Handy House: Rings may show its age

William Flynt explores beneath old floor boards for the tell-tale tree rings found on old beams. William Flynt explores beneath old floor boards for the tell-tale tree rings found on old beams.

William Flynt explores beneath old floor boards for the tell-tale tree rings found on old beams.

William Flynt explores beneath old floor boards for the tell-tale tree rings found on old beams.

Just how old is the Cadman-White-Handy House? The Westport Historical Society has enlisted the expertise of Historic Deerfield’s architectural conservator William Flynt to answer that very question when he performed a dendrochronology study at the Hix Bridge Road property.

Dendrochronology is better known as “tree ring dating.”  It is used to narrow down the age of a building through the trees’ rings as well as other variables such as environment and climate.

During his recent visit to the Handy House, Mr. Flynt took samples from timber under the floorboards and in the ceilings in all three phases of construction, as well as in the attic. The rings in those samples are then compared to a “master chronology” of previously dated tree rings from the region.

While the society is aware that the Handy House was built in three phases over more than a century — starting in what is believed to be 1710 — a vast amount of research on the historic property hasn’t turned up more definitive dates for the additions.

By enlisting the help of experts, the group hopes to narrow down the dates of construction to help the Society interpret as well as preserve the interior of the house. The more information gleaned from studies stimulated by the grant will help boost the “visitor experience” when the Handy House opens to the public next year.

When the house opens its historic doors in the spring, adult and children will be invited to get a first-hand look at the dendrochronology process and check out the Mr. Flynt’s work is associated with a $10,000 National Trust for Historic Preservation grant which the Society will match to conduct research and develop programs to “open windows” into the interior of the house to reveal its evolution.

The dendrochronology information from the Handy House, which will be sent to a central database, will also provide architectural historians like Mr. Flynt more information about southeastern New England properties. Data from the area is sorely lacking, he told the group. Most of the tree ring data collected from Massachusetts has come from historic properties in Boston and the North Shore.

 

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