Scott T. Hanson of Your Historic House joined the Practical Preservation podcast to discuss his book, Restoring Your Historic House, the result of 4 years of hard work and dedication to present a practical and comprehensive guide for historic homeowners. We covered a multitude of topics including:

  • How the present-day Conway Scenic Railroad and train station served as a catalyst for Scott’s passion for preservation
  • Scott’s observation that a dearth of information on preservation for homeowners necessitated filling that gap, and inspired him to write his book
  • Lessons, challenges, and resources for aspiring preservationists and homeowners
  • Advice for homeowners interested in preservation, restoration, or rehabilitation, including practical examples of ways to offset costs
  • The book’s detailed inspiring stories of homeowners’ projects, including a description a local Central PA project featured in (and on the front cover!) of the book
  • Information on book-purchasing options and opportunities to meet Scott

Contact/Follow:

Scott T. Hanson

Website

Facebook

Instagram

Buying Options:

Amazon.com for a discounted price

Scott’s website for signed and personalized signed copies, as well as other books for sale

 

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.

This article is a part of a series from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission’s excellent field guide on the architectural styles found in Pennsylvania.  In it, they’ve assigned key periods of development – from the Colonial period in the 18th Century to the Modern Movements of the 29th Century.  This article focuses on an overview of the Traditional/Vernacular style in Pennsylvania from 1638 through 1950

PA Architecture Colonial Period 1640 – 1800

The Colonial Period in Pennsylvania covers the era from the arrival of the first European settlers in the mid 1600s to 1776 when the nation was formed and Pennsylvania was no longer a colony of England. While the earliest colonists to settle in what would become Pennsylvania were from Sweden, the Netherlands and Finland, colonists from England and later Germany would soon predominate following William Penn’s arrival in 1682.

The earliest settlements within Pennsylvania’s current boundaries (at one time the state of Delaware was part of Pennsylvania, making up the three lower counties) were Swedish, part of the colony of New Sweden. There were about a dozen small permanent Swedish/Finnish settlements along the Delaware River, the earliest in Pennsylvania being Finland and Upland founded in 1641 near present day Chester. With the arrival of William Penn, the Proprietor of the colony of Pennsylvania, and other English Quakers in 1682, colonial growth spread northward and westward from the mouth of the Delaware River. As a refuge from religious persecution, the colony grew and attracted settlers from many countries, but in the Pre-Revolutionary War period, most colonists were of English, German and Scotts-Irish ancestry.

The first buildings in Pennsylvania were simple, traditional structures, built according to folk designs common in the colonists’ country of origin. These traditional or vernacular buildings were built not just in the Colonial period, but throughout the settlement period of the state. This building tradition is important in its own right and is fully detailed on the Traditional/Vernacular style section of this field guide.

The only true architect-inspired style of the Colonial period often found in Pennsylvania is the Georgian style. This style, based on the classical forms of the Italian Renaissance, originally developed in England in the 17th century and was introduced in the colonies around 1700. It was the prevailing style in Pennsylvania for about 100 years, from 1700 until 1800.

History of the Harris-Cameron Mansion in Harrisburg, PA

historic porch restoration, historic porch

 

In the early 1700′s, Harrisburg’s founder John Harris Sr. immigrated to the area from Yorkshire, England after receiving a land grant.  When he first arrived, Harris Sr. built a homestead on the bank of the Susquehanna River and established a trading post, and then a successful ferry business that would funnel much of the Scottish, irish, and German immigrants west for over fifty years.  Known for his fair dealings and good relationship with local Native Americans, Harris Sr.’s also facilitated successful relationships between new settlers and the local Native American population.

After Harris Sr. died in 1748, John Harris Jr. inherited the homestead and business and continued the family legacy of good relationships with local Native Americans – during the French and Indian War two notable “council fires” were held at the Harris home for talks between the Indian Nations, local governing officials, and British representatives.

historic porch restoration, historic porch

 

In 1766, after the French and Indian War ended, Harris Jr. decided it was time for a more substantial house for the family.  Tired of evacuating their current homestead whenever the river flooded, Harris Jr. chose the current site of the mansion after observing that even during the worst flooding, the river had never reached the top of the rise in the ground the mansion sits on.

Originally constructed in the Georgian style of architecture using locally quarried limestone, the house had a total of eight owners over the years and each made changes to the house.  In the early 1800′s a rear wing was added to the original mansion, and in 1863 the house underwent significant changes when Simon Cameron (seven-time U.S. Senator, President Lincoln’s first Secretary of War, and former Ambassador to Russia) purchased the house.

