Remembering Ed Levin

It was with much sadness and regret that I’d learned the news this past weekend of the sudden loss of Ed Levin. Ed was a timber framing luminary; one of a small number of folks responsible for the revival of timber framing as both a traditional craft and commercial trade, back in the 1970s.

I can’t say I really knew Ed personally, although I’d met him at a past TTRAG symposium. But I’ve read a great many of his articles, and I’m familiar with his myriad contributions to timber framing, as they’re covered in many of my timber framing books and journals.

Image of Ed Levin in the 1970s .

Ed Levin in the 1970s (Image Source: Ken Rower / Timber Framers Guild).

In an email released by the Timber Framers Guild on Saturday, Ken Rower described Ed as “a careful craftsman, lay engineer, exacting frame designer, principal founder of the Guild, and early adopter of CAD”, and as having introduced his colleagues to the esoterica of early timber framing, including “…the medieval roots of western timber frame design, compound roof joinery, and French scribe layout methods”.

He went on to say how after retirement from active framing, Ed became “…a timber framer’s timber framer, for twenty years, solving countless design and joinery questions for other craftsmen.”

Clearly, Ed with be sorely missed. Ken’s email stated that a full tribute is being planned for the October issue of Scantlings, the Timber Framers Guild newsletter.


A memorial service to honor Ed Levin will be held September 7, 2 pm, at Green Woodlands, in Dorchester, N.H. Please RSVP Ken Rower.

For a far better remembrance than I could ever hope to write, please see the Timber Framers Guild’s memoriam of Ed.

I’d just received (at noon on 31 August 2013), from Jay C. White Cloud, a copy of this letter from Ed’s wife. Here it is, in its entirety:

Dear Friends of Ed,
I am sorry to bring you very sad news – Ed Levin passed away suddenly on August 22nd.  Ed’s death was completely unexpected, and presumed to be caused by a pulmonary embolism, a probable complication from an otherwise uneventful recovery from hip replacement surgery. He had just had his 6 week followup visit with his surgeon. As he left the hospital he felt mild pain and numbness in his leg and returned immediately to the emergency room, then collapsed suddenly as he was walking up and down the hall, being evaluated for his gait. He was clearly in the best possible place to be saved, but unfortunately it was not possible. 
I have enclosed Ed’s obituary and directions to his memorial service, which will take place on September 7th in New Hampshire. The service will consist of comments from family, friends, and colleagues. If you wish to speak, please contact Ken Rower (, who is organizing the program. Also, Ed’s daughter Cora commented  that “ a room full of timber framers in suits doesn’t feel very Ed-like to me”, so if you come, please consider wearing suspenders :-)
I have tried to identify names in Ed’s list of contacts who were not professional colleagues in the Timber Framers Guild to include in this message. If you think of others who should know about Ed’s passing (for example, other members of the Wooden Shoe, whose addresses I don’t have), please forward this information to them.
Ed was the kindest man I ever knew. I was so lucky have him as my husband, and to raise our children together.


ED LEVIN MEMORIAL SERVICE  (via Jay C. White Cloud; Please RSVP Ken Rower if you plan to attend)
2:00 PM

Head north on I-93
Take Exit 26 toward Plymouth
Merge onto NH 3A/S (Tenney Mt. Hwy), go 4.0 mi
At traffic circle, take 1st exit onto NH 25 W (Mt. Moosilauke Hwy), go 7.5 mi
Turn left onto NH 118 S, go 2.3 mi
Turn right onto Hearse House Rd, go 1 mi to end
Turn right onto Bickford Woods Rd, go 1.3 mi to end
Turn left onto North Dorchester Rd, go 2.4 mi
Turn right about 1000 yards past Thayer Rd at the Green Woodlands sign. Follow Green Woodlands signs on internal roads for about 4 mi to Barn House on Cummins Pond.

From Canaan, N. H. (US Route 4):

1. Head north on NH 118 into Dorchester
2. Left on North Dorchester Road, go about 3+ miles (don’t turn on Cummins Pond
3. Left at large Green Woodlands sign with red metal gate
4. If you pass Thayer Road, turn around (entrance is 1000 yards south of Thayer Rd)
5. Follow signs on internal Green Woodlands Roads approximately 4 mi to Barn House

From Lyme, N. H. (NH 10):

1. Head north on NH 10 through Lyme village and bear right onto Dorchester Rd at
Lyme Congregational Church at end of rectangular common (if coming south, fork
left off main road at back of church and turn left at end of carriage sheds)
2. Proceed on Dorchester Rd for 3 mi and take left at dirt continuation of
Dorchester Rd (if you see the Dartmouth Skiway turn around — you missed the dirt
continuation of Dorchester Rd)
3. Proceed 4.5 mi past Reservoir Pond until you see a large Road Closed sign
4. High-clearance vehicles—trucks or SUVs, not cars—can make the next mile, slowly
and carefully, to Barn House (or you can walk the last mile)

Telephone at Barn House 603-795-2718.


Posted in Timber Framers | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Bucket Head Rocks!

Bucket Head™ is one of those simple inventions that makes you wonder how you’d previously gotten along without it. Marketed by Home Depot, it’s a small wet/dry vacuum head that snaps on top of their ubiquitous five gallon Homer Bucket™.

Image of Bucket Head Wet/Dry Vac Powerhead.

The Bucket Head 1.5HP wet/dry vac “powerhead”.

What’s so great about Bucket Head™ is it’s cheap (about $22), compact, and reasonably powerful. I use mine almost exclusively for occasional wet pickups, as my larger shop vacuum is nearly always in use, and I’m loath to remove its dry content and filter just to scoop up a puddle or three.

