The Story of the Lonely Chimney

You know we love old stone fireplaces and chimneys. So we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to share a story about a little lonely chimney that’s lost its home. This information comes to us from architect Leonard J. Baum.

How did this stone chimney become an orphan, you ask? It was originally attached to a 3/4 timber-framed cape, circa 1720-1740, located in Rhode Island. The home rotted and collapsed in on itself, leaving the stone chimney to stand by its lonesome for several winters until, last year, when frost heaves made it necessary to carefully disassemble the structure and store it away for safe keeping.

According to Baum, the chimney cap was fashioned of hammered smooth stones, packed in red clay. Walls were constructed of dressed stone, laid up in very soft lime putty; infill between walls and flues appeared to be a mixture of stone chards and red clay. The bake oven was topped with a turtle-shaped stone and featured a wrought-iron lintel. The kitchen fire box featured a chestnut lintel.

The chimney is almost completely dismanteled and sitting on pallets, with the fireboxes mapped and marked. Baum seeks a new owner who will incorporate this structure into a new or vintage design and also more information on this early American form of masonry. For more information, visit

Do Old Stone Homes Keep Their Cool?

old stone home, York, Pennsylvania

German vernacular stone home, circa 1824, York, Pennsylvania

We love to wax romantic about old stone homes and for good reason – they’re gorgeous! But in doing so we may sometimes perpetuate a big myth — that, thanks to those thick stone walls, old stone homes stay as cool as cucumbers on the hottest summer days.

Sorry to burst the bubble, but the truth depends in some circumstances on a home’s location and a scientific principle called thermal mass (building material’s ability to store heat).

An old stone home with very thick walls works well in a region of the country where temps fluctuate significantly from day to night. Think sunny Southwest. Here’s how it works:

The sun rises in the morning and its rays reach the earth, heating the outer layer of a home’s stone walls, which, in the a.m., are cool to the touch thanks to chilly night air. Because of stone’s density, heat seeps through the wall VERY slowly, so that by the time the sun sets, heat is just starting to reach the home’s cool interior. Bravo! That bit of warmth inside feels great when the night air turns chilly. When morning arrives and the sun rises again, interior warmth has dissipated, exterior walls are cool again and the process starts all over.

Old stone homes may be bad news in areas of the country where, during the summer, nighttime temps don’t drop dramatically and a cooling effect never occurs. Your home takes on the temperature of the surrounding environment and holds it — yikes — like a big ol’ bake oven! The solution comes in the form of insulation, placed somewhere inside the stones walls, energy efficient windows and an effective HVAC system.

Own an old stone home? Struggle to keep interior temps comfortable in the summer? Tell us your story!

Old Stone Home Restoration: Real-Life Stories

Today, we invite you to join us as we take a closer look at the rehabilitation of two charming stone homes. These touching stories of hard work and determination may serve as inspiration for your own dream project. Let’s step inside …

Stone Manse in Mystic

The first tale comes from The Day, a daily newspaper out of New London, Connecticut. Reporter Ann Baldelli tells the story of the Stone House, a circa-1825 granite home built by banker Elias Brown and later purchased by the Stanton brothers. Descendants of the Stantons have pulled resources to restore the grand home, left in ruins after a tragic fire in 1924.

By the time all’s said and done, family members will have spent $1.3 million on the renovation. Plans are to use the home and seven-acre property as a family vacation getaway as well as a source of income via VBRO rentals. Read more about Mystic’s Stone House here.

Country Getaway Not Far From NYC

The second story comes directly from the owner: New York City artist, floral designer and interior stylist Amy Beth Cupp Dragoo, who has chronicled the restoration of her old stone home, the Ella Speer house, via Instagram, twitter and her own blog. The home, located in Rockland County, New York, and built in 1936, has only had three owners, yet still required its share of troubleshooting and TLC. Dragoo’s imagery is simply stunning and she shares, step by step, her inspirations for each space via Pinterest pics, color palettes and fixtures. See the restoration of the #newoldstonehouse here.

The Rock House: Georgia’s Oldest Stone Home

Stone homes don’t immediately come to mind when one thinks of Southern states and early American architecture. That’s why the Rock House, located in Thomson, Georgia, is of such particular interest.

The oldest stone home in Georgia, the Rock House was built by Thomas Ansley, a farmer born in Monmouth County, New Jersey, in 1737. After 1760, Ansley lived in North Carolina and then moved to Wrightsboro, a Quaker village located in Warren County, Georgia, before 1773.

It was here in Wrightsboro, between 1783 and 1785, that Ansley built his stone home, using construction methods brought with him from the Delaware Valley of New Jersey. The weathered granite that was used to form the home’s two-foot-thick walls was quarried near the home site and locally sourced pine and cypress comprised the timbers and shingles respectively. The one-story fortress-like home featured a raised basement with large walk-in fireplace where meals were cooked, a main floor with parlor and bedrooms and a full attic.

The Rock House is owned by the Wrightsboro Quaker Foundation, which restored the house in 1981. The home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is said to be haunted.

