Bob Yapp – noted preservationist, teacher, and consultant – joined the Practical Preservation Podcast to discuss his extensive work and experiences in the field of preservation. We covered multiple topics, including:

  • Bob’s background in preservation, from being a school-aged child whose father taught him what it means to be the steward of an old home, to buying and preserving his first home as a high school student, and eventually earning a syndicated television role on PBS in the 1990s
  • His continued focus on hands-on preservation and restoration coupled with consultation, teaching, and project management 
  • His mission to save traditional artisan trades via national workshops and his Belvedere School for Hands-On Preservation
  • The ways in which preservation is economically – “preservation doesn’t cost-it pays” – and environmentally beneficial 
  • Although preservation is very unique and made of a diverse workforce, the field needs to do more to bring in people of color, and to be more accessible to the average owner of old homes

 

Contact/Follow:

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Email – [email protected]

Phone – 217-474-6052

Bob believes that apprenticeships and trade skills are essential – you can visit his website for more information about his Belevedere School for Hands-On Preservation and national workshops here and here.

If you’re interested in consultation with Bob, you can visit his website and click the “consult” tab.

THE SAFETY AND SECURITY OF YOUR HISTORIC HOME is a crucial component of protecting you, your home, and possessions. Today’s blog post includes typical topics related to safety and security, and how to ensure that your home is protected. 

2 safety issues: peeling paint that is probably lead-based, and worn, slippery stairs.
Photo by Erik Witsoe on Unsplash

 

Lead Paint. Lead paint has been used heavily since the 1700s through the late 1970s (mostly any house built pre-1978 is of concern – unless it has been abated). Health risks of lead exposure – a potent neurotoxin – are well-known, and include brain and nervous system damage, hearing and vision loss, impaired development in children, among other things. Follow the steps below to appropriately manage your lead paint: 

  • If you are unsure if your home still has lead paint, pick up a DIY test kit at a hardware or home improvement store.

  • If you know that the lead paint has not been abated, you can still safely live with it if it is undisturbed, as long as it is well adhered. In such cases, it is helpful to encapsulate it under a latex primer and topcoat. Preventing paint failure this way is the most cost-effective method.
  • If you plan on updating the paint, follow safety guidelines, including these:
    • Prioritize safety over speed of removal – people who have opted for speedy techniques have been injured by toxic lead vapors or dust from the paint they were trying to remove, and this dust created by removal is the most common route of exposure to lead. We recommend chemical paint strippers (reduces exposure to lead dust) or SpeedHeaters (an infrared paint stripper with an operating temperature lower than the vaporizing point of lead, that only heats the surface vs. going in between or under work areas, decreasing chance of fire). These methods are less likely to cause injury to person or to the historic fabric underneath than other – including abrasive/aggressive – methods. 
  • If you feel you need professional assistance, hire a qualified contractor who has EPA RRP (renovation, repair, and painting) certification.
    • However, we acknowledge that hiring a professional to strip paint is expensive because it is labor-intensive. Use the 80/20 rule: 80% of work is unskilled or semi-skilled, 20% is skilled. If you do some of the unskilled/semi-skilled work yourself, you can save money and some of the historic fabric. For example, instead of assuming you must remove an entire piece of historic fabric because it is covered in lead paint, such as a built-in, consider taking time to do some of the work, then hire a contractor for the parts that are out of your wheelhouse.  
  • Further resources include the EPA’s website information on lead, here.

Asbestos. Asbestos has been used as a relatively inexpensive and effective fire-retardant material and insulator, and was highly popular between the early 1940s through the 1970s. Unfortunately, this is also harmful if the material is damaged or disturbed it is likely to be harmful, as tiny abrasive fibers are easily inhaled. Prolonged exposure can lead to lung disease or cancer. Signs of damage include crumbling easily, or if it has knowingly been sawed, scraped, or sanded.

  • If undisturbed, it does not pose a threat, so the best tactic is to leave it undisturbed. This is generally the only step you can safely DIY; damage or disturbance requires professional intervention.
  • If you are unsure if it has been damaged or disturbed, have it inspected by an industrial hygiene firm.
  • If the inspection confirms that it needs to be addressed, contact an asbestos abatement contractor.
  • The EPA also has information on managing asbestos, here.