Bucket Head™’s 1.5 HP motor sucks up standing water like I swill beers down on warm days, and it can quickly fill that 5 gallon bucket. You know the bucket is near capacity when the motor begins to slow down, at which point, simply remove the vacuum and empty the bucket.

Image of Bucket Head on top of Homer Bucket

Bucket Head, atop of a five gallon Homer Bucket.

The overall compact size of the Bucket Head™ plus Homer Bucket™ combination makes it easy to get it into tight spaces. And, as you can imagine, it’s far easier to manage a simple paint bucket of debris or water, than the canister of a larger wet/dry vac.

Image of hose picking up standing water from tarp folds.

Using Bucket Head to pick up standing water (and an occasional soggy leaf) from some folds in a tarp.

Bucket Head™ comes with a four foot long, 1.25″ hose, which can probably accommodate most 1.25″ wet/dry vac accessories, although I’ve never used any accessories with mine. It also comes with a simple fabric filter for dry pickup that can easily be cleaned or replaced.

Its rear blower port spits a bit during wet pickup, but it’s really no big deal. And if this, or kicking up surrounding dust, were a real concern, one could always attach a second, longer hose to the rear port to divert the air flow away, a practice I frequently use with larger wet/dry vacs.

Image of Bucket Head being removed from the Homer Bucket.

Now all that nasty, mosquito-breeding water can easily be dispatched.


One word of warning: whenever using any kind of power equipment near water, including any wet/dry vacuum, never stand directly in water, nor on a wet or damp surface, and always make sure your equipment is plugged into a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI)-protected outlet. If none’s available, use a portable CFCI adapter. I always carry one in my dedicated safety bag.

Image of GFCI adapter and cord.

A GFCI-protected cord set.


Here’s a short video review of Bucket Head™ by the Tools In Action guys, covering all the salient points. Spoiler alert: this video ends with a cameo by Ty Pennington, who can be a bit of a tool himself, as well as the historic preservationist’s equivalent of the Antichrist ;-) .


I wrote this product review of my own initiative and received no compensation for it.

Posted in Tools Review | Tagged , | 6 Comments

Phil Russo On The Sanford-Bristol House

[Editor's note: Phil Russo, an original member of the Milford Presentation Trust, had recently provided me his commentary on the threatened Sanford-Bristol House (c. 1790) of Milford, Connecticut, which I'd found highly relevant and worthy of publication here as a full article. What follows are his words in their entirety, with only very minor editorial revision on my part. Many thanks to Phil Russo for contributing his perspectives on the Sanford-Bristol House, and his support of its ongoing preservation and, hopefully, future restoration.]

My name is Phil Russo. I am one of the original members of the Milford Preservation Trust. I was a part of the effort to save the John Downs House. I have over 20 years of fine woodworking, restoration, furniture making, timber framing and hand tool experience (building reproductions, and restoring originals). I have known Kathy and Richard Lutz quite well, and toured the Sanford House MANY times, including trips to the cellar to view the sills and framing.

Even if the house has “10%” damage to it’s framework, IT STILL FAR OUT CLASSES ANY construction made today. And one should realize that you CAN NOT replace a house built by hand with timbers that could be as much as 500 to 1000 years old when harvested! Yes ALL old houses settle, they especially settle around brick or chimney work, because wood expands, contracts, and rots (brick, for the most part, does not).

The real argument here is simply financial. If the house was purchased for $150,000 due to it being “stripped” and now you want the location and comfort of a new structure ….you’re NOT the right person to own an historic house. Any old home is an ongoing project; it never ends, but the results are not only preserving the past, but ensuring a future for the property. Frankly I wanted to take my grand children to Milford to see this beautiful house, a house I wanted to own myself at one point. As part of a fund raiser for the Downs house project, I’d constructed a hand made gingerbread house, made in the image of the Sanford house some years back!

It is NOT an option to demolish this house! Mr Farrell purchased it cheap enough!!! It is his responsibility to maintain and restore this house. EVERY house has had additions put on that were possibly detrimental; you fix it, and move on the the next area that needs attention. A structure that has stood for more than 150 years built out of wood is going to need attention!!!! Mr Farrell most certainly knew this, and if not, then his expectations for the home were totally misaligned with reality. When one is buying an historic car to restore, you look it over, and when you find rust, (and you WILL), you multiply that by 10 and that is a reasonable estimation of the project ahead. With a house, it’s the same. At $150,000, figure on putting in at least $300,000 over a reasonable period of time, for a proper restoration.

There is NO reason this house cannot be saved, and no matter how “pretty” the plans are for a new structure, it will NEVER be a part of Milford’s past, nor the source of Pride that the Sanford-Bristol house HAS been since 1850 when it was built to its current construction. SELL THE HOUSE TO SOMEONE WHO CARES ENOUGH TO SAVE IT!! A historic home is NOT an investment for the future; there is NO profit in it. It is a labor of love and preservation. Mr Farrell is obviously NOT up to this task, and the Milford Historic District Commission needs as much of an overhaul as does the Sanford-Bristol House.

- Phil Russo

Image of Sanford-Bristol House and bumper sticker


Posted in Historic Preservation | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Sanford-Bristol House Links

Below is a collection of links to online resources for the threatened rescued Sanford-Bristol House (c. 1790) of Milford, Connecticut, including news articles, blog postings, letters to the editor, etc., listed in reverse chronological order of publication. If you’re aware of anything that ought to be listed here, but isn’t, please post a comment to that effect, and I’ll gladly include it.