Source, color photography:

From Stone Cottage to Georgian Style in Colonial America

You know those two-story, take-your-breath-away stone homes you sometimes find closer to city centers and clearly built by skilled tradesmen? Congrats! You’ve just happened upon a Georgian-style home. Why significant? Early American stone homes called upon regional folk styles and were often built by owners themselves. By the 18th century, we had established ourselves in this country and had amassed enough wealth to build more formal, refined structures.

The Georgian style in America made its way here from England, where classical forms of the earlier Italian Renaissance period were popular. Hallmarks of this home style included:

The Georgian style (1700-1780) gave way to the Federal style after the American Revolution. Cliveden (Benjamin Chew House, shown above), located in Germantown, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is a fine example of Georgian style. The mansion was in part designed by its owner Benjamin Chew, a successful Philadelphia lawyer, and built by Mennonite master carpenter Jacob Knor, mason John Hesser and stonecutter Casper Geyer. The home takes inspiration from Kew Palace as well as patterns in James Gibbs’s Book of Architecture. An ashlar front of gray Wissahickon schist (the predominant bedrock underlying Philadelphia) and gable ends and back of rubble construction are outstanding features.

Could you see yourself as the master of a grand Georgian estate? Take our stone home personality quiz to find the home style that’s right for you.

Cliveden: The Building of a Philadelphia Countryseat, 1763-1767
Common Building Types: Houses, schools, courthouses

A Pro Stone President?

Thomas Jefferson, architecture, brick and stone construction

Founding father and third president Thomas Jefferson was a proponent of stone and brick home construction.

…We … will produce no permanent improvement to our country while the unhappy prejudice prevails that houses of brick or stone are less wholesome than those of wood … A country whose buildings are of wood can never increase in its improvements to any considerable degree. Their duration is highly estimated at 50 years. Every half century then our country becomes a tabula rasa, whereon we have to set out anew, as in the first moment of seating it. Whereas when buildings are of durable materials, every new edifice is an actual and permanent acquisition to the state, adding to its value as well as to its ornament.”

Thomas Jefferson was quite dismayed by colonists’ insistence on building timber-framed homes, of which he wrote, “It is impossible to devise things more ugly, uncomfortable, and happily more perishable.”

Ouch! Harsh words. But why all the masonry haters in early America? Back in the day, stone homes were considered a big no-no, at least if you spoke to early colonists who migrated to New England and the Tidewater region from southeast England. The reasoning was thus:

  • Stone and brick were considered poor insulators that let in cold air and damp conditions unless packed tightly together to form 2 to 3-foot-thick walls. Dew that gathered on thin interior stone or brick walls created an unhealthy living environment.
  • Lime used to make mortar was scarce, as were stone masons.
  • Lumber! Trees had to be cleared from a home site before construction could begin so why not use what was readily available?
  • Timber framing was familiar to this group, homesick and longing for reminders of the Old Country.
Cuckoos Farm Little Baddow, timber framed home, England

English colonists built homes to resemble those they left behind, like this 17th century home located near Chelmsford, England.

Parson Capen House, Topsfield Massachusetts, timber framed colonial home

The Parson Capen House, located in Topsfield, Massachusetts, is a fine example of 17th century New England architecture. The home bears a strong resemblance to houses in Toppesfield, England.

Who loved a cozy, solidly built stone home? Dutch settlers in the Hudson valley of New York and northern New Jersey, and German, Quaker and Scots-Irish settlers in eastern Pennsylvania. Each group constructed homes in farm styles similar to those they left behind in the Old Country. The best way to cure the damp caused by condensation, wrote Jefferson? Light a fire!

English stone cottage

This all-stone cottage, located in Northern England, would have served as a farmer’s home.

Samuel Fulton Stone House, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Irish settlers

The Samuel Fulton Home, originally located in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, was patterned after old stone farmsteads that dotted the countryside in Northern England, Scotland and Ireland.

Notes on the State of Virginia by Thomas Jefferson
Domestic Architecture of the American Colonies and of the Early Republic by Fiske Kimball
Early American Architecture: From the First Colonial Settlements to the National Period by Hugh Morrison

Artistry of the Early American Stonemason

Stonemasons, Fort Worth, Texas

Stonemasons, circa 1906, Fort Worth, Texas. Source:

The earliest American homes were built with stones gathered from open fields or unearthed while a farmer tilled his land. These stones were not shaped with tools, but cobbled together as-is, with mortar used to seal — and compensate for inconsistencies in stone shapes and sizes. The most smoothly faced stones were reserved for the exterior, front-facing sides of stone walls.

Once we had our footing in this new world, we refined the building process and quarried stones for home construction. Enter the stone mason. Once stone blocks were rough cut from the face of a rock quarry, the mason “dressed” or “faced” the stones to suit construction needs.

Old Stone Wall Types

Wall types, clockwise from top left: Fieldstone, rubble and coursed rubble. Source:

To rough-face a stone, the mason first used a mashing hammer to trim away any projections that would prevent the stone from being laid in a straight line. Next, following straight lines he marked with a square, the mason would fine tune his work by trimming away additional stone with a pitching tool and mallet. To smooth-face a stone, a pick was used in place of a pitching tool.