Porches, Balconies, Railings, Steps. These areas pose several potential safety issues, especially when exposed to the elements. They function not only as safety features but also as highly visible decorative elements, according to the National Park Service (NPS). Depending on when they were built, they may have less protection from and be more susceptible to insect damage. A damaged or missing porch apron can allow moisture or animals under a porch, leading to problems of a weak and unstable foundation, and bio-hazards. Also, limited maintenance or mere ageing may lead to unsound areas for walking, increasing the chance of people slipping and falling. It is important to check for obvious signs of damage or danger, including rotting, broken or loose features, bite marks, cracks, mold and mildew, uneven level, and unusual sounds or give when weight is applied. 

  • If you determine there is damage, depending on the type and severity, you can attempt to rectify it yourself utilizing information from NPS and our many blog posts on porches (here). First and foremost, keep in mind that preservation of as many elements as possible is always the first line of defense, before considering replacement. 
  • A simple fix for step surfaces exposed to moisture (and therefore posing increased slippage) as suggested by NPS is to add grit to the wet paint during application.
  • If you determine animals or insects are present, you may consult your homeowners insurance in finding exterminators or a professional pest removal company. For mold and mildew removal, wear protective gear and cleaning standards as recommended by the EPA, here
  • Hire a qualified contractor for more complex needs.

Structural Problems. This is very similar to the above topic, but may also include entire foundations, walls, and roofing support. It should go without saying, but structural problems are an entire-house problem. But, they also are generally salvageable and should not be considered a lost-cause. It’s important to be aware of and look for common causes or signs of structural problems, including overgrown vegetation, house features leaking water or other sources of too much water like flooding or springs, damaged or missing roof tiles, and cracks or bulges in walls, uneven or difficult-to-open or close windows and doors, as well as sagging, bowing, cracked, or sloping floors. 

  • If plants are the problem, simple actions such as pruning crowns and roots of the plants can help prevent further issues
  • Depending on the type of water damage, you may need to replace roof tiles, or clean gutters and pipes
  • Utilizing general facade maintenance, such as the methods suggested by NPS or our blog (here) can help guide you
  • Many problems will likely require hiring a structural engineer

Fire. Fire is a major threat to historic homes, and permanently changes the historic fabric, if the building survives. The biggest risk of fire is actually during restoration, when tools can overheat, chemicals can mix together, etc. Along with fire comes smoke and water damage. 

  • Do a cursory inspection for potential fire hazards.
  • Plan an escape route.
  • Keep fire alarms and fire extinguishers throughout the home, and escape ladders in upper floor rooms. Sprinklers can be a great addition if your budget can afford them, as the new systems are designed to do less damage to historic fabric on installation, and certain systems are specifically designed to suffocate a fire without damage to historic fabric. 
  • Keep important items and documents in a fire-proof safe.
  • Be especially careful during the holidays, when holiday lights and extension cords pose major threats.
  • If smokers are present, set limits on when and how smoking can occur, if at all, on the property.
  • Inspect chimneys for damage and keep them clean.
  • Inspect wiring. Knob and tube wiring can be functional, if in good condition and if they are not overloaded. However, if something needs to be updated and we recommend upgrading electrical panels from fuses to circuit breakers.
  • Ensure that contractors and other workers follow strict safety guidelines to prevent fires.

Security. Security is a concern in every home, and there are several things you can consider for your historic home.

  • Consider having layers of protection, the first layer being physical security. This should include deadlocks and bolts, preferably low-profile so as not to interfere with the historic fabric. Windows should be maintained, including their locks. If your home still has functioning historic shutters, these can add additional protection. This may also include historically-accurate walls, fencing, and gates. 
  • Another layer may include electric alarms and detection. Wireless alarm and camera systems are preferable for historic homes to decrease damage to historic fabric.

 

Robert Blackson, Director of Temple Contemporary Tyler School of Art and Architecture at Temple University in Philadelphia, joined the Practical Preservation Podcast to discuss the Vital Signs Project. We covered many things, including:

  • Robert’s background as a curator and belief that “culture is something that civilizes us.”
  • The history of sign-painting for advertisement purposes, including a color-coded system
  • How painted advertisements become “ghost murals,” and how they come to represent the unique history of a neighborhood
  • How the Vital Signs Project came into being and led to a collaboration between Temple Contemporary and the Temple Mural Arts Program, professional artists, and art students
  • Vital Signs Project’s commitment and dedication to the idea that art can transform society, by providing historic preservation and restoration gratis to give the Philadelphia area’s small businesses a reinstated sense of belonging and a boost the surrounding communities
  • Successful completed projects in the Philadelphia area, which have increased business and local morale
  • Challenges involved, including work to bring together the right projects and artists, as well as potential projects lost to increasing gentrification in Philadelphia

 

Contact/Follow:

Website

Email – [email protected]

Phone – 215-777-9139

Robert shared that interested people can support the Vital Signs Project by nominating small Philadelphia-area businesses in possession of ghost signs, in keeping with the project’s purpose to reinstate businesses in their communities and in turn boost the surrounding community and neighborhood.  If interested in proposing a nomination, email or call Robert at the email or number above.