Image of the Sanford-Bristol House (c. 1789-90).


Poole, John, Preservation Award for Sanford-Bristol House Rescue, A Preservationist’s Technical Notebook, 6 April 2014.

Milford Mirror, State group honors Milford preservationists for saving historic Sanford-Bristol house, 2 April 2014.

Farrell, William and Gwendolyn, Farrell defends his actions regarding Sanford Bristol house, Milford Mirror, 12 March 2014. [Note: This is the first time the previous owners voiced their opinion on the Sanford-Bristol House controversy publicly]

Milford Mirror, Group effort saved historic house, 23 January 2014.

Dion, Jill, Happy ending for historic Sanford-Bristol House, Milford Mirror, 23 January 2014.

Bagley, Jason, Historic Milford House Worth the Time, Says New Owner, Milford Patch, 22 January 2014.

Burgeson, John, New owner: Old house has much to teach, Connecticut Post, 21 January 2014.

Mills, Lesley and Hartman, Joe, Sanford Bristol House On Twitter, 18 January 2014.

Milford Preservation Trust, Success in Saving Milford’s History, 17 January 2014.

Swebilius, Phyllis, Saving of Milford’s 1790 house a reason to celebrate, 17 January 2014.

Poole, John, New Owner For Sanford-Bristol House,  A Preservationist’s Technical Notebook, 16 January 2014.

Poole, John, Best Christmas Present Ever, A Preservationist’s Technical Notebook, 24 December 2013.

Lintow, Sr., Sean, Looking for the Ultimate Christmas Gift; aka, a Christmas Miracle is Needed, The Homeowner’s and Trades Resource Center, 23 December 2013.

Milford Mirror, Buyer steps forward to save historic Sanford Bristol house, 20 December 2013.

Poole, John, Snow at Sanford-Bristol House, A Preservationist’s Technical Notebook, 18 December 2013.

Mills, Lesley and Ziff, Joe, Sanford Bristol House Facebook Page, 17 December 2013.

Cushman, Ted, Preservationists Try to Save Historic Coastal Connecticut House, Journal Of Light Construction, 19 November 2013.

Dion, Jill, Milford man will donate Sanford-Bristol paneling and mantels to help save historic house, Milford Mirror, 18 November 2013.

Milford Mirror Staff, How to buy Sanford-Bristol house, Milford Mirror, 12 November 2013.

Poole, John, Urgent Historic Home Sale, A Preservationist’s Technical Notebook, 10 November 2013.

Bagley, Jason, Historic Milford House Save from Demolition – For Now, Milford Patch, 6 November 2013.

Dion, Jill, Court Agreement give preservationists 67 days to find a buyer for Sanford-Bristol house, Milford Mirror, 6 November 2013.

Swebilius, Phyllis, Historic Milford house gets reprieve from demolition, New Haven Register, 6 November 2013.

Genovese, Barbara, Move to demolish historic home questioned, Letter to the Editor, Connecticut Post, 5 November 2013.

Swebilius, Phyllis, Second Group Joins Suit To Save 1790 Milford House, Connecticut Magazine, 22 October 2013.

Burgeson, John, Art Stowe’s letter to the Milford Historical Society on 111-113 North St., Connecticut Postings, 18 October 2013.

Swebilius, Phyllis, Demolition of historic Milford house blocked for now, New Haven Register, 17 October 2013.

Dion, Jill, Milford Preservation Trust files injunction to save Sanford-Bristol house, Milford Mirror, 16 October 2013.

Poole, John, Shadow of the Season, A Preservationist’s Technical Notebook, 7 October 2013.

Chaucer, Tim, Destroying historic home is wrong, Letter to the Editor, New Haven Register, 2 October 2013.

Kramer, Michele, Officials idle as demolition looms, Letter to the Editor, New Haven Register, 2 October 2013.

Poole, John, Rehabbing Sanford-Bristol House ‘Greener Alternative’ to Demolition, Milford Patch, 29 September 2013.

Poole, John, Environmental Impact of Demolishing the Sanford-Bristol House, Letter to the Editor, Milford Patch, 28 September 2013.

Kramer, Michele, Take a stand for preservation, Letter to the Editor, Connecticut Post, 27 September 2013.

Kramer, Michele, Clock ticks for demolition delay ordinance, Letter to the Editor, Milford Mirror, 25 September 2013.

Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation, “Local Historic Districts: Protecting Neighborhood Character”, Connecticut Preservation News, September/October 2013.
[Cites the Sanford-Bristol House situation as an example of the need for HDCs to begin using stronger criteria in deciding on demolitions]

Poole, John, Environmental Impact of Demolishing and Replacing the Sanford-Bristol House, A Preservationist’s Technical Notebook, 19 September 2013.

Chaucer, Tim, Chaucer argues that Sanford Bristol is not beyond repair, Letter to the Editor, Milford Mirror, 17 September 2013.

Russo, Phil, Another Perspective From Phil Russo, A Preservationist’s Technical Notebook, 14 September 2013.

Erickson, Joe, Saving Homes at Risk for Demolition, RuskinARC Newsletter, 11 September 2013.

Samuelian, Tony, Reader admires Carroll-Dwyer for quitting historical board, Letter to the Editor, Milford Mirror, 11 September 2013.

Poole, John, Environmental Impact of Demolition-Replacement, A Preservationist’s Technical Notebook, 9 September 2013.

Wolf, Joan, Reader not happy with historical house situation, Letter to the Editor, Milford Mirror, 4 September 2013.

