Mike Kennedy of Lower City Joinery, located in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, joined the Practical Preservation Podcast to discuss his custom woodworking business. We covered multiple topics, including:

  • How home improvement shows served as Mike’s original inspiration to do woodworking
  • Mike’s varied background in the industry, from working for a new-build window and door manufacturing company to eventually starting his own business and being persuaded to move into “heritage” woodworking
  • How living in an area that values shared heritage influences local preservation and his work
  • Notable projects including doors in Dundurn Castle and Griffin House
  • Challenges and trends in preservation, including debunking the notion that newer or “maintenance free” is better, while recognizing that more people are becoming educated about or open to heritage and preservation work

 

Contact/Follow:

Website

Instagram

Contact information – general inquiry or email Mike directly at [email protected]

Lower City Joinery primarily serves customers in Canada, particularly those within hours of the Hamilton, Ontario area.

Mike reminds listeners that old windows and doors should always be considered for repair vs. replacement, and that “maintenance free” new models generally aren’t cheaper in the long run!

 

VETERANS DAY – A day to honor those who served. This day has been observed in some form for a century, but preserved structures of all kinds – from memorials, to monuments, to buildings – provide tangible evidence of that observance, solidifying the impact of veterans’ actions in the conscious memory. Visiting these physical traces keeps that history alive long after those they honor are gone. 

Photo of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, located at the Northeast intersection of King and Queen Streets (with the Watt and Shand façade in the background), in Lancaster, PA. Photo courtesy of the author’s father, Bob Kise.

 

A Brief History of Veterans Day

The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the year 1918 is significant for its designation as the cessation of hostilities of World War I (“The Great War”) on the Western Front. It was marked by the signing of the final armistice with the last opponent (Germany) of the allied forces. Although various complexities meant that true formal peace was not negotiated until the Treaty of Versailles’ signing nearly a year later, Armistice Day was celebrated on the November 11th. It became a day to honor the men who served in WWI and was observed as early as 1919 across the world. As the years went by the name and date of observance evolved in several countries. In the United States, the name was officially changed to Veterans Day in 1954 by President Eisenhower after a grassroots push to honor all veterans of all wars. The date was temporarily changed to the fourth Monday of October in the late 1960’s due to the federal government’s Uniform Monday Holiday Act, but was returned to the original date a decade later after much disproval from American citizens and state governments, based on their conviction about the historical significance of November 11th. 

 

Pennsylvania’s Preserved Military History

Just like preservation happened well before it was formally legislated, and much earlier than anyone thought of preservation as a career, dedicating historical military sites and honoring veterans throughout the United States also occurred on an informal level prior to Armistice and Veterans Day. As the American Battlefield Trust notes, in the mid-nineteenth century caring individuals started saving Revolutionary War battlefields, and during the Civil War, almost as soon as the battles were over, veterans erected monuments and memorials to their fallen comrades. By the end of the nineteenth century there were 5 national battlefield parks – one of the most famous being Pennsylvania’s own Gettysburg Battlefield. 

Even after these battlefield parks were established, however, there were conflicts over how and what should be preserved or restored, and disputes continue to this day (a recent example includes the battle over the Cyclorama building at Gettysburg), including arguments about the necessity of preserving historic commemorations of the original historical people, objects, and places vs. the actual thing being commemorated

Regardless, we are fortunate that people saw the necessity of saving these places in the past. This sense of place is key to making this history meaningful hundreds of years after the battles. A sense of place often requires more than construction of monuments, memorials, or signs to be truly felt, but also battlefields and other relevant lands and buildings. In Pennsylvania, we have numerous examples of preserved military history where people can gain a greater understanding of past conflicts as well as a better appreciation for what past and present veterans experienced and contributed. And to paraphrase Philip Kennicott’s summary in his 2013 article for the Washington Post, it’s best to engage and be engaged in this sense of place to truly make it meaningful.

“But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract.”

– Lines from President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, delivered November 19, 1863

 

Examples of unique preserved military sites in Pennsylvania:

 

Fort Mifflin. One of the few remaining intact Revolutionary War battlefields – and the only fort in Philadelphia – this site has functioned well beyond its initial purpose, serving various needs through the Civil War, as well as both world wars, until it was decommissioned, fell into disrepair, listed on the National Register in the 1970s, and saved in the 1980s to become a significant historical museum. Read more about it here.