File:Smn Cameron-SecofWar.jpg

“Having made an offer of $8,000 for the Harris Mansion, Cameron left for Russia. He traveled throughout Europe and stopped in England, France, Italy, and the German states. While making his way to Russia, Cameron was shopping for furnishings for his new house. In the parlor are two 14-foot-tall (4.3 m) pier mirrors, as well as mirrors above the fireplaces that came from France. The fireplace mantles are hand-carved Italian marble, and the alcove window glass is from Bavaria.

Cameron disliked being politically isolated in Russia, so he returned to the United States and resigned the post in 1863. After finalizing the purchase of the house, Cameron set out to convert it to a grand Victorian mansion in the Italianate style. He hoped it would be suitably impressive to his business and political associates. Cameron added a solarium, walkway, butler’s pantry, and grand staircase. He also had the floor lowered three feet into the basement in the front section of the house, because the 11-foot ceilings in the parlor could not accommodate his new 14-foot mirrors.”

-Wikipedia entry on the Simon Cameron House

In the early 1900′s, Cameron’s grandson Richard Haldeman, the last of the Cameron family to live in the home, made more changes when he redecorated, modernized the mansion, and added the West Alcove to the house.  When he died, his sister donated the house and other family items to the  Historical Society of Dauphin County.

 

Historic Porch Restoration at the Harris-Cameron Mansion

In 2013, we were contracted to repair and restore the Victorian style porch.  The porch was in disrepair – the brick piers that supported the floor were falling apart, the corner of the roof system was completely rotted out, there was a vermin infestation underneath the porch that was compromising the structural stability of the porch.  In addition to the disrepair, there had been alterations to the style of the porch over the years and the Historical Society wanted the porch both repaired and returned to its original style.

The major contributing problem that needed to be addressed was that the spouting and gutters weren’t emptying water away from the porch because the porch had settled and moved.  There had been attempts to repair the porch to keep it from settling, but they didn’t last or weren’t correct repairs – at one point someone had actually strapped the porch to the stone house wall to try and keep it from sliding by putting metal gussets at the spots where the framing was coming apart and separating at the corners.  But no one had ever addressed the problems with the porch foundation which was causing the settling and moving.

For the project, we started with demolition – a very careful demolition.  There were a lot of important materials on the porch that we encased in plywood boxes to protect them during the demolition process.  The stone where George Washington stood in 1780…  An original sandstone step that was already cracked…  All the important elements of the porch were carefully protected to prevent any damage during the construction process.

After demolition, we addressed the foundation issues by pouring five concrete footers at each of the column locations since that is where the porch had been failing and where the roof was sagging.  There had been brick piers there that we rebuilt with a combining of the existing brick and salvaged brick we purchased to match, but there had never been a frost-line footer under the porch.

All of the existing trim, arches, columns, floor, and skirtboard that could be salvaged were brought back to our shop where we removed the lead paint, repaired the pieces where necessary, fabricated new pieces as needed to match existing pieces, and reassembled them.  We fabricated new columns and elliptical arches from mahogany wood to match the style of the existing columns and arches that were re-used.  Several columns still had the original trim that we could copy when turning all of the capitals and column pieces.

We were able to level and save the porch roof by putting a large, carrier beam on the front of it.  We also put all of the columns and capitals on metal pipes before we installed them so we could put the columns on without cutting them in half.

The flooring and ceiling also needed repaired and replaced at some spots.  The original wood was vertical fir, but using fir would have been tremendously costly.  Mahogany was chosen instead for its availability and its cost.  While mahogany would not have been used as an exterior wood when the porch was originally built, it is an acceptable replacement material in preservation standards and actually holds up better as an exterior wood than many original woods.

This project was a collaborative effort between Richard Gribble at Murphy & Dittenhafer ArchitectsMcCoy Brothersand the Historical Society of Dauphin County, and us.

[social_share/]

 

History of the Harris-Cameron Mansion in Harrisburg, PA

John Harris Homestead

The Original Harris Homestead

In the early 1700’s, Harrisburg’s founder John Harris Sr. immigrated to the area from Yorkshire, England after receiving a land grant.  When he first arrived, Harris Sr. built a homestead on the bank of the Susquehanna River and established a trading post, and then a successful ferry business that would funnel much of the Scottish, irish, and German immigrants west for over fifty years.  Known for his fair dealings and good relationship with local Native Americans, Harris Sr.’s also facilitated successful relationships between new settlers and the local Native American population.

After Harris Sr. died in 1748, John Harris Jr. inherited the homestead and business and continued the family legacy of good relationships with local Native Americans – during the French and Indian War two notable “council fires” were held at the Harris home for talks between the Indian Nations, local governing officials, and British representatives.

