Did you know that approximately 40 percent of home improvement projects today are the direct result of the poor workmanship or improper materials installed by a previous contractor? You need to arm yourself with the knowledge to research, interview, and weed out the well-intentioned but inexperienced firms or the simply rogue contractors.

A few warning signs are:

  • Credentials that cannot be verified
  • Use of high-pressure sales tactics
  • No references
  • No written contract
  • No guarantee on work

Make sure you are asking the right questions, like: Have you ever operated under any other name?  Are you properly licensed in this state? These are simple enough for a qualified contractor to answer, while a rogue contractor will struggle, indiciating that they are not the right person for you or your home.  

A preservation-based contractor is the difference between a generalist and a specialist who knows what it means to craft a home from traditional materials.  General contractors may be very good at what they do, but if they are not well-steeped in the art of preservation, they are not the right fit for your home.

Investigate to determine whether a prospective firm is suitable.  Verify that they have completed a project of the same size and scope as yours.  The best contractor for you will have also worked on projects with similar styles and time periods.

Take time to visit jobsites that potential contractors are working on or have done in the past.  Ask to see a portfolio of their work.  Request a list of references to verify quality of work and warranty/customer-service practices.

You can also take a look at their website, blog, and social media sites.  What do they post? Is it self-promotion or is it preservation promotion?  Spending time researching and choosing the right preservation-driven contractor helps avoid the potential headaches and damage that hiring the wrong contractor can cause.

We recently completed a restoration project of some truly massive doors at the Wilmington Public Library in Delaware.

The library was built in 1922 with the bold shapes and lavish ornaments of the Art Deco style of architecture popular at that time.

We restored a pair 22’6’ tall, 10-panel White Oak and Mahogany pocket doors.  The doors were 4” thick, 4’6” wide each, and badly distressed from years of use and lack of maintenance.  The biggest challenge on this project was getting these giants off.  Obviously this was not your ordinary door removal.

To see just how tricky the removal process was, watch a video of the removal at: http://bit.ly/1riG1tL

Once we hauled the mammoth doors back to the shop, we set to work restoring them with five guys at workstations around the doors.

 

 

When will you be able to upload them?

We recently completed a historic wood window restoration project at the Mill at Anselma.  This mill is a gem of historic architecture in our country – the most complete example of a functioning historic grist mill in the entire country.

History of the Mill

The Mill at Anselma has truly historic origins. In the late 1600’s, the property was owned by Pennsylvania’s founder William Penn, though there was no mill on the property just yet. That would come in the mid 1700’s when influential Quaker Samuel Lightfoot decided to build a water-powered mill along the Pickering Creek after purchasing the 500-acre property in 1725. In the mid 1700’s, Chester County was becoming the “bread basket” of the
colonies and Lightfoot recognized the need for a local grist mill.

In 1767, Samuel divided his property between his two sons, with his younger son William receiving the acreage that included the grist mill. It was during William’s old age that the mill’s prosperity began to decline. It wasn’t until the early 1820’s that the mill would be revitalized when revolutionary technology that allowed for continuous production in grist mills was installed by the Shenemans. These labor-saving elevators and conveyors carried the grain between floors in the mill and were incorporated into the existing mill system – leaving the original Lightfoot technology untouched.

Just before the Civil War, the Oberholtzer family purchased and lived on the property and in 1862 poetess married into the family. The scenery around the mill is featured in her poems, including her famous “At the Old Mill” from her book of verse, “Violet Lee”. The mill remained largely untouched until 1906 when the wooden water wheel was replaced with a steel water wheel and the wooden sluiceway with iron pipe. Shortly after, the advent of portable grist mills made trips to the Anselma Mill no longer necessary and the mill’s prosperity quickly declined.

In 1919 Oliver Collins purchased the property and responded to the changes in market demand. Without touching the Colonial-era technology in the mill, Collins installed technology that allowed him to run a grist mill, saw mill, cider press, metal working shop, and even a barber shop and lawnmower repair shop – all of which were powered by the water wheel in the mill.

The Mill Today

In 1982 when Collins passed away, the Mill was purchased by the French and Pickering Creeks Conservation Trust, who performed a lengthy restoration of the mill from 1999 to 2004. When done, the historic millstones milled flour for the first time since 1934.

