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?

 

Lancaster’s rich history and diverse architectural styles are a virtual feast for the eyes.  Have you experienced them lately?  Now that the weather is turning, we are all looking forward to spending more time outside.  These walking tours from the City of Lancaster’s website are the perfect way to do so.

 

A Walk Around Downtown Lancaster
(covering three centuries in four blocks)

Lancaster City is an architectural gem. Stroll down any street, in any direction, and you will encounter remarkable, and remarkably intact, historic buildings. Throughout the City, history comes alive through an intermingling of different architectural styles and periods. Each building has its own distinctive characteristics, which together form a varied and colorful mosaic.

The following walk takes in four blocks near Lancaster’s Penn Square, which will transport tour participants through three centuries of Lancaster’s civic, commercial, religious, social and architectural history. Despite that dizzying time travel, this leisurely walk can be accomplished in less than an hour. (You may want to spend much longer than an hour, however. Every street contains many delightful and charming details, so it’s a good idea to stop often to look up at rooflines, look down at cellar windows, and peek through alleyways in order to fully appreciate the quirks and beauty of the architecture.)

[Sites on this tour that are open to the public have been noted. Otherwise, the buildings are private residences or offices and should be respected as such, but the exteriors can be viewed and admired.]

To guide your walk, download a Tour Map and a Listing of Historic Buildingsfeatured on this tour.

Penn Square
Penn Square is Lancaster’s geographic, commercial and civic hub. From the 1730s until 1853, two different courthouses stood in the center of the square. The Soldiers and Sailors Monument is erected there now, built of granite in 1874 to honor those who fought in the Civil War.

This walking tour begins at the northwest corner of Penn Square, where there are three centuries of history present: an old city hall dating from the eighteenth-century, a nineteenth-century markethouse, and an early twentieth-century skyscraper.

South Queen Street
One block south of Penn Square, along South Queen Street, tour goers will come across buildings with connections to the American Revolution and the abolition of slavery as they view a Georgian townhouse, a Federal mansion, and a complex of buildings linked to the Underground Railroad.

Old Town
The tour continues east along East Vine Street, within an area known as Old Town, one of the City’s earliest areas of development during Colonial times. This neighborhood contains houses dating from the 1700s through the 1900s. In the 1970s, much of this area was slated for “urban renewal,” which would have meant the demolition and loss of these irreplaceable historic resources. Instead, the houses were rehabilitated in one of Lancaster’s earliest historic preservation efforts. Tour highlights in this neighborhood include a converted stone stable, the former home of Lancaster’s premier portrait painter, and a dignified Classical Revival mansion.

East Orange Street
This section of East Orange Street is part of the City’s original Historic District, established in 1967. Along this tree-lined street, tour goers will pass an Italianate villa and a church cemetery established in 1744.


North Queen Street
Downtown Lancaster has been a commercial center for 275 years, and North Queen Street has long been an important retail area. The colonial city owed its early prosperity to its strategic position at a transportation crossroads. Lancaster’s role as a retail center grew rapidly with the Industrial Revolution, which produced more plentiful and cheaper goods and a growing urban population to consume them. Turn-of-the-century technology introduced new building materials and construction methods, and Lancaster’s storefronts exhibited the latest architectural styles.

The tour concludes at the original starting point at Penn Square. There are numerous shops, museums, art galleries, and restaurants along West King, West Grant, North Queen and North Prince Streets. Central Market is open each Tuesday and Friday from 6:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m, and on Saturday from 6:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m.

For information about downtown attractions and businesses, visit: “Lancaster City’s On-Line Guide” at www.lancasterpa.net

“Discover Downtown Lancaster” at www.downtownlancaster.com.

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Don’t miss the dramatic before & after pictures at the bottom of the page!

FranklinStrStationBefore

Before Picture of the Interior

The Franklin Street Train Station in Reading, PA was originally built in the 1920’s as a station along the Reading Railroad shipping and passenger “Main Line” between Pottsville/Shanokin and Philadelphia.  The station served rail and bus service for decades.  In 1972 Hurricane Agnes ravaged the building, but transportation services still used the building until 1981 when the last train departed the station.

