Age is not the only thing that makes a building historical. The traditional materials and craftsmanship in the original construction of your historical building are an essential part of its historical fabric. Preserving its architectural integrity can only be done by using the same traditional materials and craftsmanship that made your building what it is today – a picture of the past. Original or historically-accurate siding on a historic home or building is an overt example of a building’s era and unique characteristics. 


Photo by Pierre Châtel-Innocenti on Unsplash

 

Synthetic vs. Wood Siding: Life-span

  • Synthetic siding has a potential life of at least 50-60 years
  • Wood siding has a potential life of at least 200+ years

Wood was abundant in Early America (and continued to be so throughout our history), and thousands of historical buildings in the Northeast are adorned with wood siding. Often, owners of these buildings look to alternative siding methods to replace wood siding deteriorated beyond repair. Their rationale for such practices is that they want to reduce the cost and effort of its maintenance, or to save on energy costs; conventional building wisdom maintains that vinyl and other synthetic siding lasts longer, requires less maintenance, and wastes less energy. The truth is this: in almost every instance, installation of synthetic siding will not save energy and maintenance costs. It will last a very long time; there are buildings that still retain their original synthetic siding applications from when they first appeared 50-to-60 years ago. And while that sounds significantly durable, it rather pales in comparison to the fact that there are historical buildings from 200+ years ago that still retain their original wood siding (siding that doesn’t sit many, many years in landfills when it needs to be removed). Synthetic siding won’t only add to landfills, it will also compromise the building’s historical integrity, and can cause irreversible damage to the building. 

________________________________________________________________________

 

Synthetic vs. Wood Siding: Energy efficiency

  • Since walls are not a significant source of energy loss, synthetic siding proves, at best, a nominal energy savings

The myth that synthetic siding is more energy efficient than wood siding is pervasive and persistent – perhaps because it is easy to fall into the habit of assuming newer is always better. Newer is not always better, and even newer-with-an-insulated-backing is only nominally, if at all, better. The National Park Service’s Preservation Brief No. 3 highlights the fallacy regarding the weight placed on siding for energy efficiency, noting that walls aren’t even where the most heating and cooling energy is lost in historical buildings – the roofing system is. Spending money to replace wood siding with synthetic siding will not usually return the investment in energy savings for this reason. A much more cost-effective focus for energy savings are the windows, doors, and roofs of historical buildings.

________________________________________________________________________

 

Synthetic vs. Wood Siding: Maintenance

  • Synthetic siding materials require much maintenance and can even create additional maintenance for other parts of the building

Synthetic siding materials are not maintenance-free. Aluminum will dent, and if painted, requires the same amount of paint maintenance as wood siding. To properly maintain and preserve aluminum siding, it must be cleaned regularly. Vinyl is a plastic and vinyl siding is subject to the same pitfalls as any other plastic: it cracks and shatters if impacted, it deteriorates with exposure to the extreme temperature changes of summer-to-winter and back again, and it simply cannot be installed to maintain a tight fit in both summer and winter because of the amount of expansion and contraction those extreme temperature changes cause. Vinyl siding will even interfere with a building’s ability to “breathe” and result in excess moisture retention and airflow problems causing unhealthy air quality for the building’s occupants, actually creating additional maintenance needs for other materials, systems and areas of the building.

________________________________________________________________________

 

Synthetic vs. Wood Siding: Historical integrity

  • Synthetic siding does not preserve the many features of wood siding applications that contribute to the very fabric of a building that makes it historical

Synthetic siding will compromise the building’s historical integrity. The National Park Service’s Preservation Brief No. 8 explains that the materials of a historical building contribute to its historical fabric, noting that “Preservation of a building or district and its historical character is based on the assumption that the retention of historical materials and features and their craftsmanship are of primary importance.” There are many features that make wood siding of primary historical importance to your building. The tools used, geographically-specific craftsmanship techniques, types of clapboards and how they are manufactured and installed, the profiles, decorative edging, and patterns of application that make historical wood siding worthy of preservation are all lost when synthetic siding is used. For example, wood siding on Mid-Atlantic buildings from the early 1800’s to the early 1900’s had distinctly different looks, features, and craftsmanship techniques than those in New England during the same time frame. The stock synthetic siding options available today simply cannot achieve that same level of variation between historically significant architecture styles. 

