For this week’s blog feature we decided to focus on a story of monumental love and history, in honor of Valentine’s Day this Friday. If you’re a romantic, there’s a love story for you. If you’re not a romantic, never fear! We’ve included our usual focus on historical buildings and materials, and in this case, renovation and rehabilitation efforts at the site. This post includes something for everyone!

 

Boldt Castle. Photo courtesy of Laura K.

 

First, for the romantics among our readers:

Set on Heart Island (how apropos!) in Alexandria Bay in the Thousand Islands region of Upstate New York, Boldt Castle – a castle reminiscent of palaces scattered throughout the Rhineland-Palatinate state of Germany and built in the chateauesque architectural style – and its surrounding buildings originated from the love of a man for his wife. More specifically, that man was George C. Boldt, the proprietor of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, New York. His wife was Louise Boldt, a native of Pennsylvania, and the daughter of his former employer. Various accounts note they fell in love within a short time of meeting and that they were close companions in love, life, and business; Louise’s hostess and decorating skills were said to complement Boldt’s hotel business beautifully. They had two children and the family frequently vacationed to the Thousand Islands. Boldt decided to combine his love for his wife and the islands in an over-the-top show of affection, and no standard box of chocolates or bouquet of roses would do. He put his significant wealth to use creating a monument of his love for Louise on his newly-dubbed “Heart” Island (formally known as Hart Island after the previous owner); note the oft-repeated heart motif in the photos below.

As with many love stories, this one has a tragic twist. In January 1904, not long before Valentine’s Day, Boldt’s beloved wife Louise, the inspiration for this fairy tale island project, suddenly passed away still in her early 40’s. The grief-stricken Boldt immediately called a halt to construction on the project and never returned, reportedly unable to bear setting foot there without Louise. The magnificent work of countless artisans was left to deteriorate for most of the next century, a decaying representation echoing Boldt’s heart-break. Years later, the Boldts’ granddaughter even co-authored a book about the  story. 

 

 


Tile detail of heart motif. Photo courtesy of Laura K.


Heart motif in stained glass dome. Photo courtesy of Laura K.


Heart motif on castle exterior. Photo courtesy of Laura K.


Heart motif hidden in stone corner. Photo courtesy of Laura K.

 

Now, for the non-romantics:

For lovers of historical architecture, the years of deterioration and vandalism of the Boldt Castle property on Heart Island could have been a heart-breaking tragedy in and of itself. Luckily, in the late 1970’s the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority acquired the property and agreed all net revenues from the castle operation would contribute to its rehabilitation and restoration. The full-size Rhineland castle and other structures on the island have slowly been rehabilitated over the years, and projects are ongoing.


Detail of unfinished and vandalized interior wall. Photo courtesy of Laura K.


Bedroom intended for Louise, fully restored. Photo courtesy of Laura K.

 

However, some concerns have been noted regarding the historical integrity of the site by astute preservation-minded people – including Thousand Islands author and architectural historian, the late Paul Malo – who have pointed out that as each room becomes renovated, little to no preservation is done on aspects of those rooms in their original state. Much of the rehabilitation efforts reportedly have been completed with entirely new plans and materials, with little reference to original plans and materials and ignoring replacement-in-kind, despite the proposed original intentions of the Bridge Authority. Further, little of the detailed historical context is presented on-site, and tours are self-guided with only small plaques with limited information throughout the property. Previous reports by those affiliated with the site and behind the rehabilitation acknowledge that compromises were made between restoration and preservation in some cases, in favor of economic sustainability and what would draw tourism to the site. Those same sources have asserted that, contrary to questions by preservationists, extensive research and expertise were involved in carefully assuming what the project might have originally looked like had it been completed as planned.             

The treatment of Boldt Castle over the past 40-plus years serves as an example of important discussion points for historians, preservationists, history-buffs, and even private-home owners and the general public, including deciding when restoration or rehabilitation are more appropriate than preservation. What is the best way to marry such projects with modern needs such as tourism, education, and cost?  More specifically, should we focus on what makes the general public happy and creates the most revenue (including romanticized stories that are possibly embellished and may even promote more deviation from the truth in the form of updates to a property driven by the legendary tales) at the cost of historical integrity? Should the love of love, or any questionable history or desire we have about how we wish things had been, be allowed to dictate how we care for or update a historic monument?

