BATHROOMS or whatever you call them, as they have many names – are a necessary part of our lives, but we often take them for granted. Bathrooms did not always exist as a dedicated room, and the conglomeration of fixtures and practices that occur in these rooms today, as well as the design of these rooms, are a result of many societal and technological changes. Understanding the history can help you better appreciate (or create) your own historic or period appropriate bathroom.


Illustration of early 20th century bathroom from the Standard Sanitary Manufacturing Company. Image Source: Wikipedia’s Entry on Bathroom.

 

Bathrooms: History and Evolution

Bathing and specific elimination practices (e.g., toileting) have been around in some form since humans have existed on Earth. However, more sophisticated practices – including devoted bath houses and use of bathtubs – began as early as 3000 B.C. in what is now Pakistan, with the Indus Valley Civilization, and continued with the early Greeks and Romans. In those times, people focused on purity but not necessarily health and hygiene, and water was seen as a cleansing element for spiritual and physical purposes. So powerful was the belief in water’s protective spiritual properties that communal baths were sometimes kept separate from domestic living spaces to protect the living spaces from evil spirits. The Romans especially valued bathing as a way to relax and revive themselves, as well as an outlet to commune with others. However, the wealthy also often had private bath spaces. (Source). 

The oldest-surviving bathtub dates to 1700 B.C. and was located in a palace in Crete. (Source).

In ancient times there were also some primitive flushing toilets, although many public toilets in Rome were anything but private and did not necessarily flush. (Source). 

In addition to limited private toilets, many ancient Romans were relegated to using primitive, communal items before the invention of toilet paper. (Source). 

In the Middle Ages, public bathhouses continued to be used, and soap first came into production. Other items such as combs, tweezers, and mouthwash were also in use. (Source). 

Contrary to popular belief, people in the Middle Ages valued bathing, particularly steam baths. Baths were generally public baths and men and women communed together; although, women covered their hair for “decency.” (Source)

During the Renaissance, private bathrooms became more popular. However, fears increased about disease, associated with water, and bathing was discouraged in favor of focused washing. Clean linens were thought to be sufficient to pull toxins from, cleanse, and deodorize the body, and women during this time toiled over washing. (Source). 

In 1546, King Henry VIII ordered the closure of public bathhouses, as these – specifically, their water – were blamed for the 7 plagues that occurred in England over a 200-year span. (Source).

Public toilets were used by the lower classes in the Renaissance and often placed on bridges over rivers, the “sewage system” being that debris would float away in the river. In the countryside and in some private city homes privies existed in sheds or cellars, usually consisting of seats situated over cesspits. Portable chamber pots were the preferred means of elimination by the wealthy and royal, and were simply emptied into the streets. (Source). 

The first flush toilet was invented by Sir John Harrington in 1596, but was not widespread until nearly 3 decades later –  the wealthy and royal preferred chamber pots be brought to them, and not to walk to a room only for toileting as it would be considered immodest. (Source). 

By the 18th century, daily bathing was still uncommon. However, in England the wealthy were able to have taps put into their homes allowing for private bathing, thanks to a massive irrigation project. Otherwise, most of the bathroom rituals we use today were still done in the bedroom, which usually included a basin and washstand (and often a chamber pot). (Source). 

The shower was invented by William Feetham in 1767. (Source).

By the 19th century, houses were beginning to be designed around usefulness of each room. The discovery and dissemination of information about germs and hygiene was more widespread in Europe and America, and many homes of the middle and upper class had bathrooms – as bathing was considered necessary for good hygiene – while mass showers existed for the poor. The Industrial Revolution also facilitated  mechanization in the bathroom, including gas water heaters for hot-water production. (Source). 

The 19th century saw major changes in private bathrooms in the home, including flush toilets in the 1850’s, and the electric water heater in 1889. (Source). 

In the late 19th century more was discovered about infectious disease and bacteria, and previously wooden bathrooms transitioned to porcelain and enamel surfaces, with more exposed pipes that were “easier to clean,” tile and linoleum replaced wood floors, and drapery was significantly reduced, and this continued into the early 20th century. (Source). 

The late 19th and early 20th century’s concerns about disease also resulted in the introduction of second bathrooms – “powder rooms” – or half-baths often on the first floor, near the entrance, so delivery people could wash their hands and prevent bringing germs into the home. (Source). 

As the 20th century moved beyond the hygiene movement, and the public was exposed to two world wars, glamorized interiors featured in movies, and a greater increase in population and technological advancement, people were more interested in having fully-equipped bathrooms that served functional needs as well as offered respite. The growing middle class was also able to afford these luxuries with mass-production enabling affordable products. (Source). 

The 1950’s realized en suite bathrooms, as well as separate bathrooms for the children. (Source)

As people have continued to associate bathrooms with comfort and escapism, the number of bathrooms per person in each household have steadily increased, and bathrooms continue to be an important part of each household. (Source). 

 

Bathrooms in Your Historic Home

If luck is on your side, you may acquire a historic home with a period bathroom still in place, although this is rare given that bathrooms (and kitchens) usually were the first “victims” of updates to historic homes, and are some of the most modified and modernized rooms. Depending on the old bathroom’s condition, there may be significant work to do. Because of the last few decades’ emphasis on college education and continued focus on mass-produced items that are generally not repairable and have short shelf-life, skilled labor and trades people have dwindled, so repair may be more difficult. However, increased demand for historic features has also resulted in more reproduction options available, many of which are up-to-code. Sometimes it is necessary or preferred to create a new bathroom, either modern or styled to a chosen time in the house’s history. Regardless, it is important to always remember that water is the enemy of a historic home, and any modern updates must account for this. Below are a combination of suggestions from Restoring Old Houses by Nigel Hutchins, and Restoring Your Historic House by Scott T. Hanson

It is important to remember that water is the enemy of historic homes, so all plumbing should be in good condition and well-maintained to prevent water disasters.

 

Restoring an old bathroom. General period plumbing knowledge is important in old bathrooms. Many old homes have extant period plumbing fixtures and these were designed to be repairable – just be sure they are adapted to meet modern codes and standards. A knowledgeable plumber and flexible code officer can be helpful with this. (Hanson, p. 374). Old plumbing fixtures and features should be examined for breaks and other damage and replaced with copper or plastic where necessary; return traps and vent stacks should be cleared; worn gaskets and washers should be replaced; and entire systems should be flushed and pressure checked (Hutchins, p. 179). Some shops and companies specialize in repair of such fixtures (Hanson, p. 375).

If something is missing, beyond repair, or simply cannot be adapted to meet modern code requirements, it is recommended that you look for antiques (often through salvage, but again these must be adapted to modern codes), or options among the many reproductions on the market. It is highly recommended you compare the quality of the originals to the reproductions, and buy as high quality as you can afford. This will more likely prevent failure and subsequent disaster from burst pipes (Hanson, p. 376; Hutchins, p. 178).

Rural residents have even more unique circumstances, including utilizing wells for water sources and septic tanks for waste disposal. Hutchins (p. 179) recommends that people in the countryside check their old wells for rotten covers, bacteria in the water, and how well they refill. Many old wells cannot accommodate modern needs and new wells must be dug, which are expensive – it is recommended a homeowner budgets accordingly.

Antique toilets also need to meet modern standards, even if they are antique. Hanson (p. 374) notes that some communities have strict water ordinances, and toilets from times past were designed to use much more water to flush (and thus fully clear the bowl) than is allowed by modern code. In some cases, an extant toilet can be grandfathered in. In other instances modifications to the tank such as stacked bricks or a tank liner can decrease water – Hanson warns, however, that because of the original design, this decreased water may not be sufficient to clear the bowl. High tank toilets are generally more successful because of the additional velocity they allow water when it travels from tank to toilet. 

Antique sinks also generally require modification to meet modern standards. Sometimes, antique sinks and counter tops simply need cleaning; marble sinks and counter tops can be cleaned with paint cleaner and steel wool, although deeper stains may require fine sandpaper and muriatic acid (Hutchins, p. 179). Hanson (p. 374-375). Problems usually stem from the size of drain holes and the spacing of faucet holes. An old sink that is missing the 2-hole drain stem can present a conundrum, as salvaged parts may be hard to come by, and it does not match modern pieces. Sink bowls of various materials may have these holes widened to accommodate modern needs. If the traditionally-separate hot and cold faucets are missing, reproductions can convert the hot and cold into one, and still visually represent the original time period.If a required overflow drain is missing, modifications can be made to retain the antique bowl; Hanson recommends connecting the bowl to the above top with a gap in between, and putting a modern bowl below to catch overflow. This of course should always be checked with local code enforcers.

Period tubs or showers can often be restored with epoxies – or homeowners can purchase “new” antiques and restore those, if needed (Hutchins, p. 179). Similar adjustments may need to be made to the plumbing parts as were noted for sinks, above. 

  •  

Creating a new bathroom (period appropriate or not). Hutchins (p. 178) provides several general plumbing points when creating a bathroom space. He indicates that plumbing should not be run on exterior walls because of insulation difficulties, and sufficient venting is necessary for plumbing. He also states that other considerations should be made if converting a non-bathroom into a bathroom. For example, one must consider if there is enough head room for a shower, if ceiling beams below (if on an upper floor) will be impacted by plumbing pipes, and if the room has wood features, how those features will be treated to protect them from moisture penetration. 

Laundry features should also be considered. Although not inherently part of a bathroom in most cases, Hanson (p. 377) also points out that given most modern private homes have laundry areas or rooms, and many of these are now being moved from the basement level to first floors, caution is warranted to protect historic interiors. For example, Hanson notes that typically-cheap hoses often result in burst pipes and indoor flooding disasters. These issues can be prevented – or at least mitigated – by replacing cheap hoses with high-quality woven stainless steel washer hoses, and installing overflow trays with drains for added protection, according to Hanson. 

 

IN SUMMARY: 

Modern people may be less modest than people of the past, but the bathroom and related activities can still be a taboo subject for some. For others, it’s simply taken for granted. But we must remember how essential bathrooms are to our physical and mental health, hygiene, and relaxation. As such, it’s important to treat and maintain these spaces well, particularly to protect the integrity of our historic homes. 

 

For further resources and reading: 

Stay tuned for a similar post on another vulnerable room in historic homes: THE KITCHEN.

UNIQUE HISTORICAL FEATURES SERIES – On this 4th Tuesday of the month, our focus isn’t on a specific feature per se, but more on a combination of features; a whole architectural style, in fact. And we’re focusing on how mutable cultural values created and then reviled that style, resulting in its being the focus of nightmares in popular culture. To honor Halloween season in a preservation-minded way, instead of covering traditional hauntings, we will examine how the aforementioned phenomena collectively created our modern vision of what is “creepy.” This month’s feature is: “HAUNTED” VICTORIAN HOUSES. 

Prototypical image of a “haunted” Victorian house. Photo by Matthew T Rader on Unsplash.

 

Why are “haunted houses” usually Victorian in style?

Many authors (here, here, here and here, to name a few) have pondered and analyzed this question. Sarah Burns (2012) summarized it best in her article “Better for Haunts”: Victorian Houses and the Modern Imagination, querying: 

“If we consider the Victorian house in its own time and place…there is nothing ominous about the mansard-roofed house…Half a century later, however, that very same style had become a signifier of terror, death, and decay. How, when, and why did the ghosts take over?”  (p. 3)

 

The answer comes down to what Burns refers to as a “shifting context” (p. 3), where architectural changes coincide with and are influenced by cultural and social reforms. There are many reasons for these shifts.

People deem all kinds of trends – from fashion, to food, to entertaining, and even to architecture – to be out-of-date or out-of-touch after a time. Many people naturally rebel against what their parents’ generation considered en vogue. The generations after the Victorians were no exception. The fact that the height of Victorian homes’ popularity coincided with the old tradition of laying out the dead in the family parlor (prior to the advent of the funeral parlor) did not help their image and may have added to the “creepy” mystique as trends moved away from wakes at home. These small scale reasons contributed to aesthetic preferences shifting away from Victorian style.

On a greater scale, aesthetics were influenced by social reform and philosophical ideals. The Victorian era – especially the latter-half – was a time of great economic (and other) disparity. Traditional Victorian homes visually represented this disparity with ostentatious displays of wealth, frequently characterized by conspicuous consumption by the nouveau riche. Heavy ornamentation and detail indicative of most Victorian styles – inside and out- represented the wealth of a small portion of the population. Some of this ornamentation was also made possible due to the second Industrial Revolution (itself a partial cause and manifestation of wealth disparity). Mass production enabled cheaper, quicker access to materials. But this also meant the wealthy became wealthier, the middle class became wealthier, and the poor stayed poor. In fact, the increase in urbanization made for overcrowded, unhealthy living conditions for the poor (who made up the greatest number of factory workers). They were also practically chained to their factory jobs and seen as inhuman machines by their employers.