________________________________________________________________________

 

Synthetic vs. Wood Siding: Serious health problems

  • Synthetic siding not only masks the health of a historical building, it deteriorates it, endangering both the building and the people who live or work in it

Synthetic siding causes more serious problems. Wood siding on a historical building is also one of the most easily read indicators of the general health of the building. Paint peeling from wood siding can be an early warning signal that there are moisture problems threatening the building, and can sometimes even indicate where those problems are rooted (e.g., gutters or downspouts that aren’t working, improper flashing/weatherproofing, etc.). If wood siding is replaced by or covered with synthetic siding, it often masks any early signs or symptoms of moisture issues and results in more extensive moisture damage. Not only does synthetic siding mask the health of a building, it deteriorates that health. Since synthetic sidings to not allow a house to breathe the way wood siding does, it exacerbates any moisture problems that are present or develop in the future by essentially locking the moisture in the building. In doing so, synthetic siding encourages the growth of molds that turn the building’s air quality into a toxic environment that endangers the health of its occupants. Vinyl siding specifically also carries other health and safety concerns like the toxic fumes it emits when heated, and the cancer risks currently thought to be connected to the polyvinyl chloride plastic resin vinyl siding is made out of. 

________________________________________________________________________

 

Synthetic vs. Wood Siding: Damage

  • Synthetic siding can result in permanent damage to the character-defining features of a historical building

Synthetic siding can cause irreversible damage to the building. An uneducated, and often heard argument claims that when need be, vinyl siding can simply be removed if it is applied over top of the original wooden siding. This is in part true, but it is in part reflective of a naïve understanding of what contributes to the historical fabric of a building, and how even seemingly simple changes can result in permanent damage to that fabric. Once again, Preservation Brief No. 8 from the National Park Service sets the record straight. It states, “there is frequently irreversible damage to historic building materials if decorative features or trim are permitted to be cut down or destroyed, or removed by applicators and discarded.” During the installation process of synthetic siding, even if it is only being applied over existing wood siding, the original wood siding can be permanently damaged by furring strips nailed onto the walls to create a flat surface to install the new siding on. Windows, door trim, cornice, decorative trim and molding, and other projecting details are sometimes permanently altered because the cost of custom-fitting the new synthetic siding to retain their character is too much.

________________________________________________________________________

 

Evaluate your building’s siding:

  • Do any areas of my historical building have synthetic siding materials applied over wood siding?
  • If yes, do I have a plan for restoring the original wood siding?
  • Are there areas of my wood siding that have already been replaced because of deterioration?
  • Were they replaced with comparable wood materials and craftsmanship features?
  • Do they blend in with the original siding?
  • Is my wood siding evaluated regularly and properly maintained? Is it re-painted every 5-10 years?
  • Do I have a maintenance plan and agreement with a qualified and competent historical restoration company to ensure proper maintenance of my wood siding?

 

 

One of the exhibitors at the recent Greater Philadelphia Historic Home Show was approaching preservation from a unique perspective – “mass” production.

When most of us think of traditional wrought irons handcrafted by blacksmiths, we think of custom orders.  But Fagan’s Forge is forging a new path with handcrafted wrought irons.  They sell stock items only, no custom orders.  How do they do that?  They place orders with traditional blacksmiths across the country for quantities of items that they work on in between their custom orders and then Fagan’s Forge carries that stock.

But don’t let “mass” and “stock” scare you away – Fagan’s Forge is reproducing patterns that are literally hundreds of years old and date as far back as the 1600’s.  Nancy McMerriman is the second generation owner of the Forge, her father founded the business, and her knowledge of the history of wrought iron latches, handles, and hinges, along with her attention to detail, results in products that are authentic period pieces.

Below is the information from Fagan’s Forge’s website, you can browse their online catalog here.

 

A History of Wrought Iron from Fagan’s Forge

WROUGHT IRON THROUGH THE AGES

In the earliest days iron was thought of as a strange mystery. It was such a wonderful material, so hard, so strong, beyond the imagination of early man to take for granted. They were so impressed that they envisioned gods to be responsible for the existence of this wonder metal. The material from which King Arthur’s Excalibur was fashioned. the Norse god, Odin was thought to assist a gifted smith with his very fine work, and in the Christian era, St. Clement was the patron saint of blacksmiths.

The black smith, the anvil smiter, was thought to be the most important craftsman of his time. He made most of the tools used by other craftsmen to ply their trade. Without the blacksmith, the other tradesmen activity would grind to a halt.

The great Roman historian Pliny, speaks at length about iron, the wondrous metal that did great work turning over the earth at plow time and slaughtering the enemy in time of war. Wrought iron is an enduring metal, in places where it has been left to perform its first intended work, “if it could speak” would tell us tales from the birth of this now mighty land. It would tell us of times of doubt, times when our might was not so great that we could think that this might was right.