Russo, Phil, Resident says historic house should not be razed, Letter to the Editor, Milford Mirror, 29 August 2013.

Dion, Jill, Former Historical Society president quits board in protest of decision to raze historic house, Milford Mirror, 23 August 2013.

Damicis, Adrienne, Milford needs to maintain its historic homes, Letter to the Editor, Milford Mirror, 21 August 2013.

Russo, Phil, Phil Russo on the Sanford-Bristol House, A Preservationist’s Technical Notebook, 19 August 2013.

Damicis, Adrienne, Maintain Milford’s historic character, Letter to the Editor, Connecticut Post, 14 August 2013.

Poole, John, Professor Collier: Save Sanford-Bristol House, A Preservationist’s Technical Notebook, 13 August 2013.

Collier, Christopher, Milford needs an outcry to save historic house, Letter to the Editor, Connecticut Post, 12 August 2013.

Swebilius, Phyllis, Milford residents can offer opinions on historic house demolition as deadline looms, New Haven Register, 10 August 2013.

Potts, Amy, Keep Milford History Alive, Says Resident, Letter to the Editor, Milford Patch, 9 August 2013. [Includes commentary by past owner Katherine Lutz]

Poole, John, Email Your Support For The Sanford-Bristol House, A Preservationist’s Technical Notebook, 3 August 2013.

Kelly D., July 29, 2013: Endangered Houses and Demolition News, Old House Dreams, 29 July 2013.

Smith, Doug, Sanford-Bristol House Editorial Cartoon, Milford Mirror, 25 July 2013.

White Cloud, Jay, C., Calls for new historic home mandates, Letter to the Editor, Milford Mirror, 25 July 2013.

Clark, Elsie-Marie, Says we should take care of our Historic District, Letter to the Editor, Milford Mirror, 24 July 2013.

Smith, Bill, Who Ya Gonna Call?, A Preservationist’s Technical Notebook, 23 July 2013.

Poole, John, If owner of historic Milford home can’t restore it, sell, don’t demolish: An Open Letter to Mr. William Farrell, Letter to the Editor, New Haven Register, 21 July 2013.

Kramer, Michelle, Says Milford does not respect its history, Letter to the Editor, Milford Mirror, 17 July 2013.

Poole, John, Architectural historian laments house demolition, Letter to the Editor, Milford Mirror, 17 July 2013.

Diving Into History, Sanford Bristol House: Historic Preservationist Turned Demolition Activist?, Diving Into History Blog, 16 July 2013.

Poole, John, A plea to save historic Milford home (An Open Letter to Mr. William Farrell), Letter to the Editor, Connecticut Post, 16 July 2013.

Emmons, Michael, Rare 1790 Dutch Colonial Gambrel to be Demolished by…Historical Society Guy?, Historic House Blog, 14 July 2013.

Norwich Bulletin, Possible demolition of Conn. home stirs dispute, 14 July 2013.

Burgeson, John, VP of Historical Society wants to raze his 1790 home, Connecticut Post, 13 July 2013.

Genovese, Barbara, Milford Historic Commission wrong to back demolition of 1700s house, Letter to the Editor, New Haven Register, 13 July 2013.

Poole, John, An Open Letter To Mr. William Farrell, A Preservationist’s Technical Notebook, 13 July 2013.

Clark, Elsie-Marie, Resident doesn’t think historic house should be leveled, Letter to the Editor, Milford Mirror, 10 July 2013.

Bercham, et al, Milford board defends actions, Letter to the Editor, Connecticut Post, 10 July 2013.

Dion, Jill, Discussion continues regarding razing of historic North Street house, Milford Mirror, 9 July 2013. [Includes interview of past owner Katherine Lutz]

Bercham, et al, Historic commission stands by its decision, Letter to the Editor, Milford Mirror, 9 July 2013.

Swebilius, Phyllis, Preservationists at odds over Milford historic house, New Haven Register, 8 July, 2013.

Platt Jr., Richard N., Milford wrong to allow historic home to be demolished, Letter to the Editor, New Haven Register, 30 June 2013.

Genovese, Barabara, Genovese knocks plans to demolish historic house, Letter to the Editor, Milford Mirror, 27 June 2013.

Dion, Jill, Owner gets permission to demolish historic house on North Street, Milford Mirror, 25 June 2013.

Platt Jr., Richard N., Milford commission falls short, Letter to the Editor, Connecticut Post, 25 June 2013.

Nwosu, Nneka, Vote to demolish historic Milford home, News 8 WTNH, 24 June 2013.

Dion, Jill, Historic commission tables request to demolish North Street house, Milford Mirror, 31 May 2013.

News 8 WTNH, Fight to save historic Milford home (Video), 28 may 2013. [Includes interview of Richard Platt]

Sartor, Ryan, Milford Preservation Trust Trying to Protect North Street Home from Demolition, Milford Patch, 27 May 2013.

Dion, Jill, City historian says he will oppose demolition of downtown house in historic district, Milford Mirror, 21 May 2013.

Sterner, Daniel, Thomas Sanford House (1789), Historic Buildings of Connecticut, 10 May 2012.


Additional downloadable collateral will be posted here as it becomes available.

Sanford-Bristol House Petition Form (PDF)

Image of Sanford-Bristol House and bumper sticker

#ThisPlaceMatters #MilfordCT #HistoricBuildings #Preservation #OldHouse #CTHistory

Posted in Historic Preservation | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Professor Collier: Save Sanford-Bristol House

University of Connecticut Professor Emeritus of History, and former Connecticut State Historian, Christopher (“Kit”) Collier, yesterday published a letter in the Connecticut Post, calling for Milford citizens to save the threatened Sanford-Bristol House (c. 1790).

