A Tour of the Ware House:
Homestead of David and Mary Smith Ware
An Ongoing Restoration Project in Gilsum, NH
by Ann Mullins Tindall
There were possibly more Wares in Gilsum, New Hampshire, in July of 2004 than there had been in years. We gathered in the village, located ten miles north of Keene. Our ancestor David Ware (third son of Capt. Benjamin Ware) and his wife Mary (Smith) Ware, built their home in 1838 along the road leading from the village of Gilsum to the village of Alstead. It replaced an earlier home, no longer standing, where their children—David Smith, Theoda, and Samuel Ware—were born.
Mary’s father, Samuel Smith, lived with them in his last years. Samuel was a Revolutionary War soldier who served as part of Gen. Washington’s personal guard at Valley Forge through the surrender at Yorktown.
We had been invited by David Dauphin, current owner of the former Ware property, to tour the Ware house, located just north of the village of Gilsum on Alstead Road, which rises gently uphill as you travel north. We passed the Ware Cemetery on our left, knowing that we would be visiting there later. Then, a short distance further, we drove our caravan of cars into the circle drive in front of the Ware house.
Before us stood a beautiful old two story house with a fresh coat of gray paint and white trim, fronted by a small yard filled with colorful flowers, and enclosed by a white picket fence. Half of the one story portion of the house was unpainted, looking like an “out building.” (Most old homes in the area were of this same design.) Straight ahead was a small, unpainted shed with a deck attached overlooking a small pond. On the left was a small unpainted “barn” with wild flowers on one side and a pen of chickens on the other. Tall, lush green trees encircled the drive and structures, providing our ancestral home with a picturesque setting, in distinct contrast to the views we had seen in photographs taken in the late 19th Century. David Dauphin told us during our visit that he had purchased and dismantled both the shed and the barn from other sites in the area and then rebuilt them in their present locations on his land. His careful rebuilding of these historic structures reflects his desire to preserve antiquities.
The door in the painted attachment to the main house would be our entry into a step back in time. I think we all experienced the same feeling… here we are, about to walk into the rooms and tread on the floors of our ancestors. If only walls could talk… Dauphin was a gracious and knowledgeable guide. He purchased the home in 1995 after learning it had running water, bathrooms, and the original hardware. He has spent the last nine years working to preserve original features of the house while also incorporating modern features. In the long history of the Ware house, previous owners had remodeled and redecorated, but Dauphin’s renovations are something special as he tries to find and preserve many of the original features of the home, long covered by layers of wood, paint, or wallpaper. We observed that Dauphin has a passion for history and learned that he currently serves as the vice-president of the Gilsum Historical Society.
In the first room we entered, part of the painted attachment to the main house, the ceiling beams were white-washed and rough, looking more like barn than house. Dauphin told us that this area probably housed farm animals when David and Mary Ware lived in the home. Dauphin explained that the rough features will remain that way as he plans to use it as a porch. The adjoining room, also part of the attachment, will become a breakfast nook looking out over the yard and driveway. Dauphin showed us that one of the walls is made of the original wood. We also could view the progress Dauphin was making in constructing a doorway to what will become a coat closet and a pantry. We noticed the new insulation visible on the ceiling, a modern advantage in the cold New England climate.
Then we passed through the doorway into the main house and found ourselves in a room complete with fireplace, a small table, an old grandfather clock, and a ”David-made” china cabinet loaded with English bicentennial blue and white china. This cozy room, an adjunct to the modern kitchen area, also serves as a living room area. The kitchen is behind a half wall which allows the preparer of a meal to be included in conversation. Though none of the furnishings date back to our Ware ancestors, Dauphin has found many items dating back to the 1800’s at local auctions.
From the current room we moved into the largest room in the house. It was formerly divided into a “keeping” room, where the family lived, and a small birthing room. Dauphin needed these two smaller rooms to be opened up so that he would have space to invite larger groups of people into his home, which he enjoys. Last winter he hosted 45 people for a sit down dinner! The original floor of the large room has been “filled in” with boards removed from the attic. They will remain “as is” for now: multicolored, crowned and unsanded until Dauphin finds a technique to preserve the “oldness.” A unique corner cabinet that was built into the northeast wall has been detached and become a free-standing piece of furniture. A second fireplace graces the eastern wall.
The stairs to the upper level of the house are right inside the front door of the house, between the current sitting room and the large open room. As in many two-story wood frame houses of the time, the upper level contains four rooms, two which are now used as bedrooms and two as offices. Dauphin has added a modern bathroom at the top of the stairs. We roamed freely through the upstairs, where each room had its own character and reflected the care with which Dauphin had chosen furniture and interesting objects to adorn the house.
As Dauphin led us from room to room, it was apparent that he is maintaining the historical and period features wherever possible; however, to be a livable house in our era, it has been necessary to take out and add walls, turn around and rebuild the stairway, reinforce beams, improve fireplaces and renail floors. We were delighted to find that there is still some original window glass, very thin, wavy and bluish in color. Dauphin claims he cries every time one gets cracked! He has added a protective cover on both the inside and outside of the windows. The woodwork around the windows is new, but built exactly as the original that was plastered with layers of leaded paint. We could see that living in a house while doing restoration is no easy task and progress is slow, taking many years. Because Dauphin appeared to be a good craftsman, as well as a collector and lover of antiques, it seemed to me that his finished product will be a work of art, a satisfying prospect to those of us who have descended from the first couple who built and lived in this house.
We concluded our visit to the Ware property with a short walk south into the woods to find the remains of a foundation, or “cellar hole” where a log cabin once stood. This hole, still showing the rock lined cellar and the bricks of the corner fireplace, may have been the first home of David and Mary Smith Ware; however, an early Gilsum map indicates an earlier residence further away from this property. So perhaps this cellar hole is the remains of a sugar house or a barn used before the Wares lived on the property.