 

Photo above courtesy of Bob Kise.

 

Gettysburg Train Station. Constructed in 1859, this station is more than a station. Not only did it host President Abraham Lincoln when he arrived to provide the Gettysburg Address, it served as an advantageous spot – with its cupola – for soldiers to post themselves during battle, a hospital for wounded soldiers as well as the point from which wounded soldiers were transported to other locations. Read more here.

 

Photo above courtesy of Bob Kise.

 

Lee’s Headquarters at Gettysburg. Built in 1834, this home that was owned by Thaddeus Stevens and occupied by the widow Mary Thompson during the Civil War, this unassuming farmhouse became Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s headquarters due to its prime location. It also served as a hospital for wounded from both sides. It became a museum as early as the 1920s and was significantly altered before restoration by then-Civil War Trust in 2016. Read more here.

 

Photo above courtesy of Bob Kise.

 

Observing Veterans Day

 

Visit or Engage.

  • Self-guided tours – Many sites and parks are free and open to all, allowing for plenty of social-distancing. You can visit some of the sites (or at least the outside of them) pictured above, but may also consider cemeteries, or sites listed here.
  • Guided tours – some sites are still offering guided tours with mandatory precautions in place for COVID-19. Find information on Gettysburg Battlefield tours here.
  • Virtual events – The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs blog lists virtual events for 2020, in light of the pandemic, here.
  • Live events – Gettysburg is holding a special day honoring veterans on November 12, 2020, information here.
  • Preservation – Consider these suggestions for preserving sites honoring veterans, or consider donating to or becoming a member of the American Battlefield Trust, here

 

For further resources and reading: 

  • Read more about battlefield preservation here, here, and here.
  • Read about the history of battlefield preservation here and here

Kaitlin O’Shea of Preservation in Pink, joined the Practical Preservation Podcast to discuss her blog and how preservation is a part of so much of everyday life. We covered multiple topics, including:

  • Kaitlin’s desire growing up to live in a walkable neighborhood, and how she eventually connected that to preservation
  • Kaitlin’s varied experiences as a professional preservationist, and how her passion brought her to where she is today
  • The impetus for her blog, including a desire to remain connected with former preservation classmates, but also to connect to a wider audience, writing about preservation in a relatable way
  • Kaitlin’s goal to shed light on the connections between everyday life to preservation in the minds of others by focusing on common ground
  • Continued existing challenges in preservation, as well as a new challenge of determining where to draw the line between purist/traditional and practical preservation tactics
  • The positive trend of preservation becoming more inclusive in the past few years

 

Contact/Follow:

Website

Instagram

Linkedin

Email[email protected]

You can read more about Kaitlin, the story behind the blog name, and her little mascot, “Pip,” here.

Kaitlin also has a wonderful series of blog posts on basic preservation information, here. We recommend starting with “Preservation Basics.”

Kaitlin is currently most active on Instagram, and would like to remind everyone that preservation is not about officials telling you what to do with your home; preservation is about valuing what you have. 

Tim Freund of Lancaster Cemetery in Lancaster, PA, joined the Practical Preservation Podcast to discuss the history, preservation, and ongoing use of the cemetery. We covered multiple topics, including:

  • How Tim’s living in close proximity to the cemetery coupled with his civic-mindedness inspired his current membership on the cemetery board
  • The challenges of maintaining any cemetery – particularly historic ones with fewer families remaining to care for family plots – including limited funding and intensive landscape and monument preservation needs
  • The history of the cemetery, similar to other Victorian-era cemeteries, and its origins as a church’s burial site for a dead congregant population that exceeded the capacity of the original churchyard 
  • Famous and notable occupants of the cemetery, including native Lancastrian Major General John F. Reynolds who was killed on the first day at the Battle of Gettysburg, and Augusta Bitner of “walking statue” notoriety
  • Conservation and preservation efforts, including regular consultation with expert conservators, as well as cemetery conservation workshops
  • The cemetery’s mission to be a “proactive gathering space” hosting unique events open to the public that help support the cemetery but also educate and maintain respect for this and similar spaces

 

Contact/Follow:

Website

Facebook

Instagram

General contact information

Tim encourages people interested in visiting or supporting Lancaster Cemetery – or any cemetery – to consider volunteering or donating funding (here), or to visit (hours, rules, and directions can be found here). Most events are postponed this year due to COVID, but you can follow their Facebook events page to stay up-to-date on events that help support the cemetery in the future.