Image of the Sanford-Bristol House (c. 1789-90).

The Sanford-Bristol House (c. 1789-90). From “History of Milford, Connecticut: 1639-1939″.

In his Connecticut Post letter, Professor Collier dismissed the notion that a replica home can seamlessly replace an historic original, while also observing that many Connecticut homes in far worse condition than the Sanford-Bristol House have been saved and restored over the years. He finally called upon Milford’s citizenry to attempt to save this unique home via their collective voice.

Demolition markings on the Sanford-Bristol House.

Demolition markings on the Sanford-Bristol House.

If you have not already done so, please send an email in support of saving the Sanford-Bristol House, to the Milford Preservation Trust. There’s still time; every voice is needed, and every voice counts.

About Kit Collier

After receiving his Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1964, Professor and Historian Christopher Collier taught school in Connecticut, as well as at Columbia’s Teachers College. He also wrote a number of well-known historical novels based on colonial and Revolutionary War history, many in collaboration with his brother, James Collier. From 1984 t0 2004, Professor Collier served as Connecticut’s State Historian. He and his wife are also owners and restorers of a circa 1790 home in Orange, Connecticut.

Image of Professor Christopher Collier

Professor Christopher Collier (Image Source:


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Campbell Homestead (c.1784) Now Slated for Demolition

What the hell is going on here?

Why are today’s heirs of “Still Revolutionary” Connecticut so determined to destroy the very few, remaining vestiges of our Revolutionary era?

That was my reaction, while reading in the Connecticut Post today about the latest new owners’ plans to destroy yet one more eighteenth century Connecticut home. In this case, the victim is the Campbell Homestead, built in 1784, in Fairfield, Connecticut:

An image of the Campbell House (c.1784), Fairfield, Connecticut.

The Campbell House (c.1784), in Fairfield, Connecticut, is a 5/5 upright home with an attached, two-story ell. (Image Source: Halstead Property).

Located at 696 Hillside Road, in the Greenfield Hill section of Fairfield, the home was purchased in early July for $875,000, by William and Danielle Sharp. According to the Connecticut Post article, the Sharps soon sent registered letters to their neighbors, stating the house was going to be razed on August 1st.

And in a move similar to that of William Farrell of Milford, with the Sanford-Bristol House, they marked their home with “696 Demo” in orange spray paint, despite having not yet even submitted an application for a demolition permit. Really? Are people so determined to tear these homes down that they can’t even wait to apply for a demo permit before marking the house?

A great irony here is that, despite having been modernized in certain respects, the home appears to be in pristine condition. The two photos I’ve included in this post are from Halstead Property’s sales listing, and you can view the entire set of Halstead’s photos here.

Image of the Campbell House keeping room.

The Campbell House keeping room features an original corner cupboard with a classic upper cove and carved moulding, encased timber framing, and plank flooring. (Image Source: Halstead Property).

The Connecticut Post article also quoted Ellen Gould, Chairwoman of the Greenfield Hill Historic District Commission, as stating that a ninety-day demolition delay will still be applied to the Campbell House, given its age. However, as the home is not located within the Greenfield Hill Historic District itself, nor listed on National or State registers, it ultimately has no real protection.



Historic and vintage homes are at greatest risk whenever they change hands. Rarely does an existing owner destroy a home they’ve lived in for years to build anew. More often than not, demolition is perpetrated either by a commercial entity, or a new, private owner, with a pocket full of money, and an ego-feeding vision of creating something newer and grander, in a location they perceive as desirable, instead of conserving the structure already there.

And at the dictate of expediency, demolition invariably is the only answer. Never do you hear these shortsighted folks propose seeking out a new owner who’s willing to relocate the home elsewhere. Which is a shame, because there is indeed a niche collectors market here in New England for historic homes, where well-moneyed patrons who want them are usually willing to purchase and move them, especially some of the more pristine ones.

Nor do you ever hear the demolishers propose at least salvaging historic materials, for which there’s an even broader niche market. The exception, of course, is when the owners proudly say how they’re going to incorporate a few random timbers or foundation stones as decorative accents in the new place — a practice they feel will absolve them of any historical wrongdoing committed by destroying the whole house. Some will even go as far as claiming this to be an acceptable form of heritage conservation, which of course, is complete nonsense.

Non-Coincidental Incidentals

Just a very short while ago, Terrain Garden Center in Westport, Connecticut, withdrew plans to demolish an historic home on their property, because of the resulting public outcry. A preferred outcome, certainly. But keep in mind their change of heart was most likely a response to much negative publicity that could’ve hurt their business. Their future use of this home is, as of yet, still undecided.

The Top Six Biggest Threats To Historic Homes

Here in Connecticut, historic homes, especially those of the 18th century, are toppling at an alarming rate. Here’s my own top six list of the greatest threats to the survival of these buildings, in decreasing order of severity:

1. New owners with deep pockets, big egos, and a lack of appreciation for, or a complete indifference to, both the cultural and practical value of our built heritage.

2. Commercial developers, especially those from out of town.

3. Unconcerned or misguided Planning and Zoning offices, and gutless Historic District Commissions.

4. Indifferent heirs who, only wanting their share of an inheritance, have little or no concern about a buyer’s plans for their ancestor’s property.

5. Fire.

6. Unmanaged bulk water, or significant moisture infiltration.

There are, of course, a great many other sources of threat, but most pale in comparison to the six listed above. [I'll adjust this list from time to time, based on experiences, or my increasingly jaundiced perceptions.]