It is the most complete example of a custom grain mill in the U.S. and in 2005 The Mill at Anselma became the only custom grist mill in the U.S. to be designated a National Historic Landmark.

Our Historic Wood Window Replication Project at the Mill

During the restoration in the early 2000’s, the deteriorating window sashes had not been addressed and we were contracted to repair and replace the window sashes and sills.

Before we began work, the windows were a hodge-podge of different styles from different periods over the years. None of the sashes were original to the mill, so we replicated the profile from the oldest sash on the mill to give all the windows the same profile. We manufactured new sashes for the windows, replaced a few sills, and repaired quite a few stops and casings to restore the windows to full, working order.

In deciding which wood to use for the windows, we looked to the wood that was already on the mill. We determined that the window frames had originally been made of white oak and had been left unpainted, which was common for informal Colonial buildings. So we chose a quarter sawn white oak for the replacement sashes. In quarter sawn white oak all the graining runs vertically. This makes the wood a tighter wood that is stronger and more stable since the grain is all running in the same direction, is less prone to warping, and seasonal expansion and contraction, and offers extra moisture resistance. Quarter sawn white oak in general is a quality wood choice, but it was a particularly ideal wood choice to use in the moist, shady area of where the mill sat.

Though we don’t often leave wood unpainted, we did in this case in keeping with the original style of the windows. Despite the fact that originally there would have been no treatment applied to the wood, we did use a preservative that we made out of linseed oil and mineral spirits to help protect the wood and increase its longevity. The new growth wood we have available to us today simply does not last as long as old growth wood did when left untreated.

In addition to our work on the windows, we repaired the roof on their springhouse. During a winter storm a tree had fallen on the springhouse and damaged the roof. It was a traditional oak lathe roof with no sheathing and had bellied down in the center. When it was restored, the Trust chose to leave the belly in the roof as a sign of how it had always been instead of correcting it. (A choice that nags at Chuck’s perfectionist side, but one his preservationist side very much respects.)

The roof repair required special attention to detail. The angles had to be shimmed and straightened with shingles. “It took more time, but the job wouldn’t have turned out as nice without it. It was definitely worth it,” Chuck notes.

[sws_blockquote_endquote align=”left” cite=”” quotestyle=”style01″] “We’re very pleased. It was a real pleasure to work with you and show off your magnificent work. You are outstanding professionals and experts in your field.“ -Craig Hadley, Executive Director Mill at Anselma [/sws_blockquote_endquote]

 

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The Mylin House project was a complete interior restoration project that we had been very much looking forward to doing.  The Willow Valley Retirement Community hired Historic Restorations to restore the first floor of both the original farmhouse and the addition to use as a community center in keeping with their preservation of the original farmhouses from all the farm properties they’ve purchased and expanded onto.

The original part of the Mylin House was built in the late 1700’s by Martin Mylin III and his wife Barbara Baer (granddaughter of Christian and Anna Herr, the 1710 immigrants who built the 1719 Hans Herr House).  Mylin III was the third generation to live on and work the farm his Grandfather, Martin Mylin I, established when he emigrated from Germany in the early 1700’s and became one of the first Mennonites to settle in Lancaster County.  Mylin I would also establish a gun shop on the original homestead where he would father the Pennsylvania Long Rifle as an accomplished gunsmith.

The Mylin house and its lands were passed down through generations of the family until 1926 when it was sold to Christian Herr and became home to the Herr family (some of whom would later found Herr Foods), who resided on the property until it was purchased by the retirement community.

The original portion of the house was built during the Colonial Period and was constructed in the Pennsylvania German Traditional style.  During the Pre-Civil war period in the 1800’s a Victorian style addition was added to the original house.  (We imagine the eight children Mylin III had were motivating factors in the decision to guilt the addition.)

Though many renovations, upgrades, and modernization projects had been performed over the years both the original house and the addition were almost wholly intact.  The interior woodwork and built-in cabinetry by the renowned Lancaster County cabinet-maker John Bachman, the three corner fireplaces, the balusters and the raised panels in the stairway are all original to the house.  While the windows are likely not original to the house, they are from the 1800’s.