From 1981 until 2011 the building sat empty and abandoned.  The damage done by vagrants, vandals, several fires, and a pigeon colony over the 40 years of neglect that decimated the building.  The exterior stone walls were covered in graffiti, windows were broken or missing, wood rot was extensive throughout the building, plaster was damaged from the leaking roof, the original train station benches were long gone, and refuse, waste, and debris were littered throughout the building.

In 2005 the Berks Area Regional Transit Authority (BARTA) purchased the station from the City with the hope that passenger train service could be restored to the station, and in 2011 they began the massive undertaking of restoring the building to its original glory to use it as a bus terminal for their public busing system.

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After Picture of the Interior

Using photos from the original dedication of the station in 1930,  BARTA worked with their architect to choose treatments that would return the station’s interior to its original state.  Once Historic Restorations began work, our research, knowledge, suggestions, and mock-ups continued the development of the historically accurate restorations.

Bob Rimby, the BARTA Project Manager who oversaw the project, noted that the biggest challenges they faced in the project were the depth of the damage and the fixed budget they could not exceed since the project was funded by grant money.  How did they address those challenges?  “Historic Restorations, plain and simple.  They saved things I didn’t think could be saved.  That not only helped us achieve our ‘save as much as possible’ goal, it helped us contain our costs by eliminating the amount of new construction we initially budgeted for,” says Rimby.

But that wasn’t the only benefit BARTA experienced with Historic Restorations’ work.  Bob notes, “When they couldn’t save something, Historic Restorations recreated those architectural features so accurately that people come in here and think they are original.”

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In the Fall of 2013, the Franklin Street Train Station project won the Architectural Woodwork Institute’s “Award of Excellence” and was featured in an article in the Fall 2013 edition of their Design Solutions magazine.  

Click on the picture to read the article.

 

 

How the Franklin Street Train Station was Restored

The major architectural woodwork items we fabricated for the project:

COFFERED CEILING
One of the biggest architectural woodwork features on this project is the coffered ceiling we recreated to match what had been there originally.  30’ above eye-level the original coffered ceiling wasn’t just decayed beyond revival, it had been completely removed at some point in time during the building’s life.  This process began with extensive work on the design of the cornice profile.  The challenge was not only coming up with a design that was historically accurate, we also needed to proportionately enlarge the profile so that it could be seen and appreciated from 30’ below.  After working with the architect on multiple design options and mock-ups we eventually ended up with a cornice profile that was almost 4’.

 

RAILWAY STATION BENCHES:
Another major architectural woodwork feature we fabricated for the project were about ten traditional railway station benches 10 to 30’ in length.  None of the original benches were still in the building, nor any remnants of them so we were reproducing the benches entirely from scratch based on historic photographs we researched for the design.  We took a very utilitarian, economical, and green approach – as would traditionally have been done in millwork shops – and used the scrap African Mahogany left over from the doors to create the bench ends.  We performed the work in our shop based on the architect’s drawings which provided a design based on historical pictures of railway benches, but did not specify the joinery or assembly which was left to our discretion.  We determined the traditional joinery techniques that would be best for the benches and how the pieces drawn would fit together.  Once we had planned the assembly of the benches, we provided the architect with shop drawings for their approval.  Again, to honor the inherent beauty of the African Mahogany we applied the same finish as the doors – the Vintage Burgundy opaque stain with a hand-rubbed clear coat stain.

 

LUNCH COUNTER
Restored an existing 20’ long cabinet out of the diner area and turned it into a museum piece, complete with a new compartments, shelving, and glass sliding doors that lock for security.  We fashioned a White Oak countertop for the cabinet and used butterfly dovetails tying the laminate seam together as an accent.  We also made moldings that matched the original moldings on the countertop.  We chose black walnut for the splines as an accent to the White Oak top and polished the bottom of the cabinet with a hand-rubbed clear coat finish that is subtle, not bright but satiny in appearance.

 

 

EXTERIOR DOORS
We also fabricated 28 solid wood doors that were actually an upgrade from the original doors, which used a veneer over an inferior wood core and lacking traditional joinery.  As a company we do most of our rail and style construction in the traditional way with mortise and tenon joinery, a much higher quality construction than was used in the 1920’s.  In addition to using traditional joinery, we used African Mahogany to instead of the white wood core that had been in the original doors for more solidity that would endure the wear of a transportation hub.  To finish the doors we honored the beauty of the African Mahogany with Vintage Burgundy opaque stain and a hand-rubbed clear coat finish.  The doors each had 2-4 windows in them with a wagon-wheel muntin design configuration.  All of the design features for the new doors were taken from the original doors in keeping with preserving the original architectural style.