Social reforms, including the arts and crafts movement and the labor movement, gained ground in government but also influenced architectural design. Many reformers (arts and crafts movement) saw industrialization as an undesirable replacement for craftsmanship as well as a social problem, and advocated craftsman style in architecture in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Home interiors were not immune to the changes, as the sanitary or hygiene reform movement also impacted design, especially in the bathroom; wood and heavy fabrics were seen not only as outdated but also unsanitary. These architectural style changes became an expression of political, economic, and social values in addition to quality materials and workmanship. Architecturally, craftsman styles flourished through the 1920s. By the 1930s and 1940s, modernism and colonial revival styles took hold, continuing to move away from Victorian style.

For all of the above reasons, Victorian homes fell out of favor, and people moved away from the old neighborhoods, leaving Victorian homes to be broken into apartments, turned into boarding houses, or derelict looming figures thanks to demolition by neglect, their once grand neighborhoods dilapidated and run-down. This likely furthered the view that these homes were “haunted” or “creepy.” This status was perfect creative fodder for authors and artists, who subsequently demonized these types of homes. As entertainment technology evolved, movies and TV shows followed suit (e.g., The Addams Family, The Munsters, and Psycho) further solidifying a negative view of these homes in the popular imagination.

The conglomeration of influences cemented Victorian homes as the style of haunted house for generations to come. The issue is that by doing this, in some cases, it has damaged the reputation of these houses leading to improper care for them, or even destruction of them. Luckily, enough of the population cares for these homes to have saved many of them, and we can see examples of Victorian architecture in nearly every town and city in the United States today. 

Letting Victorian homes wither away or even demolishing them due to misplaced fear is much scarier than actually saving and preserving these historic treasures. Anything that is dilapidated and not maintained will look creepy!

 

Examples of “haunted” Victorian architecture:

 

Gothic Revival architectural style seen in the caretaker’s home at Woodward Hill Cemetery (burial site of President James Buchanan) in Lancaster, PA. The gravestones seen in the foreground add to the foreboding ambience. Build date unknown. 

 

 

 

 

Photo above courtesy of Laura Kise.

 

Another Gothic Revival building at Woodward Hill Cemetery in Lancaster, PA. Build date unknown.

 

 

 

 

 

Photo above courtesy of Laura Kise.

 

View of the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California. Primarily identified with Queen Anne architectural style, this now-infamous home that began as a simple farmhouse was renovated and added onto by Sarah Winchester (widow of William Winchester) from 1886 to 1922 in an effort to protect herself from vengeful spirits. Purported to actually be haunted, the architectural design elements as well as Sarah’s purposeful twists, turns, and “booby-traps” make for a creepy home inside and out, despite its obvious beauty.

The image above was taken by Liz Jandoli, for Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS), date unknown. Image source: Library of Congress.

 

The Biltmore Estate – home to the Vanderbilts and America’s largest home – in Asheville, North Carolina, is constructed in the Châteauesque architectural style, and was built between 1889-1895. This home is also rumored to be actually haunted, but anyone might feel intimidated by this imposing, gorgeous structure.

 

 

 

The image above was taken by Frances Benjamin Johnston for the Library of Congress, in 1938. Image source: Library of Congress.

 

Victorian Architecture Today

 

Where to see it. 

  • Scavenger hunt – Hit the pavement in most towns and see how many Victorian houses you can find; despite the negative connotations over the years, we are lucky to have many fine examples of Victorian homes throughout the United States. 
  • (Virtual) museum and other tours – Check out historical house museums – if you’re lucky enough to find an open museum right now following CDC guidelines, visit in-person. Otherwise, see if their website has a virtual tour. Biltmore Estate can be toured virtually at the bottom of this page. You can virtually visit the Winchester Mystery House here. You may also choose to visit a purportedly haunted house (assuming you feel safe during this time of COVID) and given the time of year, there are many options as we get closer to Halloween.
  • Photo gallery – View Victorian architecture images on flickr or explore sites like Library of Congress. 

Get (or protect) your own.

  • Real estate – There are many ways to find your own Victorian, and by doing so, you can help save these treasures and contribute to a more positive view of these historic structures. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has archives of real estate agents who specialize in historic properties, here. They also include listings of properties for sale, here. You can also peruse independent sites such as Circa Houses and Cheap Old Houses
  • Protecting, preserving, and maintaining – Not maintaining your historical home will guarantee that it looks creepy, so maintain your home so you don’t contribute to the negative mystique! Visit the many resources on our website (or contact us for help), and view our Fall Maintenance post, here. Visit The National Trust for Historic Preservation, as well as The National Park Service for more information on protecting and preserving your historic home. 

 

For further resources and reading:

  • You can read Sarah Burns’ thorough analysis of the “haunted” mystique of Victorian homes – and JSTOR is currently offering free access if you create a login – here.

 

Stay tuned each month for a new installment in this UNIQUE HISTORICAL FEATURES SERIES! See last month’s post on Butler’s Pantries.

 

SHARE WITH US!

DO YOU OWN A VICTORIAN HOME? DOES IT HAVE A REPUTATION FOR BEING CREEPY OR HAUNTED? OR, IS THERE A VICTORIAN HOME THAT YOU DON’T OWN BUT LOVE?

FEEL FREE TO SHARE BELOW!

 

 

 

 

 AGING IN PLACE IN A HISTORIC HOME – Aging in place generally comes with necessary change to your home, but this is even truer of situations involving a historic home. As with many adaptive reuse projects, one must determine the balance between maintaining historic fabric and making adaptations suitable for aging. 

Photo by Boston Public Library on Unsplash.

 

WHAT IS AGING IN PLACE? 

Aging in place refers to exactly that: aging in the place where you already live, at home. Before the advent of the modern skilled nursing facility, many people aged at home. But for those who were unable to care for themselves or did not have family, they often were relegated to the predecessors of skilled nursing facilities – almshouses, poor houses, and convalescent homes (you can read more about this history here, here, and here). Although modern facilities have improved upon these old systems significantly in recent years, the quality and price of these facilities run the gamut. As the 65 and over population steadily increases, more people are choosing to avoid low-cost poor quality sites and high-cost high quality sites in favor of staying at home. A Porch.com article notes some of the benefits of aging in place, including maintaining independence, staying near friends and community, increasing comfort, saving money, and even slowing the advancement of memory loss. We’d also like to add that if you’ve made the investment in a historical home, you may consider that investment another motivator for aging in place.

 

HOW TO AGE IN PLACE – IN AN OLD HOME

Timing. Time is of the essence – the sooner that you begin your planning for aging in place, the better. It is best to start the process while you are still physically and mentally functional (this young woman and her husband have already begun this process – along with their overall historic home renovation – by modifying the floorplan and layout on the first floor). Timing is also important for budgets, as it is best to plan things in phases as your budget allows. Finally, it’s also good to have a timeline in place for retrofits and renovations; prioritize a plan for which areas to address first based on safety needs and budget. You may want to start with the entrance, followed by the bathroom, and then the bedroom, as these areas will be used the most heavily in the long-term.

Budget. Budgeting is always an important factor in any project. Just like timing, it is important to begin as soon as able so things can be addressed over time, rather than having to pay all at once. For instance, making small changes over time can be less costly than a total renovation done all at once.

Safety. Safety is the top concern when planning updates to your home to age in place successfully. You can find general safety tips for old homes in our previous post, here

Retrofitting. The key is addressing age in place needs while also maintaining (read: DON’T DAMAGE) the historic fabric where possible. Here are links (here, here, and here) regarding general retrofits to homes, and a short post on aging in place in a historic home (here). These should supplement our material below specific to historic homes.

  • ENTRANCES
    • Any changes to make the house more accessible (ramps, etc.) should be made on a secondary façade (not the front of the house). They should be installed in the least intrusive manner to make removal easy and less damaging to the historic fabric. The goals is to balance aesthetics and accessibility.
  • BATHROOMS
    • ADA height toilets and grab bars can be installed without damaging the historic fabric.
    • Using levered faucet knobs rather than knobs make turning faucets off and on easier.
    • Any changes to the bathtub/shower configuration (especially if you have an original claw foot tub,  for example) should be made in an addition (if possible) – a first floor addition is a good idea/compromise.
  • BEDROOMS
    • You can repurpose a first floor room (if you haven’t already) into a bedroom, or put a sympathetic addition onto your first floor.
  • GENERAL
    • Door knobs can be switched to lever, and you can keep originals on-hand for future reinstall
    • Lighting is essential for safety, and many historic lighting companies have ADA lighting with brighter fixtures. Light switches can be switched to reproduction old style buttons, that are modern code compliant.
    • Smooth flooring – can usually be done without much intervention.
    • Cabinet heights can be adjusted to require less bending over.

 

For further resources and reading: 

  • ADA-compliant reproduction items can be found here, here, and here.
  • Information on retrofitting general historic structures, not just homes, can be found here

KITCHENS – today, these rooms are so essential to what most people see in a desirable home, that they can be one of the main determinants of whether or not to buy a particular house. These rooms generally serve not only as showplaces, but also as a central socializing spot. However, this was not always the case. For most of history, kitchens were plain, utilitarian, and the domain of servants or homemakers, not something to be shown off to guests, or for the family to spend much time in. Similar to bathrooms, kitchens have evolved tremendously over time, particularly the last 200 years. Awareness of this evolution can help you with your historic home’s kitchen.

Kitchen work as trade and occupation – 1874 lithograph by Louis Prang. Image Source:  Library of Congress

 

Kitchens: History and Evolution

Kitchens have existed in some form since ancient times. Early complex societies utilized open fire pits or ovens made of natural materials such as clay or brick, and these usually were located in open spaces to allow smoke to escape. Most people had kitchen prep and storage space in communal spaces, while wealthier abodes had separate spaces just for those needs, and they also sometimes had enclosed kitchens with chimneys to release smoke. (Source). 

Ancient kitchens and cooking spaces were considered work spaces as opposed to entertaining spaces (Source).

Medieval cooking areas showed little change from their predecessors, and in many cases were even less sophisticated. They also used open pits or spaces in buildings where fires could be used to cook food. Wealthier families had separate rooms for food prep and storage as well as cooking. The later stages of this period included more fireplaces with chimneys to diffuse smoke out of dwellings, and increased use of pots and pans. These innovations increased the comfort in the home due to decreased smoke and smells (Source). 

The late Medieval period in Europe saw more class separation based on kitchen location; in wealthy homes, servants were relegated to these smokey, smelly areas and further removed from the main living space (Source).

Later in the Renaissance, other sources of heating were created, so kitchens could be even further removed from main living areas (Source). 

Wealthy homeowners of the Renaissance period began to keep kitchens in separate buildings from the main home, creating even more social class separation from servants (Source).

Colonial kitchens in America were sometimes included as part of the main dwelling, although sometimes – particularly in hot southern areas – separate summer kitchens existed to prevent overheating homes in summer months, with the added benefit of decreasing risk of fire to the homes, and decreasing cooking smells in the homes. These kitchens were dominated by large fireplaces with hearths (Source).

Colonial cooks made efforts to maintain their fires overnight, covering the hot coals and stoking them again in the morning, easing their labor (Source). 

The Federal period saw the invention of the Rumford stove in Britain in 1800, which was the first stove to heat multiple things from a single source of fire. Kitchens were still separate from main living areas – whether servants were present or not – as these spaces were still not considered appropriate for entertaining guests due to their less aesthetically-pleasing, utilitarian nature (Source).

In the 1830s, the Oberlin Cast-Iron Stove was created, and was more compact than stoves before it (Source)

The Victorian Period encompassed a significant uptick in technological advances. Stoves continued to evolve significantly, and eventually were powered by gas, resulting in cleaner kitchens and cities, (compared to their wood- and coal-burning predecessors). These stoves also allowed faster cook times. The addition of  water pipes to homes (initially for waste removal) also allowed for easier access to water for cooking and cleaning purposes (Source). 

Late 19th century, middle-class homes benefited from technological innovations to make kitchens cleaner, and did not have the same “class separation” as the wealthy did from servants; therefore, kitchens could be more closely placed to living spaces, and were presentable enough to entertain guests, resulting in tables and chairs being added to the kitchen (Source)

Increased innovations by the early twentieth century meant diverse cooking abilities. This increased the need for food and utensil storage (Source).

In 1899, the Hoosier Manufacturing Company met the need for increased kitchen storage with the invention of the state-of-the-art Hoosier Cabinet (Source). 

Technological and industrial advancements encouraged more time-saving, including mass-production. This impacted kitchens, resulting in a focus on ergonomic efficiency: designing the environment to fit the person rather than the other way around (Source). 