While the house looked like it was in good shape, there were some really questionable repairs attempted over the years and we would need to go through and replace everything that wasn’t honestly part of the historical fabric of the original – for both the original Colonial house and the Victorian addition to original condition.

 

Historical Woodwork

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Pretty much all of the woodwork on the first floor of the house was in good condition, but some spot repairs and everything needed restoration.  But before we could even start tackling that portion of the project, we needed to remove all five layers of paint that had accumulated over the last 200+ years – most of which involved lead remediation.  To restore the original interior woodwork we used epoxy and solid-wood Dutchmen for the spot repairs.

There were two built-in corner cabinets in two of the rooms of the Colonial portion of the house that were wonderful examples of traditional woodowork.

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We also re-created a built-in cabinet area in the kitchen of the Victorian addition that had storage cabinetry that was incompatible with the Victorian architectural styles.  The existing cabinets had primitive wood shelves and raised panel doors so we removed them and fabricated cabinets that matched a style on an original built-in located close to that storage area.

The windows in both the Colonial and Victorian sides of the house were not original to the house, but were about 150 years old and mimicked the original window styles well.  To preserve the old growth wood in these windows and their contribution to the historic fabric of the house, we completely restored all the first floor windows and installed interior storm windows on all the first and second floor windows.

 

Restoring Historical Plaster Walls

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That wallpaper that had been applied over the original plaster walls at some point in time was falling off of the walls.  So we carefully removed the wallpaper to keep as much of the original horse-hair plaster intact as possible so we could preserve that plaster.  Some areas of the plaster walls were missing and had drywall installed when misguided attempts to match the original plaster were made.  For these areas, and other areas where moisture had affected the plaster bond we used a three-step application of re-wiring and applying a base coat, then applied a brown coat plaster, and finally a veneer plaster for the finish to create a historically accurate plaster wall.  The plaster ceilings were also restored – some of which was deteriorated to the point that it was about to collapse so we used large washers and screws to re-tighten and fasten the old plaster and then skim-coated over that.  We skim-coated the original plaster walls that could be saved.

 

Historical Paint Color Choices

There is quite the unusual combination of colors that were chosen for the interior walls in the Mylin House.  These colors may seem rather loud and obnoxious to our modern aesthetics, but they were actually colors on that had originally been on the walls that we discovered after removing wallpaper and layers of paint.  And the smaller sitting rooms at the back of the house that had contrasting colors that didn’t quite coordinate with each other in the manner that we think of today when we choose contrast colors.  Lime green, turquoise, a mustard yellow, a real orange (think The Big Home Improvement Store That Shall Not Be Named orange bucket color), and a dark red.

There was one original color we chose not to replicate – the mauvey rose in the foyer.  Despite Lois’ firm urgings that the color was period appropriate and should be used, Chuck just couldn’t bring himself to add that color back.  (Apparently he can tolerate color combinations like lime green and turquoise, but a mauvey rose along with a dark red is just not something he can accept.)  We chose to use a white color in the foyer that would also be period appropriate as the color of unpainted plaster.

The mopboards in the Colonial portion of the house were painted the black they had been originally.  According to tradition, the floorboards were painted black at that time to avoid having the dirty water marks from mops when cleaning the floors.  In the Victorian addition the baseboards had never been painted black, so we painted them a historical green in an attempt by Chuck to mellow out the red on the walls that his aesthetic sensibilities weren’t entirely comfortable with.

For the paint we used the Benjamin Moore Historical Colors line from Grauers Paint & Decorating in Lancaster.

 

Restoration of Historical Flooring

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We also took up the oak floor on the first floor.  We completely re-tongue and grooved that flooring, cleaned it, and then brought it back and re-installed it.  The flooring was left unfinished in the Colonial part of the house, as it would have originally been when it was first constructed.  The restored wood flooring was waxed with Briwax.

