Bay houses:

Occasionally when clapboards are removed from a house of the colonial period it will be discovered that the underboarding has been exposed to the weather for an appreciable length of time before receiving any outer covering. The reason was probably economy. In one or two important instances, however, the underboarding was intended as the final finish. In the south parlor wing of the Turner House in Salem, added to the original structure probably before 1680, the thirteen- to seventeen-inch wide horizontal boards found beneath later clapboards at the time of restoration in 1909 were handsomely molded at their overlapping edges and had clearly been exposed to the weather as well. The same condition was found on the eastern end of the Cooper-Frost-Austin House in Cambridge, ca. 1689.[10]

These examples seem to be the exception, however. The other Island homes of the late 17th century do not have lapped boarding, and so must have been shingled from the start. Boarding was apparently more often intended as a backing for shingles.

Shingles, which require this underlayment, probably came into general use with the importation of sawn lumber in the 1670s or somewhat before. Hugh Morrison has given us a description of what the early shingles were like:

Shingles were hand-riven with a froe from a squared baulk of white pine, oak, chestnut, or cedar. They were of various dimensions, crude and thick compared to modern mill-cut shingles. They ranged in length from 14 inches up to 3 feet, and were attached with a weather varying from 8 inches in the short shingles to 16 in the long ones. The heavy butts and the rough split along the grain gave a shingled wall or roof an attractive texture.[11]

The use of shingles as opposed to clapboards has become the traditional exterior sheathing of Cape and Island houses. This preference probably began at an early date and is easy to understand. Clapboards, to be effective, demand a wood with a long straight grain. Oak was the major forest tree on the Island and is a tree which tends to twist and spiral; shingles would be easier to make of this than clapboards, and would provide just as effective a covering once boarding was added to the house. Morrison believes that the idea for shingles was introduced by the Dutch.

The earliest known shingled houses in this country are those built by the Dutch on Long Island in the middle of the 17th century, and it appears that the earliest ones in New England are in nearby Connecticut. [Morrison lists some houses there from the 1650s and 1660s.] This may justify a tentative hypothesis that shingles as a wall covering were introduced in New Netherland, and spread first to Connecticut and later to Massachusetts.[12]

However, more recent research has indicated a Dutch influence in the Plymouth Colony,[13] and it is probably, for example, that the Plymouth Company’s Aptuxcet Trading Post in nearby Bourne had a shingled roof as early as 1627. It therefore seems more likely that the inspiration for shingling Vineyard houses as well as those on the Cape comes not from Long Island or Connecticut or Massachusetts Bay, but originates in the Plymouth Colony just across the Sound.

The boarding on the Vincent and Isaac Robinson houses was laid horizontally over the many studs required for wattle and daub. As mentioned, it may at first have been intended as the exterior covering for the house in place of the old hand split clapboards. However, these two houses are not typical. A majority of the surviving 17th and 18th century Vineyard homes were vertically planked with wide boards of about 1-1/4 inches in thickness.

The advantage of the vertically planked house was its simplicity. The thick boards were nailed only at the sill below and the plate above. Set upright in this fashion, they served both to sheath the walls and to give structural support to them. This meant that there was no need for the many closely spaced intermediary studs, either for nailing or for support. Consequently, they were eliminated, thereby considerably reducing the number of hewn, sawn, and notched members in the frame. The only vertical framing members that were left were the ten major posts around the perimeter of the house, at the four corners, under the chimney girts, and at the midpoint in the end walls under the center beam. However, with this structure, bracing became very important, and wind braces were always let in at the four corners of the house.

The disadvantage of this technique was that without studs it allowed for only a single thickness wall with no possibility of insulating it. Shingles or clapboards were laid directly over the vertical boarding on the outside, and lathes and plaster were laid directly over the boarding from within. During a recent renovation of the Little-Goff house, ca. 1707, the inner walls in the kitchen were taken down revealing the old vertical planking behind them. Here, the light and dark stains showed where the old lathe and plaster was once laid directly over the vertical boarding. Similarly, when the eastern room of the Standish-Whiting house, ca. early 1670s, was completely stripped down, two back walls were visible. In back of the studs, added later, was the vertically planed exterior wall onto which many of the hand split lathes and some of the coarse, sea-shell imbedded, 17th century plaster was still attached. In the 19th century, studs were added and an interior plaster wall was fastened to them to give an added air space and greater warmth to this north wall of the house.