Austria’s first female architect, Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky, pioneered a fitted kitchen – the “Frankfurt Kitchen” – in the name of ergonomic efficiency in 1926. It included prefabricated cabinets and counter tops (Source). 

Ergonomic design and fitted kitchens continued to be popular in the wartime era of the 1930s and 1940s. Continued innovation led to increased technology in appliances and flooring – local Armstrong‘s linoleum floors became popular (Source). 

The 1960s and 1970s witnessed a renewed interest in and veneration for homecooking and cookware and utensils were upgraded and were popular items for the home – kitchens became more about entertaining guests and showing off culinary skills (Source).

The 1980s brought open kitchen spaces, and even more kitchen innovation. These continued innovations in technology and kitchen design, as well as kitchens’ use as entertainment and even living space and hubs only grow as we evolve into the 21st century. 

 

Kitchens in Your Historic Home

As with bathrooms, it is a rare thing indeed to find an intact kitchen in a historic home. In fact, it might be rarer to find a kitchen than bathroom, as kitchens are often most subject to trends (it’s much less desirable to toil over a hearth when you can use an electric or gas stove and oven). Depending on the time period your historic kitchen dates from, the amount of work to be done varies. If, for instance,  you are fortunate enough to have an unfitted kitchen, including some of its basic elements such as a sink, you may have an easier time updating it to your liking as there is less material to remove, and you can add modern updates as you like. However, if you have a fitted kitchen from later eras, and want to update it significantly or restore it to a much earlier time, this will create much more work for your or your contractor. Below are a combination of suggestions and solutions from various resources, including Restoring Your Historic House by Scott T. Hanson

Period kitchens should be approached with sensitivity to their or the home’s period of significance.

 

Restoring an old kitchen. In the rare case that you find an intact kitchen, the same general rules of restoration, preservation, and rehabilitation apply. Consider approaching the kitchen with sensitivity to its time period. Depending on the era, this may mean rehabilitating it as a utilitarian workspace (at least in form if not function). If extra space is needed, it is best to avoid expanding into a formal room of the house, so as to avoid significant alterations to the historic footprint, and consider expanding into an existing pantry or mudroom, or consider a sympathetic addition, as suggested by CJ Hurley Century Arts. If permanent features need to be replaced, remember to replace in-kind. Also, if you need to update plumbing and electric, refer to our post on bathrooms for similar information. 

Creating a new kitchen (period appropriate or not). Given kitchens’ vulnerability to trends, there is a greater likelihood that if you want a period kitchen you will have to create – or recreate – one. As Hanson notes (p. 130), consider first the interior elements of the home that represent its general age and style; if the more formal rooms differ from the less formal rooms, consider that the kitchen should emulate the less formal rooms, as would have been the case in much older homes.  

The next decision to make is whether you want to have a period appropriate kitchen or not. To achieve a period feel (with modern innovations), Hanson (p. 130-131) recommends a “hybrid approach” including modern pieces of furniture but excluding continuous built-in counter tops throughout the room, and also consider incorporating a period-appropriate pantry. it’s also beneficial to consider appliances and utensils that are period-appropriate and are either antique, reproduction, or modified (e.g., a historic-looking cabinet hiding a modern refrigerator).  Reference quality resources to emulate a true period feel. It is essential to reference good resources for a period kitchen. Access to primary sources are more abundant today with the internet, and you can find thousands of period kitchen images on the Library of Congress site, as well as in copies of housekeeping books from bygone eras (which often include plans for kitchens and pantries). Historic house museums can also offer primary source inspiration. Quality secondary sources include books like Restoring Your Historic Houseand websites like Old House Online and Period Homes.

Hanson (p. 133) adds that kitchens (and baths) are rooms where you may ignore the home’s “period of significance” and still evoke a period feel, simply due to the fact that what is historic to us in a kitchen (or bathroom) was a modern update in the history of the house. If the house was never updated with a modern kitchen, you may use an educated guess as to what might have been added, utilizing knowledge of the evolution of kitchens and choosing a time when one would likely have been incorporated. 

Consideration of cabinetry used is also important. Custom-work tends to look more authentic, but is expensive. Hanson (p. 134) notes that a good design can make modular cabinets look custom. When installing these things, Hanson (p. 135) also recommends making sure measurement is accurate, as he states that corners are “often out of square” and floors may not be level. Having the store, kitchen center, or other professional do the measuring for you will decrease likelihood of incurred expenses if you measure incorrectly yourself. 

Consider adjustments when marrying old with new. For example, old windows may be too low to accommodate the typical built-in cabinets and counter tops; a solution to this issue is to allow a window well behind a counter top to accommodate the window, or build custom cabinets below the window level.  Hanson (p. 135) adds that modern cabinets and counter tops’ standard sizes may not match that of historical ones, and adjustments may need to be made to give them a period feel. 

 

IN SUMMARY: 

Kitchens have come a long way over the centuries, evolving from smokey, smelly, utilitarian spaces that also served to separate different classes of people, to clean, modern showpieces that are the hub of homes regardless of socioeconomic status. Even with modern sensibilities and trends, period kitchens deserve special consideration in period homes, and fortunately the old can be married with the new while maintaining an appropriate period feel. 

 

For further resources and reading: 

  • For restoring or creating a period appropriate (or not) bathroom in your historic home, we recommend these books: Restoring Old Houses by Nigel Hutchins, and Restoring Your Historic House by Scott T. Hanson
  • For buying reproduction appliances or restoring originals: this site, and these sites.
  • For more information regarding historic foodways or to get involved with workshops in our region: this site and this site

 

In case you missed it, check out our similar post on another vulnerable room in historic homes: THE BATHROOM.

 

 

There are a variety of tasks that can be done on a regular basis to extend the life of a porch. In addition, a visual inspection of the porch should be made every spring and fall to determine if more in-depth repairs are necessary. Fortunately, ongoing maintenance significantly reduces both the need and cost for later repair work and represents good preservation practice. When properly maintained, a well-constructed porch can last for decades.

Routine Cleaning and Other Surface Work

Since many porches are essentially another living space, extending housekeeping to this space makes practical sense. Regular maintenance includes sweeping the wood porch decking, and, if needed, an occasional damp mopping. Removing dirt and leaves by sweeping is preferable to frequent hosing off the deck with water. The latter can saturate the woodwork, thereby promoting decay. Frequent sweeping will reduce the accumulation of abrasive materials, such as dirt and sand. While visually pleasing to some, vines and plants should be kept trimmed away and not be trained to grow onto or allowed to grow beneath porches. Plants and vines unfortunately reduce ventilation, promote a moist environment for insects and decay, accelerate open wood joints and impede cyclical maintenance. As an alternative, traditional freestanding trellises can be used to support plant growth away from the porch.

There are certain precautions that are recommended for wood floors. Rubber mats, rugs or indoor/outdoor carpeting can trap moisture and condensation on their underneath side and should not be used on a wooden porch floor. Keeping flower pots up off the wooden deck will help prevent moisture buildup and decayed spots – wood, clay or metal “trivets” that hold the pots an inch or more off the wooden deck are helpful, but the pots should be moved to different locations periodically. In colder climates, light snow can be swept off the porch. Snow shovels with a hard rubber leading edge or plastic shovels cause less damage to wood than metal, while paint in good condition helps ice to release more easily. Sand or clean kitty litter can be sprinkled on ice to prevent slipping; however, they should be later swept off the porch, as they are abrasive. Salt (sodium chloride) is not recommended for ice removal on older porches as it can promote corrosion and failure of nails and other fasteners. Magnesium chloride is an alternate de-icing salt that is less corrosive and less damaging to masonry and plants. If any de-icing salt is used, be sure to scrub and rinse off the porch deck in the spring. Boot scrapers and brush-mats at the bottom of the stairs are recommended for muddy areas.

Painting

45-painting-porch

Decay can start when wood is left exposed to the weather or where joints open up. An inexpensive way to extend the life of the existing porch paint without jeopardizing the historic material is spot paint and caulk where needed every year or two. This cost-effective procedure is particularly effective in maintaining wood porches where the exposure to weathering is high. Photo: John Leeke.

Spot painting and resealing of open joints should be undertaken at least every other year. Heavily used stair treads may require more frequent paint touchup. When peeling paint or bare wood is evident, inspect to ensure it is not signaling deeper problems, such as decay. With sound wood, scrape off the loose paint, sand, prime, and repaint the area. Where lead paint is present, appropriate lead hazard precautions and procedures apply. Only top-quality exterior primers and paints are recommended, selecting for the deck and stairs specially formulated paints. Where wood porch steps are exposed to moisture, grit added to the wet paint during application will help improve safety.

Repair

Many repairs may be successfully undertaken by property owners, while major projects often require the special knowledge and equipment of an experienced contractor. Repairs generally include patching and reinforcement of historic materials. The roof and foundation are particularly important to the preservation and the structure of a historic porch yet they often receive much less attention than ornamental features. Their neglect will usually lead to more costly work. Repairs to features such as a balustrade or flooring can encompass limited replacement in kind when the porch part is severely deteriorated or when a part of a repeated feature is missing altogether. Some common porch repairs are discussed in this section.

Filling Open Cracks or Joints

To seal open cracks or joints, start by scraping off the paint back a few inches from the opening and removing old caulk to expose bare wood. The opening should be examined for any signs of wood decay, and to determine if the joint is loose due to a loss of connection, such as rusted nails. After correcting any problems, apply a water-repellant wood preservative that can be painted. Such preservatives are either an oil-based or waterborne solution of oils or waxes with mildewcide, fungicide and pesticide added. Then apply a high quality exterior wood primer to the wood surfaces where a sealant or caulk is to be used. Most open cracks or joints then can be filled with a sealant or caulk, while larger ones may need the addition of a backer rod. In some cases, small metal flashing over the crack or open joint may be more effective and longer lasting but, when used, care should be taken with proper installation. The final step is painting.

Patching with a Dutchman Repair

end

The ends of porch roof rafters are often susceptible to moisture decay. When concealed by a soffit or ceiling, rafters can be repaired by adding new sister boards. Where roof rafter ends are exposed, splicing new wood onto the old (dutchman repair) and use of epoxy consolidants and fillers both preserve sound historic fabric while retaining the historic appearance. Photo: Paul Marlowe, Marlowe Restorations.

This traditional technique is often used to repair localized cases of decayed wood and, when undertaken with skill and care, will serve as a permanent repair. If the damaged area has a structural function, temporary bracing or other support will be necessary. Otherwise the first step after removing any paint around the damaged area is to chisel or mechanically remove the decayed wood. It is best to use the same type of wood being replaced and the new or recycled wood should be seasoned to avoid shrinkage. The repair procedure involves cutting a piece of wood, called a dutchman, slightly larger than the area of damage that has been cut out. The dutchman then is laid over the damaged area and an outline scribed into the original wood surface below. Next, a chisel or router is used to follow the scribed line to form an opening in the existing wood for the new piece. As a preventive measure, an appropriate fungicide should be applied to the surrounding old wood and allowed to dry. The dutchman is then glued into place with waterproof adhesive, such as an epoxy formulated for wood. The repair is finished by trimming or sanding the surface of the new wood down flush with the surrounding existing surfaces, priming and painting.

 

Patching with Epoxy or Wood Fillers

There are a variety of commercial wood fillers. Cellulose based fillers consist of wood fiber and a binder and have been available in stores for many years. Only those suitable for exterior applications should be used and they will require a protective finish. Epoxies are a more contemporary product, commonly used by experienced contractors and woodworkers. Epoxies are petroleum-based resins created by mixing two components in accurate proportions that result in a chemical reaction. The result is durable, moisture-resistant consolidants and fillers that bonds tenaciously with wood, and can be sawn, nailed or sanded. Epoxies are for use only in areas that will be painted, as they do not take stain and deteriorate under sunlight. Since epoxies are more difficult to work with than other wood fillers, experience working with epoxies is needed for successful repairs.

Repairing Railings and Balustrades

Balustrades and railings are not only practical and safety features, they typically are highly visible decorative elements. Unfortunately, balustrades and balusters are frequently altered, covered, removed or completely replaced even though in most cases they can be repaired in a cost-effective manner. To preserve historic fabric, the repair of old balustrades and railings is always the preferred approach. A broken baluster usually is one in need of repair, not replacement.

Loose railings and balustrades present unsafe conditions and need to be repaired as soon as possible. Start by examining the points of attachment to determine exactly why the railing or balustrade is loose. Common reasons include rusted fasteners, decayed wood, or physical stress that has broken the fasteners or split the wood. Paint and decayed wood must be removed. Where fasteners are broken yet the wood is sound, the balustrade can be re-fastened using hot-dipped galvanized or stainless steel nails or screws, setting the heads of the fasteners below the surface of the wood and using a wood filler to cover and seal. Next repair deteriorated wood by using a dutchman or wood-epoxy repair. The repaired joints then can be sealed and painted.

