Untouched Eighteenth-century woodworker’s shop was found in Duxbury a few years ago an it's said to be one of a kind


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What experts are calling “the rarest of the rare” and “a once in a lifetime find” — a largely intact woodworking shop dating from the latter half of the 18th century — has been discovered in Duxbury on the site of a private school for children.

“It is an extraordinary find,” said professor J. Ritchie Garrison, a specialist in American material culture who hurried from the University of Delaware to take a look at the shop last month when he heard about the find. “It’s National Historic Landmark status.”

The 16-by-32-foot shed-like building is on the site of the Berrybrook School on Winter Street. With the school’s approval, restoration carpenter Michael Burrey of Plymouth explored the outbuilding, now clad in nondescript vinyl and used by the school for storage, while taking down an old house that once served as the preschool’s main building on the property.

He said he was stunned by what he saw inside the building.

“All the benches were there. It’s likely to be the earliest known joiner and cabinet maker’s shop on its original site” anywhere in the United States, Burrey said. “The woodwork on the house [being removed] was probably built in the shop.

“The way the benches are in relation to the windows, how the light comes in to light an area, the location of the tool racks on the walls,” all tell of how the craftsmen used the shop, Burrey said.

Gary Naylor of Hanson, a specialist in antique woodwork and tools, said the shop’s interior revealed signs of a Federalist craftsman’s workshop.

“When I saw the [foot-operated] lathe there, I knew it was a highly skilled craftsman,” Naylor said. “A lot of different features in the building are untouched, intact. When I turned around and saw the opening for the fireplace, it was all coming together.”

The president of the school’s board of directors said Berrybrook had no idea of the building’s historical value.

“We really thought nothing of it. We had used it as storage,” Christopher DeOrsay, an architect, said recently. “We gave [Burrey] a tour. His jaw hit the floor.”

Since then the school has had more than a dozen experts come to see it, DeOrsay said.

Burrey showed off the shop’s period-specific features to visitors on a recent afternoon.

Framed in original sills, joists, and pineboard walls, the shop’s interior reveals two original work benches, one pitted with marks from hand tools. The second was a “planing bench,” lacking gouges or other tool scars because skilled millwork with wood planes was performed there. The wall above the bench has shelving to hold the planes.

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