This vertical-board or plank-frame construction that we find on the Vineyard in the 17th and 18th centuries seems to be a common feature of the early houses of southern Massachusetts—Plymouth and the Cape and Islands region—but is comparatively rare elsewhere in New England, and is virtually unknown in the other English coast Colonies. In Massachusetts Bay, Connecticut, and southern Rhode Island, almost all the houses were built with stud frames and horizontal boarding. Cummings has described a handful of houses in northern Massachusetts near the sawmills of New Hampshire that were vertically planked. However, here they use two-inch thick planking whereas on the Vineyard and the Cape the boards are only one and one-quarter inches thick, and in northern Massachusetts, the framing and detailing of the plank houses is quite different from those on the Island.[14] In Connecticut, there is only one plank-frame house prior to 1700, and it too has somewhat different construction details and thicker planking than is common on the Cape and Islands.[15]

Richard Candee, in his “Documentary History of Plymouth Colony Architecture, 1620-1700,” has done a thorough study of the background and origins of “vertical-board or plank-frame construction” in this country. He points out that

While the [stud frames with horizontal boarding] method of construction is almost the only one used in the construction of first-period dwellings in Massachusetts Bay, very few are known to have been built in Plymouth Colony.[16]

Instead, he goes on to say:

In Plymouth Colony, the number of known vertical-plank dwellings constitute over ninety percent of all buildings where the construction method is known prior to ca. 1725. …Only in Plymouth Colony and the adjacent northern corner of Rhode Island was it the primary building method of the 17th and 18th centuries.[17]

Of Rhode Island, Norman Isham and A.F. Downing have divided the state’s first period architecture into two regional styles. In the north, around Providence Plantation, houses were built with the vertical plank construction. In the south, along the coasts, stud frame construction with horizontal boarding prevailed, as in the houses of nearby Connecticut.[18] As it turns out, Providence Plantation, where Isham discovered the vertical plank style of construction, was heavily populated with immigrants from the Plymouth Colony.[19] Candee comments as follows:

Rhode Island, it may be fairly stated, inherited the plank-frame method from its Plymouth emigrants. The contrast between the northern part of the state and the noncontiguous [to Plymouth Colony] southern lands under domination from Connecticut substantiates this hypothetical diffusion…[20]

On Cape Cod, which was of course part of the Plymouth Colony, vertical boarding also prevailed. Amos Otis, in his mid-19th century study, describes seventeen homes of the settlers of the Barnstable-Sandwich area which he had seen or gathered descriptions of before their destruction. Of these probable 17th century houses (his dates are from 1639 to 1695, which may be a bit early), almost all were vertically planked.[21] Ernest Connally’s study of the Cape Cod house from 1650 to 1850 also bears this out. He believes that vertical plank-frame construction was brought to the Cape Cod from the area around Lynn.[22] Candee’s more recent analysis indicates that the influence should be reversed. “Rather, it would seem that diffusion ran from Plymouth toward the Cape in the 1640s.”[23] This is an early date, but Candee had suggested, on the basis of written accounts, that the plank-frame construction at Plymouth was used before this, at least in the public buildings such as the 1633/34 fort-meetinghouse and the 1622 fort, and goes back to almost the earliest days of the settlement. He goes on to state: “On the other hand, there seems to be no evidence of vertical plank-frame building outside of Plymouth Colony and the contiguous portion of Rhode Island prior to the last quarter of the 17th century. In Massachusetts Bay no surviving house before ca. 1680 indicates plank-frame construction.”[24] He also found a “complete lack of evidence for plank-frame building in any other English coastal colony before the second half of the 17th century, except where Plymouth Colony settlers may he found…”[25] thus, it would seem that the Plymouth Colony is the origin for the vertical plank-frame construction in this country.

