This is not a wreck. This is what remains of an old distillery operated by Alexander Higgins, who owned the farm from 1856 until his death in 1905.
When we first bought the farm there was a family of turkey vultures living in it. The baby finally grew up and left. Now the dogs keep them away.
We have two clues to the age of the cider house. One is the 1877 Hunterdon County map where the distillery appears at its current location next to the house.
The other clue is a “date door” (there’s no date stone) inscribed “AHMSWERER 1867” which I have made every effort to interpret as “Alexander H Higgins” to no avail. However the structure appears to have been cobbled together from other older ones so there may not be a definitive date.
I’ll leave the technical description to Michael Cuba who is helping Virginia restore the cider house. I’ll just give you my impressions. Here they have removed the floor boards to allow for adding supports for some of the joists. You can also see the scaffolding that takes the weight off sills that will be repaired or replaced.
This sill had extensive water damage from the door above it. Part of it has been replaced. The completion of this requires some delicate hand work.
Virginia is doing the handwork to make pegs to pound into holes to hold the whole Jenga tower together. She’s also making shavings for kindling.
With all the pieces in place Virginia uses a leather mallet to pound the pegs into place. Michael supervises.
This giant sill is being held up by this rigging until it can be replaced. This sill provides a very wide span in the lower level. Such a large open area may have been needed for a press if it was driven by a horse or steer walking in a circle. We just don’t know.
This stone wall at the back of that large area in the lower level had collapsed eons ago and Virginia has partially rebuilt it. It will eventually go up to support the sill above it when that timber is replaced.
Virginia dug a trench outside the rebuilt wall to divert the rainwater. You can see the support taking the weight off of the damaged sill.
Virginia is placing more stones and lime mortar on the wall. She has also rebuilt the section of wall behind her to restore support to the repaired sill.
Here Virginia has rebuilt an entire corner of the foundation.
This rigging takes the weight off that corner of the foundation so it could be rebuilt.
There is still a lot of stone work to do to repair the lower level stone foundation. Virginia does all of these repair with lime mortar to prevent further damage to the stones.
Up next: The new sills and joists arrive. Somehow Michael and Virginia will move them around to the other side of the cider house and lift them into place. I think I’ll find some place else to be that day.