Moses Kent House
National Register Nomination Information:
The Moses Kent house is a large, rectangular, wood frame, two and one-half story, gable roofed structure with a one and one-half story gable roofed ell attached at right angles to the center of the house's rear, east elevation. Built in 1811, the house is in the Federal style with a Georgian floor plan, and measures 40 by 27 feet or 5 bays by 2, respectively, across its front, west facade and its north and south gable ends. The ell measures 21 feet in length by 24 feet in width. Attached to the ell's rear, east gable end is one story gable roofed garage The same width as the ell and 28 feet in length the garage was added in 1952. The garage is of lower overall profile than the ell and has a shallower pitched gable roof.
The house fronts the east side of River Road, a paved secondary rural town road. Set back approximately 50 feet from the road, the house is surrounded to the north, east, and south, and across the road to the west, by broad but relatively flat expanses of cultivated fields. To the east, approximately 500 feet behind the house, the fields are bordered by a densely wooded line of trees. To the southwest, across the road, the fields extend almost a quarter of a mile down to the east bank of the Connecticut River. Around the house's immediate perimeter is a well maintained lawn with a scattering of individual trees - a sugar maple, white oak, white birch, willow and black cherry, to the south and southwest. Approximately 75 feet north of the house's north gable end, a row of mature white pines extends along the town line between Orford and Lyme.
Two related structures are located on the property - a large, rectangular, wood frame, gable roofed barn, and a small, gable roofed well cover. The barn dates from the end of the nineteenth century, circa 1885, and is sited adjacent to the house, approximately 30 feet to the east of the southeast corner of the garage, its north side elevation parallel to the south elevation of the garage. The well cover dates from the early twentieth century, circa 1935, and is located in the tree line to the north of the house, directly opposite the house's north gable end.
The garage and barn are both serviced by a dirt driveway which curves back in from the road in a northeasterly direction just to the south of the house. The edges of the drive are intermittently defined by square, rough-cut granite posts.
The Moses Kent house sits on a dry fieldstone foundation with rough-cut granite blocks above grade, is of braced wood frame construction with clapboard siding, and has a gable roof of ten-over-twelve pitch covered with asphalt shingles. The sill is defined by a narrow water table and the corners by narrow corner boards. The eaves of the roof are detailed with a simple boxed cornice which is composed of a narrow frieze, scotia and cyma recta, partially returns the gable ends, and extends up the rake of the gables. The ridge of the roof is punctuated between the two outside bays of the facade by two, large, square brick chimney stacks laid in common bond and capped with sheet metal coping. Between the chimneys, a single shed roofed dormer extends from the ridge halfway down the rear, east slope of the roof. The dormer contains two, small, square single-light windows, is clapboarded, and has a raked boxed cornice similar in detail to that on the house.
The main entrance is located in the center bay of the facade and consists of a six panel door with flat, edge molded panels flanked on either side by vertical, two-over-two, double-hung side windows and crowned with a semi-elliptical, louvered wood fan. The side windows are separated from the door by slender reeded pilasters, and the fan contains a double arc of radiating fins. The entry is enframed by paneled pilasters which support a continuous scotia across the tops of the side windows and center door, and a molded architrave around the fan. The entrance is reached by a pair of rough-cut granite steps and concrete stoop with irregularly shaped flagstones laid in the concrete.
The windows are symmetrically placed on each elevation and consist of mid-nineteenth century replacement two-over-two, double-hung sash. Each window is plainly detailed, flanked by a pair of operable, louvered wood shutters, and protected by a removable, one-over-one wood storm. There are no windows on the rear, east elevation.
The one and one-half story gable roofed ell is of similar construction and detailing to that of the house. The ell measures 4 bays across its north elevation and three across its south, with a secondary entrance in the right-hand bay on the south. On the north elevation, the window in the right-hand bay is a six-over-six double-hungs set level with the lintel of the six-over nine. A flat roofed wall dormer containing a single six-over-six double-hung extends out from the ridge over the right-hand bay, abutting the rear, east elevation of the house on the right and supporting a brick chimney stack through the center of the roof. The chimney is laid in common bond and is detailed with a stepped pyramid cap.
