Video: Bricks of the trade: Mason restores early-1800s fireplace

David Riley

With the help of a crane, a local masonry restorer began renovating a two-century-old brick fireplace that once warmed water, heated and cooked for a Washington Street home built around 1800.

"We're basically bringing a 200-year-old fireplace up to modern codes," said Mike Clapham, who works with his father, Chuck, owner of Masonry Restoration in Holliston.

The massive fireplace takes up most of a wall in the two-story, white clapboard home near the intersection of routes 126 and 16, where a crane's arm towered overhead yesterday afternoon.

The fireplace includes a separate oven compartment for baking, as well as a space where a rare copper water heater once sat, the elder Clapham said.

Before modern heating systems came along, a hearth like this one warmed the whole house, Clapham said.

"This was the place to be in the winter," he said. "A house like this would have used approximately 30 cords of firewood to heat."

But such fireplaces often go unrenovated, even in homes undergoing restoration work like this one, Clapham said.

Making the fireplace safe and up to modern fire codes will likely take a few days, he said.

"This was the most important part of the house, and now oftentimes the most neglected part of a house," Clapham said.

Clapham called in Astro Crane of Stow to gently lower a specially manufactured 30-foot steel liner down the brick chimney. The crane inched the liner up and down to get it positioned correctly, and Mike Clapham hammered plywood over the opening where the chimney meets the hearth.

He then climbed to the roof and began pouring a mix of cement and insulation into the space between the liner and chimney to secure it in place. Below, his father helped another worker mix cement in buckets that the crane lifted to the roof.

Over the next couple days, Chuck Clapham will apply a fire resistant coat to the inside of the fireplace and rebuild the copper wood-fired water heater. Holliston officials will inspect the hearth to make sure it's up to code, he said.

"We inventory all these bricks," Clapham said, motioning to a bucket of bricks removed to access the inside of the fireplace. "We brought bricks here that match the age of the house."

The hearth is only part of the work going on in the historic house. Kirsten McAuliffe, who owns the home with her husband, Geoff, said they chose the house in 2002 for its antique character.

"Overall, it was in pretty good shape, but the kitchen was a mess," she said. "For all the years we've lived here, we're pretty much saving up money to do the infamous dream kitchen of mine."

"What started out as a kitchen renovation has turned into an addition and renovating two other rooms," McAuliffe added.

They're trying to restore the house as much as possible to its original appearance, even using post-and-beam barn wood in the renovation.

"It's a part of Holliston that I think people need to kind of try to take care of," McAuliffe said, crediting her neighbors with preserving the area.

Clapham, who lives in a restored pre-Revolutionary War home on Prentice Street, said he started his business in the mid-70s. Much of it focuses on restoration work and he and his son work with just two other employees.

"We're tiny," he said. "We like it that way."

David Riley can be reached at 508-626-3919 or

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