18th-century Joiners’ Shop Discovered in Duxbury, Mass.

A largely intact joiners’ shop from the 18th century has recently been “discovered” at the Berrybrook School in Duxbury, Mass. I put the word discovered in quotation marks, because it has been in use as a storage shed, so while it wasn’t exactly missing, it was only recently that the building was recognized for what it is.

An article on the find recently appeared in The Boston Globe – so I’ll refer you there for more. But the first person I know of to write about it in the woodworking world (months ago, in fact) is Peter Follansbee – and I stole the picture above from his blog, where you’ll find much more, including lots of pictures.

J. Ritchie Garrison, the director of the Winterthur Program in American Material Culture at the University of Delaware, is spearheading the project, and in an e-mail he told me research is just getting underway, and he plans to “convene a group to discuss how best to preserve the building.”

So far, there is no fundraising mechanism in place, but I’ll stay in touch with Garrison and let you know when and how you can help with the preservation effort.

Peter has visited the site a couple times, so I asked for his thoughts:

“Trying to read the forensics of what might have happened in this shop over time is tricky. I am more cautious than some. It is exciting as all get-out. But conclusions are hard to come by. We found the shelves that no doubt held moulding planes, about 10″-11″ deep, with scratches stopping right where the irons would be as the planes were re-shelved. Stuff like that is easy & clear. Somewhere there is a tool rack for one chisel, a narrow chisel, maybe 1/2″. Weird. Why make a rack for a single chisel. It seems to be off by itself.

“Bench hook mortises remain in at least one of the workbenches, now overlaid with a now-worn new top. But underneath you can feel the bench hook mortise. Maybe two generations of them.

“The benches are low, but that works well for lots of hand-planing. It seems that Sampson was a “house-joiner” i.e. fitting up paneling, etc. Lots of planing.

“Spending time in this shop has made me look at the marks & traces I’m leaving in my shop and wondering if someone could suss out my actions & changes over time. I’m there 19 years, and have moved tool storage, switched where these or those tools hang, etc. and it all leaves traces. My shop won’t survive for generations, but it’s still fun to speculate. Sometimes I can’t even remember where things used to be versus where they are now. Imagine over maybe three or four generations….”

I urge you to visit Peter’s blog for more.

— Megan Fitzpatrick

10 thoughts on “18th-century Joiners’ Shop Discovered in Duxbury, Mass.

  1. Dixie Gunsmithing

    This was a well thought out shop, as I noticed the window directly behind the spring pole lather for natural lighting. It also looked like someone had tried to add a finished ceiling to the bottom of the ceiling joists, as there were boards scabbed onto the beams. I would say they were added sometime after the shop was built.

  2. djfilmore

    The article took me back to a time I can only imagine, what an experience! I only wish that I had that much room and a fireplace in my shop along with the benches and lathe. Then to have the opportunity to work in that environment. Quite a discovery.

  3. oakripper

    I look at the photos of this shop and i can’t help but let my my imagination wander and visualize the men in there working and all of the tools hanging or laying on the benches and the shavings from the planes covering the floor. What a great find.

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