Once all that pounding, trimming and chiseling was done, wall height and width were staked out with string, mortar (a “mud” made by mixing together lime, sand, hair and water) was prepared, trenches were dug and stones set in place, using smaller stones (i.e. gallets) to fill voids between stones and mortar to set the work in place. One part skilled craftsman and one part artisan, the stonemason could envision a design, face stones and then set them in a tightly woven, incredibly intricate pattern that required little mortar to stay put.

Old Stone Mill Rubble Style Stonework

Example of random-coursed rubble walls: James Mendenhall Mill, New Castle County, Delaware, circa 1826. Source:

Rubble is probably the best example of early quarried and rough-faced stone. Rubbled stones retained their irregular shape and size, but required less mortar as they were precisely pieced together. Examples include random-coursed rubble, similar in appearance to a jigsaw puzzle, and regular-coursed rubble, which created continuous horizontal joints.

As masonry improved, rubble was replaced by tooled blocks that were used to build even-coursed walls. The stonemason would “sign” his artwork by chiseling his maker’s mark into an individual stone, cornerstone or lintel – a lasting reminder of his skill and craftsmanship.

Mason's Mark Cornerstone Old Stone Homes

Mason’s mark on quoin or cornerstone. Source: David Sankey.

Masons and Bricklayers
Historic Stonework by William Kibbel III, The Home Inspector
Early American Architecture: From the First Colonial Settlements to the National Period by Hugh Morrison

A Bond Not Easily Broken

Lime mortar made with oysters

Photos, clockwise from left: Abandoned lime kiln in Virginia by, oyster shells in lime mortar by Jacqui Newling © HHT, oyster shell by BeaKez

So what was the “glue” with which the earliest settlers built their fieldstone homes?

Clay or clay mixed with chopped straw or animal hair would have been used to build the earliest foundations and interiors of chimneys, but this concoction would not have been strong enough to waterproof walls, fill gaps between stones and act as a cushion as walls settled. For that job, settlers needed lime, which when incinerated in a kiln and reduced to ash, was mixed with water and sand to create a superior mortar. The best sources of lime in early America? Natural lime deposits and seashells, whether combed off the beach or removed from an abandoned Native American rubbish heap (also called a kitchen midden).

So when we boil it all down, we may have both the land and the sea to thank for old stone homes.

The Early Domestic Architecture of Connecticut by J. Frederick Kelly
Indiana Folklore: A Reader, edited by Linda Dégh
The Availability of Lime and Masonry Construction in New England: 1630-1733 by Paul B. Jenison

The Story of Stone and Early American Home Styles

An old stone home is a reflection of its builder’s heritage and masonry skills as well as the region in which it was built. Let’s explore materials and home style as we tour the earliest stone homes to appear along or near the East Coast of North America.

Region: New England

In the mid-1600s, the population of New England was primarily English, so home styles were pretty simple, stripped of ornamentation and timber-framed (timber being the most readily available material). Design had purpose: A pitched roof shed heavy snow loads and a central fireplace kept the home warm and cozy during cold New England winters. But not many stone homes. Why? Although fieldstone was plentiful (we know this by virtue of old dry-stacked stone walls that still exist throughout the region), the ingredients to make a good mortar were scarce. Rare examples appear where limestone was plentiful (primarily Rhode Island and southern Massachusetts) and took the form of what came to be coined “stone-siders”.

Photo: Clemence-Irons House by acanyc, Johnston, RI, limestone construction, Post-Medieval English style

Photo: Clemence-Irons House by acanyc, Johnston, RI, limestone construction, Post-Medieval English style

Region: Central Hudson Valley and New Jersey

Moving on to the Hudson Valley, we see a slight change in style and construction. Dutch and Flemish settlers were more skilled in pairing materials, specifically fieldstone with brick, timber or both. To construct the earliest stone homes, settlers rough-cut stone and sandwiched it between layers of hair- or straw-bound clay to build walls that measured up to three feet thick. Lime mortar, fashioned from oyster shells or lime deposits, and finely masoned stones and intricately laid brickwork eventually replaced more primitive building materials.

Mount Gulian stone home

Photo: Mount Gulian by Howard Dale, Beacon, NY, red and brown sandstone construction, Dutch colonial style

Region: Delaware River Valley

Further south in the Delaware Valley of Pennsylvania, Swedish, Scots-Irish and German settlers initially built log structures. It was the German immigrants who truly put their stamp on the stone home design. The earliest structures featured steep roofs, central fireplaces and small square windows flush set against thick stone walls. Often, homes were built over springs that provided running water or into hillsides (hence the term “bank house”) that kept interiors cool during hot and humid summer months.

Hans Herr House old stone home in Lancaster County

Photo: Hans Herr House by Historyplaces, Willow Street, PA, sandstone construction, German colonial style

Early American Architecture by Hugh Morrison
The History, Science and Poetry of New England’s Stone Walls
Hudson Valley Architecture
Stone Houses of Eastern Pennsylvania
Architecture, Furniture, and Silver from Colonial Dutch America
Common Building Types: Houses, Agricultural Outbuildings, Mills