What woodwork items were the most intricate, difficult, or noteworthy?  

The luncheon cabinet was a difficult restoration due to the extensive water damage and rot in the wood.

The doors were probably the most intricate woodwork in the project.  Each door had two windows and the plans called for a wagon-wheel six-muntin design.  Small pieces of tempered glass are not possible so we had to come up with a way to fabricate the wagon-wheel muntin design using only two pieces of glasses instead of the eight we would normally use.  We addressed this challenge by running a center muntin horizontally across the the opening to join the two pieces of tempered glass together (which also added stability) and then we designed the wagon-wheel muntins on the top and bottom of the window.  Fabricating the windows this way created a lot of little pieces of wood.  Each of the approximately 12 windows required about 40 pieces per side, which created around 500 small pieces of wood  – each one specific to particular place in a particular window.

The benches also presented some difficulty.  Traditional railway benches are obviously not something a millwork shop fabricates frequently, but there were other difficulties as well.  We had to come up with a way to prevent the back sides of the seat and the backs of the benches from moving around and we did by shiplapping the wide pieces of boards together.  We also rabbited the ends of the wood pieces into the end-panels, requiring a radius router cut to accommodate that.  Again, the goal here was to create a piece that would last for a hundred or more years through the use that a public transportation hub would generate.

The  design and technical assistance we provided:

Most of the technical assistance we provided was compensations for wood movement, holding things together, and just generally making the adjustments and considerations needed to fabricate something that would withstand a lot of use and stand the test of time by contributing ideas that weren’t originally included or called for in the drawings.  For example, for construction of the transoms we suggested taking into consideration that future problems with the glass might require replacement and/or repair and suggested a design alteration that would accommodate that eventuality more easily.

We also offered our suggestions and feedback on the design based on our specialized experience in working with historical architecture.  The profile design for the coffered ceiling is a good example of how we worked with the architect on design features.  We created several designed based on our interpretation of the architect’s drawings as well as our own knowledge of historically accurate cornice details for that time period and then made mock-ups to review with the architect.

How we helped BARTA meet scheduling and budget objectives:

Budget is always a concern on any project and we are well versed in being budget-conscious.  I think the biggest way we kept costs under control for this project was probably in the amount of wood and materials we were able to salvage from the building.  Many people would have looked at the condition of the building and considered it all scrap – it was so heavily damaged.

FSS Slideshare

Click to see slides of the work in-progress.

But thanks to our experience, the skilled craftsmen we employ, and our dedication to preservation of original features we were able to salvage about 40% of the original materials.  We also employed an outside-the-box approach to installation of the coffered ceiling that saved time and money.  By installing scaffolding that covered the entire inside of the building (essentially created a large work deck about 24’ high), we were able to install the entire coffered ceiling in just over a week.  We also saved on prevailing wage costs by performing the majority of the work here in our millwork shop.

We meet scheduling objectives by maximizing efficiency.  Our approach to the installation of the coffered ceiling that we just mentioned is one example.  We also sped up the process of the cornice design approval by determining the structural members that are necessary to support a 4’ cornice, and we primered and finish-painted the pieces before they were installed (with minimal touch-up required after installation) to reduce the amount of time and disruption to other work that installation of the ceiling would impact.  But perhaps the biggest way we maximized efficiency was by fabricating the woodwork here in our millwork shop using a production-line style that focused on each craftsman specializing in a certain aspect of the fabrication to speed up production.

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For a great timeline of the station, along with pictures of it from the original 1930 dedication, over the decades, and the re-dedication ceremony in 2013 after the project was completed, head over to this page on the Reading Eagle’s website.

Click here to read one of the Reading Eagle’s many articles on the project.

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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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“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

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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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The kids and I have been studying the American Revolution all year for our history studies, and last week we took a field trip down to Independence National Historical Park  (INHP).  It was a gorgeous day and I took a ton of pictures just so I could share them with you.

