30 April 2013

Farmhouse Revival: M.H. Merchant Stone House

The M.H. Merchant Stone House is featured in Farmhouse Revival, a new book published by Abrams, and beautifully photographed by Steve Gross and Susan Daley.

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09 April 2011

Cornwallville Postcards, I-III

I. Main Street Looking West, 1908

II. Main Street & M.E. Church, 1911

III. Cornwallville, NY (northwest view), 1908

05 February 2010

History, Part I: The House

The stone house sits on Strong Road in the hamlet of Cornwallville, Town of Durham, Greene County, New York. Although the stone house was built in 1900, it replaces an older wood-frame home known as the Jerome homestead, which burned to the ground in 1893. The Jerome family, headed by John Jerome (great-grandfather of William S. Borthwick) and his wife Margaret Stickle, was one of the early families to settle in Cornwallville. They purchased 94 acres of land from Elias Snyder and his wife in 1816 and built a thriving farm, while raising a family of twelve children, many of whom married into many of the prominent Cornwallville families; the Smiths, the Borthwicks, the Goulds, and the Wagners.

The Jerome Homestead passed on to Horatio Hough and his family on April 2, 1869. Horatio Hough was a farmer and boarding-house keeper for many years. His children sold the farm, all 94 acres, to Melvin H. Merchant on October 10, 1899. Melvin was a farmer, however, he gained notice as an inventor of a bluing agent and appeared to spend a great portion of his time traveling. He moved to Syracuse for a time, from 1903 to 1910, and again by 1920, but did not sell the farm and the stone house until 1923. In 1972 the original 94 acre homestead was broken apart and sold in two parcels (one parcel is 4 acres with stone house, the other is 90 acres of undeveloped wooded area).

Situated on 4 acres of land, the stone house built by Merchant has a unique style of its own. Built of local fieldstone blocks, it is a two story structure with stone walls 22 inches thick. It rests on a fieldstone foundation, with wood floor joists. From extensive research on the property, it can be safely said that Melvin H. Merchant began building the house in the summer of 1900. A previous house on the property, belonging to Mrs. Horatio Hough and thought to be the original Jerome homestead, burned to the ground on January 17, 1893. A floating doorway on the second floor and protruding quoin stones infer that plans to enlarge the stone house were never completed. They remain as architectural curiosities.

The name of the stonemason involved in the building of the house is unknown. However, the initials H.E. are carved into a corner stone on the façade of the house (the full name and origin of the initials is still unknown).

The design and construction of the stone house defies known local architectural styles. It is square in shape, measuring roughly 24 feet wide by 24 feet deep and has two stories, an attic and a full cellar. Proportionally, the house is very vertical with a steeply pitched roof. The main floor is clearly the parlour and bathroom, with the upstairs reserved for bedrooms (two of which are connected by large double doors). It is attached to what appears to be an older wood frame building with a kitchen, sitting room, attached barn, and a dormer bedroom, replete with an indoor cistern. This portion of the house may have served as the primary residence after the Jerome/Hough homestead burned in 1893 until the stone house was built in 1900. It is likely that this wooden structure continued to serve as the kitchen area of the house, even after the stone house was built. There is an exposed stone threshold between the pine floors of the wood frame portion and the oak flooring of the stone house.

Attached to the original wood building is another smaller wood mudroom addition. A wooden, screened in porch was built in the 1940’s after a tornado destroyed the original porch in 1936.

The stone house is plainly built, showing no specific architectural elements that would assist in identifying a specific architectural style. Clues to its age, however, can be found in the interior. The stone house has no fireplaces, which infers that wood or oil stoves would have served as the main heating source. Indeed, pipe venting conduits are clearly visible in the house and vent to an exterior chimney. A number of cold air return vents are located on the main floor. The walls are plaster over lathe and the ceilings on both the main floor and second floor are nine feet in height. There is a full-size curving staircase from the second floor to the attic floor.

The hardwood floor on the main floor is oak and shows floorboards of even, machine-cut widths of three inches. The floor in the wooden section is pine with irregular board widths, ranging from six to eight inches each. Six-paneled doors and door hardware are original to the house, as are all double hung four-paned glass windows.

Investigations show that the door hardware was manufactured by Corbin, a manufacturer of door hardware since the mid 1850’s, and this style dates from 1880-1920. In the bathroom, the claw-foot tub with a distinctive wooden oak lip and the sink basin are period pieces original to the house.

The manufacturer of the tub was identified by locating the name inscribed around the drain pipe, The Steel Clad Bath Co. of NY. An ad from 1896, clearly shows this specific clawfoot tub, patented on September 8, 1891. 

As the only field stone house of its kind in the area, it is a unique example of vernacular stone architecture in the Durham area of Greene County.

20 December 2009

Untitled (in the parlour)

15 February 2009

Winter Light