Untouched Eighteenth-century woodworker’s shop was found in Duxbury a few years ago an it's said to be one of a kind


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The planing bench also reveals a groove added later to allow craftsmen to install a treadle lathe for turning wood, powered by a foot pedal.

The shop also has its original tool racks for chisels, awls, and brace (hand drill) bits, and a rack near the ceiling for handsaws. Holes in the wall board above the joinery bench and to the right of the window show where awls were stuck to keep them close at hand.

Sketches and hash marks on another wall preserve the living sense of a place where woodworkers spend long hours. Someone painted a sketch of a man standing with his back against a wall, one knee lifted, a hand extended. Much of the outline remains, the colors dulled but visible.

Sketches in pencil appear on another wall, including the outline of a bird probably sketched for a weather vane. Cross-hatchings over a door show the tallying of some quantity. Supplies? Boards? Wainscoting panels completed?

Cuts in the wall board reveal the location and shape of the shop’s fireplace, probably removed in the 19th century in favor of a woodstove.


Painted in black on a joist in the shop’s small storeroom, large digits spell out a date, “1789.” It may be a construction date, but Burrey says some construction techniques suggest an earlier date.

Burrey also shows visitors a millworked “chimney surround” removed from the old house. He believes the house’s decorative moldings were done in the shop, probably by the house’s owner.

Garrison, who visited the shop with a team of specialists from historical organizations such as Colonial Williamsburg, said the shop’s interior exhibited the pattern of work for woodworkers of the 18th century. Called “joiners” then (carpenters and cabinet-makers today), early American craftsmen worked with wood that came rough from the saw mill. Their first job was to plane it down to a smooth finish.

You can see which bench is the planing bench not only because it’s not scarred but also because it’s built against the wall farthest from the fireplace, Garrison said. Planing produces shavings likely to become tinder for a spark from the fireplace, and would have been a threat to burn the shop down.

Naylor said property records show that the shop belonged to a well-known “housewright and joiner,” Luther Sampson, in the late 18th century. Genealogy research revealed that Sampson was the craftsman who founded Kents Hill School in Readville, Maine.

Born in 1760 in Duxbury, Sampson served in the Revolutionary War and bought the 60-acre Philips farm on the west side of Duxbury, home of the Berrybrook School today. His high-quality handiwork, experts say, adorns the interiors of many fine houses built in Duxbury in the late 18th century, when the town was home to prosperous sea captains and merchants.

The survey team that visited the shop with Garrison last month concluded the building was worthy of National Historic Landmark status “due to its rarity and integrity,” Garrison said in an e-mail after the visit.

He urged preservation of the shop. “We won’t get a do-over with this building,” he said.

Preservation costs money, and supporters have applied for a $35,000 grant from Duxbury’s Community Preservation Act funds to help pay for an archeological survey of the site, some foundation repair, and to “repair deteriorating hand-hewn sills and joists to stabilize [the] structure.”

“While we have lots and lots of historical houses,” Garrison said in a recent interview, “as a woodworker’s shop it’s probably the oldest in New England” and possibly the country.

“It’s the rarest of the rare. And who knew? Found on the grounds of a preschool.”

DeOrsay said the school’s board of directors would be in favor of preserving the shop. “We’ll try to find out what the best option is.” 

by Robert Knox / via BostonGlobe

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