Photographic Documentation Project at Governor Bellingham-Cary House

Story by Marianne Salza

The first floor southeast bathroom wall of the Governor Bellingham-Cary House joins the framework of three centuries: the 1659 exterior sheathing boards of the east wall, the 1760’s brick and mortar south wall addition, and studs from modern day renovations. Now, for the first time, visitors can view the 17th Century wooden beams that are only visible in basement of this first period dwelling.

Images taken by fine art photographer, Jarrod Staples, allow everyone to appreciate the enduring elegance of the oldest building in Chelsea. The Governor-Bellingham-Cary House Association presented the Photographic Documentation Project on September 26, sponsored in part by the Massachusetts Cultural Council.

“This is a first period house that is within an 18th Century building,” explained Karen MacInnis, president. “Sometimes it’s hard to see the early origins. This project is part of our commitment to sharing the inaccessible, historical areas of the house with the public.”

Staples’s photographs exhibit the structures beneath the west parlor and the original kitchen, revealing the beams from multiple time periods.

“One of the challenges was being able to light it in a way that was even, to reduce the amount of harsh shadows that can obscure detail,” said Staples, who specializes in documenting delicate antiquities, such as architectural elements and textiles, for museums and other institutions.

The house was constructed with post-and-beam framing, built with heavy, squared timbers that were carved like puzzle pieces, and secured with wooden pegs.  In other sections of the cellar, there are mortise and tenon joints connecting two pieces of wood that join at right angles, and are fastened with metal bolts and screws.

“It was all hand done with an axe or with a pit saw. Some of the timbers have bark on them,” MacInnis described. “Some of the timbers have been core tested with dendrochronology. It showed that some of them are early 1700s.”

Two prior historic structure reports conducted in 1985 and 1995 by a preservation architect outlined the building’s evolution. Further tree-ring dating of the older white oak timbers would indicate the origins of the 1659 home.

“Part of the Association’s mission is to care for this property and share it with the community. There are aspects of the building that are not easily seen and understood,” said MacInnis. “It is important because the building has survived. It has evolved. It has been modified.”

Staples’s Photographic Documentation Project will be on permanent display at The Bellingham-Cary House, located at 34 Parker Street, Chelsea, is open by appointment by calling (617) 884-4090.

“With photographs, we can capture antiquities as they are, and preserve their memory, even if the objects no longer persist. This specific project provides unconditional access to visual knowledge,” expressed Staples. “The hope is that anyone can experience these images in perpetuity. It hopefully will invite them and make them curious. People hopefully will explore and embrace the beauty that is the Cary House.”

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