For the kitchen floor, we chose a slightly different approach.  There had originally been a wood floor installed during the Victorian period that it was built that was then covered over with several layers of vinyl flooring over the years.  Beyond the difficulty of removing the layers of vinyl flooring to salvage the original floor, the wood used in the original floor was an inferior quality and it was questionable as to whether or not it was worth saving. 

colonial architecture, historic architectural woodwork, historic architecture, historic architecture restoration, historic cabinetry, historic flooring, historic paint color, historic restoration lancaster pa, historic restoration research, historic restorations, historic woodwork, john bachman cabinetry, mylin house, mylin house restoration, restoring historic plaster walls, victorian architecture, willow valley retirement communityWillow Valley Retirement Community eventually decided they wanted to install a brick floor in keeping with a style that seemed well-fitted for a farm kitchen floor and we installed a basket-weave brick pattern using a traditional mortar recipe.  We also chose bricks from Inglenook Tile Design since they reproduce a veneer brick that is such an incredible match to the soft historic bricks by mimicking all aspects of historic brick-making, even firing at the lower temperatures that they would have only been capable of historically.

But before we began floor installation we addressed very big problem with the house – a potentially catastrophic one – the house was sagging in the middle of the interior.  We spent several weeks raising the summer beam, the floor joists, and the load-bearing walls that made up the interior frame of the house to level it up and gain back the two inches it had sagged over the years.  It took about two weeks to get just that two inches back.  After raising the sagging interior frame, we installed ¾” plywood for sub-flooring in the kitchen and installed two metal posts in the floor to hold the summer beam since it was made of an inferior quality poplar wood.

 

1700’s & 1800’s Fireplace Restorations

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The Mylin House project also involved restoration of multiple fireplaces in both the first floor and the basement.

On the first floor, we took a cast-iron wood stove out of one of the fireplaces and removed the hearth on both first floor fireplaces restoring the brick in one fireplace and plastering the other fireplace – both traditional treatments for fireplaces.

For the walk-in fireplaces in the basement we applied stucco to encased the loose stone with a natural surface.

 

Restoration in the Basement

In the basement stairway we discovered tread shadow lines on the wall that indicated  the current stairway configuration was not how the stairs were originally configured.  So we rebuilt the stairs, returning them to the original configuration.

To create a cleaner storage environment for Willow Valley Retirement Community, we parged the stone walls in the basement to waterproof them and eliminated a lot of loose mortar since it was a very early mortar with bits of shell and really wasn’t much more than dirt.  We also poured a concrete floor instead of leaving the existing dirt floor to help with moisture control and keep the storage cleaner.

When we started work there were no windows in the basement window openings – the openings just served as free passage of air.  With our moisture control efforts, we decided to fabricate new windows for those openings – each requiring individualized fabrication since each opening was a different size (a quite common occurrence in historic buildings).

 

What challenges did we run into with the project?  

The biggest challenge was digging out the basement since we did not have wide open access to it and had to dig it out by hand taking the dirt out bucket by bucket.  We filled the trailer with loads of dirt, which then got stuck several times in our unusually rainy Spring.  In fact, not tearing up that yard was probably a challenge that might give hand-digging out the basement a good run for its “biggest challenge” status.

 

Historic Wood Window Restoration, Save Historic Wood Windows, Wood Windows vs. Replacement WindowsWood windows are an integral part of the innate energy efficiency of historical buildings. If we have learned anything from history it is that sometimes with all our modern advancements we do ourselves more harm than good.

Advancements in technology do not always produce better results, and construction technology isn’t exempt from that. Built in a time of readily available building materials and energy sources, modern building designs typically make poor use of both. Historical buildings were built when neither was in abundant supply and early designers made the most of building materials and design options to construct buildings with a powerful combination of harnessed natural resources and innovative design that worked together to maximize energy efficiency.

Everything from exterior paint colors, to locations of balconies, to numbers and placement of windows, to physical placement of buildings on lots was carefully considered to maximize heating, lighting, and ventilation in traditional construction.

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The results are astounding and studies have shown that properly restored and maintained 18th & 19th Century buildings can be just as energy efficient as new construction, and in many cases even more energy efficient. (Perhaps not surprisingly, studies have also shown that buildings built in the 1950’s through the 1970’s were the biggest energy consumers of all.)