Regardless, no matter where one stands in terms of their romantic or preservation-mindedness, no one can deny the beauty of Boldt Castle. Its beautiful love story and aesthetic beauty remind us of all the ways we can show and feel love.  

P.S. If you would like to experience Boldt Castle for yourself, visit the website to learn more. If the Boldt Castle project has inspired you to learn more about maintenance and preservation, visit our post on maintaining your historical house and other resources on our blog. If you’re looking for a gift for yourself or a loved one for Valentine’s Day, consider sharing a free copy of our “Maintenance is Preservation” Booklet report – just send us a request via our contact page.  

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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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.

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“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.

We recently completed a historic porch restoration at the Harris-Cameron mansion in Harrisburg, PA.  Part of the project involved fabricating new wood columns to match a few existing column we were salvaging.  For that work we turned to Somerset Door & Column Company.

Historic Porch Restoration

For over 100 years, Somerset Door & Column Company has manufactured architectural wood columns, doors, and entryways. Built on tradition and authenticity, Somerset Door & Column uses trained artisan craftsmen and kiln-dried domestic and imported hardwoods to create long-lasting, high-quality custom doors and columns. While some manufacturers outsource parts of their production process, Somerset maintains complete control over the quality of their production process by fabricating everything on-site at their facilities.

We had previously worked with Somerset Door & Column on another historic porch restoration we did in Staten Island and knew their quality of work was commendable.  Chuck is picky about the vendors and contractors we work with and he gives Somerset a solid two thumbs up.

“There isn’t anything they can’t do”, he says.

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Historical Woodwork

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

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

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

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

 

Restoring Historical Plaster Walls

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

 

Historical Paint Color Choices

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

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

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

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

 

Restoration of Historical Flooring

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

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

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

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

 

1700’s & 1800’s Fireplace Restorations

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

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

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

 

Restoration in the Basement

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

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

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

 

What challenges did we run into with the project?  

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

 

Preservation Pennsylvania has released their “Pennsylvania At-Risk: Twenty-Year Retrospective of Pennsylvania’s Endangered Historic Properties, Where Are They Now” edition. It’s a fascinating look at preservation in action and we’ll be posting a look at each property in a series of posts over the next several months.

INTRODUCTION
Preservation Pennsylvania established the annual Pennsylvania At Risk list in 1992, making us the first statewide preservation organization in the United States to have an annual roster of endangered historic properties. Since 1992, we have listed and worked to preserve more than 200 endangered historic resources, including individual buildings, historic districts and thematic resources statewide. For 2012, as we celebrate the 30th anniversary of our organization, we are presenting a 20-year retrospective edition of Pennsylvania At Risk. In this issue, we revisit some of the amazing historic places across the Commonwealth, some of which have been rescued from extinction through preservation and rehabilitation efforts, and others that still need our help.

Approximately 18% of Pennsylvania’s At Risk properties have been lost, having been demolished or substantially altered. Another 32% have been saved or are in a condition or situation where the identified threat no longer poses a problem for the historic property. Approximately 50% of the 201 At Risk resources remain in danger, or we have not been able to confirm their current status as either saved or lost.

By monitoring these properties over the past 20 years and working with individuals and organizations trying to preserve them, we have learned many valuable lessons. Those lessons are called out throughout this publication.

1999 – Thomas Kent, Jr. Farm, Green County

historic preservation in pennsylvania, preserving pennsylvania's architecture, architectural preservation, historic preservation
Photo from the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation

 

• SAVED! (Sort of…)•

The 1851 brick farmhouse and the associated outbuildings and fields that comprise the 102-acre Thomas Kent, Jr. Farm reflect the agricultural heritage of southwestern Pennsylvania from the mid 19th century until the onset of the Great Depression. In 1999, the structural integrity of the farmhouse was threatened by longwall mining, an underground coal mining technique that removes whole panels from a coal seam without leaving columns of earth in place to support the mine ceiling. As the land above the extracted coal seam drops between four and six feet, an event known as subsidence, the surrounding land slumps and shifts. This movement results in damage to land and buildings, often disrupting or eliminating the natural water supply.

In an attempt to protect their historic farm from longwall coal mining impacts, the property owners engaged in an expensive, all-consuming multi-year legal battle. They opposed the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which issued a permit for longwall mining under their property despite the clear potential for adverse effects to this historic property. Rather than choosing an alternative that would avoid or minimize harmful impacts to the historic farm, the DEP allowed the mine operators to proceed as long as they agreed to repair the damage or compensate the property owner for their loss.

