The Cider House, Part 2

The sills and joists have arrived! One sill is 26 feet long and you’ll see it magically lifted about 8 feet and slipped into place on the back of the structure. But first they need to be shaped and hewn so they can replace missing or rotted timbers.

Joists and Sills

Virginia has been acquiring axes just for this purpose. She even has two “Gifford” axes. One is stamped “Iohn A Gifford” and the other is stamped “I A Gifford Troy”.

A Slight Diversion

I was very excited and immediately started looking for the family connection. I found no iron works in Troy, NY, but I did find one in nearby Hudson run by an Elihu Gifford. He was also the father of Sanford Robinson Gifford, the Hudson Valley Artist. The iron works passed down to Elihu’s sons and grandsons and eventually became the Gifford Wood Company. But there was no John Gifford involved.

The only iron works connected to a John Gifford was in Lynn, Massachusetts in the 1600s. The Company of Undertakers of the Iron Works in New England, founded by John Winthrop the Younger and several other colonial entrepreneurs, was established in 1645. John Gifford became managing agent of the works in Lynn in 1650 and had frequent clashes with the company, which was sold in 1658.

But the demise of the Lynn iron works at the end of the 17th century resulted in the disbursement of the skilled iron workers throughout New England. On a side note, the Lynn iron works have been restored and can be toured at the Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site. I don’t know what happened to this John Gifford.  But Virginia found the will of a John Gifford who died in 1788 in Little Compton, RI. The significance of this John Gifford is that he specifically mentions his “blacksmith tools” in his will. 

But this doesn’t get us to Troy. Then Michael found that there was another Troy, not in Ancient Greece but in Massachusetts, not far from Little Compton, RI. For thirty years, from 1804 to 1834,“Troy” was the name of what was previously and subsequently Fall River. Not only that, but the Fall River Iron Works were established by Richard Borden and Bradford Durfee in 1821. So now I have another iron works in Troy, but only from 1821 to 1834. This narrows the date of the axes.

If Iohn A. Gifford worked in this iron works then we have our maker of the axes. Unfortunately, or fortunately,  the early Giffords were prolific so there were many John Giffords but little information about them. So this must remain a mystery for now. However, before I return to the cider house, I just want to mention one last thing. Remember Richard Borden, the co-founder of the Fall River Iron Works?  In 1892, Borden’s grandson was murdered, along with his wife, apparently by his daughter, Lizzie, with an axe.

Back to the Cider House

Before the timbers can be lifted into place, they must first be shaped. Here Virginia is creating a flat surface on the log by chopping off the sections between the cuts that Michael made with a chain saw. Then she uses a hewing ax to smooth the flat surface. Behind her you can see the ruin of an early stone structure that she and Michael plan to rebuild.

Here is the 26 foot sill that will be replaced today. Bonus discovery: Alexander Higgins carved his initials around 1860 when he placed a new support beam under the rotting sill. This support beam has now rotted as well and will be removed.

Virginia and Michael maneuvered the new sill down to the back of the cider house and into place below the old one. I think they must have had some gremlins helping when I wasn’t looking. Then Michael and Virginia cut the old sill and support timber to free the rotted section.

Finally the magic happens. By some sorcery that I do not comprehend they gently tug on these chains and the sill and timber float to the ground.

Removing cider house timbers

After settling these on blocks the process is reversed and the new sill floats into place.

Raising the new sill

Here you can also see the wide opening on the lower level that made such a long sill necessary. Alexander Higgins went to great “lengths” to preserve this opening by lifting that huge timber into place below the rotting sill. He could have just put vertical supports under it.  But this large span was itself necessary to allow room for a horse driven cider mil on the lower level. 

Horse-driven apple press and duck

There was fine tuning needed on the upper level to get the various timbers in alignment. Now it’s safety pinned together while they move on to the knee wall. 

And they did all this without disturbing the bats. 

The Cider House, Part 1

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.

The Cider House

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.

A previous resident

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.

Hunterdon County 1873 Beers, Comstock & Cline

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.

“Ahmswerer 1867”

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.

Here you can see the support added to joists

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.

Repaired sill

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.

Making pegs

With all the pieces in place Virginia uses a leather mallet to pound the pegs into place. Michael supervises.

Pounding pegs

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.

Damaged and supported sill

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.

Repair of collapsed wall

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.

Drainage trench

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.

Rebuilding collapsed wall

Here Virginia has rebuilt an entire corner of the foundation. 

Restored foundation corner

This rigging takes the weight off that corner of the foundation so it could be rebuilt.

More rigging

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.