It should be noted here that of the Island houses built in the late 17th and early 18th centuries with this construction, most were the homes of settlers who came from, or at least had previously lived in the Plymouth Colony, including the Cape. This list includes: Josiah Standish of Plymouth and Duxbury, Nathaniel Skiff of Sandwich (the first Plymouth Colony on the Cape), James Allen of Sandwich, Edward Cottle from England and Amesbury in Massachusetts Bay but who also had lived in Monomoy on the Cape before coming to the Vineyard, Isaac Robinson from Holland, Plymouth and several other towns in the Colony including Falmouth just before he came to the Island (his original house was of the stud and noggin type, but a slightly later addition was vertically planked), Nathan Skiff and Benjamin Skiff from Sandwich, Dr. Thomas Little, a resident of Plymouth, and his student, Thomas Mayhew, who was from the Island but who resided in Plymouth during his apprenticeship.

In Chilmark, where the houses built between 1673 and 1720 are exclusively of plank-frame construction, the tradition must have been established by its two early housewrights, Richard Ellingham and Samuel Tilton. Ellingham came from Barnstable, one of Plymouth Colony’s earliest settlements on the Cape. Tilton was originally from Lynn, Massachusetts, which both Connally and Candee speak of as being related to Plymouth Colony in the matter of vertically planked houses. In 1678, Tilton moved from Tisbury where he had lived for four years to the Kephigan region of Chilmark, possibly drawn there by the abundance of large trees suitable for house and barn frames. He thus became one of the earliest settlers of both new towns. Richard Ellingham arrived in Chilmark in 1683, settling in the Middle Road area near Tiasquam River. He was Tilton’s nearest neighbor, and the two probably worked together as building partners. We know that in 1685, Ellingham was contacted about finishing the Meeting House in Edgartown.[26] After nine years, Ellingham returned to the Cape, but Tilton stayed on, becoming the founder of an Island family that continues to this day. Plank-frame construction began to go out of style in Chilmark during the 1720s, which we must note is the last decade of Samuel Tilton’s life. He died in 1731 “in the 94th year of his age.”[27] Probably as a result of the work and influence of these two men, Chilmark has the largest number of plank-frame houses of any township on the Island.

In this regard, the non-conforming area of the Island, was the older settlement at Great Harbor (Edgartown). In this township, some though not all of the early houses have stud walls and horizontal boarding. Notable examples are: the Vincent house, ca. 1672, and possibly the Reverend Dunham house, ca. 1685, and the Linton house ca. 1695-1710; also the slightly later Norton-Achelis house, ca. 1715-1720.

In this regard, Candee’s description of topographical influence in wall construction and boarding styles seems to fit the Vineyard very well. The relative scarcity of vertical, plank-frame houses in Edgartown is, he would say, because not a single one of its original inhabitants can be traced back to Plymouth County. (Mayhew and most of his original band were from in or around Watertown in Massachusetts Bay.) Similarly, the influx of settlers from Plymouth Colony from the early 1670s may explain why the majority of houses in the new settlements up-Island are vertically planked. Even the exceptions seem to work out as topographical influences. Simon Athearn’s house in West Tisbury (New Town), ca. 1872, is horizontally boarded, but he had formerly lived in Great Harbor. Henry Luce, his neighbor, built his house in 1697 with horizontal boarding as was the custom in Massachusetts Bay where he had just come from. But just up the road from him was the vertically planked Josiah Standish-Nathaniel Skiff homestead; both of these men were from Plymouth County.[28]

Thus, the predominant vertical boarding on the early houses of the Island must be seen as an influence from the Plymouth Colony that came in the 1670s, since this seems to have been a construction method that goes back to the very early days of settlement at Plymouth, Candee had to wonder about its origins in the Old World. Naturally, he looked First to England. The only early structures close to this were the “stave church” at Greenstead (ca. 1050) made of half logs vertically set up between sill and plate, and a few church steeples built between the 12th and 15th centuries, the latest being two centuries before the emigration to America.[29] Candee’s conclusion was that,