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The historical wood windows in your building contribute to that energy efficiency and, contrary to urban legend, new replacement windows are not more energy efficient than historical wood windows. Typically, studies that conclude such a finding have compared new replacement windows with historical windows that

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have not been maintained or restored, are decaying, and have no complementary energy retrofits such as weather-stripping and storm windows.

If you would like to read these studies, you can access them in the resources section of our website.

Studies on energy efficiency also usually fail to consider “embodied energy”. Embodied energy represents the energy it took to manufacture a product. They say the greenest building is the one
already built when you consider this embodied energy – an existing energy investment that will never be able to be recaptured once you destroy the product it’s embodied in.

If the greenest building is the one already built, then the greenest window is the one already there. Historical wood windows have an embodied energy value that includes all the energy from harvesting and milling the wood to transporting and manufacturing the windows to installing them in your historical building.  Preserving existing windows conserves that embodied energy and reduces the use of additional energy when making replacement windows.

Which means that when you take all energy, energy expended on heating and cooling costs as well as the embodied energy, into consideration for defining the energy efficiency of windows – historical wood windows are far more energy efficient than replacement windows
.

 

Historically Sensitive Storm Windows

A Product Recommendation from Chuck

When storm windows first came into use to promote energy efficiency, they were installed on the outside of the house.  Not only did this take away from the architectural integrity of the house by impeding the view of major architectural features in windows, they also often created moisture on the outside of the window.

Fortunately for historic homeowners today, we have better options now.  And the option we recommend here at Historic Restorations are the interior storm windows by Allied Window.

historic preservation contractors, historic restorations contractors, historic building maintenance, historic building energy efficiency, storm windows for historic buildings, historically sensitive storm windowsAllied offers an “invisible” storm window installed on the inside of the window.  One of the major benefits of this storm window option is that it has a low profile that doesn’t limit visibility of a window’s historical architectural features.  Made from aluminum they can also be painted any color – send them a sample of the color of your trim and they’ll match it for a seamless integration into your window’s look.  They also have a good seal with an aluminum u-channel across the top, magnetic strips that the aluminum frame attaches too, and a rubber or brush seal that sits on the sill.

They do offer an exterior option with the same features of the interior.  Some people think this would be the better option, that an exterior storm window would help protect the wood in their window.  I don’t recommend this option – wood needs to breathe moisture and if there is a storm window installed on the exterior moisture will be trapped in the wood and promote rot.

We’ve had a good long-term experience with Allied.  We’ve tried other companies, much to our dismay, and Allied is the one that has provided a consistent service and product performance over time.

You can learn more about the products that Allied Windows offers by visiting their website at alliedwindows.com.

 

Maintenance Plans for Historic Home & Buildings

Recently we completed a maintenance appraisal for the Trinity Church Oxford in Philadelphia.  The church purchased the appraisal to evaluate several key areas they knew needed immediate attention and ended up with not only our recommendations for remediating the emergent needs on their buildings – but a five-year plan for fixing other maintenance needs that were threats looming on the horizon.  Below is the process of how that maintenance appraisal and long-term plan were developed.

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The church purchased our Tier 2 Maintenance Appraisal and scheduled an appointment for us to perform the appraisal.

Chuck and Lois spent a morning evaluating three separate buildings on the church property – the Gathering Hall, the Church, and the Rectory/Archive building.

During that appointment,  Chuck and Lois recorded a detailed assessment and made thorough documentation of the current condition of the roofing, windows and doors, foundation, exterior walls and woodwork, interior features, projections, etc.

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Back at the office, Chuck reviewed all of the maintenance needs he and Lois had documented to compile an itemized list of specific repair work that needed to be done on the building to make sure it wasn’t deteriorating any further.

Next he prioritized which needs were immediate (needing repair in the next 1-2 years), which needs were intermediate (needing repair in the next 3-5 years), and which needs were long-term (needing repair in 5+ years) for each of the areas they evaluate.

The 18-page report was then submitted to the Trinity Church Oxford.

After the Church reviewed our report and worked with Chuck to determine which maintenance needs they could address within their budget, they contracted with us to perform the work.

historic 2

Is your historical building deteriorating?  

Do you need a maintenance plan for your historic home?  