On the south elevation, the secondary entrance in the right-hand bay consists of a six-paneled door with flat, edge molded panels. The entrance is reached by a pair of rough-cut granite steps, the bottom step both longer and wider thereby giving access to the top step from both the front and sides. The windows in the two left hand bays are twelve-over-eight double-hung sash.
The ridge of the ell is crowned on the east gable end by a large, square brick chimney stack laid in common bond and detailed with a stepped pyramid cap. On the east gable end, above the roof of the attached garage, a small six-over-three double hung window is located on either side of the chimney.
The garage addition sits on a reinforced concrete foundation and slab, is of wood frame construction with clapboard siding, and has rolled asphalt roofing. The roof is detailed with a simple boxed cornice which partially returns the east gable end. A single large overhead garage door beneath a keystoned, semi-elliptical arch is located on the right-hand side of the south elevation, and a secondary entrance consisting of a nine-light-over-three-panel door is located in the center of the north. The windows are large, square and single panel and include a double window on the left hand side of the south elevation, a pair of symmetrically placed windows on the east gable end, and a double window on the right-hand side of the north elevation. On the roof, a brick chimney stack laid in common bond crowns the center of the ridge.
The interior is laid out as a center stair hall, Georgian floor plan house with two rooms, one in each outside corner, on either side of the hall and a massive chimney stack between each corner room. The layout is identical on both floors except for the hall which runs the width of the house but is divided on the first floor into a front and rear section by a partition and door. The front, southwest and northwest, corner rooms are relatively square in shape and the rear, northeast and southeast, corner rooms more narrowly rectangular. Each room, except for the southeast corner room on the second floor, contains a fireplace.
The ell is accessed from the house through the center stair hall and through the southeast corner room on the first floor. The ell includes one large room along the south side, two smaller rooms along the north, and a secondary stair against the rear, east end of the center stair hall of the house. On the east wall of the large south room is a large kitchen fireplace with beehive oven and massive rough-cut granite lintel 18 inches in height.
Window and door trim consists of a molded architrave throughout the house except in the second floor stair hall and the two, rear corner rooms on the second floor where there is no trim. In the front corner rooms on the first floor, the windows are recessed into the wall with beveled sides which extend to the floor. On both the first and second floor, the window and door architraves are stepped, and the southwest corner room on the first floor is wainscoted with wide boards laid horizontally and has a decorative stamped sheet metal ceiling.
All of the doors on the first floor are six panel with flat panels and beaded edges. The doors on the second floor are four panel and similarly detailed. All of the fireplace mantles, except for the one in the northwest corner room on the first floor, consist of paneled pilasters mounted on backboards which support individual fragments of entablature and a wide mantle shelf. The mantle in the northwest corner room on the first floor consists of slender paired Tuscan columns supporting individual fragments of entablature and a wide mantle shelf All of the fireplaces have rough-cut granite lintels.
The stair in the center hall is detailed with open stringers and a triangular molded panel at each step. Against the wall, the skirt is stepped down around each tread and riser. The railing consists of simple square newel posts with ball tops, square balusters, and a round rail.
The walls of the center stair hall and the two northwest corner rooms on the first and second floor are decorated with murals painted by Rufus Porter. The murals were executed between 1825 and 1830 and combine freehand painting and stenciling with a cork stopper. The murals extend from the height of non-existent chair rail to the ceiling and are in muted shades of color. The scenes depicted are repetitiously limited in subject matter and are usually shown behind a foreground screen of trees which rest on the chair rail and provide a sense of depth and perspective to the scenes behind. The scenes depicted are as follows:
Center Stair Hall:
- FIRST FLOOR; NORTH WALL: Harborview showing open countryside, an island village, and a three masted, square rigged ship and a sloop sailing on a river.
- FIRST AND SECOND FLOOR; SOUTH WALL UP SIDE OF STAIRS: View showing a densely wooded forest up the side of the stairs and open country side at the top of the stairs with a two story, Federal style house.
- SECOND FLOOR; NORTH WALL.RIGHT SIDE: View showing open country side with a two story, Federal style house.
- SECOND FLOOR; NORTH WALL, CENTER: View showing open countryside with steep mountain peaks and a hillside orchard.