You can also read more about the ghost mural project that started it all, here, and about another project, here

Further reading on sign preservation by the National Park Service can be found here

 

KEEPING YOUR HISTORIC HOME COOL IN SUMMER is an essential part of living comfortably today. But, how was it done in the past, and what can we do now? We’ve outlined the history and applicable steps for you. 

 

1880’s photo of a British home in India. Image source: Wikipedia’s entry on Punkahs

 

Historic Cooling and Passive Cooling

Older buildings (primarily those built prior to the mid-twentieth century) were built to be energy efficient and are the quintessence of passive cooling. Fuel was not easy to obtain or manage and it was not cheap. Many people today are surprised to learn that the biggest energy usage has been attributed to buildings built between the 1950’s-1970’s, according to GSA. Below are several features and methods used in the past that you can still successfully use today:

Homes built between the 1950’s-1970’s have been proven to use more energy than buildings before that time.

 

Cross Ventilation. Cross ventilation was frequently used. Cross ventilation refers to a passive way of supplying air to, and removing air from, an interior as a result of pressure differences from natural forces. This requires one opening for air to come in, and another for air to go out. Windows – particularly double -hung – are one way of accessing these natural forces. Open a lower window on the cooler side of the home, and an upper window on the warmer side of the home to be most effective. Tall, single-hung windows are also appropriate for allowing more air into the home. Opening as many windows (and doors and hallways) as possible will multiply the benefits. Other features that aid this natural cooling process include door and window transoms, undercut doors, window and door screens, louvered shutters, and shotgun and dogtrot/center hall-style architecture (both of which have windows or hallways front to back or side-to-side to allow for natural airflow).

The image above is of the John Looney House, a classic dogtrot-style home, attributed to photographer Chris (last name not listed), as found on the Wikipedia page on Natural Ventilation

 

Thermal Mass. Thermal mass – a building materials’ ability to store heat – can also play a significant role in passive cooling. A house with thick (especially stone-based) walls can act as a conduit for passive cooling via thermal mass, if nighttime temperature is cool enough. Ideally, the building/wall material will cool overnight, allowing for cooler daytime temperatures because it will only slowly warm over the course of the day (and release that warmth at night). 

 

The image above of a stone mason is by flickr user diamondmountain, as found on the Wikipedia page on Masonry

 

Shutters. Louvered shutters (those that are constructed with overlapping uniform slats of wood set into a frame) allowed air circulation and privacy. They allow for air flow while blocking direct sunlight and heat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The image above is of a louvered shutter we built for the Hampton National Historic Site

 

Porches and Awnings. Porches and awnings both act as blocks from solar radiation, resulting in cooler internal temperature. “Sleeping” porches to sleep outside during warmer summer months (popular in the late Victorian and Edwardian periods) were another way to enjoy a cooler experience. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The image above is of the porch at the historic Harris-Cameron Mansion following Keperling Preservation Service’s porch restoration

 

Shade Landscaping. Shade trees are an obvious aid for a cooler home. Shrubs, bushes, and groundcover are also beneficial; they can provide shade as well as absorb heat radiation and cool the air prior to it reaching your home (unlike a paved yard-space which is more likely to reflect heat). These plants can also shade existing pavement to decrease heat.               

 

The image above is by Arno Senoner on Unsplash.

 

Other Methods. Homeowners of the past also employed other practical ways to cool their homes. According to an article from New Orleans Architecture Tours, homeowners modified interior design and decoration by exchanging heavier draperies for light linens and lace (which could double as window screens). Thick rugs could be replaced with grass mats. Furniture was covered by linen or cotton. They also adjusted food preparation and meal location; preparing foods with minimal cooking to avoid heating the home unnecessarily, and having more picnic meals outdoors. 

 

 

 

Image of the painting “Ready for the Ball” by artist Sophie Anderson, from the Wikipedia entry on Hand fan

 

How to Cool Your Historic Home Today

There may be no need to reinvent the wheel. If you are lucky enough to own a historic home, particularly one whose old features are intact, a practical preservation method would be to use one or all of the time-tested passive cooling methods noted above. This will not only honor your home’s heritage and historic fabric, it will also save you money over the long-term, and benefit the environment. However, we acknowledge that practically-speaking, sometimes passive cooling alone is not sufficient. Below are several modern options that can effectively cool your home and simultaneously have minimal impact on the integrity of your home’s historic fabric: 

Time-tested passive cooling methods can save modern homeowners money and be energy efficient.

