Historic New England investigates structural stability of Sayward-Wheeler House

Jul 9, 2012

Before beginning any repair project, a solid understanding of the building’s history and evolution is essential. Sometimes research and on-site investigation are not enough to outline the scope of work necessary to complete a repair. At the c. 1718 Sayward-Wheeler House in York Harbor, Maine, a precarious dip in the floor of the first-floor guest room made Historic New England’s property care team question the structural stability of the room. 

Humidity and moisture infiltration are the leading causes of wood rot and building movement, both of which have long affected Sayward-Wheeler House. Perched on a hill overlooking the York River, the site is idyllic, but its drainage has always been difficult to maintain. Extensive regrading of the landscape and upgrades to the gutter and downspout system have been completed in the past, but a persistent stream of water always found its way through the foundation walls and into the dirt-floor basement. Two years ago, we devised a plan to seal the basement while allowing the stream to continue to flow beneath the water-tight surface (if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em). We implemented a heating and dehumidification system to dry the basement and, in turn, maintain a more tolerable level of humidity in the museum spaces. 

Once this was completed, the carpenters refocused their efforts to determine the cause of the floor movement in the guest room. But in order to assess the room properly, they had to remove elements to review the structural timbers behind. On the exterior, the team removed clapboards and sheathing to expose the top plate, corner post, and house sill. The carpenters then moved to the interior to carefully remove the finish and sub-floors and expose the floor joists and chimney foundation. Now that the room’s “skin” has been removed, the team can easily inspect the timbers and joints and determine a scope of work for repairs.  

This isn’t the only preservation project planned for Sayward-Wheeler House. Partial funding has been secured to repair the large porch and replace the roof. If you would like to contribute to the work, please consider donating to the Preservation Maintenance Fund.