So let’s take a walking tour through Philadelphia’s Historic District and INHP ….. a walking tour you can take without ever having to leave your chair.
(Disclaimer:  I don’t know all the names of all the buildings, the years they were built, or even a whole lot of information about their architectural features.  What I do know is that Center City Philadelphia has some really cool old buildings and I couldn’t stop snapping photos.)
First up, let’s visit Independence Hall.  This building literally is the foundation of INHP and it’s where our country was founded.  I won’t bore you with a bunch of historical details, mostly because someone else has already taken the time to type it all up for me, but also because I can’t wait to show you these pictures.

Here she is in all her grandeur…..

Her crowning glory…..

 

I noticed the clock below the clock tower and just couldn’t help but wonder….. why?  Why does a clock tower (with a clock on all four sides) require an additional clock below it?  Nobody knew.  Google couldn’t tell me either. Here are the kids’ theories: Did our founders have a secret obsession with time? Or maybe this was the early version of World Time Zone Clock Walls?  Perhaps the extra clock showed the time in the Mother Country?  Maybe the Founding Fathers just thought it would be pretty?

I am used to seeing date stones at the bottom of buildings. I’ve never noticed one at the top of a building before, or such a small one. It also seems to be applied to the exterior, rather than built into the wall as I am accustomed to expecting in a datestone. I tried searching out some information, but Google failed me here too. I found one short Wikipedia on datestones, and while the reference sources seem to be Euro-centric it did include a link to this blog post about the use of datestones in Europe that I found a fascinating read. After reading it, I have to wonder if this datestone is actually original to the building. 
              

Now let’s head inside……


The Court Room

In the 1700’s, the American Colonies used the same Common Law system that England used, using Grand Juries to determine criminal indictments and after declaring their independence, the United States of America continued using the same Grand Jury system as the basis for their justice system.

The concept of Grand Juries was introduced by King Henry the II in 1166 C.E. While they were widely used in England and several other countries around the world, they were not initially used in the Colonies. Instead “Assistants” acting as magistrates made laws, accused suspects, and passed judgments on those charges. Such unmitigated power lead to widespread abuse by the “Assistants” and by the mid-1600’s Grand Juries were replacing the use of “Assistants” in the Colonies. 


But critics soon turned their attentions to Grand Jury hearings saying they didn’t protect witnesses and the accused enough and granted the Grand Jury and the Prosecution too much power.

Eventually Grand Juries were abandoned and today the United States is the only country to still use Grand Juries.



There is no doubt, the Court Room felt imposing, embellished, stately, and significant.  But even the halls and stairways at Independence Hall felt the same way.  Everywhere the eye turned it found the sense of style and essence it expected in such a hallowed building.


                                                   
  
                             

In the one corner of the Court Room, my husband noticed and pointed out the hidden doors that sat in the curved corners at the back of the room. The Park Ranger was leading our (rather large, thanks to a Fraternity group from MIT) group out of the room and the temptation was strong to go take a peak at what those doors were hiding – but we resisted.

And now for the room that’s responsible for it all…. 

The Assembly Room is the room where it all began, where the delegations from all thirteen colonies regularly convened to discuss Provincial government matters at first, and eventually where they planned and plotted a Revolution.  It was surprisingly small at only 40 feet square, a nice balance of understated and architecturally interesting, and contained fifteen tables – one for each of the colonies facing the front, one for whomever was presiding over the meetings, and one for the secretary of the meetings.  The only original furniture in the room is the “Rising Sun Chair” (see below for an explanation) used by George Washington and the silver inkstand used to sign both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.  All other furnishing were Constitution period items purchased by the NPS when recreating the Assembly Room setting. 

The “Rising Sun Chair” is actually an original piece of furniture to the Assembly Room.  It held our Founding Fathers as they discussed, debated, and declared our independence.  It held George Washington while he presided over the discussions, debates, and declarations that eventually produced our Constitution a few years later.  

Ben Franklin is purported as saying, “I have often, in the course of the session, and the vicissitudes of my hopes and fears as to its issue, looked at that behind the president without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting.  But now, at length, I have the happiness to know that it is a rising. and not a setting. sun.”


Speaking of Ben Franklin….

