Lofty pursuits: Preservation expert Larry Mills gets a head for heights as the old wooden farmhouse is rescued from within another structure. *Photo supplied
Lofty pursuits: Preservation expert Larry Mills gets a head for heights as the old wooden farmhouse is rescued from within another structure. *Photo supplied

Archaeologists have uncovered the remains of one of the oldest Bermuda homes believed to be in existence.

The cedar-framed structure was discovered hidden within the walls of a crumbling property near the Southampton Fairmont.

Experts believe the building could date back as far as the 1690’s and stepped in to save the historic structure just before it was due to be demolished.

A team of conservationists spent around 10 days carefully removing the timber frame of the house so that it can be removed from the site and put back together to form an historic exhibit.

The project to salvage the old wooden farmhouse from within its dilapidated stone exterior has been spearheaded by archaeologists Ed Chappell and Brent Fortenberry, as well as National Museum Executive Director Dr Ed Harris.

Mr Chappell, director of architecture and archaeological research for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, first identified the potential significance of the building back in 2010.

He said: “On one of my visits I asked Margie Lloyd from the National Trust if there were other ‘porch entry buildings’ that had not been studied in Bermuda.

“She said there was this one in Southampton, which was in pretty rough shape, so we came down and looked at it.

“What immediately became clear from the layout was inside the later stone shell was a really great old house.

“It was totally unstudied and totally unexplored.

“It quickly became apparent that the original wooden framed house had been encased with stone walls at a relatively early date, probably in the 1700’s

“So we started to nudge and explore its secrets by looking at every square centimeter.”

Mr Chappell, who has been coming to Bermuda for nearly 25 years, added: “Bermuda is a stone island, the early houses are virtually all stone, but here we have a wooden framed house from around 1690.

“It’s one of the oldest houses in Bermuda without a doubt.

“From its architectural relationship with other houses that are more dateable, my estimate would be between 1690 and 1720, which is pretty extraordinary.

“Archaeologist Brent Fortenberry excavated the cellar and found the earliest occupation layer to date about 1680-1690, so conceivably it’s slightly earlier than I have assumed.”

In March Mr Fortenberry led the cellar excavation project in a bid to find more evidence of when it was first built and occupied.

He was able to recover ceramics including plates, bowls and even a chamber pot that dated back to the late 1600’s.

The Boston-based expert, who has been coming to Bermuda since 2007, said: “The earliest ceramics date from the 1660’s to around 1710. We also came across a lot of animal bones.

“All of these findings have been collected and recorded.

“Another fascinating thing is there is an oven cut into the bedrock, which would have been used for cooking in the cellar throughout its use.”

He added: “When it comes to understanding the evolution of architecture in Bermuda, this is one of the most important sites I have ever excavated.

“The building has provided a rare opportunity to see the architectural shift from timber-framing to stone construction in a living and breathing building over the years.

“It’s probably the most exciting site I will ever work on in Bermuda.”

The project has cost the National Museum $8,000.

The old building is now housed in a container, which will be stored near Casemate Barracks at the Museum, until it is put on exhibit.

Dr Harris, said: “Our first thanks go to Dr Ed Chappell for identifying the nature and value of the timber building and to Margie Lloyd for her unstinting support of the project throughout, including daily supply of lunch for everyone for the past week.

“Dr Brent Fortenberry was invaluable, with Tom James, for the recording and inventory of all the components of the building: many thanks to them.

“Larry Mills was indispensable and his knowledge of old buildings and good spirit throughout was one of the mainstays of the project.”