Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Archeology

Houses can be archaeological sites.

In the past week I have opened up three windows long painted shut here at the Cottage. I started with the window in the room we use as a TV room. Once a part of the original west wall of the cottage, this window was painted shut at least three colors ago, perhaps four. Currently yellow, this window gives evidence of blue, green and white paint and those clues send you back in time.
I highlight this window on Open House days as it was a part of the story that I did not know when we first arrived. (I had thought it a decoration Ruth used to make the room seem bigger.) I never gave it a thought that the house as I had known it had been built in phases.

The second window was the window at the new west wall, next to the chimney for the oil burner. I had opened a window in that wing last summer on the door side of the utility room but thought I could get a true cross breeze now that the interior window had been opened. This project took some patience. There can be no hurry in an archaeological dig. I worked at it slowly with razor blade, paint scrapper and the tap, tap, tap, of a hammer. Half way through I found that it was nailed shut and that the cord on the left looking out had been cut away. This window had the white paint that matches the others currently, a brownish tan interior and hints of green and a dark brown at the lower strata of paint. More evidence of time and work in a room that is a great number of colors.

The third window is one of the living room windows. I had opened the right most last summer and chose to dig in on the left Sunday. Again patience was the key. This window was heavily weighted with silicone to insulate it and I needed to take off the aluminum storm window to get at it. The razor was the chief tool and then the scraper was used to break the paint seal. A drop in screen tucked into the freed storm window completed the job.

Along with the investigation of the paint colors what I was really doing was using our experience with the winds here. This has been a relentlessly hot summer. We have seen temperatures in the sun of over 120 degrees. But we have also learned the winds and now it is possible to get a breeze from the east, south, and west and to have that breeze sweep through the downstairs. The north breeze is only available through the bathroom window which always opened but was blocked by a pull down shade. I swapped in a mini blind and now there is a wind chime in the kitchen that tells us if there is a north wind. You can check the flag and figure out which room will give you the most relief. As I write the wind is from the south. The curtain in the living room is pushing at the back of the bench and I can feel a little of it on my legs.

One thought I had while I worked was that opening these windows moves The Cottage closer to its original condition than it had been for a while. In the early 1840's this cottage was criticized by Keeper Osborne as a, "miserable, leaky, smoky, and uncomfortable tenement." I have made it leaky again but it is far from miserable or uncomfortable and no one smokes inside. Two hundred years and a lot of paint later there are still stories to uncover layer by layer. There are two more windows to open too; a little one in the kitchen and another in the utility room by the oil tank. The kitchen is on deck for the weekend.

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