Students from the Voke Visit the Bellingham-Cary House

In the east parlor of the Bellingham-Cary House, students of the Northeast Metropolitan Regional Vocational High School (“The Voke”) examined the 1880s, oak hardwood floor, and the 18-inch wide floorboards from the 1600s-1700s in the closet beside it: examples of the tangible, architectural details that students, teachers, and administration compared during their March 17 tour with Karen Mac Innis, President of The Bellingham-Cary House Association.

“A lot of times we focus on training students current industry standards, but it does help to know how we developed from homemade nails to nail guns,” said David DiBarri, Superintendent. “This building survived, so we want to look back on how engineering has evolved.”

DiBarri believes that the experience at the Cary House exposed students to other avenues within construction and carpentry, such as antique door and wallpaper restoration.

“It feels spectacular,” exclaimed Mac Innis about utilizing the house as a teaching tool for carpentry students. “It is something that we wanted to do because the house is old and has been through a number of changes that can be used as a time capsule. The point of education is to broaden your mind and be exposed to different options.”

Mac Innis indicated hand-carved paneling in the entryway hall in contrast to an unfinished corner framing member.

On the south/east bathroom wall, students inspected 17th century sheathing boards and plaster, and learned how the 18th century bricks (which had been made in clay pits on former Cary-owned land that is now the location of The Home Depot) were used as insulation.

Students also roamed through the construction site as the Cary House undergoes its final stage of roof renovations, estimated to be completed in May. The Voke will be building and installing a two-foot-high wooden fence on the north side of the property.

“Projects like this give kids experience in what a construction site will be like,” DiBarri explained. “We also get to help the community. A lot of the students that live in Chelsea might have no idea about some of the history of Chelsea, so this connects them to their own community. It’s exciting.”

The Cary House received $350,000 to repair the roof, which originally was not a concave mansard style as it appears today. Mac Innis suspects that it had been reconfigured in the 1700s; but before that, most likely would have looked similar to the roof of the Paul Revere House.

The organization was awarded a $50,000 grant from the Chelsea Preservation Committee’s pilot round of its Community Preservation Act in 2020. They also were approved for a $50,000 matching grant from the Massachusetts Historical Commission, in 2021. In addition, the association was awarded $250,000 during round two of the Chelsea Preservation Act in 2022.

“We were grateful because the Chelsea grant didn’t need to be matched,” revealed Mac Innis, who has 30 years of experience working in museums. “We were told that we could use the money awarded to us for a match with Mass. Historical. It’s fabulous. They were incredibly supportive.”

The Cary House Association is collaborating with contractor, Ward Hamilton, of Olde Mohawk Historical Preservation, and architect, Patrick Guthrie, to maintain the accurate features of the Historic National Landmark that was built circa 1659.

“It is a great responsibility,” Mac Innis upheld. “We are stewards, and have to learn what was done before and keep the house intact so people can learn from it and enjoy it.”

The kitchen ell roof, built in the 1880s, was most in need. It was partially rotten and allowing water in, causing interior damage. Now the kitchen ell has new gutters and clapboards.

In the second phase of construction, the roof scuttle was repaired and flashing was installed over the main house.

During the third stage, western cedar shingles are being installed by hand on the four visible sides of the main roof, flashing on the eight dormers, and their side walls will be completed, and interior water damage will be repaired. Seven windows will also be conserved by Jason Murray’s Minuteman Building and Preservation.

“It has reduced my stress level exponentially because I’m not worried about water coming into the house. It’s liberating,” Mac Innis chuckled. “It was too big of a job for us to take on as an organization. We needed the support of state and local funding.”

The Cary House Association staff is comprised of volunteers between the ages of 27-97.

“Being a part of this board, and the history of this house is incredibly humbling,” reflected Mac Innis. “To share it, and have people take pride in it and learn from it is gratifying.”

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