 

Window and Portable Units. These are a classic, generally economical option, though there are cautions for historical homes. Window units may not easily fit into old windows due to size differences and inconsistency in some older windows. They also put significant pressure on sills and walls due to their weight. The water drips often created by the cooling system can also cause damage to the window and surrounding walls. Portable units can also sometimes leak, causing damage to historic floors. 

Targeted Cooling. Mini-split systems are a ductless, targeted form of heating and cooling. The indoor unit is mounted to the ceiling or wall and the cooled refrigerant is pumped in via refrigerant lines that run to the outdoor unit. These may be ideal for difficult-to-cool areas of the home, particularly additions or enclosed rooms that do not have ductowork. However, beware that they require drilling through the wall of your home for installation; once this is done, it is hard to undo. Further, these are not low profile, so visually, they disrupt the flow of a historic interior and exterior. 

High-Velocity Cooling. SpacePak and the UNICO system are high-velocity/low impact systems. They work similarly to central air, but are about 1/10 the size of a traditional central air system. Both require ducts, but they are small and the vents are minimally-intrusive. They are generally installed in attics/upper floors to allow cooler air to drop down. These are less disruptive, more visually-seamless options than the aforementioned cooling systems so they are better at maintaining the integrity of a home’s historic fabric, and frequently recommended by preservation contractors. Listen to our podcast with UNICO here.

 

IN SUMMARY:

There are several passive and active options for cooling your historic home. Arm yourself with knowledge before you decide what options are best for your home and your budget. 

 

For further resources and reading:

  • The EPA provides a detailed resource on energy efficiency in old homes here, and we also discuss energy efficiency here and here
  • Read about a historical landmark’s retrofitted HVAC here.
  • Learn more ways people stayed cool before air conditioning here and here.
  • Learn about the advent and evolution of air conditioning here.

Julie Fitzpatrick and Mary Tate, Executive Director and Field Services Coordinator of Pennsylvania Downtown Center, joined the Practical Preservation Podcast to discuss the nonprofit organization’s mission and services. We covered a multitude of topics including:

  • Julie and Mary’s backgrounds in related fields 
  • How the mainstreet methodology remains relevant, particularly when addressing current issues and “creating places where people are choosing,” as Julie says
  • How they address issues like the pandemic and civil unrest/protests, including helping communities develop task-forces and encouraging community dialogue
  • Ways individuals can support their local communities/downtowns, especially during these unusual times
  • How preservation is an economic advantage for communities, and how to leverage its benefits
  • Trends and challenges in preservation in downtowns and communities, including the possibility that preservation will be at risk based on shifting priorities
  • Their continued effort to adapt to circumstances, while upholding the core importance of mainstreets and downtowns as the unique symbol of their communities 

 

Contact/Follow:

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Twitter

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Contact information – general inquiry or specific staff

Julie and Mary suggest some ways that interested people can support their communities via PA Downtown Center, including utilizing their free resources, or becoming a member

Also, stay tuned for an upcoming educational resource – they will be collaborating with Donovan Rypkema of Place Economics related to the economic benefits of preservation.

Here at Keperling Preservation Services, we focus primarily on built history. But built history and places are relevant because of people. Examining architecture out of the human context lacks the same significance. People and their shared stories and history are the foundation upon which we build the house of preservation. We’re currently living through a pivotal moment in our shared history, and it’s necessary to address this as it is happening. Recent tragedies are shining a greater light on the legacy of racism and exclusion in our country, not to mention more exposure to targeted violence. It is necessary from a preservation standpoint to address the contributions of these typically-excluded, marginalized people to our nation. We also want to address how the field of preservation can continue to grow and diversify.


William C. Goodridge mural, York, PA. Image source: Anne Gray, Wikipedia’s Entry on William C. Goodridge

 

DANIELLE’S PERSONAL STORY:

I feel like the events of the past several weeks are creating change and elevating the systemic marginalization of groups of people to a higher level of consciousness in the whole of society.  Many of the uncomfortable events in history are collectively forgotten by both the oppressors and the oppressed for different reasons (shame, fear of retaliation, pain and discomfort).  I am in the process of reading Slavery in the North: Forgetting History and Recovering Memory by Marc Howard Ross. This is not so much a history book as an examination of the psychology of collective memory.  Ross outlines that collective memories are hard to maintain – people die, move away, history documents what fits into the narrative of the day – but physical ties to places help to organize memory and can serve as a memory prompt.  Preserving the places that are tied to uncomfortable history can help those stories remain in the collective memory.  As Ross notes in the book:

“More inclusive narratives, rituals, and public landscapes can powerfully communicate shared connections and a common stake in society.”