Anticipated events and ongoing services include a wreathe sale, conservation workshops, and genealogical research services – contact Tim to learn more!

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

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

 

Why are “haunted houses” usually Victorian in style?

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Examples of “haunted” Victorian architecture:

 

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

 

 

 

 

Photo above courtesy of Laura Kise.

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

Photo above courtesy of Laura Kise.

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

Victorian Architecture Today

 

Where to see it. 

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

Get (or protect) your own.

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

 

For further resources and reading:

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

 

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

 

SHARE WITH US!

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

FEEL FREE TO SHARE BELOW!

 

 

 

 

Sam McKelvey and Alice French – executive director and director of education – of the Menokin Foundation in Warsaw, VA, joined the Practical Preservation Podcast to discuss their preservation project, and the Foundation’s many services. We covered multiple topics, including:

  • Sam and Alice’s respective backgrounds in history, preservation, and related fields, and how working at Menokin marries all of their interests in one place
  • The history of the property and surrounding lands first populated by the local Rappahannock people, as well as the Algonquin origins of the word “Menokin”
  • The history of the house itself – including its distinction as home built for declaration signer Francis Lightfoot Lee in 1769, and function as the center of a large tobacco plantation – and its unique journey from neglected home, to an actual ruin, to a unique preservation project that will maintain its current condition in perpetuity
  • The history of the Menokin Foundation and how the Glass House Project will allow continued exploration of and education about colonial building practices, unlike any other extant colonial structure or house museum
  • The ongoing evolution of inclusive narratives and storytelling at the site – of the indigenous Rappahannocks and the enslaved laborers – and the narratives’ ongoing development by bringing actual descendants into the conversation
  • Multi-armed approaches to preservation at the site beyond the Glass House Project, such as preservation trades workshops, kayaking tours, educational webinars, and on-site immersive experiences
  • Challenges and trends in preservation, including staying relevant as priorities and cultural landscapes irrevocably change, by evoking emotional connections to history through “dynamic preservation”

 

Contact/Follow:

Website

Facebook

Twitter

Instagram

YouTube

Linkedin

Contact information – general inquiry or specific staff

Sam and Alice encourage visitor engagement in many ways. Most of the site is outdoors – 500 acres, in fact – and can be visited directly with safe social-distancing measures, and several options are listed here. You can also “visit” virtually here. In addition, they always welcome membership and donations

 

FALL MAINTENANCE FOR YOUR HISTORIC HOME Fall is here. This brings Halloween fun, Thanksgiving, fall abundance, and cooler weather. It also signals the transition to winter and harsh conditions for our homes. We have often repeated, maintenance is essential for a home, especially an old or historical one. Read on for your fall maintenance checklist. 

Autumn Leaves. Photo by Greg Shield on Unsplash.

 

Take a walk around your property and determine what needs to be addressed. Here’s a list of common fall maintenance tips to get you started:

