August 17, 2017
(Note: this post, originally, published on August 17, 2017, was edited and added to on August 18, 2017)
Earlier this year, Christopher and Tamsin Serjak, husband and wife, purchased a historic two-family housing unit located in the North Easton Village section of Easton.
Previously and always owned by American aristocracy, the Ames family – whose ancestral home in the U.S. is North Easton – the property holds the address of 30-32 Oliver Street.
The Serjaks, who moved to Easton as a married couple in 1993, are renovating the house to create two residential rental units. They are also completing renovation of 11 Andrews Street, another historic home in “The Village”, and also once owned by the Ames family and, like 30-32 Oliver Street, one that affords a view of Governor Oliver Ames Estate and Shovel Shop Pond.
“My husband and I saw what was going on with the revitalization of North Easton Village, and we thought it a smart time to invest in property here,” said Tamsin. “Plus, I love old houses. I grew up in Indiana, on a farm – and the house I lived in was actually a stop on the Underground Railroad during the Civil War. We had a safe hiding space in the basement of the house. My parents still live in the house and on the farm.”
To create the designs for both the 30-32 Oliver Street and 11 Andrews Street projects, the Serjaks retained Greg Strange, an architect who lives in Easton, and whose company, Beech Hill Homes is located in the town. Strange is a member of the Easton Historical Commission, and served on the committee that developed the most recent Easton master plan, released in 2014.
“Greg’s talent and vision, and love for history and Easton, are all evident in the restorations and renovations,” said Tamsin. “He is doing a standout job, and has helped us see so many possibilities.”
Tamsin and Christopher Serjak reside near Borderland State Park. They have two children, a son starting his senior year in college next month, and a daughter who will be a senior at Oliver Ames High School.
Both the houses being renovated were once dwellings for workers (and their families) in the Ames shovel manufacturing business.
Renovation and remodeling of the Oliver Street property involved considerable gutting and removal, down basically to its interior wood skeleton – a network and joining of studs, beams, floorboards, plates, rafters, planks, braces, and window frames.
While inspecting the gutted interior, Tamsin saw on a beam, just below the roof, a shoe. She later found, in the ceiling space, between the second and third floors, another shoe … actually shoes … and hats. All the pieces of clothing were, predictably, showing the influence of time.
Curious as to whether the location and existence of these items had specific significance, Tamsin conducted research.
Her research revealed, among other information, the custom and practice of “concealed shoes.”
“When building homes – and the practice goes back to the late Middle Ages in Europe –people would place shoes and other items in the walls and ceilings of the structure,” said Tamsin. “This was done to promote to promote good luck and fertility, and to ward off bad and evil influences. The practice continued in the New World, but mostly in New England.”
Tamsin added, “Way back, the way that shoes were made and produced, they weren’t as sturdy as today, and they would form to the feet of those wearing them. So shoes held something of the personality of the owner. That might be another reason people put shoes in walls; they were something of a signature of the owners.”
Throughout history, the most frequent purpose of concealed shoes, it seems, was to promote fertility. A study and chronicling of concealed shoes revealed that children’s shoes constitute about half of all footwear found in walls or other linings of a house.
Consider this excerpt from the Wikipedia entry on concealed shoes that is linked to above:
“Several theories have been advanced to account for the incorporation of shoes into the fabric of a building, one of which is that they served as some kind of fertility charm. There is a long-standing connection between shoes and fertility, perhaps exemplified by the nursery rhyme, ‘There was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe,’ and the custom of casting a shoe after a bride as she leaves for her honeymoon or attaching shoes to the departing couple’s car …. Archaeologist Ralph Merrifield has observed that in the English county of Lancashire women who wished to conceive might try on the shoe of a woman who had just given birth … a custom known as smickling.”
The house at 30-32 Oliver Street was a component of a temporary factory building, built in 1852, of the Oliver Ames & Sons shovel manufacturing company. It, along with the structure that is now the residence 26-28 Oliver Street, were one structure in 1852. It was located on the east side of Shovel Shop Pond, alongside the dam, and was used for about a year or so following a fire destroying the factory that had previously been on the site.
When, around 1853, the Oliver Ames & Sons stone-walled manufacturing shops off of Main Street were being completed and going into operation, the temporary wood factory building on Shovel Shop Pond, was divided into two pieces, and during a deep freeze in winter, oxen pulled the pieces across the pond to Oliver Street where they were set as two dwellings for Ames factory worker families. Each structure housed three families.
Another interesting find (please see attached photo) at 30-32 Oliver Street is – inserted into a ceiling – what looks to be wood from a crate that was used to store Ames shovels, or maybe parts for Ames shovels.
The Ames family still owns 26-28 Oliver Street.
Concealed shoes. An interesting and a sort of happy-haunting element of real estate history.
In this space, down the road, there will be a post on Tamsin and Christopher Serjak’s renovation project at 11 Andrews Street in North Easton Village.