Being a bi-racial woman in the twenty-first century, I am grateful I was born in this time and place.  My history (enslavement of my mother’s family and my father’s family journeying West on the Oregon trail) combined tells the story of our country and helps me to feel that my ancestors helped to build this country.  Having history and historical places acknowledge the contributions of the marginalized and enslaved in (literally and figuratively) building this country, we can help to connect ourselves to the greater history of the country and the realization that all of our history (as messy as it is) tells our story.

There is a shift in the interpretation of historical sites to tell the entire history of the people that lived in these historic places, from the famous people to the enslaved (and sometimes the indigenous people that were removed from the land).  This shift allows for people to have their story told and validated in a way that is not done if it only perpetuates the feeling of disconnect from the greater society. 


Danielle Keperling and her parents, Chuck and Lois Groshong, on Danielle’s wedding day.

A few years ago I was dreaming of moving to Williamsburg and selling apples out of a basket (life was a little crazy and I thought this would be a low-stress life in which I could dress up every day for work).  When I was telling my mother, she looked at me and said, “You won’t sell apples out of a basket.  They’ll put you to work in the big house.”  Historically this would be true, but the thought had not occurred to me.

When I was in elementary school my Great Aunt Eunice (she was a private duty nurse) told me that when I am shopping, I need to make sure I don’t go back into the store with my bags and make sure I have my receipts with me.  I did not realize until I was an adult that this was in case the store employees accused me of stealing – I thought this advice was something that everyone learned.  When I hear stories of lessons told to young black men on how to interact with the police, I realize how many of the lessons we learn are based on the experiences of generations before us and how we have passed these survival skills forward.

 

WHAT CAN WE DO?

This is a hard question to answer. However, it’s necessary to try. Much of the inspiration for our suggested solutions below was drawn from The Inclusive Historian’s Handbook article on inclusivity in historic preservation, as well as other resources embedded throughout this post. If you feel moved to learn more about the contributions of all cultural and minority groups to our collective American history, or even feel compelled to contribute to efforts to support a more inclusive history, we’ve curated a few steps you can take:

 

What’s been done. To start, become aware of the current status of history and preservation. It’s generally agreed that two critical events – Ann Pamela Cunningham’s seminal initiative to restore and save Mt. Vernon, and the grassroots rallying following the destruction of New York City’s Penn Stationlit the fire for preservation in the United States. And, in 1966 With Heritage So Rich was published (the full digital version can be found here). It set the stage for the formal preservation processes we have in place today. It also acknowledged that more work needed to be done, and resulted in the formal enactment of the National Historic Preservation Act in 1966. While this was essential, there is still room for improvement and inclusion.

Over the last few years, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has made concerted efforts to address these gaps. They’ve transitioned to forward-focused annual conferences, increased discussion of inclusive preservation and people-centric work, and have held a forum on preserving difficult histories.

 

Take part in placekeeping. It is necessary to consider these questions. Who decides what should be preserved? And, what determines whether something is worthy of preservation? Many have suggested that we focus on “placekeeping” instead of “placemaking” as a way to negotiate between citizens and developers. This means preserving and saving the culture that exists to make a place unique, rather than eradicating the current cultural heritage to “better it” with something new. The idea came about largely due to the push for adaptive reuse and revitalization around the country, which sadly often results in significant gentrification. We can support this placekeeping process by buying from local businesses. We can also learn about the unique histories of our local neighborhoods and communities. Another enjoyable way to support a place might involve attending cultural or heritage festivals. 

 

Visit and support. Simply visiting or donating to historic sites contributes to the cause inclusive history, particularly sites that focus on such history. Look for places and organizations that involve inclusive storytelling and value and share intangible heritage. In our region alone there are several places that fit the bill, but here is a list of just a few:

 

Read/educate yourself. It’s vital that we remember our past. We can educate ourselves by reading about local and national stories of underrepresented groups and forgotten events.

 

Share/be an activist. You can be an activist simply by sharing your knowledge with others. You can use your basic preservationist skill-set and take it a step further by focusing on inclusivity. You can use many of the above-embedded articles and resources from the National Trust for Historic Preservation as inspiration.