Replacing Missing Balusters

The balusters help comprise a wood balustrade and come in three general styles: simple rectangular shape; flat, pattern-sawn (usually a board with some decorative edge or cutout); and turned. It may be necessary to replace certain balusters that are beyond repair or missing altogether. Some are easy to replace with new matching balusters while others can be more challenging in terms of both design and costs. Finding or affording replacement balusters may take time since they should match the historic baluster as closely as possible. In the meantime, unsafe balustrades can be temporarily stabilized, introducing temporary new material that soon will be replaced.

In replacing individual balusters, simple, rectangular balusters should not be replaced with pattern-sawn or turned ones unless physical or pictorial evidence survives which indicate they previously existed historically on that particular porch. Such an alteration can change the historic appearance of the porch or be incompatible with the character of the building.

Determine the size and shape of the missing balusters either by examining adjacent ones or temporarily removing an existing baluster as a sample. Heavy paint buildup should be removed so that the original dimension can be established. Scrape and clean the joint locations and make repairs to any deteriorated areas. A new baluster is then fabricated to match the original in design and material, either on site or by taking a drawing or sample to a local woodworking shop. The new baluster should be made one-half inch longer than needed on both ends. Measurements are taken from the bottom surface of the top rail to top surface of the bottom rail. Joints on the new baluster can be laid out with a pencil, using a sliding bevel to transfer any angles, and the new baluster trimmed to fit with a handsaw. After test fitting, the ends and any exposed end-grain of the baluster need to be sealed with a high-grade primer or epoxy. Next, apply a paintable water-repellant coating to all exposed wood surfaces, and apply a primer. The baluster can then be fastened in place with hot-dipped galvanized or stainless steel nails, and the nails set. Finally, seal joints and fastener holes and paint the baluster.

Repairing Column Plinths and Bases

column-both

This nineteenth century porch column is made of wood staves, similar to the way a wood barrel is put together. After replacing the torus and making dutchman repairs to the apophyge along the base, the column and pedestal are ready to be reinstalled on the porch. Photos: NPS files.

Columns not only enrich the historic character of the porch, they provide support for the roof structure above. Because of their detail and complex construction they can be costly to repair or replace, making maintenance and minor repairs important. Column plinths and bases tend to deteriorate because of their exposed location on the outer edge of a porch. Leaking gutters can result in water draining into the entablature and down into hollow columns, while clogged or capped gutters can allow water to pour down and splash back onto the column bases. Open joints and limited wood decay can be repaired using methods previously discussed. Column repairs usually are undertaken by an experienced carpenter, since it may involve structural support of the roof above.

Repairing Floorboards and Ceiling Boards

Floors should slope down toward the outer porch edge for proper drainage. If drainage is inadequate, moisture buildup will cause deterioration of the floorboards. Flooring can also deteriorate due to movement in the supporting structure below. If a floorboard is soft or broken, the extent of decayed or split wood can be determined by probing gently with an awl. The existing floorboard can then be removed, cutting the length if needed so that the end will center on the next nearest joist or girder. Once the board has been removed, the structural framing beneath should be examined for deterioration and to ensure it is sound. A new floorboard is then cut to length, and the outer edge shaped to match the adjacent boards. After priming the replacement board, nail it in place and repaint.

If a section of the ceiling is deteriorating, it is likely that there is a roof or gutter problem. To determine the cause of deterioration, inspect the ceiling, gutters and roof, including the internal roof structure. After making necessary repairs, the ceiling boards can be repaired in much the same manner as a deteriorated floorboard.

Repairing the Porch Roof and Gutters

With roof leaks, the entire porch is at risk. Leaks can promote decay in roof rafters, ceiling joists, and columns as well as in areas more easily to detect such as the ceiling and fascia. Inspect the roof covering, gutters and flashing for deterioration and improper performance. They can then be repaired or replaced, as needed, to keep water out of the structure. Avoid having the gutters and downspouts on the main roof drain onto a porch roof.

Repairing the Foundation

Unstable foundation supports can cause serious damage to a historic porch. There are numerous causes and solutions. If the posts supporting the porch deck rest on stones or brick set directly on the ground, there can be seasonal shifts due to the changing moisture content of the soil or freeze/thaw conditions that will require regular attention. Under certain conditions, it may be advisable to extend footings for the posts below the frost line. Where moisture problems exist, improved drainage may be necessary. It is not uncommon to find that masonry joints in the foundation wall or piers have deteriorated as a result of rising damp, where moisture from the soil percolates up through mortar joints. This condition may lead to the eventual breakdown of the mortar and even old brick and soft stone. In such cases, it will be necessary to replace the areas of damaged masonry and repoint the mortar joints.

With wooden posts, insect damage or rot may necessitate corrective measures to strengthen the foundation. Techniques can include one or more of the following: epoxy consolidation; dutchman repair; or the addition of supplemental supports to the foundation posts and joists. In some cases damage may be extensive enough that the only real solution is rebuilding the foundation.

Repairing a Porch Apron

The apron, skirt, or latticework is a highly visible and functional porch feature. An apron keeps animals out from under the porch, while at the same time allowing air to circulate, preventing unwanted moisture buildup. Aprons typically are made up of a wood frame, surrounding either a simple lattice or a repetitive pattern of decorative sawn boards. Because the frame is so close to the ground, decay is common. Other causes of decay include plantings around the house that are growing too close to the latticework and improper water drainage. An apron may require partial or complete disassembly for proper repair. One or more of the apron frames should either be hinged or secured with turn buttons for easy access to under a porch for inspection and maintenance.

Replacement

When individual porch parts are deteriorated beyond the point of repair or missing altogether, replacement is necessary. To retain the historic character of the porch, the replacement parts should match the historic component as closely as possible in material, design, color, texture, and other qualities. To achieve this, existing evidence of the historic design, such as a baluster or column detail, or a tongue and groove floor design, should serve as a pattern for the replacement part. When replacing an element, it may provide a good opportunity to upgrade the wood to another species that is more decay resistant, or to one with a vertical grain that is more resistant to cupping or splintering. In limited cases, it may be appropriate to use a substitute material for the replacement material as long as it conveys a close visual match. Before replacing a deteriorated historic porch component, it is important to understand how it was constructed and installed, and what lead to its deterioration. If the replacement part does not sufficiently match the historic part, the character of the porch may be diminished, or even lost. If the cause of material failure is not addressed, the replacement will also fail.

Replacing Porch Floorboards

If a large section of the porch floorboards is deteriorated, the framing beneath may also be damaged and should be assessed. Replacing floorboards can often expand into repairing the structural sills, girders, and joists beneath. Complete floor replacement will likely require the removal of floorboards that are under structural posts or columns. This may necessitate the careful stabilizing in place or the removal of the posts or columns and the installation of temporary support for the roof structure. If the floor failure was caused by inferior wood, the wood quality can be improved at this time. However, the new wood flooring should match the existing in thickness, width, shape and texture. The slope of the floor should be maintained, or a slope may need to be created if none exists. A slope of ¼ inch per foot or greater, away from the house, is needed for adequate drainage. Boards are usually laid in the direction of the slope, sloping down to the outer edge of the floor.

Replacing Steps

Porch stairs receive heavy usage and are close to the ground, making them predictable candidates for deterioration. Stairs should be repaired or, if necessary, replaced by an experienced carpenter who understands the safety codes and is experienced in fabricating custom stair parts to match original detailing without depending only on store-bought parts.

shaft

The lower shaft of the porch columns had decayed as water wicked up through the end grain (top). The column shafts were repaired in place by cutting out the deteriorated wood and making repairs using epoxy consolidants and fillers. (bottom). The column bases were replaced. Photos: Paul Marlowe, Marlowe Restorations.

Replacing Column Plinths and Bases or Entire Columns

When plinths and bases are deteriorated beyond repair, they can be replaced without replacing the column shaft, which may still be in good condition or require only minor repairs at the bottom. Such replacement will involve temporary shoring for the roof. One-story columns and shafts are often more easily removed during this work, while taller columns are sometimes supported in place. If only a few plinths or bases are deteriorated, it is often economical to have new ones made of wood to match. If numerous plinths and bases are deteriorated, replacing with bases made of rot-resistant materials can make economic sense; however, care must be taken to ensure that all the visual qualities including design, size, shape, color and texture of the historic part are matched.

Entire columns may need to be replaced, but an owner should first consider all repair alternatives. Some contractors routinely recommend complete replacement of one or all columns due to the challenge of a clean repair (particularly with stave-built columns), or because they see the potential for more profit in complete replacement. If a contractor recommends complete replacement, other opinions should be sought to ensure repair is truly not feasible. Preserving the historic appearance of old columns is not the same as preserving historic columns.

Where a replacement turned or staved column is needed, a local millwork may be able to match the profile or pattern. Alternatively, the Internet is helpful in identifying potential sources of replacement columns that can match the appearance of the remaining ones.

wood

Replacement Materials

Wood

When selective replacement is necessary, the key to success is the selection of suitable wood. Dimensional stability, decay resistance and paint holding ability are wood characteristics that effect durability. Wood that expands and shrinks too much can cause paint to crack. Substances found naturally in certain kinds of wood repel fungi and insects that destroy wood. Selecting wood that is relatively stable and naturally decay resistant helps avoid problems.

The wood from trees cut one and two centuries ago was much different than most wood available today. The mature trees in older forests grew very slowly and, as a result, the annual growth rings were very close together. Today, trees grown by commercial companies for their lumber are fast growing so they can be harvested sooner. As a result, commercially farmed trees have annual growth rings much further apart, resulting in the cut lumber being less strong and decay resistant than older timber. These differences in quality are one of the reasons it makes sense to save old wood when possible.

Wood Selection: When choosing wood for repair and replacement work, the species, grade, grain and environmental impacts should be taken into consideration. This is especially applicable to historic porches because of their high exposure to the weather and vulnerability to decay. The best species are those with good natural resistance to decay, such as redwood, cypress, cedar or fir. A clear (knot free) grade of wood is best; however, if clear wood is not readily available or too expensive, a grade with small or tight knots is acceptable. Finally, the use of more stable vertical grain lumber is preferable to flat grain boards. Vertical grain lumber expands and contracts less with changes in moisture content, resulting in reduce warping and checks. Paint thus will hold better. The downside to using vertical grain boards is the cost, which tends to be as much as two to three times the price of flat grain lumber in the same grade and species. However, this expense is typically recovered through lower maintenance costs over the years. Thus, a decay-resistant, high-grade, vertical grain lumber is the best choice for the replacement of deteriorated porch elements, particularly flooring, stairs and milled elements such as balusters and moldings.

The best species to choose will vary depending on the region the house is located. For example, in the South, cypress is more available, making it the selection of choice in the region. Because of this wood’s relative ease with which a carpenter can shape it, cypress is a good choice for replacing brackets and trim boards on a porch. In contrast, vertical grain Douglas fir is less workable, but is a very good choice for the replacement of porch floorboards in most climates. Although Douglas fir is from the Northwest, it is generally available throughout the country. For most protected trim boards on porches, white pine is a good choice as it is easy to work and is moderately decay resistant, especially if the wood is back-primed before installation. Availability of any specific wood will change annually based on market supply and demand.

Chemically Treated Wood: Chemical wood preservative treatments are available to resist insect and fungal attack, but care should be taken to avoid using ones that may cause environmental or health risks. Borate preservatives can be applied to surfaces or injected to penetrate and protect the entire volume of the wood. Preservatives with zinc napthenate can be applied to the wood surface, where necessary, especially to protect hidden joinery and the end grains of wood. Water-repellants can also be used to help seal out moisture. Finally, primers and paints should be applied to both protect the wood and to maintain the historic character of the porch. Note that these treatments are different than those used on most pressure-treated wood, which is typically a plantation-grown southern pine of lower quality that is impregnated with chemicals. Pressure-treated lumber can be effective when used for hidden structural members like posts, joists and sills. However, because typical pressure-treated wood is very susceptible to the deterioration of checks, warping and splitting, especially when left unpainted, it is not a good substitute for the better quality wood that is needed for visible finish porch parts.

 

Stock Components

For over a century, prefabricated architectural parts have been sold through catalogues or at home improvement stores. Some companies still make generic, stock architectural components in the same general sizes and designs as those that were first manufactured. These components can be available in both wood and substitute materials. Thus, it may be possible to replace a historic stock component, such as an architectural grade column, with a new prefabricated column that matches the original. Unfortunately, these replacement parts are not designed to match the historic parts of any particular porch. Because traditionally there were many different porch elements, a wide range of styles and considerable regional variations, stock replacement parts available today are not often found to match what is needed in a specific porch repair project. When faced with deterioration of a few porch parts, all the historic material should not be removed in favor of a readily available stock design that does not match the historic appearance. The expressed goal may be to create a porch with a “consistent look,” but this approach diminishes the building’s historic character and authenticity.