Find out in these four easy steps:

#1: Contact us to decide which maintenance plan tier is best for your building

#2: Purchase the maintenance appraisal

#3: Schedule the maintenance appraisal appointment

#4: Sit back and have a cup of tea while we work our magic and get you’re your report!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is easy to think that if the look of a historical building is maintained, as well as the types of materials used, then the building has been successfully preserved. But preservation is not just about preserving how something looks, it is primarily focused on preserving how something is so that it remains as original as possible for future generations.

historic wood windows

As important as it is to preserve how our historical buildings actually are, inevitably re­placements will need to be made when features are so deteriorated that stabilization, con­servation, or restoration are simply not viable options.

In these instances, the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards and Guidelines for the Treatment of Historic Properties allow for “replacement in-kind” (replicating the original feature in all respects, except improved condition) if there are surviving features that can be used as prototypes. The Standards & Guidelines also notes that, “The replacement materi­als needs to match the old both physically and visually, i.e., wood with wood, etc. Thus…substitute materials are not appropriate in…preservation.”

One example is the Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial on the corner of 3rd and Pine streets.  The Thaddeus Kosciuszko house is a part of Independence Park and in 2011 the National Park Service embarked on exterior restorations of the building to repair and restore wood windows, doors, and a cedar shake roof that were deteriorated.

historic windows tops

Our company, Historic Restorations, was given the honor of performing this restoration work and to accurately preserve the Kosciuszko house we needed to match not just the size, shape, and textures of the shingles themselves, but also the craftsmanship details added during manufacturing and installation that characterized the roof.  To do this we ordered hand-split cedar shakes and had our detail-oriented artisan craftsmen recreate the original installation of the cedar shakes.Kosciuszko house is a part of Independence Park and in 2011 the National Park Service embarked on exterior restorations of the building to repair and restore wood windows, doors, and a cedar shake roof that were deteriorated.

historic restorationWithout this attention to detail, the Kosciuszko house would not have been preserved as an accurate testimonial to our architectural heritage.  It would have been easier and more inexpensive to have replaced the shake roof with any number of other options, including some that are commonly considered “historically accurate”.  But they would not have been historically accurate to this house.  Even if they are considered “period appropriate”, when we choose a different treatment than what was there originally we are altering, not preserving the very things that make the building historic.

It also alters a building’s historical fabric, some­times irretrievably. Original wallpaper that is often destroyed during the removal process can’t usually be replaced with in-kind period wallpaper. Replacing one species of wood with another sometimes can’t be undone if the original species of wood is not readily avail­able, or is priced so exorbitantly that it is not financially feasible for your project.

In order to avoid significant, and sometimes irreparable, damage to your building, consider replacing only the deteriorated or missing parts of your building’s features, use materials that match the old in design, color, and texture (both physically and visually), and docu­ment the original material and the replacement process and materials used extensively for future reference and research.

[sws_grey_box box_size=”630″] Things to Ask Yourself About the Materials on Your Building

  • Do I have documentation of all former replacements, including documentation of the original features?
  • Have I had my building evaluated by a qualified contractor to identify any inappropriate replacement materials or approaches?
  • Do I document all replacements I do, including written and photographic documentation, noting the materials, details, and tooling on both the original and the replacement?
  • Are there any parts of my building’s original features that are deteriorated or missing and need replacement?
  • Is it possible to just replace the deteriorated parts instead of replacing the whole feature?
  • Have I checked with a qualified contractor to see if remediation is needed for any not-in-kind replacements previously performed on my building? [/sws_grey_box]

 

 

One of the exhibitors at the recent Greater Philadelphia Historic Home Show was approaching preservation from a unique perspective – “mass” production.

When most of us think of traditional wrought irons handcrafted by blacksmiths, we think of custom orders.  But Fagan’s Forge is forging a new path with handcrafted wrought irons.  They sell stock items only, no custom orders.  How do they do that?  They place orders with traditional blacksmiths across the country for quantities of items that they work on in between their custom orders and then Fagan’s Forge carries that stock.

But don’t let “mass” and “stock” scare you away – Fagan’s Forge is reproducing patterns that are literally hundreds of years old and date as far back as the 1600’s.  Nancy McMerriman is the second generation owner of the Forge, her father founded the business, and her knowledge of the history of wrought iron latches, handles, and hinges, along with her attention to detail, results in products that are authentic period pieces.