Recognizing that the DEP’s standard subsidence control and mitigation plan was insufficient, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) entered into a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the federal Office of Surface Mining, the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission, and the DEP in 2001, allowing longwall mining to proceed under the farm, provided that appropriate repairs be carried out afterward.

Despite bands and cables wrapped around the house in an attempt to hold the structure together during mining and the subsidence that followed, cracks more than 1 3⁄4 inches wide formed in the exterior walls of the 1851 brick house. Upon completion of the longwall mining, an entire corner of the house (more than 15,000 bricks) had to be reconstructed.

Large crews spent months working to repair the damage. It is fortunate that the MOA was in place because the level of work required to repair the house was well beyond what the DEP’s standard subsidence control and mitigation plan would have repaired.  Despite a monumental legal battle to prevent damage to the farm, longwall mining was still allowed to occur. While the Thomas Kent, Jr. Farm was technically “saved” from destruction by longwall mining and has been cosmetically restored, the integrity of the building has been compromised. The owners still hear subsidence cracking more than 10 years later and worry that the house remains in danger.

While the Thomas Kent, Jr. Farm was technically saved from destruction by longwall mining and has been cosmetically restored, the integrity of the building has been compromised.

[sws_grey_box box_size=”630″]Longwall Mining:

Today, longwall mining still threatens historic resources in Pennsylvania.  Plantation Plenty (the Isaac Manchester Farm) was listed in Pennsylvania At Risk in 2010 and was included in the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places as a result of proposed longwall mining.  Preservation Pennsylvania continues to work with our partners to protect this historic farm and other properties from damage by longwall mining.

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Photo from Act 54 Reform

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Historic restorations contractors, qualified historic restorations contractors, how to pick a contractor for historic buildings

Picking a contractor with adequate skills and experience to complete a job is always important, but it is particularly important for restorations and renovations of a historical building.  To avoid permanently damaging the historical fabric of your building, you need a contractor who is well-versed in historical products and materials, can identify and replicate the traditional trade approaches and techniques that created your building’s unique characteristics, understands the modern review, permitting, and approval process for historical buildings with applicable government agencies, historical boards, and commissions, and values preservation of our built history as much as you do.

A Qualified Contractor for Historic Restorations has Thorough Knowledge of Historical Products and Materials

Historical construction products and materials are drastically different from modern building products and materials. Some differ in the materials used to produce a particular product. Even when these materials look the same, they can be dangerously incompatible with your historical building – mixing modern and historical materials can not only be detrimental to your building’s aesthetic value, it can destabilize your building’s structural foundation. 

Many new façade treatments focus on moisture-proofing, while historical buildings functioned as “breathing” buildings that expelled excess moisture – if you combine a new façade material (even one that looks exactly like the original) with an old façade material you can set the stage for dangerous moisture issues that threaten your building’s foundation and air quality.

Others materials use the same (or similar) materials to produce a replicate product and are “merely” fabricated in an entirely different manner producing a finished product that may look the same as the original (or may not, look close – does it really?), but isn’t an accurate preservation of the historical fabric of your building because of the manner in which it was fabricated.

For example, historical bricks are not soft because people preferred softer bricks 150 years ago. They are softer because of the process used to fabricate them – the historical, hand-crafted process resulted in lower firing temperatures than the modern, mass-production process.

Any projects on your historical building changes it, and most projects result in some irreversible changes. Change can be a good thing…if your contractor knows which materials are appropriate to use. But when you pick the wrong contractor, incompatible materials and installation methods can result in permanent damage to your building.

A Qualified Contractor for Historic Restorations is Able to Identify and Replicate Traditional Trade Techniques

Maintaining the historical fabric of your building is about more than replacing worn materials with the same kind of materials and products or making sure the paint colors match what was originally used.

Craftsmen styles, approaches, and techniques were as diverse as the architectural styles they created that make up our built history. When your historical building was originally built, these craftsmen all influenced the final look of your building. Geographic region also influenced the way craftsmen completed their work on a building. Even today contractors may have differing methodologies to complete the same work and work is completed slightly differently from region to region.

