- Associated Press - Sunday, June 15, 2014

DUXBURY, Mass. (AP) - It stands on a cracked foundation behind the Berrybrook School and looks for all the world like a beat-up old storage shed. Until about two years ago, teachers at the preschool were using the building as a place to store toys and tricycles.

The building is now recognized for what it is: an historical woodworking shop built in the 1700s. Historians describe it as the find of a lifetime.

What originally was the workshop of woodworker Luther Sampson holds tidbits from the history of American carpentry, experts say.

The building, which isn’t any bigger than the master bedroom in a new home, is almost entirely intact. The date “1789” is painted on a beam that extends out from the roof, and the shop is believed to have been built around that time.

That would mean it has survived two and a quarter centuries.

“The survival of any 18th-century woodshop is very rare,” said J. Ritchie Garrison, a University of Delaware professor who specializes in American material culture and was one of the first experts to examine the shop. “To find one at all intact is even more rare. This one is more intact than any 18th-century woodshop I’ve ever seen.”

Garrison, who owns a home in Plymouth, was called in to look at the shop by Michael Burrie, a carpenter who was working on an expansion project at the Berrybrook School in 2012. Burrie specializes in restoration carpentry, and, on a hunch, he wanted to have an expert do an evaluation before he continued to treat the shop as a storage shed. The school had been using it for storage since Berrybrook was created in 1954.

“Once we learned what it was, we offered to sweep up and tidy a little,” said Christopher DeOrsay, former president of Berrybrook’s board of directors. “(The expert survey team) said, ‘Don’t touch it! Don’t move it!’ They told us to leave everything.”

Inside, experts discovered features of 18th-century carpentry that are rarely found intact and in one place.

A treadle wheel still hangs from the ceiling. A finely crafted central table with rounded legs sits in the middle of the room. There’s a manually rotated lathe and, beside it, a tailstock, a device used at the end of a lathe to support long pieces of wood. Shelves for beams and nooks for awls stick out from the walls.

And then there’s the most surprising find: a fireplace, which indicates that Sampson used glues, pastes and adhesives that required heat. With sawdust and wood all around him, Sampson had to brave the danger of fire as be used the buildings as his shop and showroom, experts say.

“He was showing off,” DeOrsay said, referring to Sampson’s work. “The chamfering of the legs of the table, the engravings - these are all things that require great attention to detail and craftsmanship.”

As for the shop’s future, DeOrsay said Berrybrook can’t handle all of the monetary demands of preserving an historical landmark. Ideally, he said, the school could negotiate to have a nonprofit group oversee preservation and restoration.

Garrison said the primary need now is to stabilize the site. After that, he would like to see occasional public access.

In the more than 200 years since the workshop was built, it has served a variety of purposes.

“We thought it was just another old barn,” DeOrsay said. “To the untrained eye, it looks like any other barn in town.”

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