Below is the information from Fagan’s Forge’s website, you can browse their online catalog here.

 

A History of Wrought Iron from Fagan’s Forge

WROUGHT IRON THROUGH THE AGES

In the earliest days iron was thought of as a strange mystery. It was such a wonderful material, so hard, so strong, beyond the imagination of early man to take for granted. They were so impressed that they envisioned gods to be responsible for the existence of this wonder metal. The material from which King Arthur’s Excalibur was fashioned. the Norse god, Odin was thought to assist a gifted smith with his very fine work, and in the Christian era, St. Clement was the patron saint of blacksmiths.

The black smith, the anvil smiter, was thought to be the most important craftsman of his time. He made most of the tools used by other craftsmen to ply their trade. Without the blacksmith, the other tradesmen activity would grind to a halt.

The great Roman historian Pliny, speaks at length about iron, the wondrous metal that did great work turning over the earth at plow time and slaughtering the enemy in time of war. Wrought iron is an enduring metal, in places where it has been left to perform its first intended work, “if it could speak” would tell us tales from the birth of this now mighty land. It would tell us of times of doubt, times when our might was not so great that we could think that this might was right.

THE MATERIAL – WROUGHT IRON

About Wrought Iron

The making of wrought iron became established in Europe about 500 B.C. The wrought iron was much harder than bronze, and the iron ores were more widely distributed. The other ingredient, charcoal, was also readily available.
 Wroughtiron, though not as hard as steel, did have a quality superior to steel in that it resisted rusting due to its silica, or glass, content. The silica arranged itself in thin layers in the wrought iron and restricted the formation of rust.

The eastern coast of North America was found to have considerable deposits of iron ore and the ample forest cover provided an excellent supply of charcoal to fuel the blast furnaces of the day.

The colonies exported a good amount of iron bar to England before the Revolution. During the Revolution bog iron from the New Jersey pine barrens supplied iron to cast cannons for our revolutionary forces.

After the Revolution iron production dropped off until the country reorganized. After that point iron, and then steel production grew at a phenomenal rate to support the great expansion of new industry and the great expansion west.

Wrought iron with its ductile rust resistant qualities is just about nonexistent today. We use the term “wrought” as an adjective concerning iron not as the very important noun it used to be.

The mild steel we use today to make types of objects from an earlier time may not resist rust to the degree wrought iron did but our improved coatings may help a bit.

 

A History of Hinges

Large HL Hinges were common for passage doors, room doors and closet doors in the 17th, 18th and even 19th centuries. On taller doors H hinges were occasionally used in the middle along with the HL hinges.

H Hinges were shaped like an H and used on flush mounted doors. Small H hinges (3–4 in/76–100 mm) tend to be used for cabinet hinges, while larger hinges (6–7 in/150–180 mm) are for passage doors or closet doors.

A BIT OF HISTORY

American Wrought Iron

Second generation owner Nancy McMerriman  browses her bible of wrought iron

1694 – Those wishing to inspect the house carefully may see in the cellar the foundation arch of hand-made bricks and stone, and an old closet door with hinges attached by hand-made nails. In the attic is another of these HL hinges; the chimney is of bricks made in the town in 1694, originally joined with mud mortar. The floors and most of the roof timbers are the original white pine, and some of the old wooden pins with which they were put together still remain.

1730 – The HAVILAND INN was built in 1730 and is now the village hall. The original windows are intact; the beams are wooden-pegged; hand-hewn shingles cover three-quarters of the structure; several of the doors have Colonial “HL” hinges. Dame Tamar Haviland, a war widow, was here hostess to Washington on several occasions.

1775 – The H and HL hinges came into use in New England in the early and lasted until after the Revolution. These hinges were cut out of heavy sheet iron and were made in factories in England. This type of hinge was superseded by the cast-iron butt, still in use, which was invented in England in 1775, and adopted very generally in the United States at the close of the Revolution. In some old houses that have been restored and in many modern constructions done in the manner of the colonial homes.