…as far as is presently known, there are no English domestic buildings which used vertical boarding prior to the 19th century…the fact that no other English-American colony (except Plymouth-Providence) adopted this single method argues that it was relatively unknown to the migrating Englishmen before the later decades of the 17th century.[30]

However, in Holland, where the pilgrims spent twelve years before coming to America, Candee found that

…the use of vertical “plank construction” for wooden houses was known in the 17th century. This fact is suggested by numerous late 16th and early 17th century Dutch prints which show gable ends and whole lean-tos as vertical planks. …Although plank construction was not used in 17th-century Holland for front or rear “side walls” it was employed in gable end walls of wooden houses…in Noord-Holland, the area north of Amsterdam, both vertical and horizontal planking has been known, the latter especially in the 19th century. [There is] a composite of these methods in a dwelling from Landsmeer, Noord-Holland, now in the Open Air Museum at Arnhem, where the vertical planking has been later replaced by horizontal boarding, although it remains in the upper gable end.[31]

Candee’s study of the emigrants in the first decade of settlement at Plymouth tends to lend credence to the possibility of Dutch influence:

In the first decade of the existence of Plymouth Colony, from a total known population of emigrants numbering 457, ninety-four persons of Anglo-Dutch or Dutch background are numbered in the ship arrivals to the colony…following…the assumption that the number of adult males equaled approximately one quarter of the population, 10 percent native Dutch male settlers and another 20 percent who had migrated from England to Holland before removal to Plymouth Colony can be suggested. The ratio of those with Anglo-Dutch experience to those of completely English background was even greater during the first year of two of the settlement of Plymouth—nearly 1:1 among the Mayflower passengers.[32]

The early Dutch settlers in New Netherlands (now New York) also appear to have used vertical boarding on their houses. Candee describes “a view of New Amsterdam (published in Amsterdam) [which] shows the same one-and-a-half story gable ends with both vertical plank and clapboard as well as a few small buildings apparently built entirely of vertical boards.”[33] Father Joques in describing Rensselaer’s colony in 1646 says:

All their houses are merely of boards and thatched, with no mason work except the chimneys. The forest furnishing many large pines, they make boards by means of their mills…[34]

Candee comments, “The information provided about milling pine boards certainly suggests that these homes were similarly constructed.[35]

Though it is a good deal further away than Plymouth Colony, it is possible to argue that there was influence on the Island from Dutch New York. Martha’s Vineyard was under the political jurisdiction of the governor of New York until 1691, and contact had to be maintained in this direction. The town charters of Edgartown and Tisbury were granted by Governor Loveless, as was the elder Thomas Mayhew’s appointment as “Governor for Life.” The quit rent of “six barrels of Merchantable Cod-Fish” had to be paid to the “Governor of Yorke” by the 12th day of July each year, and was brought, usually in person, by either the elder Thomas Mayhew or his grandson, Matthew Mayhew, or both.[36] Though few, if any, settlers came to the Island from this colony, the Mayhews, at least must have been familiar with the Dutch houses and buildings in the former New Amsterdam.

But whether from the former New Netherlands or from Plymouth Colony, if as mentioned, shingles and vertical boarding were Dutch influences, they certainly had a profound effect on the look and structure of the early Vineyard house. This influence may in part explain why the houses of Massachusetts Bay and Connecticut seem more purely English.

Use of the vertical plank-frame method seemed to dictate that houses should have straight unbroken vertical walls. The overhanging second floors and gables so common in Massachusetts Bay and Connecticut are conspicuously absent from Colonial houses of the Cape and Islands. Not that it is impossible in theory to construct a framed overhang with vertical planking between the horizontal beams, but it is perhaps not as natural to think in terms of horizontal division lines with this technique, and the house would certainly not be as well tied together. In any case, there is no known instance of the employment of vertical boarding in any early Colonial house with overhanging upper stories.[37] Thus, the compact, unified shape of 17th and 18th century Island dwellings may, in part, derive from the use of this technique.