THE MATERIAL – WROUGHT IRON

About Wrought Iron

The making of wrought iron became established in Europe about 500 B.C. The wrought iron was much harder than bronze, and the iron ores were more widely distributed. The other ingredient, charcoal, was also readily available.
 Wroughtiron, though not as hard as steel, did have a quality superior to steel in that it resisted rusting due to its silica, or glass, content. The silica arranged itself in thin layers in the wrought iron and restricted the formation of rust.

The eastern coast of North America was found to have considerable deposits of iron ore and the ample forest cover provided an excellent supply of charcoal to fuel the blast furnaces of the day.

The colonies exported a good amount of iron bar to England before the Revolution. During the Revolution bog iron from the New Jersey pine barrens supplied iron to cast cannons for our revolutionary forces.

After the Revolution iron production dropped off until the country reorganized. After that point iron, and then steel production grew at a phenomenal rate to support the great expansion of new industry and the great expansion west.

Wrought iron with its ductile rust resistant qualities is just about nonexistent today. We use the term “wrought” as an adjective concerning iron not as the very important noun it used to be.

The mild steel we use today to make types of objects from an earlier time may not resist rust to the degree wrought iron did but our improved coatings may help a bit.

 

A History of Hinges

Large HL Hinges were common for passage doors, room doors and closet doors in the 17th, 18th and even 19th centuries. On taller doors H hinges were occasionally used in the middle along with the HL hinges.

H Hinges were shaped like an H and used on flush mounted doors. Small H hinges (3–4 in/76–100 mm) tend to be used for cabinet hinges, while larger hinges (6–7 in/150–180 mm) are for passage doors or closet doors.

A BIT OF HISTORY

American Wrought Iron

Second generation owner Nancy McMerriman  browses her bible of wrought iron

1694 – Those wishing to inspect the house carefully may see in the cellar the foundation arch of hand-made bricks and stone, and an old closet door with hinges attached by hand-made nails. In the attic is another of these HL hinges; the chimney is of bricks made in the town in 1694, originally joined with mud mortar. The floors and most of the roof timbers are the original white pine, and some of the old wooden pins with which they were put together still remain.

1730 – The HAVILAND INN was built in 1730 and is now the village hall. The original windows are intact; the beams are wooden-pegged; hand-hewn shingles cover three-quarters of the structure; several of the doors have Colonial “HL” hinges. Dame Tamar Haviland, a war widow, was here hostess to Washington on several occasions.

1775 – The H and HL hinges came into use in New England in the early and lasted until after the Revolution. These hinges were cut out of heavy sheet iron and were made in factories in England. This type of hinge was superseded by the cast-iron butt, still in use, which was invented in England in 1775, and adopted very generally in the United States at the close of the Revolution. In some old houses that have been restored and in many modern constructions done in the manner of the colonial homes.

1837 – When the colonies belonged to England, they followed English laws for marking silver, but after independence, standards varied. In 1837, Congress passed a law that established 900/1000 as the official standard for coin silver. Most silver objects stamped “coin” were not made from melted coins. THE COLONISTS WERE SO RELIGIOUS THAT THEY PUT HL HINGES ON THEIR DOORS, WHICH STOOD FOR HOLY LORD.

1948 – CLUES: In 1948, author Carl Drepperd wrote that, “Anything in wrought iron, from a four-inch rattail hinge to a complete iron balcony, has a collector waiting somewhere for it. Even the common H and HL hinges have value, while ram’s-horn hinges are on a parity with fine historic china.” What he didn’t say was that all of these, and other wrought iron items were being reproduced; and still are.

1989 – Even the common H and HL hinges have value, while ram’s-horn hinges are on a parity with fine historic china.

historic restorations of bean handle

About Handles

Bean Handle
The Bean is a delicate handmade iron pull, simple in design and very functional. The most common pull found in early New England homes. A beautiful replica of the early handle, the Bean handle is finished with a rubbed beeswax/linseed oil finish that brings out the beauty of the iron details. For outdoor use, request a painted black finish. Please note that the height of the Bean handle is not the same as the height of the Bean latch, although the proportions are the same. 2-1/2” x 6-1/2”

Spade Handle
The Spade handle is sister to the Spade latch and is perfect for closets, large cupboards or any application where a full latch is not necessary. The Spade is suitable for interior or exterior use, and can be ordered in a boiled beeswax/linseed oiled finish or painted black.. 3” x 10”

 

About Latches

Bean Latch

Bean Latch
In the Suffolk family of latches and handles, the Bean latch is a simple latch design, the most common found in early New England homes. Ours is a beautifully hand made replica of an early latch found in Horsham, Pennsylvania, circa 1755.