  1. Make exterior repairs. 
    • Look for general damage to your roof, siding, and foundation – schedule repairs before winter
  2. Inspect your roof. If you have a steep roof or a multistory house, avoid injury by using binoculars to inspect your roof. Common signs of damage to your roof include:
    • Buckling, cracking, missing shingles – these should be replaced immediately
    • Rust spots on flashing – remove rust, and if metal is worn through, paint with metal primer and metal paint 
    • Large amounts of moss or lichen – this likely indicates your roof is decaying underneath, so call a pro roofer to evaluate ($100-$200). You can also prevent this decay by laying a wood shingle roof on lathe rather than sheathing (modern approach) as air can circulate and dry out the wood 
    • Cracked or loose boot(s) (rubber collars that fit around plumbing vent stacks) – call a pro roofer to evaluate (they will charge $150-$300 to replace a boot)
  3. Schedule chimney cleaning and fireplace/heating system maintenance. 
    • Blockages in the chimney – cleaning the chimney (and furnace and boiler) are important safety precautions before turning on your heat
    • Missing chimney cap – add one to prevent wildlife crawling down the chimney. You can find custom chimney caps at certain companies for non-standard sized chimneys
    • Damper not working – look up into fireplace flue if the damper is not opening and closing, to see if there is an obstruction (you should be able to see daylight at the top of your chimney)
    • Clean creosote buildup from your flue every other year – a professional chimney sweep will charge $300-$500
    • Missing or cracked bricks in firebox – request a professional fireplace and chimney inspection if you see any damage (professional inspections run between $160-$500)
  4. Clean your gutters and downspouts. If you are not comfortable using a ladder, be sure to hire someone who can help with this important task. 
    • Clogged gutters may allow water to pool which can damage your roof or siding – remove leaves and debris 
    • Flush gutters with water, inspect joints, and tighten brackets if necessary
  5. Direct water drainage away from your foundation. 
    • Soil that is too flat near the foundation of the home may soak and cause leaks or cracks – make sure soil slopes away from the house at least 6 vertical inches over 10 feet to prevent this
  6. Check the foundation and entire exterior for cracks and gaps. Both animals and natural weather forces can enter and destroy your home. Loss of heat can also increase your heating costs.
    • Cracks or unsealed areas – caulk around areas where masonry meets siding, pipes or wires enter the house, and around windows and doorframes. Do NOT use small cans of spray foam at wood contact areas – it will cause rot
  7. Conduct an energy audit. 
    • DIY – instructions can be found at energy.gov
    • Professional – trained auditors can assess your current energy efficiency and provide a list of recommended improvements like upgrading to Energy Start appliances, adding insulation to your attic or adding more weather-stripping ***The caveat is you should pay for their service – otherwise their “solution” will be what they are selling, including replacement doors and windows which we do not generally advocate for older homes. Also make sure they are familiar with historic buildings and their unique concerns
  8. Increase warmth in your house. 
    • After you’ve installed storm windows and doors (and removed all screens) adding weather-stripping around windows and doorframes can not only keep your house warmer during the winter months, but also cut energy costs
    • Drafty doors – place door sweeps at the base to keep the cold out and the heat in
  9. Shut off exterior faucets and store hoses inside. 
    • Shutting these off can protect pipes from freezing
    • Drain hoses before storing indoors
  10. Check walkways, railings, stairs, and driveways for winter safety. 
    1. Loose, slippery, or uneven surfaces – make sure to tighten loose railings, correct uneven walkways, and free drains of debris
  11. Check safety devices. 
    • Test smoke and carbon monoxide detectors – replace dead batteries
    • Check the home for radon (you can find radon monitors here) – with cooler weather, windows are shut more and radon can become trapped inside the home – hire a professional to address radon issues  
    • Check expiration dates on all fire extinguishers – replace if expired 

 

For further resources and reading:

  • Read our previous post – here – on the importance of maintaining a historical home
  • Read our previous post – here – on how maintenance IS preservation, and find a myriad of additional resources related to home maintenance in that post
  • Sign up for our free Maintenance IS Preservation Report here

Bruce Bomberger, Ph.D., archivist and librarian at the Lebanon County Historical Society in Lebanon (Lebanon County), PA, joined the Practical Preservation Podcast to discuss the Lebanon County Historical Society’s resources and services. We covered multiple topics, including:

  • Bruce’s varied background in many areas of history, from archaeology to former curator of Landis Valley Museum
  • The history of LCHS and historical societies in general – including their roots as fraternal organizations – and their varied roles in preservation of artifacts and buildings
  • Unique aspects of the building itself and its relevance to Lebanon County history – from it’s origins as a private home, to holding some of the county’s earliest court cases, to functioning as the lodge for the local Loyal Order of Moose
  • Special associations, including the society-owned Union Canal Tunnel, the oldest existing transportation tunnel in the United States
  • Services and events open to the community, including Sunday lecture series (currently on-hold due to COVID), tours, and genealogical and archival research
  • Challenges for LCHS and historical societies in general, including finite financial resources to sustain them, and limited space, as well as the ways which these issues are addressed 

 

Contact/Follow:

Website

Facebook 

Pinterest

Instagram

Contact Information – can be found at the bottom of this page

The society is open on a limited basis by appointment due to COVID (MASKS REQUIRED), for services such as genealogical and archival research, and tours – please email or call at the link listed above to schedule appointments in advance.