The vertical plank-frame method continued to be used on Island houses until as late as the mid-18th century—the Tilton-Yoars house on North Road in Chilmark, ca. 1763(recently torn down), was vertically boarded. However, by this date, this was exceptional. Because of the thin walls and the problem of insulating with this technique, most houses from about 1720 on show the re-introduction of studs and double wall construction. The exterior boarding was then laid horizontally and shingled over. Inside, horizontal wainscoting nailed to the studs and coming up to just above the bottoms of the windows, about thirty-two to thirty-four inches from the floor, became the accepted practice. Above this, the wall was plastered. Insulation was sometimes used between the walls; but not the wattle and daub of earlier days, which apparently went out at the end of the 17th century. I have found eelgrass mixed with clay as a binder packed between the studs in the Mayhew-Sands house in Nashaquitsa (ca. 1770s), and it is also known to have been used in the walls of the Hillman-Silva house on Tea Lane (late 18th century); evidently, it was commonly used in this area and also in the Plymouth Colony in the 18th century. Cummings illustrates a wall from the 18th century Baxter house in Quincy, Massachusetts, similarly insulated with eelgrass.[38] Eelgrass can be found in great quantities along the shore here, and is in fact a very good insulation material; far better than clay, brick, or wattle and daub. It has the added advantage of being very slow to decompose. (see figure 6-1b of the eelgrass in the Mayhew-Sands house which looks as if it had been gathered yesterday). Another late 18th century house in Chilmark now belonging to Zack Wiesner has been recently discovered to have an infill of brick between the studs, much like the Longfellow house in Cambridge. Though heavy and solid, brick makes a very poor insulation material as the Wiesners have discovered, to their dismay; eelgrass would have been cheaper and more effective.

Of course, in most of the early houses the insulation has either been removed or was never put in. Even when this is the case, the stud frame construction gives an added interior wall with an airspace that doubles the “R Factor,” or resistance to heat loss, in comparison to the earlier single wall plank-free method. This is evidently why it was preferred in the later houses.

In existing houses that grew into a full house from an original half or three-quarter plan, the early part is very often vertically planked and the later part is boarded horizontally. Examples where this is so include: the Mayhew-Hancock house, the Mayhew-Clark house, the Hillman-Cagney house, the Robinson-Foster-Bruno house (in part), and the Look-Baker house. Recently when the Mayhew-Clark house was reshingled, Mr. Clark photographed the exposed boarding which showed the original half-house planked vertically, and the addition, that turned the house into a three-quarter plan, with horizontal boarding (see figure 6-1b). In other houses, the planking can often be seen in the end gables of the attic.

The same development took place on the Cape. A classic example showing the results of both the vertical planking in the earlier part and the stud wall in the later is the Moody Fish Farm in East Sandwich, ca. 1690. In the older west room the walls are very thin as indicated by the very narrow window reveals on the south and west walls. It should be mentioned that these exterior boards are rough sawn (unplanned) and square edge (not ship-lapped or tongue and groove). Inside, the window walls are plastered right over the exterior boarding. The fireplace wall is paneled with hand-planed vertical boarding, feather edged and tongue-in-groove. The doors are early style batten doors. In the newer east room, added sometime in the 18th century, the walls are studded out and, like Vineyard houses, have horizontal wainscoting below and plaster above. The studs add depth to the wall and insulation may have been used. Outside, there is horizontal boarding and shingles. The added depth of the window jambs and reveals in this room clearly indicate the thicker wall here. Inside, the painted paneling is still hand-planed but reveals classical detailing of the Georgian or early Federal period. Paneled doors and more elegant latches have replaced the 17th century batten doors and simple hardware of the older rooms.

