Falmouth Field Guide

32 Duke Street

Falmouth contains a number of two-room timber-frame houses that date from the early nineteenth century. These buildings, thought to be the homes of Falmouth’ sizeable free black artisan class, display quality workmanship and sophisticated finishes despite their small size. Though late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century additions have tripled this building’s size, the hipped roof clearly marks the original two-room structure, a prime example of a Falmouth board house. The rectangular first-period core of the house measures twelve feet by twenty-one feet, six inches. Typical to this housing type, the building has been situated on the lot with a narrow end facing the street to the south. Probably the location for entertaining, the formal function of the street-facing end is evident from the large tripartite, six-over-six sash window with flanking slender louvered openings that dominates the façade.

The east elevation contains the primary entrance with the door toward the front of the house, and overlooks the side work yard. Immediately adjacent to the door is a six-over-six sash window smaller than the window on the south wall and lacking its tripartite configuration. Though now obscured by a late nineteenth-century shed addition, a large sash window originally overlooked the yard on the east elevation toward the rear of the house. By comparison to the south and east facades, the west elevation is relatively simple, featuring only two small evenly-spaced sash windows. Before additional rooms were constructed at the rear of the house starting in the late nineteenth century, the north elevation contained the secondary entrance—a single centrally located door that originally opened into the rear yard of the house. This basic fenestration plan with its impressive tripartite window facing the street, primary entrance on one side of the building facing a work yard, and secondary entrance at the rear is found in nearly all examples of this housing type in Falmouth.

On the interior, the first period construction of 32 Duke Street is divided into two rooms. The primary entrance in the east wall opens into the front room well lit by windows on the south, west, and east walls. A partition wall of unornamented horizontal boards nailed to the south side of a row of studs separates the more formal front room from a smaller rear chamber. A door centrally located in the partition connects the two chambers.

As is common in Caribbean timber-frame construction, the substantial framing system of posts, studs, plates, and braces are exposed on the interior. The high quality of workmanship is evident in this exposed timber frame. All of the framing members below the wall plates are planed, beaded, and held together by mortise-and-tenon joints fastened with pegs. There is no ceiling and the beaded rafters, shingle lath, and the underside of the wood shingles are also visible. However, the visual effect of the exposed rafters is diminished due to the absence of paint above the wall plates. Often in the Caribbean, houses are constructed without ceilings to allow hot air to circulate throughout the building. The need for good air circulation influenced the construction of the partition wall between the front and rear rooms of the house. The board wall of the partition terminates at the wall plate. Above this, studs carry spaced horizontal lath up to the rafters, providing ventilation between the two chambers.

A series of additions were made to 32 Duke Street starting in the late nineteenth century or early twentieth century. A small room with a shed roof attached to the east wall of the rear chamber was the first alteration. Not long after, a two room portion was added to the north wall of the original rear chamber and shed roof addition. Finally, a cast-in-place concrete wing was added to the north wall of the third period rooms in the middle of the twentieth century. The side porch with its chamfered posts and decorative sawn splats can also be dated to the turn of the twentieth century. Other twentieth-century alterations to the original structure include replacement siding and the corrugated zinc metal roof. However, the original hand-planed beveled siding remains in place in the north wall of the north room. No original doors survive, but iron HL hinges fastened with rose head nails remain in place in the north [secondary] doorway of the north room.