William Harris/Joseph Caruso House
National Register Nomination Information:
The Joseph Caruso House in Brattleboro, Vermont is 1-1/2-stories, of post and beam construction, clad in clapboards with a gabled roof sheathed in asphalt shingles. The house rests on a low stone foundation which has a modern concrete facing. The Cape Cod style house, 41' x 31', retains its original central chimney and dates from 1768, thus making it one of the earliest remaining houses in the State of Vermont.
The original front entry to the house was on the east side, presently the rear. The door has been replaced by a window with the same styling and proportions as the four flanking windows. The removal of the front entrance was done before the twentieth century and appears as a minimal alteration. The window sash are 8/12 and appear original. The window openings are unadorned and are asymmetrically placed.
The north (left) gable end of the house, which faces Route 9, has 3 unadorned asymmetrically placed windows at the first floor level which have 8/12 sash. The two windows in the gable are paired and also have 8/12 sash. The raking eaves have a slight molded overhang and cornice returns. A louvered vent is in the gable peak, a minimal modern addition.
What was originally the rear (west) elevation, which on most Cape Cod style houses in Vermont would be oriented towards the north to protect it from the cold weather and to allow the opposite front elevation of the house to admit more radiant sunlight, is now the main front of the house. In the typical Cape Cod style house this side would be treated as the rear and have an attached shed. In this case the original back door is presently utilized as the front door and is flanked on the north (left) by two 12/12 windows and on the south (right) by one 12/12 window. The right window of the northern grouping has been altered to 3/4 length because of its location over a modern kitchen sink. The alteration is minimal and does not significantly affect the appearance of the house. The door is sheltered by a pedimented gable entry.
The south (right) gable end of the house has been altered by the addition of a large multi-paned picture window on the east of the first floor level. Above this, at the second floor level, is another large window with 8/8 sash. These windows were altered to permit additional sunlight and to provide a view of the meandering Whetstone Brook. There is also an exposed brick chimney for the furnace and a screened in porch. These alterations, except for the top of the chimney, are not visible from the roads or existing buildings and, therefore, do not affect the visible historic character of the house. This gable end of the house has no raking eaves overhang and has two small square windows at the eaves line.
Contrasting with the horizontal emphasis of the house and its low sloping gable roof is the massive central chimney which pierces the roof ridge at its center. The chimney provides the flues for the three fireplaces, bake oven, and smoke chamber. The brick chimney and fireplaces rest on a 17' x 12' dry wall foundation constructed from river rock and rubblestone. The functional portions of the chimney are all located at the first floor level. The large kitchen fire place has a brick hearth, stone lintel and is flanked on the south side by a large "beehive" bank oven. The north chamber fireplace, a shallow reflecting type, also has a brick hearth; the wood paneling surrounding the fireplace brest may not be original. The south chamber fireplace, also of the shallow reflecting type, has a brick hearth, stone lintel, and a simple wooden mantlepiece. The original front hall on the east side is where the smoke chamber is located. The fireplaces are functional and have been well maintained; the top of the chimney has a flat vented cap to prevent rain and snow from entering.
The interior of the house remains mostly intact with original room placement, molded window and door surrounds, floors, doors, and hardware. The date "1768" is chiseled into a beam above the original door and appears to have been done at the time of the building's construction.
The Caruso House, apart from possibly being the oldest extant house in Brattleboro, is a good example of a typical early center-chimney Cape Cod house. Although its environment has changed significantly with the passage of 210 years, the building's original design and architectural details have been only slightly altered.
Brattleboro, originally Brattleborough, was granted its first charter in 1753 by New Hampshire's Royal Governor Benning Wentworth. Before this, however, in 1724, Massachusetts built Fort Dummer in present-day Brattleboro, which was the first white settlement in eastern Vermont. The first settlements away from the protection of the fort were not undertaken until after 1763 when the French and Indian War was over. The Caruso house was reputedly built by William Harris who came from Holden, Massachusetts in 1768 to settle in Brattleboro on a 100-acre lot. He came with his wife and nine children and were among the first settlers of this frontier town. The land was conveyed to Harris by Samuel Wells, who settled Brattleboro in 1762, and the deed conveyed the land "together with all edifaces thereon." It is doubtful that the present house was built by Wells for the date "1768" is chiseled on a plate above the original entrance. Brattleboro today is one of the larger communities in the state and the village of Brattleboro has grown to include the original farm and house of William Harris.
The house is known locally as the Joseph Caruso House, as the house was owned by him in the 1950's. Mrs. Caruso was a stand-in at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York.
The Cape Cod Style house type was once frequently seen on the Vermont landscape and was the most commonly built house type up until the 1830's. With the advent of wood stoves, and later central heat, most of these houses. lost their most identifying feature -- the massive central chimney. Once the chimney was removed, rooms could be rearranged, windows were changed, dormers added, bay windows attached, and porches applied. The Caruso house retains its original central chimney with 3 fireplaces, bake oven, and smoke chamber; original room placement; and roof line.
The house has been maintained and stands as an architectural symbol of Vermont's early settlement. It is the oldest house in Brattleboro and one of the earliest remaining structures in Vermont.
Although its location immediately adjacent to Vt. 9 has become increasingly detrimental in recent years, and may become worse in the future, the house itself stands as a remarkable survival Vermont's earliest settlements.
Cabot, Mary R. Annals of Brattleboro, 1681-1895, (Brattleboro, VT: E. L. Hildreth and Co.), 1921.
Swift, Esther Munroe. Vermont Place-Names, Footprints of History, (Brattleboro, VT: The Stephen Greene Press) 1977.
Historic American Buildings Survey, VT, form dated 1/3/1956.
DATE ENTERED: December 18, 1978.
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