Handy House: Exploring beneath the shingles


For a house so old, the remarkable thing is just how stable Westport's Handy House remains.

So say those who have taken a close look at beams, foundation and more at the 202 Hixbridge Road house.

Still as the "stabilization" phase of work there gets under way, there's a substantial work list for the coming months, says Jenny O'Neill of the Westport Historical Society.

A short list includes shoring uo the foundation, reinforcing the sill, reshingling the north side, tending to outdated systems and addressing "issues up in the attic and roof."

But "So far, no nasty surprises. If anything the condition is better than we thought," Ms. O'Neill said.

During this stage of work, architects, architectural historians and others are taking advantage of the opportunity to explore what is behind the shingles.

And that has led to some discoveries and a mystery or two. For instance, while they've long known that this house was built in three stages over a century, it now seems that there was an ell out the back side. And that addition was likely a finished living area, given the telltale signs of  plaster discovered beneath shingles.

And Roman numerals etched on planks are being recorded — some carpenter's long-ago system of orderly construction.

Stabilization work will continue for the next few months. Then they will address the "life safety systems" — work needed to bring what will be a public building into compliance with code and access requirements.

And then, perhaps in 2014, the Westport Historical Society will move in and make Handy House its headquarters. Visitors will be able to see for themselves a place that is considered an historical and architectural gem. First built in around 1714, the house had two additions, the latest in 1820. Since all three sections are largely intact and unchanged, the house provides a rare glimpse at colonial construction methods spanning a century.


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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.