 

Engage youth. We have no hope of moving this process forward unless we include today’s youth. Involving a young person in your life in the quest to learn about and share an inclusive history is essential. Young folks can inherit our intangible heritage through stories and experiences, and they can also learn important skill-sets if they decide to become professionally involved in the field. The National Trust for Historic Preservation also shares ways to include youth

 

Ultimately we agree with the statement of solidarity recently released by Lancaster History. The unrest and protests are logical consequences of systemic injustice. Although we support non-violent methods of action, we also feel it is imperative to remember why these sometimes violent methods are resorted to by people. We hope that you can use this knowledge and become a part of the necessary solution to stand in solidarity with those who need it most. You can start by using some of the suggestions provided in this post.

 

Further resources and steps:

 

 

 

 

Patricia O’Donnell and Gregory De Vries, founder and managing partner of Heritage Landscapes, joined the Practical Preservation Podcast to discuss their preservation landscape architecture and planning firm. We covered a multitude of topics including:

  • How their diverse educational backgrounds enabled them to forge their current careers in a niche industry
  • Terminology including “landscaping” vs. “landscape architecture,” and how the latter focuses on a framework for landscape as a place instead of an action
  • Approaches to planning and preservation, including viewing preservation as “respecting what you inherit” rather than invariably returning a space to a specific point in time
  • Notable projects by the firm, including the Elisabet Ney Museum in Austin, TX, a rehabilitation of Jackson Park in Chicago, IL, and an authentic restoration and reconstruction of gardens at Oldfields Estate in Indianapolis, IN 
  • Challenges to working on heavily visited (Little Round Top at Gettysburg, PA) or occupied (Jimmy Carter National Historic Site) landscapes, and managing preservation in these living landscapes
  • Commercial and professional volunteer services, including involvement with world heritage sites
  • Their service area, which includes most of the United States and some international locations

 

Contact/Follow:

Website

General contact information

 

TRADITIONAL JOINERY  is a term we’ve all heard as a hallmark of historical millwork.  But what is it and why is it so important in preservation of historic buildings?

 


1880’s joiner shop in Germany. Image source: Wikipedia’s Entry on a Joiner

What is Traditional Joinery?

Joinery in general is the woodworking technique that joins together two pieces of wood. What a joint looks like, how strong it is, how long it will last, and other characteristics are all determined by the joining materials and how they are used in the joints. Traditional joinery techniques use only wood elements, while modern joinery techniques use fasteners, bindings, and/or adhesives. Sometimes the two techniques are combined to marry wooden elements and joints with modern adhesives.

Joinery is the woodworking technique that joins together two pieces of wood.

 

Traditional joinery uses the following joints:

Butt joint: The end of a piece of wood is butted against another piece of wood. This is the simplest, and weakest, joint in traditional joinery.

 

Miter joint: Similar to a butt joint, but both pieces have been beveled (usually at a 45 degree angle) before being joined together.

 

 

Lap joints: One piece of wood overlaps another.

 

 

Box joint (or finger joint): Several lap joints at the ends of two boards; used for the corners of boxes.

 

 

Dovetail joint: A form of box joint where the fingers are locked together by diagonal cuts.

 

 

Dado joint: A slot is cut across the grain in one piece for another piece to set into; shelves on a bookshelf having slots cut into the sides of the shelf, for example.

 

Groove joint: The slot is cut with the grain.

 

Tongue and groove: Each piece has a groove cut all along one edge, and a thin, deep ridge (the tongue) on the opposite edge. If the tongue is unattached, it is considered a spline joint.

 

Mortise and tenon: A stub (the tenon) will fit tightly into a hole cut for it (the mortise). This is a hallmark of Mission Style furniture, and also the traditional method of jointing frame and panel members in doors, windows, and cabinets.

 

Birdsmouth joint: A V-shaped cut in the rafter connecting roof rafters to the wall-plate.

 

Finger or Comb Joint: A joint used as a way of conserving timber, as a means of joining random lengths of timber to be machined to a finished piece.

 

 

Source for pictures and joint descriptions: Wikipedia’s Entry on Traditional Woodworking Joints

 

Why it’s Important in Preservation

There are many advantages to using traditional joinery in the preservation or restoration of a historic building.  

Structural Integrity. Using traditional joinery in repairs, restorations, and other preservation ensures the structural integrity of a historic building by matching existing joinery with a joinery technique that’s sure to be compatible with it.  Since traditional joinery is stronger, more durable, and expands and contracts in different ways than modern joinery, using modern joinery alongside traditional joinery can compromise the structure of a historic building.

Using modern joinery alongside traditional joinery can compromise the structure of a historic building.