Plastic and Composites

A variety of modern materials are marketed today as a substitute for wood. They are usually composite materials typically in the form of plastic resins, including vinyl (PVC), fiber-reinforced polymers and polyester resin. There are other products on the market as well, including medium density wood fiberboard and composite fiber-cement boards. The market is ever changing with the introduction of new synthetic materials and the re-formulation of existing ones. The more costly synthetic products tend to offer the best potential for matching historic features while offering good durability. This means that potential cost savings over new wood tends to be more long term than immediate. Such products generally are not carried in local home improvement stores but rather are available from building supply companies or direct through catalog sales.

The historical significance of a particular property and its porch influences decisions regarding possible use of substitute materials. In general, greater emphasis is placed on authenticity and material integrity when maintaining and repairing individually significant historic properties. However, a front porch that is repeated on rowhouses may be one of the defining characteristics of the historic district and thus of importance to the entire streetscape. So, too, can the location and appearance of a porch influence material decisions, as with, for example, a prominent front porch with ornate detailing as opposed to a small porch over a rear door.

Thus, when the historic porch contributes to the historic character of a building, the particular substitute material that is being considered should accurately match the appearance of the wooden feature being replaced. Composite materials that can be routed or shaped in the field to match specific pieces being replaced have greater potential for use in repairing a historic porch. Materials that cannot be shaped to match the visual appearance of the historic pieces being replaced usually are not suitable for use on historic buildings.

Substitute materials need to be finished to match the appearance of the historic elements being replaced. In nearly all cases, this means that the material should be painted, or where historically appropriate, stained as with some porch ceilings. While there are substitute materials being marketed as pre-finished with either a plain flat surface or generic wood-grain texture, select those that can be painted or stained in the field.

When a substitute material is to be used in conjunction with existing or new wood material, it is important to consider the differences in expansion and contraction due to temperature and moisture changes. Before making a decision, it is also important to understand how a particular substitute material will age, what its maintenance requirements are, and how the material will deteriorate. For example, sunlight can break down exposed surfaces of plastic resins, so painting the surfaces is needed just as with wood. Low and medium density plastic foam parts are easily damaged by abrasion and physical damage, exposing the interior foam to weathering.

Wood porches are just that, porches made out of wood, just as a brick houses are made of brick and cast-iron porches are made of cast-iron. The type of materials used historically in the construction of a building helps define its character. Limited use of substitute materials that closely match missing or deteriorated features may not endanger this historic character, but wholesale replacement with substitute materials usually will.

 

Considerations for Contemporary Alterations

Enclosures

A porch

This old porch enclosure, located on the back side of a house, has acquired significance over time and is remarkable both in the appropriateness of its detailing for use by others today, as well as its high degree of maintenance. The enclosure is set behind the columns; the balustrade has been retained; and the light divisions and the size of the glass panes echo that of the windows above. Within each bay there are two well-crafted, inward swinging doors, providing for greater seasonal use of the porch. Photos: Charles Fisher.

Much of the character of a historic open porch is clearly its openness. Therefore, in most cases, a historic open porch should not be enclosed. If a porch enclosure is being considered, its significance and location—as well as the nature of the planned enclosure—play key roles in whether it can be done without changing the porch’s and building’s historic character. While it is almost never appropriate to enclose a front porch on a historic building to create interior space, enclosing a less prominent porch on a less visible elevation could have less impact. In addition, an enclosure should retain as many of the historic porch features as possible.

Insect Screening and Awnings

Traditionally, the seasonal use of porches was extended with screens and awnings. Screened porches have been popular since the advent of inexpensive and durable wire insect screening in late 1800s. Screens were often set unobtrusively behind railings and columns so the decorative components of the porch remained prominent and visible. Since screens can be damaged easily, the screening material was often set in slender, easy to repair, removable wood frames that could be installed during the warmer months, and stored in the winter. When screening a porch today, this historic precedent is recommended. Screened panels should have minimal wood framework painted either to match the porch or in a darker color to make the framing less visible. Decisions on whether screens should be installed inside the porch railings and posts, between the posts, or on the outside will depend on local traditions and on the design of the porch and trim. Screen doors on porches should be sized to fit proportionately with the porch, made of wood, and hung to swing out so insects are not brought inside with use.

Awnings, drop curtains, and valances were common porch accessories during the nineteenth and well into the twentieth centuries. Both functional and decorative, these canvas features helped shield porches from the sun’s direct rays, while their colorful stripes embellished and complemented the house’s exterior. Some awnings were fixed in place; others were of a roller assembly that allowed owners to easily lower or retract the awning, depending on weather conditions.

Today, modern solution-dyed acrylic fabrics—materials that resemble, but are more durable than canvas—are often used on porch awnings and drop curtains. When new awnings are installed on a historic porch, the selected awning should be appropriate in shape, material, size and color. Care should be used not to damage existing historic porch features such as columns or cornices.

Temporary Enclosures

Temporary enclosures allow a porch to be used in colder months while not permanently altering its appearance. In fact some have become historic features of buildings. Particularly in New England, there is a continuing tradition of installing relatively substantial glass and wood panels on porches during the winter, especially around an entrance door. These tended to have small divided lights. Sometimes porches were fully enclosed with a divided light glass door for entry, creating an enclosed vestibule that reduced the amount of cold air entering the house when the door was opened. Others consisted of simple sidewalls perpendicular to an existing entrance door, serving as a windbreak. Such enclosures were generally removed in the spring.

In recent years, some porches have been enclosed during the winter with plastic sheeting (polyvinyl) for perceived energy conservation or for creation of an enclosed space. Such a treatment generally diminishes a building’s historic character and is not recommended for highly visible porches.

oldporch

Particularly in New England, there is a cold weather tradition of installing temporary glass and wood panels at entrance doors, thereby creating an enclosed vestibule. These enclosures with their small divided lights were generally removed in the spring. Photo: John Leeke.

New Permanent Enclosures

Enclosure of a historic porch can result in significant changes in the appearance and character of the building. When considering the possible enclosure of a porch, a number of questions and concerns should be successfully addressed.

Is the porch on a significant elevation of the building? A porch on a prominent elevation was there to be seen and its open qualities are visually important. Enclosing such a space should be avoided.

aoldporch

The enclosure of a prominent porch can dramatically change the historic character of a building. The L-shaped porch on this 1896 Shingle-style New England residence was later enclosed with aluminum windows and screens. Recent owners elected to reopen the historic porch. Among the other work, it was necessary to correct structural damage, as with this post, where beneath the wood casing carpenter ants had done serious damage. In reopening the porch, the historic character of the residence has been brought back and the traditional use of the porch is once again enjoyed. Photos: Mark Landry, Landmark Services.

Is the enclosure necessary?An enclosure will undoubtedly change the porch as a historic feature and may result in damage or loss of historic materials. Depending on the significance of the porch and the nature of the building, a new porch enclosure may also change the historic character of the building. Consideration should be given to alternate solutions such as recapturing underutilized space in an attic or basement .

Is the porch a highly distinctive feature of the building? Even porches on secondary and rear elevations can be distinctive, such as a two-story porch on the side ell of a farmhouse. Porches ornamented with decorative trim that embellishes the house can also be distinctive. Enclosing these features should also be avoided whenever possible.

Is the porch a feature repeated on a row of buildings in a historic district?Open front porches on a block of row houses can be not only important to an individual building but can also make up a significant feature of the streetscape. Enclosing such a porch usually is inappropriate even if a porch on an adjacent building already has been enclosed.

Will the proposed enclosure encompass the entire porch? History has shown that the enclosure of a portion of a porch on a secondary elevation does not always alter the character of a building. In the past as indoor plumbing was introduced to old buildings, the partial enclosure of a one or two-story porch on a secondary elevation was a convenient means of providing new bathroom space while limiting disruption to the building’s interior. Since early bathrooms were traditionally small in size, most of the existing porch could be retained as open space. It was common to create new walls set either between columns or behind them, since the columns usually served a structural as well as decorative purpose. Where sleeping porches with full-length louver shutters were present, the new wall could simply be set behind and the shutters retained and fixed in place. In both cases the resulting effect minimized the impact of the partial enclosure on the appearance of the building. This also provides us with an approach that may be appropriate for a particular project today.

Will the enclosure result in the loss of considerable historic fabric? Unless the historic porch is so deteriorated that it is beyond repair, any consideration of enclosing all or part of a porch should incorporate retention of historic fabric. This may mean that the existing structural system needs to be augmented but generally not replaced. Distinctive features such as columns, brackets and balustrades should be retained and the new wall set behind them.

Is the foundation adequate for the enclosure of the porch and the new use of the space? Porches were often built on simple posts or piers, some with only minimum footings. Such structural supports may be inadequate to carry the added load of the proposed changes and the typical low space beneath a first floor porch may make installing a new porch foundation difficult and expensive. Such installations may result also in an extensive loss of historic fabric.

How will the proposed enclosure be viewed from the outside once the interior space is furnished? One of the approaches to enclosing a porch is to utilize near full glazing set behind existing columns in an attempt to retain a feeling of transparency. Whether such a treatment is successful depends on how it will look once it is constructed and how will the appearance on the outside be impacted by interior lighting, mechanical systems and furnishings. The traditional use of plantings and porch awnings for shade also provided extended privacy. If historically appropriate, an existing or new awning and plantings may help to reduce the impact of a porch enclosure on a secondary but visible elevation.

45-glass-enclosure

A traditional technique of porch enclosures still used today involves the insertion in each column bay of one or more glass enclosures set in wood frames . This enclosure is properly set back an entire porch bay from the front of the house and utilizes traditional light divisions and wood frames. The balustrade, added here for illustration purposes, shows the importance of retaining this linear feature within the enclosed bays. Photo: Charles Fisher.

Is the design of the proposed porch enclosure in keeping with the historic character of the building? Where the enclosure of all or part of a historic porch is appropriate, the selection of a compatible design and materials is important. Windows, doors, and wall material selection, along with how the new infill fits within the existing porch, are all factors to consider. A traditional technique of porch enclosures still used today involves the insertion in each column bay of one or more glass enclosures set in wood frames. The enclosures are located between or behind the columns, depending upon the nature of the porch, and mimic the pattern or size of glass panes found in historic windows on the building (Figure 15). An alternate treatment involves the use of much larger sheets of clear, non-reflective glass recessed behind the porch supports, balustrade and railing. This more contemporary treatment may be appropriate, depending upon the historic character of the building, location of the porch, and other factors. Windows, doors, and wall material selection, along with how the new infill fits within the existing porch, are all factors to consider.


 

A number of years ago, we had the very fortunate luck to be given the opportunity to completely restore the Denn House in southern New Jersey.  Below is the story of how that restoration happened, excerpted from Lois Groshong’s book, “2001 Restoration of a Southern New Jersey Colonial”.

Be sure to check out the pictures at the end of the article that we took just this month of how the Denn House looks today, and the pictures of other Patterned Brick houses in Salem County, New Jersey.

 

INTRODUCTION

Built as a private home in 1725, (the John Maddox Denn house is) two stories with the front entrance facing Alloway Creek.

English Quakers founded in the town, known as Salem, in 1675 as their “New Paradise in the Providence of West Jersey” has much history.  The Dutch, under Captain Mey, explored the area, as wella s the English in the 1630’s, experimenting with growing tobacco.  Swedes and Finns began arriving in 1638, landing in the New World of what is now Wilmington, Delaware.  For twelve years, Salem was a military post of Sweden.

A Chandler form the parish of St. Sepulche in London, John Maddox and his family arrived in Salem aboard the ship “Surry” in 1578 and purchased one half of William Hancock’s allotment of ground.  The grandson, John Maddow Denn, born in 1693, built the home that we see today, a charming remembrance to England in the days of Cromwell and Charles the Second.  Surrounded by towering Spirea Plants, well-kept lawns, and beautiful shrubbery, the old John Maddox Denn house is without a doubt one of the show places of Fenwick’s old Colony.  It sits along the south bank of the Monmouth River on the road, which leads from Hancock’s Bridge.  Like its neighbors on the same road, the Denn property heard the thunder of Major John Graves Simcoe’s Rangers the morning of March 21, 1778.  William Hancock was a Loyalist to the King, yet the English Calvary had wounded him and massacred the Colonials who had sought shelter in the Hancock House.  The Denn house was put to use as a field hospital.  This house is registered in the library of Congress as a National Historic Site

 

Denn House Before Photos:
historic restoration colonial architecture historic architecture historic building restorations Denn House Historic Denn House Restoration of Denn House

 

Restoring the Windows

White Oak Denn HouseA load of White Oak was purchased from an antique wood dealer.  Raw material taken from an old building that had been demolished, 3’x8′ beams that ranged in length from three to sixteen feet.

