The house that John built

This is the house that John built.

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John was a commercial airline pilot who’s passion was the meticulous reproduction of an 18th century house.

This is the wood, these are the nails and this is the glass that lay in the house that John built.

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John was a purist.  It took him 10 years to build this house along a country roadside, nestled in a clearing, behind a fieldstone wall.  He started in 1984 and it was completed in 1994.

He hand cut the boards out of green timbers of native red oak using an antique broadaxe.  Every nail was handmade by a nearby blacksmith costing John $12,000.00 at the time.  Each nail was a 4 headed nail made to period even though John could have used the less costly 3 headed nails that are mass produced.  He used 700 panes of glass, which he cut by hand… only breaking two.  The glass in my kitchen windows are softly colored and are made from old glass that John had collected.

This is the Tavern Room that lay in the house that John built.

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A Tap Room or Tavern Room was the center of the common man’s social life back in the 18th century.  It is where he came to smoke, to drink and to trade gossip.  Today it is also the social center of our home used much in the same way as it would have been years ago.  It still remains a place where the men in my family like to hang out for late night card games, drinking and watching Sunday football.  What is so unique to this room is the extra wide door that leads outside.  It is what was once known as a coffin door used during the time when family members where waked inside the home.  It was made larger then a regular door so a coffin could pass through easily.

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This is the front palor with a shell corner cupboard that lay in the house that John built.

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A palor was a room that was set aside for formally speaking with someone.  It was a “reception room” or sometimes called an “audience chamber”.  John took great care in designing the shell corner cupboard that was used to display his collection of antique Delft.  Throughout the house as well as on the shell corner cabinet you will find examples of what is known as The Connecticut Rosette ( see picture below).  He painted the room an exuberant blue that reflects the love of strong, bold colors used during the 18th century.  Since then we painted the room in a more toned down color of dried basil which reflects a color I love and it matched my furniture!

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This is the kitchen work area and dining room that lay in the house that John built.

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Throughout most of history and modern day the kitchen and dining area have always been the women’s domain.  It was were the food was prepared, the candles were made, the wool was spun and the children were tended to.  It was also the room that contained the largest fireplace because it was used for heating the home as well as for cooking and baking.  Homeowners were taxed on the number of chimneys they had so people began to build one central chimney for several fireplaces. John used 30 tons of masonry to build the central chimney, with sand and rubble stone used to insulate the bake oven.  He also put five fireplaces in this house.  One in each of the two main upstairs bedrooms, one in the front pallor, one in the Tavern and one in the dining kitchen work area.  The one in the work area measures 8 feet wide by 5 feet tall.  It has a built in baking oven, a crane which can be used to hang pots from and it had a weight-driven spit that John used for roasting meat.  There is also a warming cabinet above the fireplace that was used to keep Brandy warm or to help dough to rise.

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These are some of the amazing details that lay in the house that John built.

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John put much thought and detail into the front door.  It has 6 bulls eye glass windows, all hand cut, and an amazing lock and key mechanism.  The dead bolt is a 2×4 that is held in place with wrought iron handles.  He even left his mark on the outside door handle.  “JLT 1986”

These are some of the amazing “secrets” that hide in the house that John built.

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We find reminders of John throughout the house.  He left his mark in many usual and secret places. His initials stamped into the basement wall,  a secret drawer built into the shell corner cabinet in the front pallor.  Sentiments written on the back of a box he built to cover the thermostat that hangs on the dining area wall ” Made by John L. Thomas, Bethlehem, Ct, March 30 1990, Snowy Day”.  In the Tavern there is a pillar on the bar that opens to reveal a secret compartment filled with shillings, reminders of a time gone by.  When we needed to replace a door we accidentally uncovered a message from John’s wife “Married to John, two weeks. 7-21-86”.  A lucky women to have found a man who I can only imagine must put his entire heart into something or someone he is passionate about.

If the house that John built wasn’t enough….He built two barns.

These are the barns that John built.

