Falmouth Field Guide

31 Duke Street

Standing at the southwest corner of Duke and Princess Streets, 31 Duke Street is the smallest of the recognizably well-made and early houses in Falmouth and dates approximately to 1815-1835. Falmouth Heritage Renewal restored the house in June 2004, retaining intact framing and finish but replacing substantial portions of the wall and floor framing due to termite damage. This two-room house measures 10’ 1’’ by 17’ 2’’ and is oriented toward its yard rather than the street.

The building is sheathed with wide weatherboards (10 ½’’ to 11’’ exposure), which are straight mill-sawn and planed only at the upper edge. The interior boards are set flush, with beads at their upper edges. There are other examples of this interior sheathing in town (36A Cornwall and 7 Market Street), but these examples lack interior beading. Wide boards (6’’), beaded at the inner edge, are nailed over the weatherboards at the doors and windows to form outside frames. The joints below the board sills are covered with the flat boards common to Falmouth, and the original board that survived on the east wall has cyma moldings. The external doors are also made of boards with cyma-edged stiles and rails nailed to the outer face to form six panels of conventional elevation with wide lock rails and thin upper rails framing square upper panels. These doors, along with the simpler board-and-batten interior door, are hand planed.

The interior of the house is divided into a larger north and a smaller south room. Even before its restoration, the house showed careful and attentive craftsmanship, with virtually every wooden surface in the house planed and beaded. Two windows illuminate each of the two rooms, with well-made six-over-six sash windows facing Duke and Princess Streets. Framing for some of the openings was renewed or rebuilt during the twentieth century, but in all cases, small mortises remain visible, indicating the location of original studs that framed the openings.

The windows are well-made with boxed jambs that contain round weights hung on iron pulleys for the lower sash. The facing is beaded on the inner edges, but does not hide the studs (also beaded) to which it was attached. These sashes survived in relatively good condition to the time of restoration. It is these windows, combined with the use of straight mill-sawn lumber, HL hinges, and cut nails, that suggest the date of c. 1815 – 1835.

Though there is little extraneous interior woodwork, the fully exposed frame was diligently planed and beaded, with the finish favoring the larger north room. The interior door between rooms is beaded on both sides, with beveled battens and beaded studs exposed on the side of the smaller room. The partition between rooms has horizontal sheathing on the side of the larger room only, though it is planed and beaded on both sides. All of the studs and braces are exposed and beaded inside, more extensively than in some contemporary comparable or larger Falmouth houses. Some of the corner posts and studs were replaced in the twentieth century.

Clearly, in early nineteenth century Falmouth size did not define the level of finish and craftsmanship found in a residence. This small house shows an attention to construction detail not found in many larger dwellings. Deed research has shown that free black Jamaican—or freed blacks after Emancipation—were often the builders and residents of board houses like this one, indicating the socio-economic stability attained by some former slaves in the years after Emancipation.