Tearing down an old house is easy enough, but to do it so that it can be rebuilt is a trade in itself. From removing paneling and interior trim to taking apart the hewn timber frame requires care and understanding. Too much brute strength will split boards that should be saved. Similarly, it is disastrous if mortice and tenon joints are sawed apart. Such are the short cuts of ignorance to be expected of ordinary carpenters and handy men. And when the old house is on the ground they will display exasperating unconcern regarding what goes where and how to put the structure back together. The most complicated jig-saw puzzle is simplicity itself compared with an Early American house taken apart without predetermined marking and numbering.
Having learned this by bitter experience, these experts have evolved marking systems that prevent confusion and follow them rigidly. Likewise, since old house lumber when taken apart and stored warps and splits so badly that it can only be used again with difficulty, they leave their houses standing wherever possible until sold. They are far from impressive in this state and it takes both imagination and enthusiasm to inspect the assortment offered. Usually the roof and possibly one or two of the sides will be covered with prosaic roofing paper. The doors and windows will be securely boarded with coarse lumber.
The depredations of nature lovers who uproot shrubbery and rend such flowering trees as dogwood are as nothing when an amateur antiquarian finds an early 18th century house unoccupied. Such enthusiasts steal and wreck like Huns. Nothing is safe from them. Door knockers, H and L hinges, fireplace cranes, wavy old window glass, whole sections of paneling and even hearthstones are wrenched from place with light-hearted abandon. What they don’t make away with, they generally ruin. One visit from such a relic hunter may leave an old house a shambles. How otherwise upright people with a modicum of interest in antiques will glory in looting old houses is truly remarkable. We knew one whose pride was a collection of fireplace cranes so filched.
Knowing this, the old house dealer, immediately he has bought a structure, makes it as weather-tight and marauder-proof as possible. Sagging floors and weak stairways are braced, as are fireplaces injured by dampness and frosts. Paneled partitions are stripped of layers of disguising wall paper. Any efforts to modernize that hide original conditions are torn out and the house cleared of the rubbish left by its last tenant. Even then such a house is not overly attractive to particular housekeepers.