When working on your building, you need a contractor who will not only know the appropriate materials to use, but the appropriate method to install them – a contractor who preserves the kinds of materials that are original to your building and the traditional trade approaches that created it as well.

A Qualified Contractor for Historic Restorations Knows the Review, Permitting, & Approval Process for Historic Buildings

When your historical building was originally built, the process was simple. You bought some land, hired some contractors, and raised the building that met your budget and design needs. Work on an existing building was even more simple: you hired someone to do the
work.

Today the process is a bit more complex. Work of any kind on a historical building can involve multiple government agencies who grant and oversee construction and occupancy permits and a historical board or commission who guides the restoration process and approves any changes and the materials and methods used to make those changes. Not to mention the various building codes your project is subject to and the exemptions and regulations that govern construction projects involving historical buildings.

Picking a contractor who isn’t familiar with the unique demands of meeting the needs, requirements, and timelines of several different building codes, government agencies, historical boards and commissions can result in serious delay of your project, outright denial of your project, and skyrocketing costs to redo, backtrack, and resubmit.

A Qualified Contractor for Historic Restorations Values Preservation of Your Historic Architecture as Much as You Do

You haven’t spent the time, money, and energy on your historical building because its history and unique contribution to our cultural and built heritage isn’t important to you. Why choose a contractor who doesn’t value your building and its historical fabric as much as
you do?

Look for a contractor who not only works on historical restoration projects, but who practices a traditional trade themselves and supports organizations and guilds that promote the traditional trades. Find out which contractors do this because preservation is their priority, and which contractors do this merely to make money.

Ways to assess whether or not your contractor values preservation as much as you do:

Peruse their website to see if they offer non-sales content related to preservationand/or the traditional trades.

Read through their blog and decide how much they post as self-promotion and how much is preservation-promotion.

Browse through their activity on social media and see if their posts and updates are about more than just what they’re doing.

Ask for credentials and find out what organizations they support, participate in have help found, etc.

Ask their previous customers what they felt the contractor’s priority was – preservation or the bottom line.  

But perhaps above all else, your contractor needs to be someone who you are comfortable with and who listens to your needs and wants for your historical building – you are building a team for the work on your building together, choose wisely.

Skilled craftsmen and knowledgeable contractors are critical to preventing permanent damage to your historical building during a project. More importantly, you need a qualified contractor for historic restorations and has a proven and specialized track record of work on historical buildings.

[sws_grey_box box_size=”630″] How to Evaluate a Qualified Contractor for Historic Restorations:
• Is my contractor properly insured and licensed, as applicable?

• Can my contractor explain to me what the appropriate materials and methods for my project are and why? Does my contractor know acceptable substitutes if exact replication isn’t feasible?

• Does my contractor practice a traditional trade? Does my contractor understand the historical methods of the traditional trades?

• Does my contractor have a record of historical restoration projects? Are any of them similar to mine? Have I asked for references?

• Why does my contractor work in historical restoration?

• Does my contractor understand the permitting, review, and approval process for my project? Have they worked through this process in my area for previous projects?

• Do I have good communication with my contractor? Does my contractor listen and respond to my questions, concerns, needs?[/sws_grey_box]

 

Preservation Pennsylvania has released their “Pennsylvania At-Risk: Twenty-Year Retrospective of Pennsylvania’s Endangered Historic Properties, Where Are They Now” edition. It’s a fascinating look at preservation in action and we’ll be posting a look at each property in a series of posts over the next several months.

INTRODUCTION
Preservation Pennsylvania established the annual Pennsylvania At Risk list in 1992, making us the first statewide preservation organization in the United States to have an annual roster of endangered historic properties. Since 1992, we have listed and worked to
preserve more than 200 endangered historic resources, including individual buildings, historic districts and thematic resources statewide. For 2012, as we celebrate the 30th anniversary of our organization, we are presenting a 20-year retrospective edition of Pennsylvania At Risk. In this issue, we revisit some of the amazing historic places across the Commonwealth, some of which have been rescued from extinction through preservation and rehabilitation efforts, and others that still need our help.

Approximately 18% of Pennsylvania’s At Risk properties have been lost, having been demolished or substantially altered. Another 32% have been saved or are in a condition or situation where the identified threat no longer poses a problem for the historic property. Approximately 50% of the 201 At Risk resources remain in danger, or we have not been able to confirm their current status as either saved or lost.

