Restoring the Wood House

From an article in the Winter 1996 members’ newsletter by Anita Carroll Weldon

In 1836, when John Devotion Bidwell (Rev. Bidwell’s grandson) inherited the family property, the attributes of the farm were proudly listed as; ” apple, peach, and plum trees, along with a well of water enclosed in the dwelling house, three large barns, a cider mill with a corn house over it, and a wood house, as well as a number of other buildings, sheds, etc.”

Of these buildings,  (besides the main house) only two remain as part of The Bidwell House property. The Wood House stands directly to the south, below the front of the house. This is a relatively small early 19th century structure. The construction is post & beam, made from hand -hewn chestnut. As was often the case with farm buildings, there is evidence that some of the beams had been used in another building. Sheathed with rough sawn clapboards, it once sported a wood shingled roof that at some point after 1915 was covered with asphalt shingles.  Although intended as a Wood House for storing firewood, sometime in the building’s history it was used to house horses.

The years showed signs of upkeep; some windows had been replaced, the sill was replaced, etc. However, poor roof jobs allowed moisture, and eventually, rot to set in and a hole developed on the south side of the roof. In addition, a birch seedling was allowed to grow out from the foundation, developing into a large tree and doing considerable damage in the process. In the winter of 1995/96, as a result of several very heavy snowstorms, the roof caved in splitting the few remaining rafters and cracking the main girt.

In the spring of 1996, the museum embarked on the first phase of the Building Restoration Project, restoring the Wood House. Once again, West  Cummington Stone and Wood came in with the lowest estimate. WCSW was the firm that restored the chimney and mantle. The restoration was completed in 3 weeks. It included replacing the main girt with a matching hand-hewed one and replacing the knee braces supporting it, replacing the joists and installing the floor of the loft, repairing rotted sections of the plate on the south side of the building, replacing the roof with all new rafters and cedar wood shingles, rebuilding the stone foundation on the south side using the original stone, cutting out the sill which crossed the entrance of the building and reusing that piece to replace the portion of sill rotted due to the tree, restoring and replacing damaged windows and rotted clapboards, and staining replacement boards to match the existing finish.

In addition, the building was fitted with a set of new doors. There was no evidence the building had doors and an existing photo, c. 1915, shows no doors.  However, doors were included as part of the project to facilitate the housing of rare breed sheep which are in the plans for the museum. The doors are a ‘z’-backed, tongue and groove design found on many 19th century barns and they are held with large antique iron hinges.

To complete the project, a ladder was fashioned from two hand-hewn 4 x 4 ‘s and rungs made on site with a draw blade. The ladder is to access the loft. The entire cost for this project was $ 8,169 and the result is a well restored, secure barn which will continue to attest to the farming history of The Bidwell House for generations to come.

(A special thanks to David Boland and Noah Wixom for volunteering their time and equipment to remove the large Black Birch tree which grew from underneath the sill, shifting the building and causing considerable rot. )