We also stopped over at Franklin Court.  Franklin’s house is no longer standing (apparently his relatives tore it down a mere 20 years after he died to erect a commercial structure), but the NPS has constructed a “ghost” house that shows the outline of what Franklin’s house would have looked like.  And while Franklin’s house could not be preserved, the rest of the Court could and houses an 18th Century printing press shop and an operating post office and postal museum.  
Oh, and the places where Ben Franklin pooped.  No joke.  They have the round holes where privies sat marked with manhole-like metal covers, inscribed with the notation that they were Ben Franklin’s privies.  Talk about your fanatical preservation…. (No, I did not take pictures.  You can continue scrolling without fear.)

  The front of the shops at Franklin Court

The kids participated in the NPS’ “Junior Ranger Program” while we were visiting INHP.  To be sworn in as Jr. Rangers, they had to complete activities in a workbook throughout the day at our various stops.  Here at Franklin Court they drew a picture of what they thought Franklin’s house would have looked like had it still been standing.

What an 18th Century print shop looks like….


This was hands-down my favorite stop and I came away from our time spent in the print shop with a new found passion and an absolute determination that some day I will own and operate an 18th Century printing press.  No joke on this one either.  I even put it on my Mother’s Day wish list and have the kids campaigning hard with their Father for me.

And this is how flyers, newspapers, sales ads, political papers, notices, etc. were made and printed in the 1700’s…..

First a typesetter would spend hours to days setting the printing plate with the type, embellishment designs, spacing, etc. that made up th
e layout of the page.

  

Then the ink was applied to the plate face with the use of leather tampers repeatedly pounded over the face of the plate to make sure ink was adequately and evenly applied to the entire printing surface.

After the ink was applied and the cloth paper (they didn’t make paper out of trees in the 1700s) laid out on the opposing wooden lid, the lid was lowered and secured in place on top of the printing plate, and the entire thing was rolled under the press which was then cranked down onto the printing plate to “stamp” the paper with the inked print.

And this was the final result – our Declaration of Independence.  Did you know we had a few different versions of our Declaration of Independence?  (What he’s holding in the picture is the Declaration of Independence as it was printed and distributed in July of 1776.  It was slightly different than what was printed and signed later that year.  Before we left, we were able to purchase that version and the version that was signed from the printer that had been printed right there in the re-created shop.  Now how cool is that?)

   

After being printed, the papers were hung to dry in railings around the ceiling of the print shop.  The printer noted that there would have usually been several people running a shop of this size – probably one or two dedicated to setting the plates, a few who ran the actual printing in an assembly-line fashion, one who dried and pressed the papers – and they would have been capable of printing several papers a minute.

  

We also stopped for a photo opp at the First Bank of the United States….

The First Bank of the United States is not only A Very Cool Building, it has A Very Cool Story behind it.  I highly recommend reading the Wikipedia on it.  I won’t get into here, because again, there’s already a well-written and documented Wikipedia on it.  And I’ve already noted that I highly recommend you read the Wikipedia on it.  Need I say more?

If you look close in a few of these pictures, you will see the foundation looks like blocks of marble with a joint.  And it is blocks of marble.  But what was fascinating to me was that the blocks of marble were not nearly as small as they looked.  They were larger slabs of marble that were carved to look like smaller blocks of marble with a joint, though there were no actual joints.

Miscellaneous Pictures from our walkabout…..




    




A glorious 18th Century garden where we rested our weary feet for awhile and enjoyed a surprising pocket of quiet serenity in Center City Philadelphia.

Oh, and one Very Cute Kid (i.e., the blur running through the pictures).

The best way to end a day….

When we just couldn’t go anymore, we headed towards the Franklin Fountain.  Our family has a tradition of hunting down local creameries every time we go anywhere (even if it is just ten miles down the road), and the story behind Franklin Fountain fascinated us.  (And when the kids heard Man vs. Food visited the Franklin Fountain, it was a done deal.  Click here to watch the short video about his visit.)  The creamery itself fascinated us as well, particularly the cash register with Franklin quotes and the pulley system ceiling fans.

On our walk back to the train station, we caught a view of Independence Hall we hadn’t seen earlier in the day.  I found this particular view perhaps the most poignant of all the views we saw that day.