Harris-Cameron Mansion Today

Harris-Cameron Mansion Today

In 1766, after the French and Indian War ended, Harris Jr. decided it was time for a more substantial house for the family.  Tired of evacuating their current homestead whenever the river flooded, Harris Jr. chose the current site of the mansion after observing that even during the worst flooding, the river had never reached the top of the rise in the ground the mansion sits on.

Originally constructed in the Georgian style of architecture using locally quarried limestone, the house had a total of eight owners over the years and each made changes to the house.  In the early 1800’s a rear wing was added to the original mansion, and in 1863 the house underwent significant changes when Simon Cameron (seven-time U.S. Senator, President Lincoln’s first Secretary of War, and former Ambassador to Russia) purchased the house.

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File:Smn Cameron-SecofWar.jpg

“Having made an offer of $8,000 for the Harris Mansion, Cameron left for Russia. He traveled throughout Europe and stopped in England, France, Italy, and the German states. While making his way to Russia, Cameron was shopping for furnishings for his new house. In the parlor are two 14-foot-tall (4.3 m) pier mirrors, as well as mirrors above the fireplaces that came from France. The fireplace mantles are hand-carved Italian marble, and the alcove window glass is from Bavaria.

Cameron disliked being politically isolated in Russia, so he returned to the United States and resigned the post in 1863. After finalizing the purchase of the house, Cameron set out to convert it to a grand Victorian mansion in the Italianate style. He hoped it would be suitably impressive to his business and political associates. Cameron added a solarium, walkway, butler’s pantry, and grand staircase. He also had the floor lowered three feet into the basement in the front section of the house, because the 11-foot ceilings in the parlor could not accommodate his new 14-foot mirrors.”

-Wikipedia entry on the Simon Cameron House

[sws_divider_line]

In the early 1900’s, Cameron’s grandson Richard Haldeman, the last of the Cameron family to live in the home, made more changes when he redecorated, modernized the mansion, and added the West Alcove to the house.  When he died, his sister donated the house and other family items to the  Historical Society of Dauphin County.

 

Historic Porch Restoration at the Harris-Cameron Mansion

In 2013, we were contracted to repair and restore the Victorian style porch.  The porch was in disrepair – the brick piers that supported the floor were falling apart, the corner of the roof system was completely rotted out, there was a vermin infestation underneath the porch that was compromising the structural stability of the porch.  In addition to the disrepair, there had been alterations to the style of the porch over the years and the Historical Society wanted the porch both repaired and returned to its original style.

The major contributing problem that needed to be addressed was that the spouting and gutters weren’t emptying water away from the porch because the porch had settled and moved.  There had been attempts to repair the porch to keep it from settling, but they didn’t last or weren’t correct repairs – at one point someone had actually strapped the porch to the stone house wall to try and keep it from sliding by putting metal gussets at the spots where the framing was coming apart and separating at the corners.  But no one had ever addressed the problems with the porch foundation which was causing the settling and moving.

For the project, we started with demolition – a very careful demolition.  There were a lot of important materials on the porch that we encased in plywood boxes to protect them during the demolition process.  The stone where George Washington stood in 1780…  An original sandstone step that was already cracked…  All the important elements of the porch were carefully protected to prevent any damage during the construction process.

After demolition, we addressed the foundation issues by pouring five concrete footers at each of the column locations since that is where the porch had been failing and where the roof was sagging.  There had been brick piers there that we rebuilt with a combining of the existing brick and salvaged brick we purchased to match, but there had never been a frost-line footer under the porch.

All of the existing trim, arches, columns, floor, and skirtboard that could be salvaged were brought back to our shop where we removed the lead paint, repaired the pieces where necessary, fabricated new pieces as needed to match existing pieces, and reassembled them.  We fabricated new columns and elliptical arches from mahogany wood to match the style of the existing columns and arches that were re-used.  Several columns still had the original trim that we could copy when turning all of the capitals and column pieces.

We were able to level and save the porch roof by putting a large, carrier beam on the front of it.  We also put all of the columns and capitals on metal pipes before we installed them so we could put the columns on without cutting them in half.

The flooring and ceiling also needed repaired and replaced at some spots.  The original wood was vertical fir, but using fir would have been tremendously costly.  Mahogany was chosen instead for its availability and its cost.  While mahogany would not have been used as an exterior wood when the porch was originally built, it is an acceptable replacement material in preservation standards and actually holds up better as an exterior wood than many original woods.

This project was a collaborative effort between Richard Gribble at Murphy & Dittenhafer Architects, McCoy Brothers, and the Historical Society of Dauphin County, and us.

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