Benjamin Mathes built this stone home around 1835 for his family, of the same stone he used to build a store across the street. The Federal/Greek Revival building has amazing granite quoins (stone blocks at the corners) and lintels (blocks above the windows). Even though there are later alterations, including the bracketed door hood and massive central dormer at the roof, the home remains one of the most visually stunning buildings in town.
Located on Main Street in Chester, Vermont, you can find this perfect little Snecked Ashlar home. The building technique is very local and can be found in just a handful of towns in central Vermont. Scottish-born masons from Canada introduced the technique to local masons while erecting a mill in nearby Cavendish in 1832, and within a few years, the first stone structure in North Chester village was built by local masons. Soon after, the local school, church and other homes were all constructed the same way. This home outside the Stone Village district was built later than almost all other examples in town. It features Federal and Greek Revival detailing with a central fluted fan at the door and large gable-front roof.
Have you heard of Snecked Ashlar before?
The James Paul House in Durham, NH, stands out as a rare example of stone construction in town. The house was built between 1830 and 1840, and is transitional Federal/Greek Revival in style. It has four tall chimneys (two on each slope of the roof), granite lintels over the windows, and granite quoins at the corners which together, create an elegant composition. Tragically, James Paul died unexpectedly when removing the staging on this house, he was never able to live in this beauty. The home was occupied by two reverends of a local church.
In the early 1830s, skilled masons from Scotland and Ireland came to central Vermont to work on building projects. A number of these workers, mainly from the Aberdeen area, and specialized in a specific building style in which plates of stone are affixed to a rubblestone wall. This method of bonding stonework is so prevalent in Scotland and
Ireland it has been referred to in some journals as ‘Celtic Bond’, but in Vermont, it is known as “snecked ashlar”. The mixture of stone sizes and colors produces a strong bond and an attractive finish. This home is a rare example in the state, which is estimated to have about 50 of these homes left. I could not locate any information on the owners of the home, but the house has seen better days, with the wooden front porch shifting away from the main house. Also, if you look closely, you can see the original wood shingle roofing breathing under the sheet metal roof!
On a rise above the Cape Elizabeth’s rocky shore stands Beckett’s Castle, a picturesque Gothic cottage of a century ago. Designed and built by the Portland literary figure Sylvester Beckett for his summer residence, the Castle was begun in 1871 and finished in 1874. It is said that Beckett constructed the cottage from local gray fieldstone largely with his own hands, though he must have had help, or fabricated this fiction as he would have in his own books. The home was patterned after a typical English castle, but on a much smaller scale, and is tucked away from the street. Sylvester Blackmore Beckett was born in Portland, Maine in 1812, as the son of English parents. Although never attending college, he acquired a modest education and became a prominent journalist and articulate writer. He was admitted to the bar in 1859 and spent much of his time administering and settling estates becoming well-connected in town. Beckett held massive parties in the home, and invitations to the social gatherings held there were highly prized; guests were served expansive dinners cooked in primitive fashion in a large fireplace. Sylvester Beckett died in 1882, and went to his only child, Lizzie. The home fell into disrepair in the 1970s, but was restored by the most recent owner. It was sold in 2018, and the listing photos show some great interior spaces.
The oldest extant house (and my favorite) in the Cottage Farm development of Brookline is the Frederick Sears House. This house is significant as one of the major surviving examples of Gothic Revival domestic architecture that was part of the original Cottage Farm development. David Sears laid out the parks and squares in the Cottage Farm neighborhood in 1849 on land he acquired from Uriah Cotting in 1818. He also built houses for himself and his children. His own house, erected in 1843, stood at the comer of Pleasant Street and Freeman Street. Sears built houses for his daughters, Ellen, Harriet, Anna, and Grace, all of which are no longer extant. Only the house he built for his son Frederick at 24 Cottage Farm Road survives among the Sears family houses.The large Gothic Revival home was constructed from Roxbury Puddingstone with granite trim. Possibly a work by George Minot Dexter, it is the highest style Gothic home, equipped with bargeboards, quoins and trefoil and quatrefoil windows.
The stone houses in Chester, Vermont are the highest concentration of rare snecked ashlar construction in the region (there are only 50 estimated examples in the state). In the early 1830s, skilled masons from Scotland came to central Vermont to work on building projects there. A number of these, mainly from the Aberdeen area, were experienced in a construction method known as “snecked ashlar”, in which plates of stone are affixed to a rubblestone wall.
Two Scottish masons, brothers Alison and Wiley Clark, came to the town of Chester in 1832 to work on large factory building (now no longer standing). In 1834, Doctor Ptolmey Edson hired the brothers to build his house, which was the first snecked ashlar structure in the village. It was followed by a series of other buildings, most of which are residences. The church and district school were also built of stone, possibly due to the influence of Dr. Edson, who sat on their respective building committees.
In addition to the snecked ashlar homes, a schoolhouse, church and tavern were constructed. The tavern, a wood frame building, sadly burned in 2012.