First Floor Northwest Corner Room:
- NORTHWEST CORNER: View showing a hill with a windmill.
- NORTH WALL, RIGHT SIDE: View showing open entryside with steep mountain peaks.
- EAST WALL, LEFT SIDE: View showing a densely wooded forest.
- EAST WALL, CENTER OVER MANTLE: Hilltop village scene showing a lighthouse on a hill and a village surrounded by a rail fence.
- SOUTH WALL, LEFT SIDE: Harborview showing a lighthouse on a hill, an island village, and a sloop and a three masted square rigged ship sailing in a river.
- SOUTHEAST CORNER: View showing open countryside with a two story Federal style house and a waterfall.
Second Floor Northwest Corner Room:
- NORTHWEST CORNER: View showing open countryside with a three story Federal style house and a hillside orchard.
- NORTH WALL, RIGHT SIDE: View showing open countryside.
- EAST WALL AROUND MANTLE: Hilltop village scene showing a village with a church surrounded by a rail fence.
- SOUTH WALL, LEFT SIDE: Harborview showing an island village and a three masted, square rigged ship sailing in a river.
- SOUTHWEST CORNER: View showing open countryside with a three story Federal style house.
The barn is oriented at right angles to the house with its front, west gable facade facing the road. The barn measures 40 feet, or three bays, across its east and west gable ends by 52 feet, or four bays, in length sits on a dry fieldstone foundation, and is of heavy braced timber construction.
The interior is laid out with a full height center nave and first and second story side aisles. The exterior is sheathed with wide vertical boards on the north, east and south elevations and in the gable peaks, and is clapboarded on the west gable facade below the gable. The southwest and northwest corners are detailed with wide corner boards The roof is covered with raised standing seam sheet metal and is detailed at the eaves with a raked boxed cornice.
A large barn door opening consisting of a pair of vertical plank doors is located in the center bay of both gable ends. The doors on the west end are hung from overhead track, and on the east end from strap hinges. A small square single-light window is located in the peak of the west gable, and a vertical plank hayloft door in the peak of the east gable. On the south elevation, the two left-hand bays each contain a vertical plank stall door with flanking, sashless, square window openings.
The well cover is a wood frame, gable roofed structure without side walls which sits directly on the ground on an on-grade dry fieldstone foundation. The cover measures 8 feet square with clapboarded gable ends and a small vertical plank door in its front, south gable facade. The roof is pitched at twelve-over-twelve, is covered with asphalt shingles and is detailed at the eaves with a raked boxed cornice.
The Moses Kent House is significant under the categories of Architecture and Art listed above. Under Architecture, the house is of local significance only, while under Art the house is of broader importance.
The Moses Kent House is an outstanding example of a vernacular, early nineteenth century, Federal style, Connecticut River Valley farmhouse. Built in 1811 by Moses Kent, with the exception of a garage which was added to the end of the house's rear ell in 1952, the house survives virtually unaltered both on the exterior and the interior.
Of more importance, perhaps, than its virtually unaltered state of preservation is the fact that the house contains four examples of wall murals painted by the renowned, early nineteenth century itinerant painter, Rufus Porter. Located in a downstairs parlor and an upstairs bedroom - both in the northwest corner of the house, as well as on both floors of the houses's center stair hall, the murals are in an excellent state of overall preservation and depict a number of different, yet thematically similar, countryside and village scenes.
Located within the Connecticut River valley, the Moses Kent House survives in close proximity to a large number of important late eighteenth and early nineteenth century Federal style houses. Located, for the most part, within the village centers of Lyme and Orford, New Hampshire, these examples are decidedly more high style in character and stand in marked contrast to the Moses Kent House's much plainer and less ornamentally adorned own Federal style configuration. Instead, the house is more typical of its rural, farm oriented neighbors, of which the valley has a plentiful sufficiency.
As a vessel of art, the Moses Kent House is unique to its historic neighborhood. While Rufus Porter executed a large number of wall murals throughout New England, this is the only known example of his work within this particular area.
Rufus Porter decorated houses in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont between ca. 1825 and 1845. In addition to painting, he was a prolific and imaginative inventor. A journalist, editor and publisher, following a move to New York in 1845 he founded one of the most prestigious scientific journals in the United States, The Scientific American.
