INSPECTION REPORT

OTHO ROBICHAUD HOUSE, NEGUAC, N.B.

Regina Kaniak

Fredericton

June 25, 1997

[version anglaise]

[ajouté au crayon en bas à droite : ] 1ère version

 

Introduction

The object of this report is to identify the original components of the building.

Observations and a selective inspection provided inconsistent information because a number of changes had been made to various sections of the house at different times.

In order to obtain complete and conclusive information, entire layers had to be removed. However,some of the data thus obtained remain difficult to explain and are inconsistent with certain historical research and what people remember.

Condition before inspection : (A) main building; (B) summer kitchen; (C) veranda; (D) woodshed

The main building is the original part of the house. The presence of shingles on the main building’s original roof under the roof of the summer kitchen shows that the summer kitchen was built after the main building. The central rafter of the original structure of the main building’s roof was cut to accommodate the passageway to the upstairs of the summer kitchen.

A room had probably been added on before the summer kitchen was built. The original limewashed boards, which bear no sign of shingle nails, indicate the location.

The modern materials used in the veranda and woodshed prove that these are of recent construction.

Basement

The foundation consists of two walls: an exterior wall, about 3 feet high, and an interior wall, about 6 feet high, spaced approximately 3 feet apart.

The lower part of the exterior wall is made of irregular stones resting upon a layer of sand. The upper part is made of cut stone. On the south and north façades, the stones form openings. There is a notch on either side of these openings, allowing the installation of a panel. On the west façade, similarly cut stones were placed along the sides of the cellar exit. The same type of stone was used for the basement of an extension built onto the house of Otho’s son Frédéric around 1850.

The interior wall is made of cut stones, less regular in shape.

The ground-floor beams on the north and south sides of the house have the same notches as those found in the basement of the main part of Frédéric's house, built around 1830. The notches were cut to accommodate the upper elements of the cedar interior wall. one the upper elements of the wall remains intact in the southeast corner of the house. Part of the cedar wall in Frédéric’s house is still standing.

There are traces of the masonry base on the west side of the cellar.

opening

interior wall

earth

exterior wall masonry

base

post

foundation of present-day

chimney

Original Foundation

The original foundation consisted of an exterior wall that was not very deep and was made of irregular stones and a deeper interior wall made of cedar. The masonry base was probably built at the same time as the original foundation (Phase 1).

The stone interior wall was built after the cedar wall was dismantled and probably after the masonry was demolished (Phase 2).

It was not until later that the cut stone was placed in the upper part of the exterior wall and along the sides of the cellar exit (Phase 3). It is not clear whether the entrance existed at that time.

original ground

level

cedar cedar

earth earth PHASE 1

irregular

stones

masonry base

 

original ground

level

earth earth PHASE 2

cut stone

 

cut stone, rectangular

original ground

level

earth concrete floor openings PHASE 3

earth

steps leading outside

Structure and Exterior Cladding

The timber-frame structure consists of posts, sills, joists, knee braces, wall plates, rafters, and tie beams. The members are held together with tenons, mortises, and wooden pegs. This type of structure was common in 19th -century Acadia but had existed since the founding of the colony.

The members are quite massive and were squared off with an axe, indicating that the structure is very old. The posts and sills on the east and west sides and the posts and wall plates on the north side bear the Roman numerals I, II, III, and IV, possibly to facilitate assembly. Two west-wall posts on the first floor are inserted in a mortise that is too long. Two east-wall posts on the second floor are longer than they should be. The Roman numerals and the members that do not fit in with the structure lead us to believe that certain members are from another building.

Several members bear traces of the changes made to the house. A few posts indicate that the lower section was replaced. A number of members were exposed to the elements before being used (they are slightly grey), but they were all assembled at the same time.

The structure's exterior is covered with horizontal matched boards, 2 inches thick and 8 to 10 inches wide. They appear to have been cut with a manual saw. They are almost all original boards (no traces of other nails). Except for those in the west half of the north façade, the boards were exposed before they were shingled.

The boards were originally attached to the structure by means of forged nails on the west half of the house and cut nails on the east half. The vertical joints of the boards are aligned and are located on the vertical members of the structure. The median joint on the south façade is aligned with the joint between the west and east halves of the first and second floors.

The exterior cladding consists of two layers of shingles that were cut with a mechanical saw and attached to the birch bark by means of cut nails. The west part of the north façade was not shingled (the boards, which are the original ones, bear no trace of shingle nails). The boards in this section were limewashed.

The dates 1855 and 1857 can be seen on the exterior boards. They indiacate when the house was shingled for the first time. The grey colour of the boards shows that there were no shingles on the house before that date. The absence of any trace of shingles on the north façade (where the summer kitchen was located) indicates that an added-on structure existed at that time.

Roof

The roof is made of non-matched boards. It is covered with two layers of shingles: the first layer was cut by hand and the second was cut with a mechanical saw. Both layers are attached with cut nails. The shingles were applied to the birch bark. Several boards under the bark bear traces of nails other than those used for the first layer of shingles. It is therefore possible that the original layer of shingles was removed.

The original rafters in the middle of the roof were cut to allow the construction of the dormer and the passageway to the upstairs of the summer kitchen.

Under the eaves, below the face of the gable and the roof drain, we found the sprockets supporting the eaves board. The grey coloour of the sprockets indicates that they were exposed. The sprockets mortised into the rafters under the boards indicate that they are the original ones.