Time-tested. Traditional joinery is a time-tested method that is much stronger than modern joinery and lasts for generations, even thousands of years.  The mortise and tenon joint is the most ancient traditional joint and has been found in the wooden planks of a vessel 43.6 meters long that dates to 2,500 BCE. Traditional Chinese architecture as old as Chinese civilization itself used this method for a perfect fit without using fasteners and glues.  The 30 stones of Stonehenge were also fashioned with mortise and tenon joints before they were erected between 2600 and 2400 BCE.

Traditional joinery can last thousands of years.

Durable. Proving itself to be able to stand the test of thousands of years, traditional joinery is clearly a higher quality and more stable joinery method than modern techniques.  That test of thousands of years also demonstrates traditional joinery’s ability to withstand the rigorous use we often demand of our structure’s joints because it is a higher quality, more stable joinery method than modern techniques.

Traditional joinery can withstand rigorous use.

Flexible. One of the reasons traditional joinery like mortise and tenon joints withstands the test of time so well is that it allows a joint to naturally expand and contract with moisture and temperature changes in the environment, without devastating separation that weakens the joint and causes (often irreparable) damage to the wood pieces it’s joining together.

Traditional joinery can safely adapt to changes.

Authentic. But most importantly, traditional joinery ensures authenticity in the preservation of our built history by more completely matching the existing materials and construction methods used by traditional trades. Since the traditional trade methods that originally constructed a building (along with regional variances in those methods) are a large contributor to a building’s historic fabric, this is the best way to make sure that historic fabric is not lost to our preservation efforts.  Traditional joinery also better allows for selective repair or reconstruction of individual components than modern joinery methods – a major advantage that helps preservationists retain more of the woodwork original to a historic building.

Traditional joinery maintains the historic fabric.

 

 

For further resources and reading:

Samuel C. Slaymaker, III, Executive Director of Rock Ford Plantation in Lancaster, PA, joined the Practical Preservation Podcast to discuss the museum and property’s history, services, and events. We covered a multitude of topics including:

  • Samuel’s background and what led him to his current role of director, including growing up in his ancestral home, itself once a historical house museum    
  • The significance of Rock Ford Plantation’s original owner, Edward Hand, and his impact on Early America – including his role as Adjutant General to General George Washington
  • How the museum handles challenging topics, including the history of enslaved persons who resided and worked on the plantation
  • How Rock Ford Plantation’s interior was fortuitously preserved, and consequently became one of the best preserved examples of original late Georgian architecture in America
  • Rock Ford’s subsequent rescue by a group of caring Lancaster citizens (Rock Ford Foundation) from certain destruction in the 1950’s
  • In addition to the site’s primary role as a museum and historical site, details about services, activities, and events at Rock Ford, including weddings
  • How there is no substitute for connecting directly with a historical place

 

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Samuel suggests some ways that interested people can support Rock Ford, including volunteering or becoming a member

It’s June. Summer’s seasonal activities and fine weather beckon us outdoors. This, combined with renewed desire for calm, traditional, home-based activities (as well as some necessary lifestyle adjustments secondary to COVID-19), invite us to turn a more appreciative eye to an old friend: the porch. Or veranda. Or portico. Whatever the preferred moniker, porches are synonymous with nostalgia for Americana. But, their history and evolution stems from intercultural influence and practical necessity. They span cultures and time periods. They also act as a bridge between the inner sanctum and the outside world. Noted landscape architect and influential 19th-century tastemaker, Andrew Jackson Downing, had this to say about a porch.

“A house without a front porch is as insignificant as a book without a title page.”

Porches are so much more than makeup for the face of our homes. Read on to learn more about their history, revival, and preservation.


Porch we rebuilt at the former Iron Horse Inn

 

WHAT’S THE PURPOSE OF A PORCH?

Answering this question necessitates examining the history and evolution. According to The National Park Service’s Preservation Brief No. 45, “porch” comes from Medieval English, and the French word “porche,” which stems from the Latin “porticus.” The linguistic influences obviously betray cultural influences by their synonymous existence: if there’s a word for it in another language, that culture also probably has it. The cultural heritage of the American porch mimics that of its people; a veritable melting pot of style and language that evolved into something uniquely American. The Preservation Brief No. 45 provides a historical evolution of porches as well.