  

Links

The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation: cr.nps.gov

National Center for Preservation Technology & Training: ncptt.nps.gov (Report testing the performance of wood windows in cold climates)

Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency: phfa.org (Renovate and Repair Loan Program)

Keystone Home Energy Loan Program: keystonehelp.com (Financing for energy efficiency improvements)

Preservation Green Lab: preservationnation.org/information-center/sustainable-communities/sustainability/green-lab/

Antique Homes: https://www.antiquehomesmagazine.com/ (Online real estate magazine for historic homes)

 

Products & Services

Custom Fireplace Dampers: controlcover.com

Custom Interior/Exterior Lighting: americanperiod.com

Michael M. Coldren Company, Inc.: coldrencompany.com (Historically accurate architecural hardware and lighting)

Pure Energy Coach: pureenergycoach.com (Historically sensitive energy audits)

 

Organizations

Preservation Education Institute/Historic Windsor, Inc.: preservationworks.org

The Institute of Classical architecture and Classical America: classicist.org

The Historic Preservation Trust of Lancaster County: hptrust.org

Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission: phmc.state.pa.us

National Trust for Historic Preservation: nationaltrust.org

National Center for Preservation Technology and Training:  ncptt.nps.gov/

 

 

 

 

 

 

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You hire Reserections.  If you want to have any hope of actually moving the castle a thousand miles (without the post office, the moving company, and the airlines losing a few packages and offering you a complimentary Starbucks to say “Sorry!”).
Based in Ohio, Reserections specializes in documenting, marketing, and disassembling architecturally unique historical homes.  Supporting the idea that “The Greenest Home is the One Already Built”, disassembly and relocation protects the embodied energy of structures (you know, the energy that can never, ever be regained – so it’s like taking throwing away a tank full of heating oil you already purchased just so you can fill it with new heating oil).
They carefully disassemble the homes, preserving all the key components, interior framing, exterior stone facades, roof slates, and any other recoverable materials.  (And they ship to anywhere in the world, so you could have a castle resurrected on that remote island you purchased last week.)
Currently they are offering five stone mansions, all built during the American “Gilded Age” of the Post-Civil War 1800’s, they all reflect the Richardsonian and early Beaux-Arts Classicism typically seen in the homes of the wealthy during that time.

But exactly how do they do it?

Here’s how they disassembled and relocated the 1885 Kemper Castle from Ohio to Texas.  Built by an Ohio Industrialist, the 6,200SF castle has 23 rooms, 7 bedrooms, 7 full baths, and 6 fireplaces.  (Just a bit bigger than your average beach house.)

First, all the interior components that could not be recovered were removed… plaster, drywall, etc. – leaving only the exterior walls, framing, joists, studs, and flooring.  Then the slate roof was removed and the slate recovered and packed in straw for shipping.  After 120+ years, the extremely valuable slates showed very little signs of wear.







Once the roof was gone, it was time to remove the peak of the turret.  The turret weighed 7,300 pounds.
With the peak removed, the house is ready for the removal of the stone facade.
The house must be rebuilt with each stone in the same position, so each stone is numbered.  Note the tags on each stone.  The stones are identified by an alpha designating the location of the wall and a numeric designating the location of the wall and a numeric indicating its position.  Every stone in the house is numbered.
As the stones are removed from the house, they are renumbered with permanent markings and packed in containers built on pallets for shipment.  
When originally built, the stone facade was layered over and interleaved with three courses of brick and mortar which constituted the main structure of the house walls.  In addition to the surface stones, there were many monolithic stone components that were carefully removed, some weighing over 4,000 pounds.
  

The Final Stones Coming Down

The stones are palletized and trucked to their destination in Texas where the Kemper Castle will find a new home.  This flatbed load weighed over 40,000 pounds.
Finally…. a half acre empty lot ready for development and the Kemper Castle finds a new home in Texas.

Projects & Services

HISTORIC PROPERTIES WE HAVE BEEN INVOLVED IN RESTORING
(To see more pictures of a particular project, please click on the thumbnail.)

For a printable version of this list, please click here.