January 13, 2001, Chuck and Lois take a Saturday trip to remove existing windows.  Halfway through the process the wind picks up and snow flurries begin.  “Press On” was the decision; all windows were disposed and openings boarded up before nightfall.

To begin the process of transformation the wood is run on the planer, making all the sides straight and smooth.  Sections are measured, cut and set aside.  Cracks and imperfections are filled “Bondo” and sanded smooth to the touch.  Next the ends are mortised or tendoned, depending on if it is a vertical or horizontal section of the window frame.  Side jambs are tendoned to fit the head and sill mortise.  The pieces are sized and glued together.  Historic Restorations also uses steel clamps to insure that the fit is square and tight as it can be.  Clamps are kept on for 24 hours; there will be no movement that can be detected in any unit.  After the window frames are all together, an oil base primer is applied to all surfaces to seal the wood; this is also an effective method to prepare for the finish coat to be applied on site.

Sash size varies because the window openings are all different.  There are five twelve-over-eight windows on the first floor, three eight-over-eight and three twelve-over-eight windows on the second floor.  Old glass is purchased for the “new” old windows.  Each pane is measured, cut, and glazed to fit each section of sash.  The effect is complete; newly made window frames and sash complement the 276-year-old house.

 

Working on the Walls and Ceilings

The walls are covered with paint, layers of wallpaper and plaster.  The ceilings are covered by plasterboard, resembling a seven and one-half foot modern flat ceiling.  Upon removing the added-on coverings, the walls revealed the original brick, badly deteriorated from years of settling and time had weakened portions of the interior structure.  A 12″x15″ Chestnut Summer Beam spans the length of each room, with the joist system for the second floor 5″x4.5″, at right angles.  Originally these exposed rafters were white washed; the lye used in the white wash prevented infection of insects as well as supplying a finished look for the wood.

Our next project was to strengthen the walls in the two rooms on the first floor.  Old brick was carefully taken out and relayed in an interlocked pattern, three deep, modeled from existing brickwork.  This was similar to putting a giant jigsaw puzzle together.  Concrete lintels have been installed above the doors and window.  Wire mesh is nailed to exposed brick to prepare for a new layer of fresh plaster.

Woodwork in Denn House antique pine in Denn House

Main Room Stairway

In the artisan woodworking shop of Historic Restorations a staircase made from Poplar for risers and antique Pine as treads is made ready.  The staircase that had been taken out was not original.  That stairway had narrow treads and curved away from the room.  The handrail system was square posts and a Bullnose on the bottom tread.  Chuck has determined that originally the stairs were a straight run between the fireplace and a door that opened into the room from the hallway.  Paneling made in the Historic Restorations shop from Poplar was stained and included in the delivery.  Jonathan has found evidence of paneling as being part of the earliest home decor.  Custom paneling will be used in the more formal first floor room.  A Colonial handrail is purchased to be taken apart and fit into the stair and rail system.

Main Room Stairway
ick Work and History
Historic RestorationsDenn House Restoration and Preservation

 

Br

The John Maddox Denn House is a splendid examples of the English homes of the Cromwell Period.  The east wall is covered with a diamond diaper of only three diamonds wide, but covering twenty-three courses from point-to-point.  The largest such figure of any known American or English house.  The date of 1725 begins several courses below the eaves level.  The 4-course brickwork in this wall is the first time that numerals of different sizes were used in a date.

The history of the unusual brick work found on the walls of some of Salem County’s old homes begins as far into the past as Boos Manor, Rouen, France with a small brick dove cote or pigeon house.  Built early in the fifteenth century, these dovecotes were decorated with the diaper or diamond designs seen today on Salem County houses.  Flemish-Norman artisans introduced the design into England in the fifteenth century.  Ornamental brickwork, on the overall pattern of the house and diaper design are two examples from France.  The English method of brick making yielded to the Flemish influence, so much that the Flemish ideas virtually replaced the English.

The John Maddox Denn HouseEnglish bond was very irregular and uneven.  The English style had become popular and persisted until the introduction of Flemish bond around the second half of the fifteenth century.  English bond there (across the pond) were alternate courses of headers and stretchers with the second brick of the heading course used as a closer.  Flemish bond had a stretcher and header in the same course.  IN this method, the artisans used vitrified or blue header brick.  This used with the red stretcher brick gives the checkerboard effect still seen in Salem today.  The diaper design was strictly ornamental.  Colors used to make the diapers were grays, yellows, purples, and blues.  Vitrified brick, originated by the Flemish, was made by applying continued heat until the color changed.  “These patterns, diamonds, diapers, etc., were produced by over-burnt header bricks vitrified for the purpose.”  Vitrified, dictionary definition: “changed into glass or a substance like glass, give or having a glassy or glazed surface.”  It had been thought that glass was mixed with the brick, this is erroneous.

The English preferred the soft gray diaper pattern because it is soothing to the eye.  Today in England many houses show the gray patterns, some approaching a vermillion shade.  Naturally being close to France the invasion of the Flemish builders sex hundred years ago left is mark.  What transpired to bring this artistry another three thousand miles and to locate in one county of one province, a Quaker settlement where ornamentation and display were frowned upon?  Bricklayers immigrating into America sought to continue their art in the New World, these artisans settled in Salem county from about 1720-1764.  Nowhere in all of America do we find the profusion and intricacy flowering to the heights of artistic genius as in Salem County, New Jersey.

 

Bringing the Fireplaces Back to Life

The Denn House was designed with a central chimney.  A popular style in the late 16th Century Europe, it supports the ventilation system for the four fireplaces in the original house.  The two fireplaces on the first floor sit back-to-back directly below the two fireplaces on the second floor.

Over the years the fireboxes on the first floor have been decreased in size.  One fireplace on the second floor was hidden behind a wall.  A gem uncovered when Jonathan demolished the bathroom that had been added in the early 20th Century.  This fireplace has an arched opening with a “keystone” center top.  Chuck loved the look of this discovery so much he wanted to duplicate it in one of the first floor fireplaces.

First floor first, both fireboxes are taken apart exposing the original dimensions for reconstruction.  A windfall is discovered down the road, a brick building being taken down provide hundreds of old brick.  The labor to pick through to find unbroken whole bricks, bring the brick back to the Denn House and clean them before the brick can be put back into service is a small price to pay for the quality and authentic appearance of the found brick.

Both fireplaces are taken apart creating an open look from either room.  The chimney is rebuilt a portion of the length up to reinforce the structural strength.  Hearths are remade; this is for adding stability as well as aesthetic purpose.

Bricks are placed on the hearth and and back in a Herringbone pattern.  The decision to do this was arrived at by searching local homes to observe the style of the tradesman when this area was first settled.  The Herringbone pattern is seen repeatedly in sidewalks, courtyards, and driveways, a definite eastern seaboard occurrence.

Herringbone pattern

 

 

 

The Denn House as it stands today:historic architecture
   historic building historic building Denn House historic building restoration historic building preservation Denn House the historic building historic restoration historic restoration

 

 

The Denn House 2013:

historic restoration historic restoration historic restoration historic restoration historic restoration historic restoration historic restoration historic restoration historic restoration historic restoration historic restoration historic restoration historic restoration historic architecture historic architecture historic architecture historic architecture historic architecture John Maddox Denn House John Maddox Denn House Restoration 

 

Other Patterned Brick Houses in Salem County, New Jersey

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Patterned Brick Quaker Meeting House

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The other week, Lois, Danielle, Katie, and Karri’s family took a field trip to see the ruins of the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia.  A nearly 200-year-old prison that looks like an abandoned castle and held scores of the dangerous, morally bankrupt, and sometimes the completely innocent for about 150 years… does it get any spookier than that?

Take a few minutes to explore with us.  We’ll begin with some basic history of the prison and then you can “walk” around the grounds with us as we comment on what we saw and learned.  The spoooooooooooky stuff we saved until last, because we didn’t want to scare you away from all of the rest of the fantastic stuff in this post.  But if you like to be scared first, feel free to scroll on down to the end.

After you’re done with our article, there is an excellent detailed description of the daily life and operations (including some surprisingly horrendous punishments for a “more humane” approach to imprisonment) at Eastern State read “Solitary Confinement: History & Hauntings of Eastern State Penitentiary”.

Note: Click on any of the smaller pictures to see them in full size.

Eastern State Penitentiary

Eastern State Penitentiary

Built in 1829, the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, PA was the world’s first, true penitentiary.  After gaining their independence and launching a new nation, America’s founders were eager to lead the way in social development too.  At the time, prisons were nothing more than places to hold large groups of criminals, and not necessarily even humane or safe places.  Overcrowding and abuse of prisoners was common, as were unsanitary conditions and horrific physical punishments.

Inspired by Enlightenment thinking, a group of Philadelphians founded The Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons in Benjamin Franklin’s home.  The goal of the Society was to establish a ground-breaking prison system that would encourage true penitence and spiritual change in a criminal’s heart.

Designed by John Haviland, the Penitentiary turned the concept of incarceration at the time on its head and strove to rehabilitate instead of punish.  Based on the Separate System principle of isolation, the Penitentiary used solitary confinement to encourage self-reflection.  Not only were daily schedules and activities structured to encourage that self-reflection, the Penitentiary’s architecture was too.

Katie: It was interesting that the Pennsylvania System was used in most of Europe but the New York System was popular in the United States.

Note: The New York (or “Auburn”) System also strove to rehabilitate prisoners.  It did so by having prisoners work in silent groups during the day. At night they would retire to solitary, and once again silent, confinement.  This was to teach them discipline and respect for work, property, and other people.  An example of a prison founded on the Auburn System principles is Sing Sing in New York.

Eastern State Penitentiary’s overall design was seven main cell blocks arranged around a center hub, like spokes on a wheel.  This enabled the guards to watch each cell block from the center hub.  For the exterior of the Penitentiary, Haviland deliberately chose the intimidating gothic style to both keep outsiders at a distance and imply the kind of fortitude we associate with massive, stone castles.

Lois: The layout may look like wheel spokes from an arial view, but walking around inside the Penitentiary felt much more like a maze!  If an inmate, used to walking around with a hood over their head, managed to get into the main part of the building, they would never have been able to find their way out.

Aerial View of Eastern State Penitentiary Layout

[pe2-gallery] Watchtower at Eastern State Penitentiary   Eastern State Penitentiary   Eastern State Penitentiary[/pe2-gallery]

Front Wall at Eastern State Penitentiary

[pe2-gallery] Eastern State Penitentiary   Eastern State Penitentiary   Front Entrance of Eastern State Penitentiary[/pe2-gallery]

Note: The gargoyles are not original.  They are circa 9/20/2012 when they were erected for the Penitentiary’s annual “Terror Behind the Walls”.

Danielle: Eastern State Penitentiary definitely seemed like a fortress from the outside.  As imposing as it seems today, it must have been more so sitting on top of a hill in the midst of fields and forest a few miles outside of the hustle and bustle of the “civilized” city in the 1800’s.

The Cells at Eastern State Penitentiary

Individual cells were small, sparse, and closed off by a heavy wooden door that had a hole just large enough to pass food through.  At the back of each cell was an entrance to an outdoor exercise yard that was also small, sparse, and closed off from the rest of the prison and prisoners (though there was no roof).  Inmates spent all of their time in their cells, and were allowed a single hour out of every day in their exercise yards.  For those rare times a prisoner needed to be anywhere other than his cell or exercise yards, they were transported with hoods over their heads to eliminate contact with others and keep security tight.  After all, inmates couldn’t escape if they didn’t know the layout of the prison they were held in.

[pe2-gallery] Later Cell Skylights at Eastern State Penitentiary  Original Cell Skylights at Eastern State Penitentiary  The Exercise Yard at Eastern State Penitentiary[/pe2-gallery]

Note: The original cells had the much-smaller circle skylights seen in the second picture instead of the larger rectangle seen in the first picture.  To give you an idea of the size of the exercise yard – those cute kids of mine are standing at the door to the cell and I am back against the outside wall.  That was all the space they had to “exercise” in.

Katie: The solitude the prisoners felt must have been unbearable.  I can’t imagine being walked into a prison with a hood on my head and not really knowing the layout of the building.