By monitoring these properties over the past 20 years and working with individuals and organizations trying to preserve them, we have learned many valuable lessons. Those lessons are called out throughout this publication.

 

1998 – Hazleton High School, Luzerne County

Hazleton High School, Luzerne County

 

• SAVED!•

Hazleton High School, affectionately known as “The Castle on the Hill” to local residents, is one of the city’s most distinctive landmarks.  Built in 1926 in the collegiate Gothic style with elaborate medieval-=style towers and concrete parapets, the building was later converted for use as a junior high school.  Despite its continued use, the school suffered from years of deferred maintenance.  Serious structural problems resulted from water penetration; outdated heating and cooling systems resulted in broken pipes that damaged the wood floors.  When a section of the concrete parapet above the building’s main entrance fell and struct a parent, the school board voted to demolish the historic school.

With vocal opposition from the community and support by a mayor who refused to issue a demolition permit, local residents rallied and called for funding to repair and rehabilitate the building.  Following changes in the composition of the school board, claims that the building was beyond repair were questioned and its condition was reassessed.  When the building was listed in the Pennsylvania At Risk in 1998, the board was divided, and the community was polarized over the issue; many saw preservation as counter to the school’s need for improved technology and other upgrades to the educational curriculum.  After much public debate, the school board voted in May of 2004 to renovate the building for use as an elementary and middle school rather than demolish it.  Renovation of the school occurred relatively quickly, with the new Hazleton Elementary/Middle School opening in the old High School in 2007.

During this renovation, the auditorium was stabilized but not rehabilitated.  Members of the community worked to preserve the auditorium and raise funds for its rehabilitation.  Using a variety of funding sources including grants, private donations, and a large contribution from the school district, the auditorium was fitted with new seating and reproduction aisle standards, digital theater lighting, theater rigging, audio and visual systems and more, and opened as the Alice C. Wiltsie Performing Arts Center in 2011.  The facility, which is owned by the school district and leased to a nonprofit organization that operates the auditorium, received a preservation award in 2012.

To support the Wiltsie Performing Arts Center at the Hazleton School, please visit www.wiltsiecenter.org.

 

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In 1998, Preservation Pennsylvania dedicated its entire At Risk list to endangered schools.  With help from Arthur Ziegler at the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, Preservation Pennsylvania brought attention to the fact that the Pennsylvania Depart of Education’s policies for reimbursement encouraged the construction of new schools over the continued use and preservation of existing and historic schools and began working to improve the situation.

Since 1998, Preservation Pennsylvania has continued to focus on the school issue, working with the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and other partners to keep the issue of retaining historical school buildings as schools in the forefront and to encourage the smart siting of new schools in locations where at least a portion of students can walk or bike to school.  Preservation Pennsylvania just completed a policy recommendation on Capital Maintenance Reimbursement and the Joint Use of Community-Centered Schools in Pennsylvania.  The Community-Centered Schools page on our website has the most up-to-date resources and success stories. [/sws_grey_box]

 

 

 

Preservation Pennsylvania has released their “Pennsylvania At-Risk: Twenty-Year Retrospective of Pennsylvania’s Endangered Historic Properties, Where Are They Now” edition. It’s a fascinating look at preservation in action and we’ll be posting a look at each property in a series of posts over the next several months.

INTRODUCTION
Preservation Pennsylvania established the annual Pennsylvania At Risk list in 1992, making us the first statewide preservation organization in the United States to have an annual roster of endangered historic properties. Since 1992, we have listed and worked to
preserve more than 200 endangered historic resources, including individual buildings, historic districts and thematic resources statewide. For 2012, as we celebrate the 30th anniversary of our organization, we are presenting a 20-year retrospective edition of Pennsylvania At Risk. In this issue, we revisit some of the amazing historic places across the Commonwealth, some of which have been rescued from extinction through preservation and rehabilitation efforts, and others that still need our help.

Approximately 18% of Pennsylvania’s At Risk properties have been lost, having been demolished or substantially altered. Another 32% have been saved or are in a condition or situation where the identified threat no longer poses a problem for the historic property. Approximately 50% of the 201 At Risk resources remain in danger, or we have not been able to confirm their current status as either saved or lost.

By monitoring these properties over the past 20 years and working with individuals and organizations trying to preserve them, we have learned many valuable lessons. Those lessons are called out throughout this publication.

