Imagine peeking into an old garden shed and discovering the oldest woodworking shop in United States. It’s a kind of traditional woodworker’s dream. This is basically what happened to a University of Delaware professor recently.
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“The first time I saw it, I about fell over,” said Ritchie Garrison, professor of history professor and director of the Winterthur Program in American Material Culture at the University of Delaware. “It was a bit like walking into the past.”
The discovery was entirely accidental. Garrison and Michael Burrey were in the process of revamping Garrison’s 19th century house in Plymouth, Mass. Burrey was also
working on a project at a local preschool in Duxbury, Mass., where he discovered what turns out to be a 18th century joiner’s shop. Garrison invited several experts in
material culture got to see the shop for themselves.
“I said ‘holy cow!’” recalled Garrison, of his first look. If the date painted on the building is accurate the shop could trace back to at least 1789. Eighteenth century shops are extremely rare, unlike the more common 19th-century shops, said Garrison.
The shop provided all sorts of clues to its uses and even the local ecology 200 years ago. And although the school used the shed, many of the features of the shop are
essentially untouched. The original workbenches, for instance, are still intact and in good condition. Those benches show different kinds of uses and even the woods they were made of contain clues about the local forests in the 1700s. There was also a conspicuously removed fireplace.
“The fireplace told me that they were doing things that required warmth, such as using glue,” said Garrison after explaining that 18th-century glue needed to reach a
certain temperature temperature to work.
As for the wood itself, dendrochronology shows that it’s from the second or third generation of trees replanted after original New England settlement by Europeans.
According to local records, the workshop belonged to a master carpenter named Luther Sampson, according to Garrison.
Experts are clamoring for the building be designated a national historic landmark, said Garrison. All interested parties are working on a plan that will tackle the
preservation of the shop and work for the town and the preschool.
Credit: Photos courtesy of Ritchie Garrison