Sunday, November 26, 2017

The House that Jack Built

The story of the house that Jack built                             Written by Marcia Balonis, November 2017

About 1975, Jack had a dream.  He wanted to build our home up on a hill.  We were living in an apartment in the farm house and did a lot for the owner.  She agreed to sell us the land to build the house.  The whole of what is now considered Skyfields area in Groton, MA was once her farm.  That purchase was completed about 1979. 

During the late 70’s Jack also teamed up with a close friend who owned a lumber mill.  Jack and Bob dropped pine trees all over the area to clear lots for others for the pine which was then hauled to the mill.  One weekend a month for about 5 years, Jacks' logs were cut into desired boards.  The other three weekends, he worked for Bob on other paying wood jobs.

Yes, a long time.  To cut the logs into boards, he needed to have his design to include the detail of what was going to be used where.  He did the plans and calculated the board feet needed for floor, walls, inside and outside, posts and, well every board that went into the house.  Much of the design was based on “Your Engineered House” by Rex Roberts of Groton.  There are notes in the book which I made to discuss points or questions from my read of the book.  There are significant variations in Jack’s version of the house.  Most significant is the whole basement.

Finally, the wood is ready, it was sent to another mill to plane most of the boards to be used.  We were also clearing the lot and stacking up the hard wood for burning later.  That took many months.  The area was ready to start.   Foundation went in.  The dream started to shape up.

There was no contractor per se.  Jack did that himself.  We obtained multiple estimates on the various components to include carpentry, electrical, masonry, plumbing and anything else required.  The carpenters name was Barry.  There are a lot of unique features of the woodwork which Jack and Barry worked out.  We walked from the apartment to the house daily to see what had been done.  More than once, when Jack saw Barry the next time, he would have an idea of something else to be done.  The built in wine rack and glass holder is but one example of the special touches created.

The house that Jack built is nearing completion with some very unique elements.  The mantle in the living room is a beam from the first parish church steeple of Groton.  The steeple was removed, and the beams sold for new work at the church.  Some nails from the church are remaining on the mantle.  The cobblestone fireplace in the master bedroom is made with authentic stones from the old rail yard in Plymouth, MA.  Jack grew up in Plymouth and a friend was able to get those stones when the rail yard was demolished there.  The fireplace itself is a heat-a-lator model.  If there are still little bricks in the base openings of the fireplace, they were put there to prevent the kittens from running from one room to another.  Kittens were in the house in 1990 or so.  The fireplace is another of the many energy efficient elements of the house.  The front light is an authentic old street lamp from Groton which Jack was able to obtain from the town when they were removed.

At the base of the driveway are some granite posts.  Sorry to say, I don’t recall where he obtained those.  The granite back steps were from the foundation of the Haney property from an old barn long gone.

The living room stove is a wood or coal stove from an old general store in Brighton, Maine.  He bought it after hunting one winter.  The little one in the basement will also burn wood or coal.  The big basement wood stove was all set up to add heat to the house, shop, and greenhouse for the plants with piping.    

The windows are fixed.  Most of the walls do not go to the ceiling.  This is for air flow.  There are vents all along the back of the house designed to be opened in summer along with the vents up high on the front of the house.  This air flow worked to cool the house.   Drapes pulled at night to retain heat, opened to capture solar heat during the day.  The overhang is specifically designed to block sun in summer and welcome it in the winter.

The greenhouse or spa area was mine.  I spent hours with my plants in that room.  There is a powerful fan, sealed for winter, in the greenhouse.  And there is a 4th heat zone out there.  

The stained-glass piece inserted over the door in the master bath was something I designed and was made by a local artist.  The antique black glass doorknobs throughout the inside were collected from a local old colonial.

The porch over the garage was also my space.  I love bright open rooms.  From this room, the view is spectacular and I so enjoyed many stunning sunrises.

The back office or corner bedroom, has little cabinets at the base of the closet.  They were built to keep ammo and originally guns out of sight. The pantry includes the step shelving so that you can really see everything in the pantry not have to move things all around to find a desired can of something.  The little corner alcove in the pantry for brooms.  Near the back door a special place for coats and hats not kept in the closet. 

The rounded wall, circular stairs, and diamond artistic wall were all design elements which Jack and Barry discussed.  I came to love the circular stairs and wall.  Walking up and down that set of stairs is easier for an older person.  Like the rest of the house, it is solid.  For me, I was able to just lean a bit on the rail to stay stable.

We moved into the house in fall of 1982.  I left when Fort Devens closed for work in 1993.  In the early years we travelled back and forth every few months.  For a time, Jack looked for work in Colorado but then decided he wanted to stay in Groton in HIS house.  I continued to pay the mortgage, worked hard, changing jobs may times, and dreamed of returning.  Over time that changed.  But I was always able to come home to our dream for our visits and to do special projects. 

Jack loved watching the birds each winter and feed them faithfully.  I have watched many come by to check for food this fall only to find nothing but a few bread crumbs.  The hangers off the front on the pullies and other stakes were for the many feeders.  In the summer, he hung plants.

Jack was blessed to have good friends who helped him as his health declined to do the many chores.  I am thankful for those who made it possible for him to stay here, in his house.  Many friends and family have helped me with the massive clean out as well.  A big part of me would love to return to wrap myself back in our dream, but that is my past, and I move on to a future with a big hole in my heart.

Jack with his nieces, 2017.

There are fixtures that need changing to be pretty and things to upgrade.  But even today, 35 years later, this house still has the warmth of the beautiful native wood, the work of a master carpenter, and the love of the owner.  It is the house that Jack built. 


Unknown said...

What a beautiful story and house. I’ll bet it’s hard to let go of but sure the new owner will love it.

Annie Hesse said...

Such a sweet narrative. And what a wonderful legacy.

Unknown said...

Thank you for sharing this beautiful love story about a house. Jack’s house is truly one of a kind and will hopefully be cherished by the next owners.

Unknown said...

Thank you for sharing this with us, your friends, far and close. Hugs to you and prayers for comfort and strength as you move forward. Pam

doarttoday said...

So beautiful Marcia and such a legacy.

lu_d said...

I love the house that Jack built and the memories that the both of you built together in your home. I hope that the new owners will love their new home as much as you both did.

Thanks for sharing your memories. Hugs