Sunday, July 12, 2020

The Miller's Toll, Bennington, VT - its construction

The Miller's Toll is a restaurant in Bennington, Vermont. 

This post is about the building's construction.

The current  owners knew they had an old building when they began renovation in 2017. 
I asked to explore the place while its frame was visible. They agreed, with pleasure.
I wrote about its history on my blog, 'Passing By'*.

The main house, now surrounded by first floor wings and a second floor jut-out, is a post and beam frame with plank walls.
This framing system is not uncommon locally. Occasionally plank walls were used in western NY and Ohio; indicating that framers who had learned their trade here built there. 

First:  what I saw and some history.

This is part of the plate for the roof of the back wing. It was now part of the 2nd floor wall frame.
This back wing may be the original house - a small raised cape (half walls on the 2nd floor - modified Anglo-Dutch frame) typical for this part of Vermont.
The main house may have been added as the owners and the town grew.

The building is on every map we have of the town. It is a black spot on the first - the 1835 Hinsdill map. It is also a spot without a name on the 1856 Rice and Howard map.


This is part of the 1867 Beers Atlas map.The house is in the middle with the owner's name (illegible) jutting up. M C Morgan's house - now the Safford Inn - is just to the right, across the Walloomsac River.
The Safford family were early settlers of Bennington. They built the house and ran the corn and saw mills across the road. The mills are depicted on both maps. M.C. Morgan inherited the house.

Here is a small part of the 1877 Bird's Eye View Map of Bennington. and the same map updated in 1887.

In the middle, beside the Walloomsac River,  above and left  of the bridge, is the house.
It is a 2 story house with a back wing and a porch on 2 sides. There are 3 windows on the second floor in the front and a chimney in the middle.

It appears that the front porch was enclosed by 1887, or perhaps the delineator was more skillful.


The hole in the roof for the chimney is now patched. It is right where the map placed it.

It's the house which was here in 1877.

The front wing had one chimney and no fireplaces. Cast iron stoves were manufactured locally as early as 1820. This house probably had one. 

 A view inside the 2nd floor of the front wing, probably built   before 1830. 

The 3 windows seen on the map are there.
The roof has the same pitch with the gable facing the street.
The bunch of wood in the  photograph in the middle of the floor - where the surface changes -  covers the hole where the chimney was.

The gable of the house faces the street, an early step in the evolution from late Georgian to Greek Revival vernacular architecture. However, I could see no framing showing a stair had been located in a hall on one side of the front wing, also a hallmark of Greek Revival.
A simple stair was set between the back wing and the new one.  The pale sliced rectangle, lower left, is the first step for that stair. Its frame was not visible, its moldings cobbled together - I couldn't date it.

The ridge beam, running down the middle of the picture, has 5 sides. These ridge beams were standard in Bennington houses from c. 1770 to the Civil War. Wide boards with wane were used for roof sheathing.

The ceiling joists ran parallel with the  ridge, set into the beam. This is also common locally. In the photograph a later ceiling frame is barely visible.
I saw no scribe marks; this is a square rule frame.

The post and beam frame, painted here in the photo, is typical of New England timber frame construction found in Bennington from 1765 into the 1860's.

The walls have no studs. Instead planks sit side by side.  Bennington had lots of wood. Water powered saws quickly cut that wood into many wide panels. The intermediate studs we had earlier used in the post and beam frame gave way to plank walls.

The availability of wide boards was due to advances in saw mill technology. The contemporary sash saw could cut several boards at once; earlier saw cut only one board at a time. The proliferation of these boards may be part of why we began to add wide corner boards, wide frieze boards under the eaves, to outline pediments in gables -  to cover our simple, traditional house shapes in Greek Revival decor.  

Those planks were cut at Safford's saw mill just across the Walloomsac River.
The sash saw blade went up and down. It left the marks on the boards which are still visible today - the left side in the photograph.

On the right side are the light and dark marks left from where lath was nailed on for plaster. The uneven lines mean that the lath was 'split'  - made from  boards. Later lath is all one width cut instead of being split. 

In1896 the Sanborn Insurance map labels the house a Cigar Manufactory" . Here is the owner's advertisement in the 1896 town directory.
Later it became a market, then a restaurant - The Vermont Steak House, Peppermills, and now The Miller's Toll.


When I posted a link on a local history page a lively discussion took place on cigar manufacturing and small town employment in the early 1900's. The outer layer of the cigars came from Connecticut River Valley tobacco fields, the delivery made possible by the railroad to N. Adams that used the Hoosick Tunnel, an engineering feat for its era.
Young women with nimble fingers were employed to roll the cigars. Immigrants were usually hired as speaking English was not required.

*I wrote about it in my local blog:

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