Rufus Porter, itinerant painter, inventor and journalist, was born on May 1, 1790, in West Boxford, Massachusetts. He died on August 13, 1884 in New Haven, Connecticut. One of six children, his father was relatively prosperous farmer. In contrast to the accomplishments of his later life, his higher education consisted of six months at Maine's Fryeburg Academy.
Rufus Porter married Eunice Twombly of Portland, Maine in 1815. Before she died in 1848, she bore him ten children. He remarried in 1849 to Emma Tallman of Roxbury, Massachusetts, and fathered another six children.
In 1816, Porter moved to New Haven, Connecticut and began a career as a portrait painter. Traveling throughout New England and as far south along the eastern coast of the United States as Virginia, he proved himself to be a versatile and productive artist who devoted his skills to the large scale production of both inexpensive portraits and wall murals for the rural American home.(1) In 1820, to help him outline the profile silhouette of the sitter being painted, he developed a portable camera obscura.
In 1825 he published an art instruction manual entitled Curious Arts which contains a chapter on landscape painting on the walls of rooms. Eventually giving up portraiture exclusively for murals, "his frescoes were executed in large scale on dry plaster walls in a combination of freehand painting and stenciling, some in full color, others in monochrome, the foliage sometimes being stamped in with a cork stopper instead of being painted with a brush"(2) . Along with stenciling, "these methods had long been used for decorating plaster woodwork and furniture, but Rufus Porter was the first to popularize it for wall decoration"(3). His murals provided a popular and inexpensive alternative to the expensive imported wallpapers of the time.
Rufus Porter was more than just a volumnously prolific portrait and mural painter. He was also an inventor. A veritable jack-of-all-trades, an anonymous English obituary following his death equated him with the likes of Benjamin Franklin and stated that he was "a living representation of the genius of American invention for over three-quarters of a century"(4).
Possessed of a fertile imagination, Porter was constantly dreaming up contraptions which would save time, effort and money. His special interests lay in an invention's portability and in those which related to transportation. Besides an automobile and the elevated railroad, a passenger airplane is perhaps his best remembered and most memorable invention. Several scale models, a few of quite sizeable dimension, were built and flown in both Boston and New York. He wrote a pamphlet at the time of 1849 California gold rush entitled Aerial Navigation, the Practicality of Traveling Pleasantly and Safely from New York to California in Three Days. In 1852 he formed a navigation company but his invention was too ahead of its time and never received the financial support it needed to literally get it off the ground.
Typical of his inability to capitalize on his own genius, he sold one of his innumerable inventions to Samuel Colt, a revolver which Colt eventually developed into his famous 45 (5). While a large number of his detailed mechanical drawings and models represent products now mass produced and taken for granted his fate was to be neither recognized nor remembered, even during his own life.
In 1845, Porter moved to New York and gave up a quarter century career as a painter to become a journalist, magazine editor and publisher. His most famous journalistic undertaking was the founding of The Scientific American. First published in 1845, the journal was not only an important contribution to American science but helped influence a wide range of topics in the American cultural spectrum. A free thinker and critic of his own time, Porter strengthened the ideals of American democracy through his belief in and advocacy of freedom, equality and progress.
Rufus Porter's numerous accomplishments became lost to obscurity following his death. Even in his own home town of Boxford, Massachusetts, he was regarded as a black sheep. Partially as a result of his radical ideas and ideals, and partially because even for a century as progressive as the nineteenth he was too progressive, he was a visionary and idealist rather than practical and pragmatic thinker. His rediscovery as one of America's truly significant and prolific painters,talented inventors and farsighted proponents of journalism and the written word is the singular result of Jean Lipman. After years of research, Rufus Porter, Yankee Pioneer, reintroduced Porter to America in 1968. Revised and reissued in 1980, as Rufus Porter Rediscovered, her book provides a complete account of his life and works. The murals in the Moses Kent House (referred to in her book as the Wagner House) are identified on pages 91 and 123.
Lipman, Jean Rufus Porter Rediscovered. Clarkson W. Potter, Inc., Publishers; New York, New York. 1980.
DATE ENTERED: June 7, 1984.
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