Karri: I see the roots in Enlightenment philosophy and the mimicry of monastic life, and I see where it would be easy to think of a place like Eastern State Penitentiary as being a much better approach than the traditional prisons of the time.  But were they really?  Or were they just a horror of a totally different sort?  It seems akin to sensory deprivation and other kinds of psychological torture – to subject another person to such complete isolation against their will.  And I wonder how well this approach really worked?  How many inmates truly changed and were successfully rehabilitated?  How many simply went mad?  (Is it perhaps telling that no one really talks about whether or not this revolutionary approach worked?)  Oh, and can you imagine the eye strain the prisoners must have experienced working in such low light?  My eyeballs are hurting just thinking about it.

Lois: This humane system’s intent was to repair souls that had gone astray.  But we will never know if more harm than good was accomplished.

A special note about this very topic… Some deeper research after our field trip reveals that prisoners often did go mad while imprisoned at Eastern State Penitentiary.  During the 1800’s, the many cases of insanity that were documented by prison doctors at Eastern State were listed as being caused by one of two things: genes and excessive masturbation.  Never once was the total isolation of the prison listed as a cause of any of the breakdowns.

During the 23 hours out of a day that inmates spent in their cells, they were expected to work diligently and studiously at a vocation.  The founders of the Pennsylvania System believed that lack of training in a trade or education in general was a contributing factor in someone developing a criminal career.  They also believed that providing criminals with education and training in a vocation or trade was a critical aspect to rehabilitating them.

[pe2-gallery] Recreated Cell at Eastern State Penitentiary       Eastern State Penitentiary[/pe2-gallery]

Tucker: Someone really should have invented TV back then so the poor guys could sit back and watch the game after they were done working.

Katie: The cells even had feed doors and doors to their own exercise yards to minimize contact between other prisoners and guards.

The Door System at Eastern State Penitentiary

[pe2-gallery] Cell Door at Eastern State Penitentiary  Cell Door Track at Eastern State Penitentiary  Original Door Hinges from Eastern State Penitentiary  Gratuitous Cute Kid Shot at Eastern State Penitentiary  Cell Numbers at Eastern State Penitentiary  The Doors of Eastern State Penitentiary[/pe2-gallery]

The door system for each cell was intriguing.  There was a solid iron interior door (the grated one you see in the pictures) that swung out on hinges, and a heavy solid wood exterior door that slid on a track.  Both of the doors were secured with a locking system, and both locking systems had special little “tricks” to them that weren’t easily figured out in the event that an unauthorized person did try to let someone out.  The pictures below show the kids trying their hand at getting into a cell – not an easy task.  Note: not all of the doors that are currently at the Penitentiary are original.  The wooden doors that are original have a cross in their ironwork, as pictured above.

Karri: I think there is something so much more final, and foreboding, about a sliding door like the wooden doors on the outside of the cells.  I think it’s those little things that might have added up to a terrible madness.  Think about it, put yourself inside that cell.  What seems more restricting to you – a door that slides back or one that swings open?

[pe2-gallery] Unlocking a Cell Door at Eastern State Penitentiary  Unlocking a Cell Door at Eastern State Penitentiary  Unlocking a Cell Door at Eastern State Penitentiary  Unlocking a Cell Door at Eastern State Penitentiary  [/pe2-gallery]

Bean: I could have TOTALLY picked that lock if I was a prisoner!
(Let’s not burst his little 5yr-old bubble and tell him if he was a prisoner he would have been on the other side of the doors.)

Gracie: I would have thought, “Oh crap I’m going to be stuck here for the rest of my sentence because I’mnever breaking out of here.”  Then I probably would have asked, “Can I have Al Capone’s cell?”.

The front gate of Eastern State Penitentiary had a similar set-up.  There were three sets of doors at the entrance to the Penitentiary, and only one set was opened at a time.  This ensured that people and deliveries could be moved in and out of the Penitentiary without any chance of someone slipping in or out.  Again, there were “tricks” to the locking system so that someone unfamiliar with how it worked couldn’t quickly unlock the door.

[pe2-gallery] DSC05046.JPG Unlocking the Front Gate at Eastern State Penitentiary Unlocking the Front Gate at Eastern State Penitentiary Unlocking the Front Gate at Eastern State Penitentiary Unlocking the Front Gate at Eastern State Penitentiary Unlocking the Front Gate at Eastern State Penitentiary[/pe2-gallery]

Mason: Opening up the front gate was really neat.  I can’t believe it weighed 3,400lbs and I could move it.  See, Mama, you were wrong – I don’t actually need spinach to grow big and strong!

With all that time in their cells, inmates often “decorated”.  Perhaps not quite as lavishly as Al Capone’s cell, or other inmates of higher status, but many painted murals in their rooms or faux-finished their walls.

[pe2-gallery] Cell Decorations at Eastern State Penitentiary Cell Decorations at Eastern State Penitentiary Cell Decorations at Eastern State Penitentiary Cell Decorations at Eastern State Penitentiary Cell Decorations at Eastern State Penitentiary Cell Decorations at Eastern State Penitentiary Cell Decorations at Eastern State Penitentiary[/pe2-gallery]

Karri: The story behind that eye above the door was intriguing.  Positioned like that above the door, it’s unlikely that guards or prison officials ever saw it, or at least didn’t see it right away – which makes me wonder if the positioning was chosen deliberately to remain as “hidden” as possible.  The kids and I also couldn’t decide if the tear of sorrow was for the prisoner, or the guards.  Because we’re really not sure who’s fate was more sorrowful.

Eastern State Penitentiary is self-described as a “stabilized ruins” – an apt description of the property.  Some improvements have been made. There is a modernized admissions office and gift store, and a few places in the Penitentiary that have been restored to original condition to show visitors what it would have been like.  But largely, the Penitentiary remains as it has been since it was abandoned in the 1970’s.

Lois: “Stabilized ruins” isn’t just an appropriate title, it seems an appropriate manifestation as well.

Danielle: Not only are there guides throughout the Penitentiary to answer questions and host demonstrations and tours, the Penitentiary also offers an “audio tour”.  When we arrived, we each received headsets to wear as we walked around.  While at a specific spot (the exhibit on women in the prison, for example), you could play a recording of information about that topic.  These recordings included a lot of first-hand accounts of life in the prison – something I found incredibly valuable.

[pe2-gallery] Eastern State University  Another Gratuitous Cute Kid Shot at Eastern State University  Eastern State University  Eastern State University  Eastern State University  Eastern State University  Eastern State University  Eastern State University  Gratuitous Cute Husband Shot at Eastern State University  A View from the Center Hub at Eastern State University  Eastern State University  Eastern State University  Gratuitous Cute Family Shot at Eastern State University  Eastern State University  The Greenhouse at Eastern State University  The Greenhouse at Eastern State University  The Bocci Court at Eastern State University  The Visiting Room at Eastern State University[/pe2-gallery]

Bean: Those prisoners were pretty lucky – they got to play Bocci!

Pep the Dog

Although Eastern State Penitentiary housed some pretty big names (Al Capone spent almost a year there), perhaps its most infamous “inmate” was Pep the Dog.  Legend has it that Pep killed the Governor’s wife’s cat and was sentenced to life in the penitentiary.  Pep even had a mug shot taken, and was wearing an inmate number in that mug shot.  The Governor’s official story is that he donated the dog as a “prison mascot” of sorts to improve morale among the inmates.  But skeptics of that theory point out that Pep’s inmate number was never assigned to a human inmate and is completely missing from prison records….almost as if it had been assigned to Pep.

Danielle: Pep might have been a bad dog, but he must have been a very popular prisoner – he had the most items devoted to him in the gift shop!  Of course, the gift shop also had shank magnets available, so……  (And really? Shank magnets? Who buys those for their fridge?)

Katie: I thought the story behind Pep the dog was cute, but I think he was really just donated to the prison.

The Kids (resoundingly, as in all four of them): Somebody should have helped him escape, it’s not fair to lock a dog up behind bars and never let him out again.

The Inevitable Escape Attempts at Eastern State Penitentiary

Speaking of escape attempts, Eastern State Penitentiary did have its share of them.  Over 100, in fact, though only two go down in history.  The first because it was the only time a prisoner escaped and wasn’t recaptured when six men used a 30-foot ladder to climb over the Penitentiary walls in 1923.  All were recaptured, except Leo Callahan.  Callahan vanished and no one knows where he went or what happened to him after that.  The second, perhaps most infamous simply for its audacity, is the tunnel escape in 1945.  In that escape, 12 men crawled through a tunnel to escape under the Penitentiary wall.  The tunnel went down 15 feet from an inmate’s cell, across 97 feet under the courtyard, and up 15 feet outside of the Penitentiary’s 30-foot walls (which also ran 10-foot deep below-ground).   The first prisoners were recaptured within minutes of escaping, and all were recaptured within weeks.  One prisoner even turned himself back in after just a few days on the outside – he was tired, hungry, and cold and needed somewhere warm to sleep and eat.

Karri: Leo Callahan fascinates me simply because he’s the sole successful escapee from the Penitentiary.  Where did he go?  How did he just disappear?  What did he do that the five other men who escaped with him and were re-caught didn’t do?  Did he plan better?  Did he run further?  Was it just luck?  The tunnel escape was brilliant, but how did they do it?  It took them years to dig that tunnel, where did they put the dirt?  How did they hide what they were doing?  How did they keep it secret from other inmates? And just how on earth did they know that the exterior walls of the Penitentiary went down 10-foot underground?  That’s got to be the most brilliant of all, to have taken into consideration that those walls just might go deeper than normal.  Me?  I would have dug down a couple feet and then dug over to the wall and smacked straight into the stone.

[pe2-gallery] 1945 Escape Tunnel at Eastern State University 1945 Escape Tunnel at Eastern State University 1945 Escape Tunnel at Eastern State University[/pe2-gallery]

Surprising Details

[pe2-gallery] Eastern State University Eastern State University Eastern State University Barber Shop Chair at Eastern State University Barber Shop Chair at Eastern State University Al Capone's Cell at Eastern State University The Greenhouse at Eastern State University The Greenhouse at Eastern State University Eastern State University Eastern State University Eastern State University Eastern State University [/pe2-gallery]

Danielle: Despite the somber Gothic architecture and serious nature of what the purpose of the Penitentiary was, it was equipped with beautifully ornate details and very modern amenities.  Every cell block had its own barber shop that would (in later years) become the “social spots” where inmates gathered.  There was a “hospital” where inmates received medical care and a greenhouse where they grew fresh foods.  The Penitentiary even had running water and a central heating system before the White House did. 

As part of the modern preservation of Eastern State Penitentiary, there are a number of different “artist installations” around the Penitentiary that are all commentary on the Penitentiary – some good commentary, some purely historical commentary, some critical commentary.

[pe2-gallery] Art Installation at Eastern State University Art Installation at Eastern State University Art Installation at Eastern State University Art Installation at Eastern State University Art Installation at Eastern State University Art Installation at Eastern State University Art Installation at Eastern State University Art Installation at Eastern State University Art Installation at Eastern State University [/pe2-gallery]

Karri: In 2012, we look back at history and the things our culture has done in the past and often think, “How could they have done that to another human?”  It is certainly easy to wander the Eastern State ruins and wonder that very thing, and then breathe a sigh of relief that we were born in a much more progressive time.  Until you come across the art installation that depicts a Guantanamo Bay cell sitting inside an Eastern State Penitentiary cell.  For as little as the Eastern State cells looked (and they were indeed tiny), the modern-day Guantanamo Bay cell was significantly smaller.  And looked like a dog cage.  A dog cage.  Let me correct that….looked like a cage most of us wouldn’t even house our dogs in. Somehow, the stone cell of Eastern State with its chipping whitewash, total silence, small cot, toilet, and a sink seemed so much more homier and comfortable than a dog cage with no light, no ventilation, and two buckets instead of plumbing.  How could we still be doing that to another human being?

Speaking of doing things to human beings… punishment was horrific at Eastern State Penitentiary – a penitentiary founded as a humane alternative to prisons at that time. In the beginning of the Penitentiary’s long existence, punishment didn’t happen – administrators and the Penitentiary’s founders and designers believed the solitary confinement in small cells was punishment enough.  But as prisoners continued breaking the rules, punishment began to be used and progressively worsened stepping far outside the Quaker roots of the prison.

“The Mad Chair” was a punishment where an offending inmate would be strapped to a chair so snugly that they could not move at all and was left there (without food and water) for a period of time that depended on the severity of their offense ranging from hours to days.

“The Water Bath” punishment involved dunking or dousing an inmate in ice cold water, hoisting them up onto a wall with chains, and then leaving then leaving them there overnight (a “treatment” method used at that time in mental hospitals).  When used during the winter months (the time of year the guards most often used this form of punishment), a layer of ice would form over the inmate’s skin by morning.

