In New England there are many old homes and multi unit dwellings and in some cases the purchase process can be long and intricate when dealing with an antique home. Many homes range between 150 years and 300 years old. I have been inspecting residential and commercial buildings including timber frame homes, timber frame barns, log homes, condominiums, multi unit buildings, manufactured homes, mobile homes and mix use buildings for over 30 years. Prior to inspecting buildings, in the 1970’s I worked with repairing timber frame structures from replacement of components to just reinforcement as well as building.
In this blog I want to concentrate on home inspections of old homes 300 or so years old, and tell you one of my greatest finds from a historic antique home.
(First) a little bit about old antique homes. Older and antique homes do tend to go through years of water penetration, moisture penetration, wood destroying insect penetration, decay and degradation to the super structure. Many old homes were constructed close to the soil grade causing a verity of problems to the (Super structure that include sill plates, floor joists, girders, sub flooring, roof rafters, perlins, roof deck sheathing and ceiling joists)
The foundation walls (typically rubble stone) and sometimes (rubble stone with brick) tend to loosen up from water penetration and displace laterally from hydrostatic pressure, the weight of the building and gravity tend to cause heaving inward and outward (displacement). The living quarters floors may bounce, sag and walls bow and crack as a result if this.
When you purchase an old home or antique home you can expect some or all of these issues to have taken place and still may be in need of repair and or reinforcement. My job performing a home inspection is inspect the building objectively and not alarm you of the deficiencies in the building but to make sure you aware of the buildings issues and needs. Along with pointing out the issues and needs we discuss good points about the building as well. We will provide you with a written narrative inspection report with photos and diagrams typically within 1 to 3 days depending on how busy we are.
We encourage you to stick with us like glue during the home inspection. This is your time to understand the dwelling inside and out.
(Now to the great find) During the late 1980’s I inspected an antique home that was once a tavern during the turn of the 1700’s. A tavern is where the public went, to have food and refreshments, get warm and then be on their way. The building was built on a hill, on a busy street near a hospital. I was told that this antique had fascinating history as a safe house for the Underground Railroad, but no one knew where the hidden room was.
After I finished the exterior envelop home inspection (grounds, roof and exterior) I preceded to the basement to inspect the super structure. My clients where sticking to me like glue. The foundation consisted of large boulders with smaller stone. The foundation was dry stacked (No mortar in between the stone). I noticed the foundation had a lot of lateral displacement and loose stone (Bulging Walls). We had discussed methods of repair and reinforcement. Remember this building is on a hill and busy street. Tractor trailers were coming and going to the hospital making some vibration of the land. Buildings on hills tend to experience high winds creating more vibration. That along with an occasional tremor with the earth, may have caused things to loosen up over the years.
Getting back to the basement I was probing the foundation where I suspected too much movement in the wall and a rock about a foot round fell out. Well if I could just probe an area of the wall and a stone fell, then the foundation needed repair and reinforcement. I went to reset the rock in the wall and I could not get in. Getting a little nervous I cleaned out the soil in the cavity and noticed a key in a lockset. This was getting interesting. I turned the key and the foundation wall opened up. Yes the foundation wall itself opened up. On the back side of the stone wall, were large thick brackets and hinges holding the stone from collapsing. I shined my light into this tiny room, and noticed shelving and broken shelving with gallon jugs still filled with masking tape on them. Some were resting on the floor. I could barely read the writing on the tape. It said, Corn 1927, Corn 1929. This was corn whiskey from probation days.
Can you believe this, the old tavern was possibly boot-legging whiskey, and before that it was a safe house with a hidden room no one could find. I found it.
I suggested to the owner to notify the Smithsonian in Washing DC and share the find. I am not sure if they did. I asked for a jug but was rejected. This was by far the best find I had ever experienced in my home inspection profession. Unfortunately this was either before digital cameras or just on the cusp of digital cameras.