|First Manor House
by Patricia Shillingburg
If the 1652 house at Sylvester Manor was built within the same tradition as all other houses being built in New England at the time, it was built in Medieval late English Gothic style. The rectangular house with a center chimney was timber framed with a clapboard exterior. The south facing door was in the middle of the long wall. The diamond paned windows were placed where needed and not for design purposes. The shingled roof was steeply pitched.
The rectangular box-like house was framed and braced in oak. The heavy timbers were hewn, squared, and dressed to a smooth face, usually with an ax alone. They were then chamfered along the edge for a decorative finish. The house was framed together with interlocking joints of mortise and tenon, dovetail and half dovetail. The exterior framing was constructed on the ground and then raised by a team of men and pegged together is what was called a Óhouse raisingÓ often the occasion for a party after the dayŪs work was done. As in all Gothic buildings, this structural framework was left frankly revealed, especially on the interior, and treated as part of the decorative scheme. There may have been an overhang, or žjetty,Ó off the second floor but this construction was rare.
The exterior walls, supported by the timber frame, were filled with brick masonry (žnoggingÓ) placed within the interstices of the frame. The bricks were žsoftÓ or unburned and were covered with clapboard as was all but universal in the English colonies of the seventeen century.
The house had two rooms on the first floor and two rooms above. In the middle was a massive chimney, probably made of stone, with huge fire places in each room. Between the rooms on the long side of the house, tucked against the chimney, in the front, was the entry, called the žporchÓ which faced south with a steep staircase to a small passage way above. The two downstair rooms were the žparlorÓ or best room where the parents also slept and the žhallÓ which was the living room with a huge fireplace with oven for cooking. The rooms upstairs were bedrooms for the children.
Interior walls would have been covered with boards. The boards covering the interior of exterior walls would have been placed horizontal to support the frame while those of interior walls would have been laid vertically.
The house may have been expanded with a shed like lean-to addition in the back which consisted of a large room with a cooking fireplace and oven. The chimney was attached to the original. Two additional rooms were to the east and west; one the buttery and the other a small bedroom. The roof line of the addition would have come down from the ridge of the roof of the main house and would have given the effect of the familiar salt-box profile. The area above was usually used for storage.
Under the žhall,Ó there was a cellar reached by steep stairs. There the family would store root vegetables and other bulk foods. To keep it from freezing in the winter, the cellar was usually banked with leaves in the fall. The cellar was low and had a dirt floor. The wall was made of stone, with or without a clay mortar.
Windows were few and small. Glass was imported from England and very expensive. Window panes would have been made of žNewcastle glassÓ cut into diamond shapes which were set in lead bars. The window units were casement or hinged with an outward swinging sash. The units of windows, or lights, were small, but they were often combined in groups of two, three or four light windows creating a wide horizontal window.
The roof was steeply pitched or gabled. Thatch was commonly used in 1652, but considering the wealth and station of the occupants, they may have used what by that point was considered a more durable and waterproof roof, hand-riven wood shingles. However, an unusual number of brick tiles have been found at the site which suggests that Nathaniel, having been raised in Amsterdam, had installed a tile roof.
The tools used to construct the house were axes, froes, augers, chisel, mallet, and adzes.