“The Iron Gag” was the most popular form of punishment at Eastern State – and the most feared by prisoners.  The gag was an iron collar that went around a prisoner’s neck, with a metal piece that went in the prisoner’s mouth to suppress their tongue.  The prisoner’s hands were then crossed and pulled tight behind their necks and attached to the collar as well.  Any movement of their hands or arms would pull at their tongues and prisoner’s mouth was usually bloody and sore by the time their punishment was over.

“The Hole” was a set of incredibly small, completely windowless and utterly dark, rooms beneath the Penitentiary where inmates could be thrown for weeks at a time.  While in The Hole prisoners were given one cup of water and one slice of bread a day, and did not leave the dank cells for anything.  Not even bathroom breaks.  They were left to sit in their own filth, fighting off rats and other vermin until their punishment was done.

The Spooooooooooooooooooky Stuff at Eastern State Penitentiary

Rumors of ghosts at Eastern State Penitentiary have been around since the early 1900’s.  Surprisingly, or perhaps not, the first solid ghost story at Eastern State Penitentiary involved Al Capone.  Purportedly, Capone was haunted mercilessly by one of his St. Valentine’s Day Massacre victims and could be heard repeatedly screaming and begging in his cell for the ghost to go away and leave him alone.

But even before Capone getting his just desserts, prisoners and guards alike have reported supernatural goings-on at Eastern State Penitentiary – footsteps in empty halls, pacing in empty cells, wails coming from empty darkness, and dark shapes that resembled human forms drafting past.  Since the site has been opened to the public in the middle of the 1970’s as a National Historic Landmark, tourists and staff confirm even more supernatural encounters.

In Cell Block #12, independent witnesses have reported hearing laughter in certain cells and shadowy apparitions.  Similar shadowy apparitions have been sited in Cell Block #6 and “Death Row” Cell Block #15.  The most frequent “ghost” siting occurs in the older cell blocks, where visitors report a dark, human-like figure who just stands there emitting angry energy.

Mason: It doesn’t seem like it’s actually haunted – I checked pretty thoroughly.  Maybe even in a few spots I wasn’t technically supposed to.

Gracie: Eastern State Penitentiary was creepy, mysterious, intriguing, and ancient all at the same time.

[pe2-gallery] Spooky Eastern State Penitentiary Spooky Eastern State PenitentiarySpooky Eastern State Penitentiary Spooky Eastern State PenitentiarySpooky Eastern State Penitentiary Spooky Eastern State PenitentiarySpooky Eastern State Penitentiary Spooky Eastern State PenitentiarySpooky Eastern State Penitentiary Spooky Eastern State PenitentiarySpooky Eastern State Penitentiary Spooky Eastern State PenitentiarySpooky Eastern State Penitentiary Spooky Eastern State PenitentiarySpooky Eastern State Penitentiary Spooky Eastern State PenitentiarySpooky Eastern State Penitentiary Spooky Eastern State PenitentiarySpooky Eastern State Penitentiary Spooky Eastern State PenitentiarySpooky Eastern State Penitentiary Spooky Eastern State PenitentiarySpooky Eastern State Penitentiary Spooky Eastern State Penitentiary[/pe2-gallery]

For the month of October, we’re going to feature Spooky, Creepy Preservation in honor of Halloween.  We’re kicking off the month with perhaps one of the creepiest buildings in our built history – Jeffrey Dahmer’s childhood home.  Not technically the historic building our posts normally feature, but this post by Guest Blogger Sarah is still something worth contemplating.

 

image from: http://www.nydailynews.com (via Fox8 Cleveland)

 

Yes, it’s been all over the national news. And I had made a conscious decision NOT to cover it since it is already being over-exposed and the hideous crimes of JD are a little too recent for my comfort level.

But then I got a gently prodding email from a reader in Ohio (thanks Stacie!) so I said “okay, okay, I’ll do JD’s house on House Crazy“.

 

image from: trulia.com

 

But I can’t even bring myself to type the guy’s name (which I nonetheless had to type for the title of this post) so I’m just going to call him “JD”. He’s dead now anyhow – killed in prison in 1994 – but his crimes are some of the most heinous in recent memory.

The home where JD lived from 1968 to 1982 is up for sale near Akron, Ohio. This is also the home where JD murdered his first human victim in 1978, and um, cut-up and spread the remains throughout the wooded property. I’m sorry, I don’t know how else to say it – it’s just so horrible. JD moved to Wisconsin in 1982 and committed 16 more murders before he was caught in 1991.

 

image from: trulia.com

 

This dreadful crime scene languished on the market for a very long time but eventually sold for a reduced price in 2005. The new owner, a musician, was at first hesitant when he learned of the home’s gory past. “I didn’t stop shaking for another 24 hours,” the owner told the Akron Beacon Journal. But he was in love with the mid-century architecture so he bought the home anyway. Now the house is up for sale again because the owner is relocating.

 

image from: http://washingtonexaminer.com

 

There’s been a lot of photos of the exterior of the house posted in newspapers during the last week, but nobody had posted interior photos. Until now…

 

image from: trulia.com

 

I tracked down the actual listing after some minimal sleuthing.

 

image from: trulia.com

 

This 1952 home on West Bath Road is listed at $329,000.

 

image from: trulia.com

 

This is the actual listing blurb:

Amazing 50′s Ranch! Lush and beautiful flowers and trees decorate the landscape, which you can view from the oversized windows in the formal living room. Inside you will find plenty of space to create your own personal feel! Granite counters in the kitchen. Wood burning fireplaces! New central air unit was installed 6/2011

– from: trulia.com

The realtor is doing the best he can, but it’s a hard sell knowing the history of the house (and grounds).

 

image from: trulia.com

 

According to the Acron Beacon Journal Online,

The ranch house was built in 1952 by Mr. and Mrs. Robert Arens. It was featured in the Beacon Journal’s Roto section a year later for its modern style, open layout and floor-to-ceiling windows that provided views of the wooded hillside.

– from: http://www.ohio.com/news/dahmer-house-for-sale-1.328627

 

image from: trulia.com

 

This 2,170 square foot home has 3 bedrooms and 2.5 bathrooms.

 

image from: trulia.com

 

image from: trulia.com

 

The stone and wood mid-century modern home is located on 1.55 private wooded acres.

 

image from: trulia.com

 

image from: trulia.com

 

My stomach is turning just writing this post. Normally I like to embrace a house (as this house’s current owner has) for it’s own historic and architectural merritts, rather than any gory history that took place there.

And I truly commend the current owner for being able to look past the house’s unfortunate past and appreciate and love the house for what it truly is: a beautiful mid-century home.

 

image from: trulia.com

 

But… I don’t know… I’d seriously get the willies every time I was carving ham in the kitchen. *shudder*

 

How about you? Could you live in a home that has a terrible history like this house?

 

This post is by our Guest Blogger House Crazy Sarah.  It was originally posted on her website, www.house-crazy.com.  She’s writing about Shotgun Houses – an architectural style most commonly found in the Southern states, but she does reference a few examples found North of the Mason Dixon line.  I searched a bit for examples here in Pennsylvania and didn’t find any, though they must be out there.  If any of you know of any, we’d love to hear about them!

image from: wikimedia.org – creative commons

 

You’ve heard of these long narrow domiciles before… the name conjures up images of an angry dad chasing his daughter’s young suitor with a shot-gun and shooting through the house clear from the front door and out the back door.

Although… I might be confusing shotgun houses with shotgun marriages.

image from: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:ZimpleArtsyShotgunFront.JPG – from: Infrogmation of New Orleans

 

A shot gun house is characterised by it’s long rectangular shape and by being located on a tiny, narrow lot in close proximity to other houses. Shot gun houses typically feature one room arranged behind the other with no central, or side hallway. You just walk through one room to get to the other – doorways in a row from front entry to back door, enabling a gun shot from the front door to go clear through the house without touching any walls. Hence the shotgun reference.

 Evidence suggests that this name is actually a corruption of the word “shogon.” In West Africa, “shogon” means “God’s House.”

– from: http://www.gnocdc.org/tertiary/shotgun.html

Oh, oops.

image from: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bywater7MayHouseDStepShotgun.jpg – Infrogmation

 

Typically, shotgun houses are a maximum of 12 feet (3.5 meters) wide. That’s teeny.

 

image from: wikipedia.org

 

image from: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:PlumLavenderShotgun.jpg – Infrogmation of New Orleans

 

Shot gun houses are thought to have originated in West Africa and the concept migrated to Haiti and then New Orleans with the movement of enslaved African peoples. The small, modest and affordable house style spread throughout the American south and even up into some northern states.

image from: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Shotgun_Picket_Fence_Algiers_NOLA.jpg – author: pwbaker

 

It was the most popular style of house in the Southern United States from the end of the American Civil War (1861–65), through the 1920s. Alternate names include “shotgun shack”, “shotgun hut” and “shotgun cottage”.

– from: wikipedia.org

image from: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:MidCity10May06Shotgun3.jpg – Infrogmation

 

Shotgun houses are said to be well suited for warmer climates in the American south and in tropical countries because the floor plan enables the breeze to blow right through the house from front to back.

image from: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:MarignyShotgun8May1.jpg – author: Infrogmation

 

Most shotgun houses were designed with a small front porch.

The front porch on shotgun houses supported interconnectedness between people and gave neighbors a strong sense of community.

– from: http://www.gnocdc.org/tertiary/shotgun.html

image from: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:1008-mcghee-knoxville-tn1.jpg – photo by: Brian Stansberry

 

image from: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Shoutgun_House.jpg – author: Bruce W. Stracener

 

There were a few variations of shotgun houses, one being the “camel-back” style – which was basically a two-story addition on the back of the house in order to increase the square footage.

image from: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:GTWN236.jpg – author: Angry Aspie

 

Some shotgun houses also had basements with separate entrances, although they were typically above ground due to high water tables in the regions they were common.

image from: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:UptownNarrowYellowHouse9Jan06A.jpg – author: Infrogmation

 

Then there is the “double-barrel” or double shotgun homes…

image from: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Uptown19May06DoubleHead.jpg – author: Infrogmation

 

A double shotgun house is essentially a duplex with a central wall and mirror floor plans.

image from: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:1012-mcghee-knoxville-tn1.jpg – author: Brian Stansberry

 

Below is a photo of a 1.5 story home In Indiana; a variation of the shotgun house floor plan:

image from: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Seventh_Street_West_904,_Bloomington_West_Side_HD.jpg – author: Nyttend

 

Though initially as popular with the middle class as with the poor, the shotgun house became a symbol of poverty in the mid-20th century. Opinion is now mixed: some houses are bulldozed due to urban renewal, while others are saved due to historic preservation and/or gentrification.

-from:  wikipedia.org

image from: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:BayouStJohnHeartMarkTires.jpg – author: Infrogmation

 

Unfortunately, shotgun homes are now largely relics of the past. It seems our modern sensibilities have shifted to include the desire to walk to the bathroom without having to traipse through the bedroom, and the living room, and the kitchen.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

For further reading on shotgun houses, see the sources below:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shotgun_house

http://www.gnocdc.org/tertiary/shotgun.html

http://home.howstuffworks.com/home-improvement/construction/planning/shotgun-house.htm

Soapstone is a traditional material that’s been in use for thousands of years and is often found in early Colonial American homes.  The soft, metamorphic stone material, favored for its ability to withstand and retain heat, was used for fireplaces, hearths, cooking slabs, and water basins.

It still is today, thanks to Bucks County Soapstone.

With a beginning in the cabinetmaking trade, Bucks County Soapstone now focuses solely on crafting custom soapstone sinks for kitchens, bathrooms, and laundry rooms, and a few other specialty products.

Soapstone can be found all over the world, including here in the United States. Bucks County Soapstone sources their material from Brazil where the families of some current soapstone harvesters have been quarrying soapstone for hundreds of years, as well as Virginia here in the U.S.

One distinct advantage Bucks County Soapstone can claim is the use of a highly accurate digital templating device called the Faro Arm.  This instrument uses a handheld imager to trace the backsplash a sink will be fit against to get a truly snug fit, even against stone, tile, and other uneven surfaces.  This digital template, along with other measurements, are then inputted into a computer system that guides the saws that cut the soapstone slabs to shape.  Once cut, the soapstone pieces are then finished by hand by Bucks County Soapstone’s artisan craftsmen.

httpvh://youtu.be/CdbGFhND1Co

Along with the truly custom pieces they can make, one of Bucks County Soapstone’s particular specialties is their ability to replace modern sinks with apron-front traditional soapstone sinks common in historic homes without any major cabinet work.  While the sink may have been a common occurrence, this particular specialty is not.

For more information about Bucks County Soapstone, the products and services they offer, and general information about soapstone sourcing and product care, visit their website at bcsoapstone.com.