Public Projects


Petersen House
Perhaps our most famous project, the Petersen House is the 19th Century house across from Ford’s Theater that President Lincoln died in.  We also repaired and replicated the interior and exterior woodwork, including structural repairs, in our 2011 rehabilitation and repair project for the National Park Service.

 

 

National Institute of Health Building #3
For this project in Bethesda, Maryland, we repaired and replaced a seven-piece cornice.

 


Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial
The Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial in Independence National Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, owned and managed by the National Park Service.  For this project we made exterior woodwork repairs using solid wood and epoxy systems including: window frames and sash, doors, and shutters.  The project also included: exterior painting, masonry repairs, and replacement of a hand-split, cedar shake roof.

 


Columbia Market House
This building was built in 1869, and we restored the double hung windows, frames, and sills, and installed invisible exterior storm windows to increase energy efficiency.

 

 

Iron Horse Inn/Strasburg Hotel
This project involved rebuilding a Victorian wrap-around porch to match a picture provided showing a previous porch from the 1900’s.

 

 

Hancock House
Built in 1737 in Salem County, New Jersey, this house was owned by the State of New Jersey, Department of Environmental Protection.  For this project, we fabricated and installed a replica 18th Century door using existing hardware.

 



Victorian Store-Front for Nine West
For this project in Soho, New York City, we manufactured and delivered an assembled and ready-to-install set of nine-foot doors (made of Spanish Cedar with riot glass) and Victorian store-front.

 

 

Elizabethtown Train Station
The Pennsylvania Railroad built the Elizabethtown Train Station in 1915 to serve the Masonic Home and the citizens of Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania.  Our project involved restoring twenty-nine sash frames for the original leaded glass.

 

 

Old Main, Franklin & Marshall College
Old Main is a Gothic Revival style building built in 1856 at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  We restored thirty-one windows, rebuilt the four level stair tower, replaced the bell tower louvers, and removed a modern replacement door to install a door we fabricated to match the original doors in the two flanking buildings.

 


Franklin Street Train Station
Built in 1929, the Franklin Street Train Station is located in Reading, Pennsylvania.  It has been abandoned and damaged by weather, vandals, and vagrants since 1972.  Our project includes: rebuilding the interior and exterior doors, jambs, sidelights and transoms, restoration of wood windows, and rebuilding a coffered ceiling.

 

 

Great Conewago Presbyterian Church
Built in 1787, and remodeled in 1870, the church was used as a field hospital during the Battle of Gettysburg.  For this project, we lovingly restored the antique heart pine flooring during the restoration in 2002.

 

 

St. John’s Episcopal Church
Located in Havre de Grace, Maryland, this church was built in 1809.  We restored double doors and surround – stripping the paint, repairing the mouldings, and repainting.  We also coordinated restoration of 1840’s antique hardware.

 

 

Schmucker Hall, Seminary Ridge, Gettysbur
Schmucker Hall is a Civil War Era building located on Seminary Ridge in Gettysburg, PA.  For this project we restored 92 wood windows and replicated 24 interior rail and stile doors with fire rating.  We rebuilt Peace Portico and Rear porch using new rails and balusters to match exissting.  Removal, storage, and re-installation of existing millwork.

 

 

 

Private Projects

 

1910 Tobacco Warehouse
Converted into a single-family residence, this project was featured in Lancaster County Magazine and on Lynette Jennings Design on the Discovery Channel.  This project won the 2000 C. Emlen Urban Aware for building preservation from the Historic Preservation Trust of Lancaster County.

 

 

Log Home
Located in Elizabethtown, PA, this project involved removing the 1950’s asbestos siding to reveal the logs, making the second floor livable space, and converting the front room into an art gallery.

 

 

Victorian Farmhouse
For this project, located in eastern Lancaster County, we built a sympathetic addition to match the original house.  We also fabricated a custom kitchen to match the Victorian style of the house.

 

 

John Maddox Denn House
Built in 1725, this monogrammed house in New Jersey needed a complete historic restoration transforming the house back to 1725, correcting alterations from previous remodels.  This project also involved extensive research into the appropriate materials, applications, craftsmanship, and styles to ensure a period-appropriate restoration.

 

 

Circa 1850 Stone Bank Barn
This project converted the 150-year-old bank barn into a single-family residence, with new timber frame addition on the original tobacco barn foundation.