Consider supporting the society (or other historical societies) via donation, membership, ordering genealogical research services (which can be requested remotely), or taking a tour. 

If you cannot visit the society, consider visiting the Union Canal Tunnel via either the South or North Park, and view the exterior of the reconstructed Krall Barn, a rare Pennsylvania German log barn originally from Schaefferstown (Lebanon County), PA. You can also read more about Lebanon History via Bruce’s recent interview with Lebtown, here.

ADDING ON TO A HISTORIC HOME – You’ve found your historic or old home. And it’s nearly perfect…..BUT, maybe it does not have enough room for you. Or maybe you need to make adjustments to age in place. Maybe you want to add a room on your first floor, or even expand a tiny historical kitchen. Most of us want to protect our old homes’ historic fabric. So…HOW do we do this sympathetically in a way that is not distasteful, intrusive, destructive, or irreparable? Because additions can change the historic character irrevocably, consideration of an addition is one NOT to be taken lightly. 

Photo of a sympathetic addition on the rear of a 19th century home in eastern Lancaster County; work by Keperling Preservation Services.

 

WHAT ARE SYMPATHETIC ADDITIONS?

A sympathetic addition is a newly built addition to an old house or building that is harmonious with and corresponds to the original part of the home. These additions may be attached to the side, or include an extension from the roof. If following the general guidelines of the Secretary of the Interior for New Exterior Additions to Historic Buildings and NPS, the key is to preserve the historic character or fabric of the original building, particularly if that building is listed on the National Register. An easement would likely have stricter limitations and may even prevent an addition, particularly if the easement is written so that you must maintain the exterior as when the easement was granted. Although there is a shared feeling between old and new, NPS guidelines and standards indicate that the new addition should still be differentiated from the original. This differentiation may seem counterintuitive, but since additions fall under rehabilitation vs. restoration or preservation, and since NPS emphasizes protecting historical character, integrity and significance by making a visual distinction between old and new, there must be a difference so one can still identify what was newly added and what is original. 

 

IS A SYMPATHETIC ADDITION NECESSARY?

Reasons NOT to add on. Some reasons not to add on include cost – sometimes an addition is so cost prohibitive it would be cheaper to move altogether! If you are not willing to move, you must consider other alternatives. Also, if you anticipate selling in the future, or even just want updates to essentially give you a return on investment if you do not plan to sell, you must consider market forces and make sure the change is worth the cost. Another reason not to add on is zoning restrictions. If you’re project plan cannot be adjusted to meet these, the restrictions will make the decision for you. You may also be restricted by National Register Status and an easement, as noted earlier.

Reasons to add on. NPS recommends that sympathetic additions only be completed if one has already considered (and ruled out) other options, including altering non-significant interior spaces. Although many homes before central heating and cooling were built with small interior rooms for efficiency, today we often prefer larger spaces to accommodate our lifestyles, and also because modern heating and cooling allows us to. However, smaller rooms can not only be charming, cozy, and private, but they also often contain much of the historic fabric – moulding, fireplaces, plaster ornamentation, pocket doors, built-ins, etc. – and destroying these distinctive irreplaceable features for the sake of a modern “open concept” trend is not advisable (in fact, if you insist on that, you probably need to buy a new, modern house instead and leave the old house to someone who will protect the historic integrity). 

Even so, sometimes change is necessary. Maybe you have examined your interior spaces and realized there are not any non-significant ones. Or, if there are, even altering those will not suffice to meet your needs. In such cases, additions – even a small vestibule or other entry modification – may be required. Justifiable reasons for additions may include helping you age in place, meet code requirements (especially if the building is a business), or for general adaptive reuse, including expanding as you raise children and their needs change. It’s important to be able to enjoy the space you live in. 

 

PLANNING YOUR SYMPATHETIC ADDITION

Zoning and Codes. One of the first things you should do is reach out to your local municipalities to find out what zoning restrictions exist. For instance, generally you cannot build all the way to lot lines, and sometimes there are height limits on projects. Knowing the lay of the legal land can save you a lot of time and money by preventing you starting something that you legally cannot finish. A design professional and/or contractor well-versed in historic buildings can also help with this. 