Image of angry, grumpy John.

This militant preservationist has not been too happy as of late…

Posted in Historic Preservation | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Email Your Support For The Sanford-Bristol House

Milford Preservation Trust, Inc. is sending this letter to all current members, past members and potential members asking for your support in helping preserve the Sanford/Bristol house.

This house is located at 111/113 North St. in Milford Historic District #1. We are offering to seek assistance for the owner to preserve and restore this distinctive house which dates to circa 1790.

Please send a brief letter by return email to us to show your support for the preservation of the house. Feel free to circulate this request for support letters.

Thanks so much,

Regina Cahill
Milford Preservation Trust []

Sample email letter:

I/We support the efforts of Milford Preservation Trust, Inc. to prevent the demolition of the Sanford/Bristol house at 111/113 North St., Milford, CT. This house is a national historic resource, circa 1790, in the River Park National Historic District.


Image of "Save the Sanford-Bristol House" bumper sticker.


Posted in Historic Preservation | Tagged , , | 12 Comments

Prayer Spring Farm

Last fall, I wrote extensively about a Georgian saltbox in the Oronoque community of Stratford, Connecticut, that was facing demolition. My two main articles about this house were Imminent Historic Teardown, and Oronoque Saltbox Requiem. I’d also been given access to the home to survey and photograph it during those final days, and I’d recently published the survey results in my online archive.

I’d had no knowledge at that time, however, of the origins of this house, and quite frankly, was far more concerned about capturing material details of the home’s architecture and framing, before it came down. But realizing I’d been long overdue in providing an account of the home’s history, I visited the Stratford Historical Society just this past week, and with help from their staff, was able to finally learn the story of the Oronoque saltbox.

Image of Prayer Spring Farm and Oronque saltbox, Stratford, Connecticut., late 1800s.

Upper Main Street of Stratford, Connecticut, in the late nineteenth century. Prayer Spring Farm is toward the left and center. The Oronoque saltbox can be seen ahead in the distance. The old stone retaining wall on the left still exists today. (Image Source: Stratford Historical Society).

It turns out the Oronoque saltbox had been part of Prayer Spring Farm, a property owned by the Reverend Nathan Birdseye (1714-1818). The legend behind its name is that, during a prolonged drought, Rev. Birdseye prayed for relief. And shortly after, a spring was discovered that had provided water to the farm ever since. Rev. Birdseye lived well over one hundred years of age, and was said to have even delivered a sermon in his one hundredth year.

According to notes in the Stratford Historical Society’s collection, Rev. Birdseye built the Oronoque saltbox in 1772, for his son, Captain Joseph Birdseye (1740-1817). Joseph’s younger brother, Ezra Birdseye (1749-1832), also appeared to have been associated with the house. Perhaps the brothers shared the home, or Ezra took ownership after Joseph’s death.

This next photo shows the Oronoque saltbox as it appeared in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Note the large, balustraded front porch, and overhead supported by four columns; all very Victorian additions that were subsequently removed in later times. Two Gilded Age ladies are relaxing beneath the large shade tree:

Image of Prayer Spring Farm saltbox home, Stratford, Connecticut, late 1800s.

The Prayer Spring Farm saltbox on Main Street. At that time, Main Street was a simple carriage path, with trolley tracks heading up to Shelton and Derby. (Image Source: Stratford Historical Society).

What I love most about this photo is it reveals the original rear “lean-to” roof of the home. When I’d surveyed the Oronoque saltbox last October, I’d discovered the lean-to wasn’t in its original position, but had been elevated and extended in width, allowing the rear kitchen wall to be pushed farther back. An interesting blend of both timber and early dimensional framing defined this addition, leading me to believe this work had most likely been accomplished in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. A small ell, serving as a summer kitchen, had also been added to the rear of the saltbox at that time.

The following photo zooms-in on the previous one, showing some details of the original lean-to roof, which I’ve annotated in yellow font:

Image of the original rear roof of the Oronoque saltbox.

A close-up of the Oronoque saltbox, highlighting details of the original lean-to.

The lean-to breaks just above the kitchen window, at which point, the roof assumes a more gentle pitch. I often refer to the lower, gentler roof section one sometimes finds at the very rear of a saltbox as a “catslide”. However, this isn’t really correct, as “catslide” is a southern term which means the same as “saltbox”, or “lean-to”. But as I’m not aware of any correct architectural term for these roof sections, I tend to say “catslide”.

Nonetheless, what I call the “catslide” enabled the rear wall to be extended just a bit farther back, providing more floor space, while still allowing a reasonable amount of headroom. Just eyeballing the photo, it looks like the rear wall was just about four feet beyond the kitchen window.

Here’s another photo of the Oronoque saltbox, taken in 1950. A note on the back indicated Harold DeLacour was then owner:

An image of the Oronoque saltbox in 1950.

The Oronoque saltbox in 1950. (Image Source: Stratford Historical Society)

Here, the Oronoque saltbox appears much closer, architecturally, to what I’d encountered last fall. The lean-to had been elevated and widened, and its rake line is completely straight. In fact, the rake appears much higher above the kitchen window than it was in the previous photograph. The rear wall had been positioned farther back as a result of the wider lean-to, and a second kitchen window had also been added. The ell attached to the kitchen, with its characteristic tall and narrow chimney, is also visible, as well as a barn behind the home.