 

 

 

George William Curtis House
For this project in Staten Island, New York, we fabricated 19th Century porch architectural details, installed columns, built stairs, replaced ears on window sills, replaced brackets under the eave, fabricated true divided light windows to replace modern replacement windows, and fabricated solid wood louvered shutters.

 

 

Second Empire Revival House
For this Circa 1860 house in Pennsauken, New Jersey, we replaced the cornice to match original, rebuilt the internal gutter system, flashing and roofing, repaired the wood siding (replaced rotten pieces), and reinforced water-damaged framing.

 

Log Restoration
For this project in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, we repaired insect and water-damaged logs with consolidant and epoxy system.  Daubing was replaced with a historically accurate lime-based daubing.

 

 

 

 

 

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HISTORIC PROPERTIES WE HAVE BEEN INVOLVED IN RESTORING

For a printable version of the complete list of projects we have been involved in, please click here.

 

Public Projects

(To see more pictures of a particular project, please click on the thumbnail.)


Petersen House
Perhaps our most famous project, the Petersen House is the 19th Century house across from Ford’s Theater that President Lincoln died in.  We also repaired and replicated the interior and exterior woodwork, including structural repairs, in our 2011 rehabilitation and repair project for the National Park Service.

 

 

 

National Institute of Health Building #3
For this project in Bethesda, Maryland, we repaired and replaced a seven-piece cornice.

 

 

Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial
The Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial in Independence National Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, owned and managed by the National Park Service.  For this project we made exterior woodwork repairs using solid wood and epoxy systems including: window frames and sash, doors, and shutters.  The project also included: exterior painting, masonry repairs, and replacement of a hand-split, cedar shake roof.

 


Columbia Market House
This building was built in 1869, and we restored the double hung windows, frames, and sills, and installed invisible exterior storm windows to increase energy efficiency.

 

 

 

Iron Horse Inn/Strasburg Hotel
This project involved rebuilding a Victorian wrap-around porch to match a picture provided showing a previous porch from the 1900′s.

 

 

 

Hancock House
Built in 1737 in Salem County, New Jersey, this house was owned by the State of New Jersey, Department of Environmental Protection.  For this project, we fabricated and installed a replica 18th Century door using existing hardware.

 



Victorian Store-Front for Nine West
For this project in Soho, New York City, we manufactured and delivered an assembled and ready-to-install set of nine-foot doors (made of Spanish Cedar with riot glass) and Victorian store-front.

 

 

 

Elizabethtown Train Station
The Pennsylvania Railroad built the Elizabethtown Train Station in 1915 to serve the Masonic Home and the citizens of Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania.  Our project involved restoring twenty-nine sash frames for the original leaded glass.

 

 

 

Old Main, Franklin & Marshall College
Old Main is a Gothic Revival style building built in 1856 at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  We restored thirty-one windows, rebuilt the four level stair tower, replaced the bell tower louvers, and removed a modern replacement door to install a door we fabricated to match the original doors in the two flanking buildings.

 

 


Franklin Street Train Station
Built in 1929, the Franklin Street Train Station is located in Reading, Pennsylvania.  It has been abandoned and damaged by weather, vandals, and vagrants since 1972.  Our project includes: rebuilding the interior and exterior doors, jambs, sidelights and transoms, restoration of wood windows, and rebuilding a coffered ceiling.

 

 

Great Conewago Presbyterian Church
Built in 1787, and remodeled in 1870, the church was used as a field hospital during the Battle of Gettysburg.  For this project, we lovingly restored the antique heart pine flooring during the restoration in 2002.

 

 

 

St. John’s Episcopal Church
Located in Havre de Grace, Maryland, this church was built in 1809.  We restored double doors and surround – stripping the paint, repairing the mouldings, and repainting.  We also coordinated restoration of 1840′s antique hardware.

 

 

Schmucker Hall, Seminary Ridge, Gettysbur
Schmucker Hall is a Civil War Era building located on Seminary Ridge in Gettysburg, PA.  For this project we restored 92 wood windows and replicated 24 interior rail and stile doors with fire rating.  We rebuilt Peace Portico and Rear porch using new rails and balusters to match exissting.  Removal, storage, and re-installation of existing millwork.

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