Today, it is traditional to leave the shingled walls and roofs of the Vineyard houses unpainted. In the salt climate, they weather to an attractive silver-gray, and require little or no upkeep until thirty or forty years have passed and the shingles will need to be replaced. With the storms, the salt air, and the damp coastal climate, painting needs constant attention. For this reason, it is limited in most houses to the trim at the corners, the eaves, the gables, the roof peaks, and to the casings around windows and doors. The almost universal tradition today is to paint the trim white to set off the grey weathered shingles. It is something of a surprise to learn that this was not always the custom. Instead, in pre-Revolutionary times, houses were usually painted with reds or other warm earth tones from Island clay. When Crevecoeur visited Martha’s Vineyard before 1782, he observed the following:

Gay Head, the western point of this island abounds with a variety of ochres of different colors, with which the inhabitants paint their houses.[39]

In the 18th and early 19th centuries, a paint mill operated on Paint Mill Brook in the Kephigan region where colors were made from the clay deposits along the North Shore. In 1947, when Helen Cooper bought the Robinson-Foster house in West Tisbury, she reported that the trim was painted “Indian Red from Island clay.”[40] Undoubtedly, this was a late carryover of an earlier tradition.

Houses on the Cape were probably very similar. In 1850, Thoreau described “the old-fashioned and unpainted houses on the Cape,” though in Dennis, he noted that the roofs were often painted red while the rest was left unpainted.[41] The restored 17th century Harlow house in Plymouth shows the trim unpainted. This may also have been the case with some early Vineyard houses, though we cannot confirm it.

It is likely that the later tradition of painting the trim white began in the Greek Revival period. This style was very popular on the Vineyard in the first half of the 19th century, and white, believed to have been color of Greek temples, became the favorite house color at this time.




Fig. 6-1a. Wattle and Daub walls from the Vincent house, ca. 1672.


Fig. 6-1b. Eelgrass and mud insulation in walls of Mayhew-Sands house, Chilmark, ca. 1760.

Figs. 6-2a and 6-2b. Simon Mayhew-Clark house, Squinocket. During a reshingling, reboarding operation, it was revealed that the original half of the house above was vertically boarded from 1707, and the eastern addition (mid-18th century) below was horizontally boarded. (Photos by William Clark, owner.)





Fig. 6-3a. Vertically planked house from Landsmeer, Noord-Holland. (From Candee, A Documentary History of Plymouth Colony Architecture.)


Fig. 6-3b. Josiah Standish-Whiting house c. 1670s. A recent renovation stripped off the inner wall and revealed the vertical boarding in back. Originally, this was a single thickness wall, covered on the interior with plaster. The handriven lathing and parts of the plaster can still be seen attached to the vertical boards. Later, the wall was built out with studs (in back of the fireplace, also a later addition), and a second interior wall was laid over these.

Notes – Chapter Six

[1] As quoted in Morrison, Early American Architecture, p. 11.

[2] Ibid., p. 30.

[3] Kelly, Architecture of Connecticut, p. 82.

[4] Candee, Plymouth Architecture, Part I, p. 63.

[5] In his excavation of the Vincent house site, Myron Stachiw discovered, to his surprise, that the kitchen area had been occupied using a dirt floor for some time before floorboards and joists were put in. Myron Stachiw, “Vincent House Archeology,” Intelligencer, August 1979, p. 49.

[6] Martin Briggs, The Homes of the Pilgrim Fathers in England and America (London, 1932), pp. 72-73.

[7] Sawmills were common in Europe from the middle of the 15th century, but were not used in England. According to James E. Defebaugh, “The first [mill] erected in England was supposed to have been built in 1663, at which time hundreds of them were in use in New England, but this mill was torn down to gratify a popular prejudice which insisted that such an institution would take bread out of the mouths of the working people.” James E. Defebaugh, History of the Lumber Industry in America (Chicago, 1907), Vol. II, p. 9. In New England, where there was a labor shortage, and trees were plentiful, a sawmill was requested by Gorges at York, Maine, as early as 1623; and another was built on the Salmon Falls River, in New Hampshire in 1633. By the 1660s and 70s there were numerous water-driven sawmills throughout New England. See Morrison, Early American Architecture, p. 33.