Below is a diagram from my survey report giving a sectional view of the Oronoque saltbox frame. I’d initially drawn this diagram to compare the original and extended lean-tos. But now, I’ve also included an approximate representation of the catslide:

Image of a sectional representation of the Oronoque saltbox frame.

Sectional view of the Oronoque saltbox frame, contrasting the original and extended lean-to roofs.

During some period of time between 1940 and 1950, the Oronoque saltbox was home to Rex B. DeLacour, a brigadier general of considerable renown. According to another note in the Stratford Historical Society’s collection, it was during his sojourn there that a fire had started in the kitchen, and spread through much of the house.

Image of the Oronoque saltbox after the fire.

The Oronoque saltbox after the fire. (Image Source: Stratford Historical Society)

By 1951, Rex DeLacour was deceased, and the house was owned by his brother, Harold DeLacour. A local resident who knew something of the DeLacours told me he believed it was Harold who repaired much of the fire damage. He then sold the home in 1951.

Image of firefighters inside the Oronoque saltbox kitchen.

Firefighters inside the Oronoque saltbox kitchen. At this point, the men appeared mostly to be posing for the photo. Note the chief with a cigarette in his mouth, and one firefighter raising his axe in an exaggerated manner. (Image Source: Stratford Historical Society)

Images of exposed blackened timbers in the Oronoque saltbox kitchen.

A view of the same location, from my survey last fall. Note the exposed timbers, blackened by the fire of well over sixty years before.

Many years later, the Oronoque saltbox came under the ownership of Thomas Malick, who eventually sold the property, in late 2012, to an oil company concern that subsequently demolished the home, and replaced it with a Mobil gas station and Alltown Convenience store.


When I’d surveyed the Oronoque saltbox last fall, I’d found that, though many of its timbers had been blackened by fire, they were remarkably whole. Only the center post in the kitchen showed signs of charring; the others were merely singed. It’s often reported that the highly dense, primordial-growth wood found in most early New England timber frames is quite slow to burn, in sharp contrast to today’s chemical-laden and overly engineered wood and composite products. The frame also appeared to be in remarkably good shape; it was mostly plumb and true, and its joinery still tight, with no significant withdrawal to be seen anywhere. Unlike many early New England homes, the Oronoque saltbox had never been moved; furthermore, it was situated on an apparently stable foundation, with no obvious sags, bows, or cracks.

In my opinion, had this home been properly restored, and maintained going forward, it could’ve lasted another 240 years. It had been argued that the home’s location made it no longer suitable as a domicile. But neighborhoods and land-use practices change, evolve, and cycle-back over the decades. The Oronoque saltbox could’ve been re-purposed for some commercially viable role (for example, as a bed-and-breakfast, or perhaps a commercial office space offering the cachet of working in a 240 year old structure), until some future time, when it might’ve become valued once again as a residential structure. An often acknowledged characteristic of these very old homes is their almost unlimited adaptability.

But unfortunately, our collective mindset today is highly conditioned to prefer unending consumption, quick commercial gain, and a certain convenient forgetfulness, over the value of cultural heritage, and its continuity across time and generations. When the Oronoque saltbox was destroyed, the last, remaining vestige of all that had been Prayer Spring Farm was lost forever. Today, the area is indistinguishable from any other overly commercialized neighborhood.

Finally, as yet another example of our unfortunate attitude toward historic homes, I point to the demolition threat currently facing the Sanford-Bristol House (c. 1790), of Milford, Connecticut’s River Park Historic District. In my opinion, this threat likewise is driven by the same misplaced goals I’d alluded to in the preceding paragraph. See the articles Open Letter To Mr. William Farrell, Who Ya Gonna Call?, and Email Your Support For The Sanford-Bristol House, to read a bit further about this ongoing preservation fight.


Many, many thanks to the Stratford Historical Society, and their excellent research staff, for assisting me in my request for more information on the history of the Oronoque saltbox, and for sharing material from their extensive collection.

A satellite image of the Oronoque saltbox during its final days.

The satellite image currently (as of this writing) returned by Google Maps for 7296 Main Street, Stratford, Connecticut, shows the Oronoque saltbox and job site during the days I’d been surveying the home, in the latter part of October, 2012. (Image Source: Google Maps)

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Who Ya Gonna Call?

I’m a bit smitten, beguiled if you will, by a house that really should mean nothing to me. I’ll never own or live in this house. I would, however, like to see it. For that to happen, apparently I’d have to make an unplanned trip to Milford, Connecticut, in the next 90 days or so. That’s the scheduled execution (AKA demolition) date for this house.

I found out about the Sanford-Bristol House from John Poole, on his excellent blog, A Preservationist’s Technical Notebook. The smitten part comes from the roofline. Here’s an old photo of the house from The History of Milford, Connecticut: 1639-1939, which John had included in his recent Open Letter:

Image of the Sanford-Bristol House (c. 1789-90).

The Sanford-Bristol House (c. 1789-90). From “History of Milford, Connecticut: 1639-1939″.

A much more recent photograph of the home is this one, which comes from Daniel Sterner’s Historic Buildings of Connecticut:

Image of the Sanford-Bristol House, from Daniel Sterner, Historic Buildings of Connecticut

The Sanford-Bristol House. From Daniel Sterner’s “Historic Buildings of Connecticut”.

And two recent articles, the New Haven Register’s “Preservationists at odds over Milford historic house“, and the Connecticut Post’s “VP of Historical Society wants to raze his 1790 home“, thoroughly cover the developments leading to the Sanford-Bristol House’s threatened state.

