Historic Home Surveys

Birmingham Point’s historic home surveys are detailed, historic-architectural studies of early Connecticut homes, mostly 18th century timber frames of the lower Housatonic and Naugatuck River Valleys. Our surveys are unique among others, primarily in the emphasis we place on modeling and online publishing. The next few sections describe our underlying philosophy of historic home surveys, and their content and structure. This is followed by an index of the surveys themselves.

Go Directly To Our Published Surveys ]

Modeling

In surveying an historic home, we focus mainly on developing a highly accurate model of the house frame, and then mapping that model to the home’s architecture. Why take this approach? There are several reasons:

  1. Frame and architecture are co-determinate. You can’t have one without the other. And in our opinion, you can’t meaningfully study one without understanding the other.
  2. An historic frame reveals much about the local traditions that built it. It also offers clues about its own descent from earlier traditions, or its infusion of contemporaneous ones (its “DNA”, if you will).
  3. One objective of our survey effort is to make this information available to anyone who wishes to study the characteristics of our own regional building traditions or typologies, or attempt to trace their associated lineages.
  4. Another objective is to expose data that might assist others in determining the material history of some particular home; for example, one similar to, and within close proximity of, some previously surveyed home.
  5. As will be described subsequently, the modeling strategy used is capable of any arbitrary degree of resolution, and as such, can be used to render shop drawings and plans for the repair or restoration of an actual historic structure.
Saltbox Frame in SketchUp

Oronoque Saltbox Frame, modeled in SketchUp.

Encoding this information in a digitized, three-dimensional model has distinct advantages over two-dimensional CAD, or drafting with traditional media: all structural relationships and dimensions are stored in one place, and arbitrary visualizations and projections are easily generated from the same model, with no need to create multiple, separate diagrams. Users can also view, rotate, and walk through models in real time, and even take joinery apart to see how it was fitted.

Online Publishing

Our historic home surveys are published online, crafted as webpages with customized, on-page optimizations (developed by us originally for A Preservationist’s Technical Notebook, and proven over time) that enhance their visibility to search engines. Furthermore, we proactively use social media to build awareness of our surveys within their various target communities: historians, preservationists, restorers, tradesmen, architects, old house enthusiasts, and historic homeowners.

Feed statistics showing steady growth in RSS and email subscriptions to A Preservationist’s Technical Notebook. We attribute this to our SEO and social media strategies, as well as our regular publishing of high quality, original content.

Feed statistics showing steady growth in RSS and email subscriptions to A Preservationist’s Technical Notebook. We attribute this to our SEO and social media strategies, as well as our regular publishing of high quality, original content.

To ensure maximum usefulness and exposure, our original survey materials are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 US), the same license used for all original material published in A Preservationist’s Technical Notebook.

Survey Overview

Birmingham Point’s historic home surveys comprise four components: Field Notes, SketchUp Model, Photo Gallery, and Survey Report:

Field Notes — Written notes from our field work, including drawings, measurements, and impressions. Notebook pages relevant to each survey are scanned and published as a PDF document, on a dedicated webpage.

SketchUp Model — We use Trimble SketchUp to create the three-dimensional model of the house frame, directly from our field notes. The SketchUp model is published on its own webpage, from where it can be downloaded. Readers can freely download Trimble SketchUp or the SketchUp Viewer to view and explore the model. We’ve standardized on SketchUp because it’s readily available to our readers without any licensing fee. However, we also strive to maintain compatibility with other architectural modeling tools capable of importing SketchUp models.

Photo Gallery — All photos are published in multiple galleries, usually organized by topic, or location within the home. A short narrative describes them in a somewhat guided fashion. Collectively, these narrated galleries provide an informal, pictorial survey of the home. Galleries are published on their own webpages, with a single index page summarizing and linking them.

Survey Report — The survey report gives the history of the house, and also describes its architecture. It presents the three-dimensional frame model, and explains how the frame realizes the home’s architecture. Optionally, the report might attempt to draw inferences about the provenance of the joinery, and how it relates to known, regional practices. The report is published as its own webpage.

A Preservationist's Technical Notebook, historic home survey pages, and other historic survey pages, all deployed under the Birmingham Point domain and menu structure.

A Preservationist’s Technical Notebook, historic home survey pages, and other historic survey pages, are all published under the Birmingham Point domain and main menu structure.

Each historic home survey is represented by its own landing page, which links to the web-pages of its four components. A complete list of our published historic home surveys is provided below. Note that surveys and their component pages are also accessible via the main menu of A Preservationist’s Technical Notebook.

Relationship to Other Surveys

A large number of historic Connecticut homes and buildings were inventoried over the last century or so, and many of these surveys are now accessible via the Internet. However, there are many homes of profound local significance that were never captured in the official inventories, and we hope to eventually record many of them here. On the other hand, if a home was also included in a past survey, our report cites the earlier work, and summarizes its key findings, comparing them with our own.

Rev. Richard Mansfield House (c. 1700), from WPA HABS, conducted 1934-37 (click image for survey)

An image of the Rev. Richard Mansfield House (c. 1700), Ansonia, Connecticut, from the WPA HABS, conducted in 1934-1937 (click image for survey).