1837 – When the colonies belonged to England, they followed English laws for marking silver, but after independence, standards varied. In 1837, Congress passed a law that established 900/1000 as the official standard for coin silver. Most silver objects stamped “coin” were not made from melted coins. THE COLONISTS WERE SO RELIGIOUS THAT THEY PUT HL HINGES ON THEIR DOORS, WHICH STOOD FOR HOLY LORD.

1948 – CLUES: In 1948, author Carl Drepperd wrote that, “Anything in wrought iron, from a four-inch rattail hinge to a complete iron balcony, has a collector waiting somewhere for it. Even the common H and HL hinges have value, while ram’s-horn hinges are on a parity with fine historic china.” What he didn’t say was that all of these, and other wrought iron items were being reproduced; and still are.

1989 – Even the common H and HL hinges have value, while ram’s-horn hinges are on a parity with fine historic china.

historic restorations of bean handle

About Handles

Bean Handle
The Bean is a delicate handmade iron pull, simple in design and very functional. The most common pull found in early New England homes. A beautiful replica of the early handle, the Bean handle is finished with a rubbed beeswax/linseed oil finish that brings out the beauty of the iron details. For outdoor use, request a painted black finish. Please note that the height of the Bean handle is not the same as the height of the Bean latch, although the proportions are the same. 2-1/2” x 6-1/2”

Spade Handle
The Spade handle is sister to the Spade latch and is perfect for closets, large cupboards or any application where a full latch is not necessary. The Spade is suitable for interior or exterior use, and can be ordered in a boiled beeswax/linseed oiled finish or painted black.. 3” x 10”

 

About Latches

Bean Latch

Bean Latch
In the Suffolk family of latches and handles, the Bean latch is a simple latch design, the most common found in early New England homes. Ours is a beautifully hand made replica of an early latch found in Horsham, Pennsylvania, circa 1755.

Can be ordered with a rubbed oil finish for interior, or painted black finish for exterior use. 2-1/2” x 8”

Spade Latch
Another Suffolk variety, our Spade Latch is a beautifully hand-crafted piece that will grace any handsome paneled or plank door.  The history of this latch extends all along the eastern shoreline, and its ancestors can still be found in many antique homes in New England.

The Spade is suitable for interior or exterior use, and can be ordered in a beeswax boiled Linseed oiled finish or painted black.. 3” x 10”

Meeting House LatchRestoration of Bean Latch
This handsome latch is quite an eye-catcher. Reproduced from a latch found on the front of a 1780 Connecticut meeting house, this large latch is a beautiful representation of colonial craftsmanship.

The Meeting House latch would grace the front entryway of any restoration or reproduction home. 4-1/2” x 18-1/2”

Mission Latch 
Another Suffolk Latch variety, the Mission latch is a slightly different design than was commonly seen in early colonial homes. Ours is similar to a door in the Wayside Inn, Sudbury Massachusetts, circa 1683.

This beautiful latch, with its beveled edges and detailed hammered finish, would be a handsome addition to a period home or elegant outbuilding. Because of its size, the Mission latch is primarily an exterior latch, so is painted black to withstand the weather. 3-1/2” x 13-1/2”

 

historic restoration

 

 

 

 

 

Preservation is retaining what is existing – this can be achieved through regular maintenance activities – saving thousands in potential cost. Once something is lost it is very expensive to recreate it.

The Business Section of the May 20th Intelligencer Journal had an article titled ‘Five home repairs not to postpone’ under the Investors Guide – the point of the article was to encourage small maintenance and repairs before they become big expensive problems. The five tips are valuable so I am passing them along:

1. Storm Water Management – maintain gutters, downspouts, and leader pipes (get the water away from the building, clean out gutters, make sure the soil slopes away from the building)
2. Roof and Siding – check flashing around roof penetrations and siding around door and window openings for leaks
3. Using caulk to seal gaps around pipes and ducts in attic can help insulate and prevent damming – notice I said caulk and not spray foam.
4. Pest infestations – wood eating pests love moist soil and rotting wood
5. Mold and Mildew – check under carpets, under windows, and behind plate covers for mold you might not see
6. Foundation Cracks – 1/4″ or more may be a problem – monitor all cracks for movement – if the building continues to move it is time for a consultation with a structural engineer.