The roofline caught my eye first. It’s clearly a hybrid, drawing on Dutch Colonial and English styles, but it works. The five small dormers, the sweeping curve of the porch, the saltbox back roof. On paper it sounds like a bad “design by committee” approach. Visually it’s charming. I’ve never seen another roof form like it, and given the geographic ranges where Dutch Colonial and Saltbox were common and overlap, it might well be unique.

Closeup up photo of Sanford-Bristol House front roof.

The front of the Sanford-Bristol House features a gambrel roof, the lower half of which is defined by a graceful Dutch “kicker”, and five small shed dormers which follow the slope of the upper portion of the roof.

The two news articles describe the controversy surrounding the demolition plans, but from my point of view, the owner may be getting bad advice. He may have wanted that advice, but that’s a whole other subject. If you’ve got an old house and you want to determine whether it can be saved, who DO you call?

Photo of an end of the Sanford-Bristol House, showing the cat slide lean-to.

…while the rear of the east end of the home includes a lean-to extension with a classic “cat slide” roof.

Judging the construction of an 18th century house in terms of the 21st century is not a useful exercise. The forms can look similar, but there are some striking differences. Take foundations; modern concrete is a great material, and it is fairly easy to get repeatable results with moderately low skilled labor. Old rubble foundations required a skilled and experienced person who could scan the available stones, and select and place them to interlock into a stable form.

In my experience, most structural engineers don’t like to work with rubble foundations. There are no structural strength tables that account for the skill of a good stone wall builder. Ask a structural engineer to certify the integrity of a rubble foundation, and most likely he or she will decline. Not that the foundation is bad, but it can’t be calculated in a way that will satisfy most engineers who are putting their license and reputation on the line every time they stamp a drawing.

Photo of rubble stone porch foundation and steps of the Sanford-Bristol Home.

Part of the rubble stone foundation work supporting the porch, and forming the front steps.

So, and this may be a subversive idea, but if you’re working with a house built before current engineering standards and methods, maybe the 1st person to consult is not a structural engineer. Maybe a stone mason or timber framer should be your 1st call. If you need help finding these people try calling historical and preservation groups. Call the Timber Framers Guild, stop at the lumberyard or sawmill. You’ll find who you’re looking for. Unless the answer you want is that the building needs to come down.

One last roof note. When I’m looking at a house, the first thing I look at is the ridge line. If it’s straight and true, I consider that the most important clue as to the integrity of a house. The current pictures of the Sanford-Bristol house and Google street view seem to show a straight and true ridge line. I know it’s not like being there to see it, but if I had the chance, I’d even go up on that roof and sight down the ridge. I’m quite sure it would hold me just fine.

Front elevation photo of house, showing straight ridge line.

This photo reveals the straight ridge line of the Sanford-Bristol House. The roof had been re-shingled only a short time ago. (Photo by Daniel L. Bosques).

I hope that next year, I’ll find an excuse to drive the 204 miles that Google tells me it is door to door, stand on the sidewalk, and take my own pictures of that charming, beguiling roof, still standing.

Editor's Note: Bill Smith is a great friend of mine from the building science community, who shares my passions for both energy efficiency and doing right by historic homes. The plight of the Sanford-Bristol House caught his attention, and when he mentioned he'd wanted to contribute an article about it, well, I couldn't have been more pleased. I strongly concur with Bill's position that very old buildings almost invariably fail on paper when measured against modern design values and codes, despite the fact that they've held up for hundreds of years, outperforming the expectations of modern construction. They're most accurately evaluated by those well versed in their highly specialized (by today's standards) building methods and materials. I truly hope Bill can journey down here a year from now, and still visit the Sanford-Bristol home and admire its straight ridge line, and beautiful Dutch nuances. -- John Poole ]

Photo showing demo signage and demarcations.

The eerie, tell-tale markings of a demo to come…

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An Open Letter To Mr. William Farrell

Mr. William Farrell
First Vice President
Milford Historical Society

Dear Mr. Farrell:

If you truly had been motivated by a desire to rescue and restore the Thomas Sanford/ David Bristol House, at 111-113 North Street, Milford, Connecticut, when you’d purchased it this past January, as you’d recently claimed before the Milford Historic District Commission, then I respectfully implore you to honor your original intentions, and not demolish this unique historic home.

As an owner and restorer of two eighteenth century homes, each likewise suffering from damage and varying degrees of deferred maintenance, I fully understand how daunting and resource-intensive this process can be. But you’re certainly not alone in this, and there are many of us in the local preservation community who’d be more than willing to listen, and even assist where possible, if you’d only reach out to us.

On the other hand, if you’re unable or unwilling to restore the home, then I request you still remain true to your intentions by seeking out a new owner for the Sanford/Bristol House who’s indeed willing to pursue this path. Once again, there are many of us who could assist you in this process. And, if that seems unacceptable to you, then at the very least, consider an alternative to outright demolition, such as possibly donating the home to a non-profit willing to relocate it elsewhere. There’s no doubt that finding an alternative to demolition takes time and determination, but a good many others have accomplished this before.

As the great William Morris once observed: “These old buildings do not belong to us only…they have belonged to our forefathers and they will belong to our descendants, unless we play them false. They are not in any sense our property, to do as we like with. We are only trustees for those that come after us”. More than anything else, I want my personal legacy to someday reflect that I’d been a worthy trustee of my built heritage. And I’m quite sure you want precisely the same for yourself, as well.


John Poole
Architectural Historian
Derby-Ansonia, Connecticut


Image of the Sanford-Bristol House (c. 1789-90).

The Sanford-Bristol House (c. 1789-90). From “History of Milford Connecticut: 1639-1939.


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