Birmingham Point also has two other survey efforts underway: Historic Details and Historic Windows. These surveys attempt to capture and publish details of local historic interior-exterior trim and fenestration, respectively. More often than not, they involve the same houses as our full historic home surveys. In these cases, the respective survey reports will cite and link to one another.

Mansfield House fireplace paneling bed moulding, modeled in SketchUp

Mansfield House fireplace paneling bed moulding, modeled in SketchUp.

Model Evolution

An interesting point about using SketchUp to model a house frame is that there’s no practical limit to how many additional layers of modeling one can add on top of it. One can readily create SketchUp components representing sheathing, clapboards, floor planks, paneling, etc., including textured surfaces and materials, and use these to build a complete three-dimensional house model, assuming one were willing to invest the time.

Most likely, we’ll eventually build complete models of a few of our surveyed homes, leveraging our existing frame models, as well as any modeled historic details we might have happened to capture from the same house. An objective in this case would be to submit complete models of extant homes to Google Earth, for possible inclusion in the Google Earth 3D Buildings Layer.

Google Earth SketchUp model of Matthew Curtiss House (c. 1750), Newtown, Connecticut

Google Earth SketchUp model of the Matthew Curtiss House (c. 1750), Newtown, Connecticut. Drawn by Scottio Wilson (click image for 3D Warehouse page).

Most Google Earth models comprise external facades only. However, our approach would take this style of architectural modeling a step further, as our models would include the major internal details of the home, as well.

A Final Thought…

Someone recently told me: “It’s great you’re making this effort to survey all these old homes, so there’ll at least be a permanent record of them when they’re gone”. While I realize this person’s intentions were in the right place, his words, nonetheless, made me wince in pain.

The existence of a detailed account of any historic home, by itself, should never be taken as some sort of license to tear it down. Our work here should never be interpreted as enabling or supporting the demolition of historic structures, nor their insensitive alteration. Instead, we hope these surveys enable folks to appreciate the value of these remarkable structures, and encourage them to help maintain our built heritage, for many years yet to come.

Historic Home Surveys

This is a list of abstracts of our historic home surveys. Note that most are still works in progress, and hence marked “WIP”. Nonetheless, we believe it’s better to get information out there as it’s accumulated, rather than delay publishing until a polished report can be produced.

Image of Oronoque saltbox

(click image for survey)

Name: Oronoque saltbox
Period of Construction: 1772
Location: 7296 Main St, Stratford, CT
Status: No longer extant
Original owner/builder: Rev. Nathan Birdseye
Recent owner(s): Thomas G. Malick
Field Survey Date: 16-22 October 2012
Survey Report Published: 10 June 2013
Other Surveys/Inventories: None
National Register/Landmark: No
Lat/Long: 41.25397/-73.100401

Image of Old Hawkins House

(click image for survey)

Name: Hawkins House
Period of Construction: 1750
Location: 231 Hawkins Street, Derby, CT
Status: Preserved
Original owner/builder: Unknown (most likely a descendant of Joseph Hawkins)
Recent owner(s): Gary Farrell
Field Survey Date: WIP
Survey Report Published: WIP
Other Surveys/Inventories: None
National Register/Landmark: No
Lat/Long: 41.330705/-73.090769

Image of the Mansfield House, taken in 1894

(click image for survey)

Name: Mansfield House
Period of Construction: 1700
Location: 35 Jewett Street, Ansonia, CT
Status: Preserved
Original owner/builder: Unknown (possibly John Hulls)
Recent owner(s): Derby Historical Society
Field Survey Date: WIP
Survey Report Published: WIP
Other Surveys/Inventories: Yes
National Register/Landmark: Yes
Lat/Long: 41.340225/-73.071441

Image of Capt. Mordecai Prindle House.

(click image for survey)

Name: Prindle House
Period of Construction: 1796
Location: 76 Jewett Street, Ansonia, CT
Status: Preserved
Original owner/builder: Brothers Mordecai and Joseph Prindle
Recent owner(s): Anne Danielczuk
Field Survey Date: WIP
Survey Report Published: WIP
Other Surveys/Inventories: No
National Register/Landmark: No
Lat/Long: 41.337616/-73.071025

Image of Schell-Poole House

(click image for survey)

Name: Schell-Poole House
Period of Construction: 1900
Location: 299 Housatonic Ave, Stratford, CT
Status: Preserved
Original owner/builder: Schell family
Recent owner(s): Poole family
Field Survey Date: WIP
Survey Report Published: WIP
Other Surveys/Inventories: No
National Register/Landmark: No
Lat/Long: 41.197305/-73.113198

Locations

The interactive Google Map below gives the locations of our surveyed historic homes, and their basic information. You might need to zoom-out a bit to see the pins, but all are within close proximity of the Housatonic and Naugatuck Rivers. Clicking a pin gives you basic house information.

Resources

The following links represent some of the major historic home surveys conducted over the last century, both nationally and specific to sites within Connecticut. Two specialized, derivative reports are cited, as well.

Connecticut WPA Architectural Survey

Connecticut State Library: Research Guide to Old House Resources

HABS-HAER-HALS, 1933-Present [Home Page]

HABS-HAER-HALS, 1933-Present [Collection/Search Page]

Saltboxes in the Historic American Building Survey

Timber Frame Houses in the Historic American Building Survey

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