 

1997 – Coal Oil Johnny House, Venango County

Coal Oil Johnny

 

• SAVED!•

Commonly known as “Coal Oil Johnny,” John Washington Steele was the Pennsylvania oil boom’s prodigal prince.  Adopted at a young age by the McClintock family, John resided in this circa 1850 wood-frame farmhouse for much of his life.  In return for decades of helping the widow McClintock run the farm and manage oil leases on the property, John inherited the estate when Mrs. McClintock died in 1864.  His inheritance included well royalties of $2,000 to $3,000 per day, plus a huge reserve that the widow had stored in a safe in the farmhouse.

Almost overnight, John stopped working hard and started playing hard.  He left his wife of two years and young son in western Pennsylvania and adopted a flamboyant, expensive lifestyle that included extended stays in New York and Philadelphia, where he rode in a bright red carriage decorated with pictures of oil wells gushing dollar signs.  According to local lore, Johnny once spent $100,000 in a day; he bought a hotel for  a night; he lit cigars with hundred-dollar bills; and diamonds dripped from his fingers.  His life was reflective of the boom and bust of the industry.  After living the high life and drinking heavily in cities along the eastern seaboard while poorly managing his money, Coal Oil Johnny quickly depleted his fortune.  He returned to this farmhouse and his wife and son in 1866, and filed for bankruptcy in 1867.  Johnny returned to work.  After hauling other people’s oil to market and dabbling in business, he moved his family farther west, dying nearly penniless in 1921.

After sitting vacant for more than 50 years and subjected to water infiltration as well as insect and rodent infestation, the structural integrity of the building’s foundation was in jeopardy. Its support beams had rotted, and the building’s exterior cladding was damaged beyond repair.  Unable to find a new owner for the house, the owners announced plans to demolish the building in 1996.  By 1997, when the house was listed in Pennsylvania at Risk, the Oil Heritage Region, Inc. (now Oil Region Alliance) had stepped forward to coordinate emergency stabilization measures.  Making good use of both public funds and private donations, they succeeded in moving the house across Oil Creek to the Rynd Farm in Oil Creek State Park in 2001, where they were able to rehabilitate the house over the following years.  The Coal Oil Johnny House is open for special events, an annual open house, and by appointment.  The immediate threat of demolition has been overcome, and the building is currently safe from harm.  But the Oil Region Alliance could still use additional financial support for expanded programming at the house.

To support this project, please contribute to the Oil region Alliance via their website: www.oilregion.org.

 

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Lessons Learned:

Intervention tools such as grants and tax credits are helping to make preservation projects possible.

The Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission’s Keystone Historic Preservation grants make a significant impact on the ability of municipalities and non-profits to preserve endangered historic buildings for public use. At least 48 grants have been given to 25 of Pennsylvania’s 201 At Risk properties as a result of the Keystone Recreation, Park & Conservation Fund. The federal Save America’s Treasures program assisted at least six additional projects that were once at risk of being lost. At least nine additional endangered historic properties in Pennsylvania have benefited from grants from the National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP). The NTHP has invested additional funds into initiatives started to address the threats identified in Pennsylvania at Risk, such as the demolition of historic properties for construction of new, large houses and stores, and addressing problems common among specific property types, such as churches and schools.

At least 20 historic properties that were included in Pennsylvania At Risk over the past 20 years have benefited from the federal Rehabilitation Investment Tax Credit. All relatively large commercial rehabilitation projects, these projects are scattered all around the state, occurring in Allegheny, Bedford, Blair, Crawford, Dauphin, Erie, Lehigh, Luzerne, Lycoming, and Philadelphia Counties. With the new state tax credit in place, rehabilitation tax credits will certainly continue to provide important financial incentives for preserving Pennsylvania endangered historic properties in years to come. [/sws_grey_box]

 

The Central Pennsylvania Preservation Society recently hosted representatives from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission for a presentation on the brand new state historic tax credit program.  You can read their summary of the presentation here.

 

 

 

 

Preservation Pennsylvania has released their “Pennsylvania At-Risk: Twenty-Year Retrospective of Pennsylvania’s Endangered Historic Properties, Where Are They Now” edition.  It’s a fascinating look at preservation in action and we’ll be posting a look at each property in a series of posts over the next several months.

