The Shape of Things: Hall and Parlor

Our house on the 1884 map of Exeter.
It has been pointed out to me that our house is likely what's called a three-bay hall and parlor house. Bays refer to openings (windows and/or door) on each level of its facade. Ours, being a three-bay, was originally made up of three sections across: 9 feet, 11.5 feet, and 9 feet. It has been changed on the inside, probably at the time it was moved around 1860, to make two larger rooms with a narrower middle stair hall. The dimensional lath of the "new" walls that encase the new stairway, and the circa 1860 turned newel posts also point to that era for the changes. The beam in the photo below was exposed when we took out the dining room ceiling. It has the mortises and pegs that would have accepted the posts for the original wall that would have enclosed the original hall or parlor. 
The central chimney hall and parlor plan.
The Hall and Parlor house is composed of two rooms arranged side by side with only one exterior door. Door placement is usually off-center. The hall is not a passageway, but a multipurpose room while the parlor is the more private of the two rooms and can be smaller. In the earlier examples, chimneys were placed at one or both gable ends; later examples have interior chimneys. The hall and parlor house usually had an extension, or ell, that was located on the rear of the building. These extensions were commonly built contemporaneous to the core of the house. The Hall and Parlor residence is one of the earlier house types in New Hampshire. Many have been altered through time with multiple additions and extensions, making the original Hall and Parlor core difficult to discern. From THE GLOSSARY OF NEW HAMPSHIRE HOUSE TYPES on New Hampshire Division of Historical Resources website:
Here is a representation of the bottom floor of our house. The center bent section is slightly wider than the outer two. I considered that maybe this was to accommodate a center chimney but more and more I don't think that's the case. If the sleepers, which are the logs that run between the girts, are original, then there wasn't nearly enough room for a center chimney. Also, the logs look haphazardly cut to put in the basement stairs.The one hewn beam, though, makes me wonder if the log sleepers were all hewn beams once, or the other way around.

According to James Garvin in, A Building History of Northern New England, houses designed with three "evenly spaced bents with no sign of accomodation at the center for a chimney or entry" were not unheard of. In these cases, this "type of frame often proves to have started its existence as a warehouse or shop...and, if heated at all, had a chimney placed wherever convenient." He goes on to say that "many such utilitarian structures  were eventually converted to dwellings in the old coastal cities of New England, and deeper investigation of such an atypical house will often reveal that it began as a commercial structure." This supports my theory that our house may have started as a joiner's shop or some other kind of business in the late 18th century.
Original wall beam that created one of the 9ft. outer segments of the three bay plan.
Mortise and peg of the beam of the original wall. The wood planks are the sub floor of the room above.

Looking up into the mortise cavity you can see the marks left by the drill used to make the mortise.
1813: Thomas Martin illustrated on one plate the tools of the carpenter and joiner dividing them as follows: the tools most useful to the carpenter, the axe (7), adz (6), saw (24), socket chisel (13), firmer chisel (5), auger (1), gimlet (3), gauge (16), square (9), compass (36), hammer (21), mallet (22), hookpin (11), crow (12), plumb rule (18), and level (19); and the tools most often associated with joinery, the jack plane (30), trying plane (31), smoothing plane (34), tenon saw (25), compass saw (26), keyhole saw (27), square (8), bevel (23), gauge (17), mortise chisel (4), gouge (14), turnscrew (15), plow plane (29), molding plane (35), pincers (37), bradawl (10), stock and bit (2), sidehook (20), workbench (28), and rule (38). The planes are of particular interest since they show clearly a change in form from those previously illustrated. (Thomas Martin, The Circle of the Mechanical Arts, London, 1813.) Copied from Timber Frame Tools

Unfortunately, at some point many of the original posts were cut. Frames comprised of huge timbers have visible posts and beams. While I think they are beautiful, Georgian and Federal era people were trying to find ways to make their houses appear more refined and sophisticated. Until the balloon frame (2x4 stick frame) came along around 1850 enabling much more nuance in construction, decorating exposed timber beams with bevels called chamfers, or painting them with designs were some of the ways these were dealt with.

In the case of our house, it looks like the posts were just cut out where they weren't wanted. I believe this was done for two reasons; to enlarge the rooms and to modernize the house. This is unfortunate for several reasons, one being the fact that the timbers hold up the house. Cutting off the posts allowed the lath and plaster to run the full length of the walls without being interrupted by bulky posts. In the picture below you can see where the beam is tenon-ed into the mortise of the cut-off post. There is a scab applied to the beam to hold the whole mess together.
In this case, the word scab, which is a well-used carpentry term, is just so appropriate. It is a result of injury, which is what this is. And it's a little scary. It gets better though. Not only was this post cut, but four others that we know of. Here is another image of the opposite side of the same one.

Here is the cut-off post in the corner of the same wall. 

The pictures below are from an upstairs bedroom on the other side of the house that was also enlarged by cutting the posts and building new walls. The post was cut off at the floor level as well, in this case. Interestingly, the accordion lath at the point in the ceiling where the post would have come through doesn't show any evidence of the post. I think this opens up the possibility that the accordion lath is newer and that maybe the frame was stripped down, timbers were cut and then re-lathed and plastered. That would put this reconfiguration pre-1850.

Where the post would have met the lath in the ceiling.

The image below is the other end of the same original wall. Again, the post was cut off at the floor and the flooring stops midway at the post. A quarter gives some perspective in terms of the size of the posts and floor boards. 

At this point in the floor, the flooring also changes.

These floors are undoubtedly the oldest remaining floors in the house. They were painted around the outside but the inside is beautifully patinaed raw, old growth wood.  

Conveniently, the room on the other side of the hall was reconfigured with a closet where the post is, so apparently, the trouble wasn't taken to make the walls look sleeker and more modern by taking out the post. Here is the post in the inside of that closet. This allows us to know with certainty what the original wall looked like. 

Written by Kerry Baldridge

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