[8] On “Bayboards,” Henry Franklin Norton says, “The old wide boards were called ‘Bayboards’ because they came from Buzzards Bay,” Norton, Martha’s Vineyard, p. 18. At the head of Buzzards Bay was Plymouth Colony’s Aptuxcet Trading Post; across it was Fairhaven, Dartmouth, New Bedford, and beyond this Rhode Island. However, it is probably Plymouth Colony and the Cape that is being referred to as the origin for these boards. Anne Baker’s story, told to her by “an elderly housewright” seems to confirm this. She says: “The term [Bayboards] originated because a lack of white pine on the Island necessitated shipping the wood from the Cape. The trip across Vineyard Sound gave them the name ‘bayboards’.” Anne Baker, “The Vincent House,” Intelligencer, August 1978, p. 17. The term might also be a reference to their point of origin, as Massachusetts Bay, or the Cape Cod Bay area (Plymouth Colony). It is our belief that these early boards must have been imported from nearby Plymouth Colony because they are all of the same one and one-quarter inch thick type that was used distinctively in Plymouth and its settlements on the Cape. In Massachusetts Bay and Southern New Hampshire, the planking is all two inches in thickness, and we find similar early planking (often of oak, not pine) in Rhode Island and Connecticut.

[9] Anne Baker, “The Vincent House,” Intelligencer, August, 1978, p. 17.

[10] Cummings, Framed Houses, pp. 134-135.

[11] Morrison, Early American Architecture, p. 32.

[12] Ibid.

[13] See R.M. Candee, “A Documentary History of Plymouth Colony Architecture, 1620-1700,” Old Time New England, January-March 1989)

[14] See Richard M. Candee, “A Documentary History of Plymouth Colony Architecture 1620-1700,” Old Time New England, January-March, 1969, pp. 59-71.

[15] Cummings, Framed Houses, pp. 90-93.

[16] Kelly, Architecture of Connecticut, p. 40.

[17] Candee, “A Documentary History of Plymouth Colony Architecture, 1620-1700,” Old Time New England, vol. LX, no. 2, October-December, 1969, pp. 37-38.

[18] Antoinette F. Downing, Early Homes of Rhode Island (Richmond, VA., 1936), pp. 14-17.

[19] Norman Isham and Albert F. Brown, Early Rhode Island Houses (Providence, 1895), pp. 13-14.

[20] Candee, “Plymouth Architecture,” Old Time New England, October-December, 1969, p. 44.

[21] Amos Otis, Genealogical Notes of Barnstable Families (C.F. Swift, ed., Barnstable, 1881).

[22] Ernest Allen Connally, “The Cape Cod House…”, Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Vol. XIX, no. 2 (May, 1960), pp. 47-56.

[23]  Candee, “Plymouth Architecture,” Old Time New England, October-December, 1969, p. 44.

[24] Ibid., p. 43.

[25] Ibid., p. 44.

[26] Banks, History, Vol. II, “Annals of Chilmark,” p. 41.

[27] Ibid., p. 40.

[28] See Jonathan Scott, “The House That Gave Tea Lane Its Name,” The Dukes County Intelligencer, Vol. 24, No. 1 (August, 1982), pp. 12-17.

[29] Fred H. Crosssley, Timber Building in England (London, 1951), pp. 12-13, 40, 45.

[30] Candee, “Plymouth Architecture,” Old Time New England, October-December, 1969, p. 45.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Candee, “Plymouth Architecture,” Old Time New England, January-March, 1969, p. 60.

[33] Ibid., Part III (October-December), p. 46.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Banks, History, Vol. I, p. 154.

[37] Candee, “Plymouth Architecture,” Old Time New England, October-December, p. 38.

[38] House demolished in 1960. See Cummings, Framed Houses, p. 141.

[39] Crevecoeur, op. cit., p. 116.

[40] As told to the Brunos, present owners of the house.

[41] Thoreau, Cape Cod I, p. 105.