INTRODUCTION
Preservation Pennsylvania established the annual Pennsylvania At Risk list in 1992, making us the first statewide preservation organization in the United States to have an annual roster of endangered historic properties. Since 1992, we have listed and worked to
preserve more than 200 endangered  historic resources, including individual buildings, historic districts and thematic resources statewide. For 2012, as we celebrate the 30th anniversary of our organization, we are presenting a 20-year retrospective edition of Pennsylvania At Risk. In this issue, we revisit some of the amazing historic places across the Commonwealth, some of which have been rescued from extinction through preservation and rehabilitation efforts, and others that still need our help.

Approximately 18% of Pennsylvania’s At Risk properties have been lost,  having been demolished or substantially altered. Another 32% have been saved or are in a condition or situation where the identified threat no longer poses a problem for the historic property. Approximately 50% of the 201 At Risk resources remain in danger, or we have not been able to confirm their current status as either saved or lost.

By monitoring these properties over the past 20 years and working with individuals and organizations trying to preserve them, we have learned many valuable lessons. Those lessons are called out throughout this publication.

 

1993 – King of Prussia Inn, Montgomery County

1993 - King of Prussia Inn, Montgomery County

• SAVED! •

Built in 1719 at a rural crossroads, the King of Prussia Inn operated as a tavern for approximately 200 years, giving rise to the community that still bears its name.  In 1952, the Pennsylvania Highway Department (now PennDOT) acquired the former inn in order to make roadway improvements to Route 202.  Because of the high cost and engineering challenges associated with moving the large stone building, it sat idle and boarded up, deteriorating in the median strip of Route 202 for nearly 50 years.

Area residents never forgot about the King of Prussia Inn.  The King of Prussia Historical Society got the inn listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.  A Keystone Grant from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission was used to complete a historic structures report that documented the building’s history and condition.  When it was listed in Pennsylvania At Risk in 1993, there was consensus that the only way to preserve the King of Prussia Inn was to move it.

After years of planning and negotiations, a plan was developed to relocate the historic building.  The King of Prussia Chamber of Commerce secured a new location for the inn and committed to rehabilitating and maintaining it.  The Federal Highway Administration and PennDOT paid $1.6 million to move it.  PennDOT’s Engineering District 6-0 assembled a team of consultant who carefully planned the relocation effort of the 580-ton building.  They braced the inn with limber, metal plates and steel cables, and used computer-controlled jacks fitted beneath I-beams that held the structure to lift it off the ground, and moved it inch by inch to its new site.  Thanks to the joint effort of Pennsylvania’s transportation and historic preservation communities, today the Chamber of Commerce occupies the relocated King of Prussia Inn.

For more information on relocating the King of Prussia Inn, read PennDOT’s article on the project.

the King of Prussia Inn

 

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND OF THE INN
From the National Park Service

Pennsylvania was still a British colony when the King of Prussia Inn was built in 1719 at the intersection of Swedesford and Gulph Roads. Though that building was but a small farmhouse, the house later grew to a prosperous tavern and inn at the heart of a town by the same name.

For more than two centuries, the inn and farmhouse functioned with varying degrees of prosperity and fame. The inn provided hospitality to travelers when the colony was just a scattering of farms around the very young city of Philadelphia. It is likely the inn attracted traders on the road from the port of Wilmington, Delaware, who were going north to Norristown, Pennsylvania, where barges could take their goods east on the Schuylkill River to Philadelphia. It also seems likely that the crossroads–upon which the inn was built–influenced the making of this home into a tavern and inn.

The King of Prussia, like other historic inns, links us to the day-to-day lives of travelers, inn keepers, and merchants; and to important trends in the commercial and social history of our country. Historic inns, like the King of Prussia, dotted the major transportation routes and were usually located at important crossroads. Their histories are very much tied to the history of the American transportation network. In the course of providing food, rest, and entertainment for generations of travelers, the inn witnessed many events, trends, and ideas that are central to American history. These included the early network of roads and turnpikes that were essential to the rise of Colonial commerce and trade; the comings and goings of armies during the American Revolution; urban and suburban growth that followed the improvement of local roads in the 19th and 20th centuries; and the rise of the modern American transportation network. After extensive efforts on behalf of preservationists and transportation officials to save this structure from encroaching suburban growth, the inn now serves as a wonderful example of the importance of preserving our past for the future.