Budget. As we’ve said before, planning ahead allows you time to save money for the project. Put money aside to save for a project as soon as you start seriously considering the project. Before consulting with professionals, make a list of your wants and needs, how you plan to use the space, and your ultimate goals so that you can prioritize what to pay for first. You should also have an estimate of the square footage. All of these will help contractors and other necessary specialists determine approximate cost. You should also determine which professionals and specialists you will need based on your lists.

Getting Help. Once you’ve determined that a sympathetic addition is appropriate, you can begin your plan. If it’s anything bigger than a dormer, you should definitely get the help of a professional contractor. If it is an intricate design, you should also consult with a design specialist or architect – most building permits for modifications require a design professional to essentially stamp/sign the drawings under the modern building code. 

Design. As always, the emphasis of any update should include being as harmonious and unobtrusive to the original design as possible (with the least possible loss of or damage to historic, character-defining materials). Specifications are listed below (and NPS has more information):

  • VISIBILITY
    • An addition should not be highly visible to the public, and is preferably placed at the rear of a building, or other “secondary elevation” (i.e., anything that is not part of the front façade and is not visible from the streetscape).
    • If the addition does not fit the above conditions – for instance, a side addition – it is best to recess it a bit from the main structure, possibly using a breezeway to connect it.
  • MATERIALS
    • An addition’s color and content should be in keeping with the historic part, but not match it exactly (as discussed earlier about differentiating to distinguish the addition from the original building). This often contentious and confusing point has been debated, and is really a matter of personal judgment (outside of situations that are restricted by National Register status or easements). We recommend keeping the addition similar enough to the original building so as not to detract from the historic building (a standard that is decidedly different than is seen in many European cases, as can be viewed here and here). 
  • SCALE
    • The addition’s size in relation to the original building should be smaller, with a lower roof and smaller overall footprint (an exception being a rear addition artfully designed to be unseen from the streetscape).
  • MASSING
    • Massing can be complicated to explain and understand, but it is essentially the perception of a building in shape (1 dimension perspective), form (3 dimensions), and size. Ingenious designs for additions may make them appear less significant than the original structure, while inside they may be superior in space and capacity. 
  • RHYTHM
    • Rhythm in architecture refers to repetitive use of visual elements to establish a pattern. If the original structure has a rhythm including windows and doors with a decidedly vertical feel, this rhythm should be repeated in the addition as well. 

 

For further resources and reading: 

  • NPS’s Preservation Brief on new exterior additions to historic buildings can be found here.
  • Our archives on sympathetic additions can be found here

Chris Vera, president of the Columbia Historic Preservation Society in Columbia (Lancaster County), PA, joined the Practical Preservation Podcast to discuss Columbia history, legends, and lore. We covered multiple topics, including:

  • Chris’s background as a child growing up in Columbia, whose passion for local history developed from working for elderly neighbors – people who preserved local heritage through storytelling 
  • The Columbia Historic Preservation Society’s role as a center for local Columbia history
  • The Society’s own preservation and adaptive reuse story: transforming and reinventing itself from a circa mid-19th Century Lutheran Church to a historical society, and its brush with destruction due to a case of severe mold contamination, and one former staff member’s desire to tear it down rather than save it 
  • Unique aspects of Columbia historyits nearly becoming the capital of the United States, rich African-American and underground railroad history, the Columbia-Wrightsville Bridge Burning, and its historical role as a beacon of industry and railroads
  • Local legends and lore – from cryptids like the Albatwitch (or “apple snitch”), to ghosts said to haunt the buildings and local trails and hills, and the many events celebrating these folk tales
  • Trends and challenges in history and preservation – funding being the number one challenge, followed by garnering interest in and support for these areas

 

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Chris encourages supporting local Columbia heritage by visiting the nearby natural and trail areas (start here), as well as learning more about the history of the region from the Columbia Historic Preservation Society and other interesting historical sites to visit. You can also discover more museums, activities, and yearly events, here

There are several opportunities to explore the legends, lore, and supernatural side of Columbia, including the 7th annual Albatwitch Festival on Saturday, October 17th, 2020 – including Albatwitch and Haunted trolley tours – as well as a “Fright Night at the Museum” Saturday, October 31st, 2020