Doors and Windows

The doors and windows were installed in selected locations, between two posts and two horizontal members. Some are blocked up, and others were added, expanded, or moved. After examining the structure and exterior boards, we were able to determine the original dimensions and locations :

West façade : one window

South façade : three windows and one door

East façade : two windows

North façade : two windows and one door

Windows were probably installed only on the ground floor.

The window under the cladding on the north façade, near the northeast corner, appears to be the original one.

Corner Boards

Two layers of corner boards were attached to the corners of the building. Under the first layer are traces of an original corner board.

Floor

The original floor is still in place in the east half of the ground floor. The planks, which are very smooth and worn, were hand-cut and attached with wooden nails. The nails are inserted in openings made by a spoon auger, an ancient and primitive method. There are traces of this same type of hole and this same method in the beams in the west half of the ground floor.

In the west half, the original floor was removed and replaced with boards cut with a mechanical saw. On the planks were two hardwood floors. Another layer of wood under the newel of the staircase railing suggests the existence of another floor.

Upstairs, the original floor, which is very smooth and worn, is located under the more recent vinyl and hardwood floor. It is made of wide hand-cut boards attached with forged nails.

Interior Partitions on Ground Floor

The partition between the east and west sections is probably the only original one. It is made of vertical boards 1 1/4 inches thick, attached to the floor by means of forged and cut nails.

trace

of original partition

addition to main building

The original floor bears traces of work done on the west section, stopping in front of the partition. The partition in the area beside the front door was moved two or three times.

Since the partitions in the west half were built on a floor other than the original one, they are not original either.

The interior partitions upstairs were built on a floor other than the original one. Evidence of wear on the original floor does not enable us to determine the location of the partitions. There probably were not any.

Masonry

The masonry was probably built near the middle of the west wall inside the house. The distance between the first two beams on the west side on the first and second floors may indicate the approximate dimensions of the masonry. The roof boards were cut to make way for the chimney.

The sill (contour beam on the first floor) was originally cut in the middle of the west façade over a distance corresponding to the opening for the masonry The façade’s exterior boards indicate that there was an opening of the same width and approximately 3 feet high. This opening and the cutting of the sill probably accommodated the construction of a bread oven. This type of masonry, with a bread oven added to the back of the masonry outside the house, was common in Acadian homes in Menoudie, Nova Scotia.

opening for masonry

base

cut sill

present-day staircase

boards supporting original trap door

The staircase leading down to the cellar is not the original one. The two beams on the first floor beside the staircase appear to have been installed later than the other ones. They have a different finish and are of a different size. The location is inconsistent with the structure of the first floor.

The northwest section had a trap door down to the cellar. Two supporting boards, attached to the beams, show the trap door’s location.

The staircase leading up to the second floor is not in its original location. The original beams in the middle of the second floor were cut and moved to form an opening for the staircase. The beams on the second floor, in the southwest corner of the house, form the opening for the original staircase.

The interior finish work was done after the house was built. Originally, the interior walls were unfinished. The dark brown colour on most of the wall and ceiling boards indicate that the finish work was done later.

Only the walls and ceiling in the west section of the ground floor were limewashed, indicating that this section was separate from the rest of the house.

The finish work in the room in the southeast section of the ground floor is not original because the walls underneath are brown (they were exposed). The finish work is almost untouched by the changes made to the house. The work was done at the same time as the interior partition was changed, and as a result, one window was blocked up. Cut nails were used in making this change, while tapered screws were used for the lock on the surface of the partition door.

The finish work consists of vertical boards (1 1/4 in. thick on the interior wall; 1 in. thick on the exterior wall; 12 in. wide) and wide mouldings. In one corner, a piece of furniture was built into the wall. The finishing boards were almost all attached with forged nails. However, the piece of furniture contains tapered screws, forged nails, and cut nails.

Blocks of stone, used as insulation, were installed where the stovepipes pass through a wall or floor. Since they are found in the partitions that are not the original ones, it can be concluded that the blocks are not original either.

Conclusion

The inspection made it possible to determine the originality of most of the building’s main components and to identify the elements that were added on.

The original house consisted of a main building with a timber frame. An addition was made to the north façade.

The foundation consisted of an exterior wall sunk about 3 feet made of irregular stones resting on sand and an interior wall made of cedar.

There was probably masonry inside the house, near the middle of the west wall. A bread oven may have been added to the back of the masonry outside the house.

The interior was unfinished, except for the west part of the ground floor where the walls and ceiling were limewashed.

There was probably only one interior partition, i.e., the one located in the middle of the ground floor.

The staircase leading up to the second floor was located near the southwest corner.

A trap door led down to the cellar in the northwest part of the house.

Originally the house was not shingled, but there were corner boards, and the openings were framed. The sprockets were exposed.

The house had two doors (one on the south side, the other on the north), as well as three windows on the south façade, two on the east façade, two on the north façade, and one on the west façade. There were probably no windows on the second floor.

Some of the structural members may have come from another building, but they were all assembled at the same time.

The west half of the house is distinguished from the east half by the different nails used on the exterior boards, the absence of the original floor on the main storey, and a joint on both floors and the exterior dividing the house in two.

The materials and techniques used to build the original structure indicate that the building is very old, but more detailed research should be done to determine the exact period of construction.