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The small barn was used to house a woodworking shop and a tinsmith shop.  When John was building his house he took classes and became an expert craftsman.  He befriended the neighboring nuns and worked together with them helping out at a festival they had every year.   We now call the small barn our “Bunkhouse” as we have since turned it into a place that can sleep six people comfortably for those occasions when our married children come to stay ( almost every weekend!) or relatives visiting from out of state stop by to visit.

IMG_0042bigbarnThis is the big barn where John had the blacksmith shop (notice the chimney).  The local blacksmith used this barn for years.  Since then we have transformed this barn into our garage, work-out room and woodshop.  Both barns are heated and air-conditioned.  The upstairs in this barn is where our children like to hang out with their friends, shooting pool and playing music.  It also has a loft above that is the perfect spot to get away and read a good book or just relax and enjoy the view from several well placed large windows.

This is the house that John built.

In this house you are constantly reminded of a great man with a passion in his heart.  It is with me every day as I go about my daily activities.  I feel honored to now reside here with my family and my animals and will always appreciate all this man has done and accomplished.  I am astounded by the depth of his passion, the love in his heart.  All I can say is Thank you John.  Thank your for the house that you have built.

18 thoughts on “The house that John built

    • [email protected] says:

      Kristin, From what I understand John and his wife have moved to Florida. I think they had enough of the cold winters here! I have never tried to contact him. Amazing what he accomplished here. See you soon, Karyn

  1. The house is breathtaking, absolutely a work of art. And now an artist living in it to care for it the way it should be cared for! Love it!

    • [email protected] says:

      Thanks Lori, glad to have ya back. Missed you. Now when you are all settled in Id love to come visit. 🙂

  2. Wow, what an honor to live in such a home painstakingly crafted with hard work and such love. I know you and your family appreciate it every day 🙂

    • [email protected] says:

      Thank you Kim. We really do appreciate this place and all the hard work that John put into it. The hardest part for us has been trying to update it while keeping it to the period of the home. Like, did they have hot tubs in the 1800’s??? Lol Take care, Karyn

  3. Well said Kim Goosman! Nice story Karyn and amazing that you were able to discover the story behind your wonderful home. What ever happened to John and his wife? Was there someone else that lived in the home after John or did you buy it from him/his estate? Interested in filling in the blanks before you & your family have so lovingly been restoring it.

    • [email protected] says:

      Hi Susan, I probably should have put in a footnote about John. From what I have heard he and his wife moved to Florida. We are the 3rd owners since John. We actually purchased the house from Chaz – Chaz and AJ – WPLR morning show. It was from Chaz’s ex wife that I found out so much about the house. She gave me a magazine article that featured this house, and she also showed us some of the secret compartments. Its funny because Greg and I saw this house about 10-15 years ago when we came up to visit The Abbey one day and we both fell in love with it. We both imagined what it must be like to live here and when our realtor brought us here we were so excited. It was love at first sight, as we said in House Hunters, when we pulled into the driveway we felt like we were home.

    • [email protected] says:

      Thank you Tracy. We feel very fortunate to have gotten this house. I’m so happy we were able to have you here and look forward to seeing you again come Spring. Wait until you see the changes…Goats!! Karyn

  4. I loved hearing even more details than what you’d already mentioned during Swissie Fest. I never went into the out buildings and will have to beg a tour of them on the next visit! Great written piece and tribute.

    • [email protected] says:

      Thank you Althea. I will be happy to show you the barns next time.

    • [email protected] says:

      I would hope he would be pleased Gail. We are trying! Hugs

    • [email protected] says:

      Hi Cheryl! We were very lucky to have found this house. Thanks so much for visiting!!

  5. Beautiful lovingly made home. It has heart and soul! Did you always live in CT? It is where I was raised.

    • [email protected] says:

      Thank you Claire. Yes I was born and raised in Wallingford, then later moved to Middlebury and now Bethlehem. I love New England from April until December!! Where were you raised?

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