 

Early years. Porches often served a practical purpose, in terms of a protected entryway. They also served to define a distinctive style, denoting cultural associations as well as the wealth of their owners. Before the United States became independent, in the original 13 British colonies, porches mirrored British design, French colonies followed French design, Spanish colonies borrowed from Spanish design, etc. These influences continued after the establishment of the United States. At the same time, styles evolved to echo classical inspiration – the Greek Revival style often distinguished by elegant columns – which reached the height of popularity in the 1830s and 1840s.

 

Social and other roles. From the late 18th into the 19th century, inns, hotels, and resorts served as natural social-gathering places and by their very social nature demanded porches be included in their design. They also emphasized a property’s state of grandeur. Homeowners understood those social benefits, and also referenced practical porch-uses; they opportunistically enjoyed the fresh air and connection with nature that porches afforded. Andrew Jackson Downing (landscape designer, horticulturist, and writer) is often credited with the popularization of the front porch, due to his widely publicized assertion of the porch as an essential connection between one’s home and nature.

 

Golden Era. These general porch roles subsisted as the 19th century matured, although porches evolved further in terms of style and purpose. The industrialization of America allowed transport of materials via canal boat and train that previously were not accessible to some buyers. It also meant that total reliance on skilled craftsman (craftspeople = greater cost and longer time) was no longer necessary when manufactured and pre-fabricated mass-produced parts increased availability and affordability to a growing middle class. The role of the porch became so significant it acted essentially as an “outdoor parlor.”

 

The hygiene movement. This early twentieth century movement touted health benefits of fresh air to address or prevent diseases like tuberculosis. Sleep’s influence on health also meant that fresh-air while sleeping was revered, and sleeping porches surged in popularity. Screens were typically added to protect against disease-spreading insects. These provided the additional benefit of natural air conditioning on uncomfortably warm evenings.

 

Decline. By the mid-twentieth century, the pendulum of innovation swung in the opposite direction, as pendulums do. The effects of the automobile boom (meaning more opportunity to travel from home for entertainment), greater telephone ownership (meaning decreased need for in-person “calls”), and increased value placed on private back-yard parties (including back patios), and the advent of air conditioning and TVs collectively sounded the death knell for porches. Porches became obsolete, outdated, and even were considered pejoratively as unsophisticated or agrarian.

 

Resurgence. Luckily, porches are rising from the proverbial ashes, at least in terms of existence and popularity, if not actual use. According to Lynn Freehill-Maye, some of the Baby Boomer generation initiated focus back on porches over 30 years ago, due to nostalgia and a push toward the New Urbanism movement, to increase a sense of community. In recent years, new builds have often included porches, and more movements have arisen encouraging actual use of front porches. 

 

HOW CAN I PRESERVE AND MAINTAIN MY PORCH?

We know regular readers of our blog are already preservation-minded. However, we can’t assume that if you’re reading this you fall in that category, so we’ll take the risk of “preaching to the choir.” In that vein, we must stress that porch maintenance is essential the same way that interior housekeeping is essential. The porch serves as protection for the front of your home, as much as it affords the previously-mentioned benefits. Therefore, it requires regular maintenance. 

 

Regular maintenance. The National Park Service’s Preservation Brief No. 45 recommends basic housekeeping such as sweeping frequently and mopping occasionally. These should be employed in lieu of hosing with water (for wooden porches or wooden porch accents) to prevent saturation and promotion of rot. Plants should not grow directly on the porch due to their encouraging moisture (and consequently insects and rot, both of which lead to open wood joints), but can be near the porch on free-standing trellises. Mats, rugs, and potted plants also trap moisture and condensation and should be avoided or moved frequently. In the winter, ice melters such as sand or litter are abrasive and should be swept away as soon as possible. Salt is not recommended due to its corrosive consequences, and magnesium chloride is considered a more appropriate substitute as it is less corrosive. Relatedly, only rubber-edged or plastic shovels should be used for ice and snow on wooden porches. 

 

Involved maintenance, repair, and replacement. The National Park Service’s Preservation Brief No. 45 provides an extensive overview of the more involved steps for maintaining and repairing (or even replacing) porches and their parts. The 2001 publication on porches by the City of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, also highlights the main tasks for maintaining and preserving your historic porch. Keeping wooden porches painted is not only visually appropriate for maintaining the historic fabric, but also acts as a preservative measure. Replacement, when necessary, should be in-kind. If rebuilding something, only rebuild if its historical existence can be documented. Porch enclosures should maintain visual qualities of an open porch, and should not be on porches that are at the front of the building. If new porches are added, they should preferably be added only to the side or rear of a building.

 

If you have a porch and you don’t already love it, hopefully this post will inspire you to consider the benefits you’ve been missing out on all along and start enjoying your “outdoor parlor.” 

 

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