Can be ordered with a rubbed oil finish for interior, or painted black finish for exterior use. 2-1/2” x 8”

Spade Latch
Another Suffolk variety, our Spade Latch is a beautifully hand-crafted piece that will grace any handsome paneled or plank door.  The history of this latch extends all along the eastern shoreline, and its ancestors can still be found in many antique homes in New England.

The Spade is suitable for interior or exterior use, and can be ordered in a beeswax boiled Linseed oiled finish or painted black.. 3” x 10”

Meeting House LatchRestoration of Bean Latch
This handsome latch is quite an eye-catcher. Reproduced from a latch found on the front of a 1780 Connecticut meeting house, this large latch is a beautiful representation of colonial craftsmanship.

The Meeting House latch would grace the front entryway of any restoration or reproduction home. 4-1/2” x 18-1/2”

Mission Latch 
Another Suffolk Latch variety, the Mission latch is a slightly different design than was commonly seen in early colonial homes. Ours is similar to a door in the Wayside Inn, Sudbury Massachusetts, circa 1683.

This beautiful latch, with its beveled edges and detailed hammered finish, would be a handsome addition to a period home or elegant outbuilding. Because of its size, the Mission latch is primarily an exterior latch, so is painted black to withstand the weather. 3-1/2” x 13-1/2”

 

historic restoration

 

 

 

 

 

 

For 30 years folk artist Nancy Rosier of Rosier Period Art has dedicated her life to the preservation of a dying and disappearing art form from the early to mid-1800’s – theorem painting.

Theorem painting is the art of making stencils and using them to make paintings on fabric (Nancy uses an egg-shelled colored velvet cotton).  Popular during the 1800’s, theorem painting was taught to women in academics and boarding schools in Colonial New England.  The appeal of the genre lay in the fact that it allowed the non-professional artist to create a work of art that was acceptable enough to display. It derived its name from the definition of the word – “an expression of relations in an equation or a formula”, according to Webster’s New World Dictionary.

Every one of Nancy’s paintings starts the same way – with a black and white line drawing that she will turn into a stencil to use during the painting phase.  These drawings are always drawn freehand, even when she is reproducing a period painting.

When she is ready to begin painting, Nancy doesn’t use the typical brushes one would expect a painter to use.  She uses a piece of the cotton velveteen over her finger, though she does go back over the painting at the end with a detail brush to add defining outlines as needed.

But Nancy does stop there, to have total artistic control over how her paintings are presented she has learned several traditional decorative art techniques she uses to paint the handmade frames for her theorems.  (Her husband even  constructs the frames for her to use.)

In true folk art style, Nancy is self-taught – she has learned her craft through studying antique theorems and reproducing them.  She became so accomplished at the historical reproductions that she was commissioned and provided Colonial Williamsburg with thirty-three large paintings, which hang in the public and private spaces of the Williamsburg Lodge.

 

After spending some time mastering the reproduction of 19th-Century theorems, she began to branch out to include her own original designs.

Her work clearly speaks for itself.

Nancy has been selected each year for close to twenty years as a member of the nationally acclaimed “Directory of Traditional American Crafts” which showcases America’s finest artisans who are dedicated to preserving the early American crafts.  Her work was among the few artists asked to contribute their art to decorting the Christmas White House during the Clinton administration.

 

 

 

Do you know the architectural styles of Pennsylvania?

Jim Thorpe Pennsylvania 12    Jim Thorpe Pennsylvania 16   Brandwine Building      Early Architecture - 1 1-2 Story House   braddock 9215   Bottling house

The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission has an excellent field guide on the architectural styles found in Pennsylvania.  In it, they’ve assigned key periods of development (listed below) – from the Colonial period in the 18th Century to the Modern Movements of the 29th Century.

To further explore Pennsylvania’s architecture and learn more about the periods, styles, and features of our built history, we’ll be posting a series of articles that delve into the field guide produced by the PHMC – so be sure to stay tuned.  (And you may want to subscribe to our blog by email to be notified via email when we post an article.  You can do so in the sidebar on the right.)

We’re starting our series with a timeline of the major architectural periods, and the styles found within them, Pennsylvania.  Click on an architectural period to see a dropdown list of the styles found in it.

[sws_pullquote_right]IMPORTANT NOTE:
It might be hard to believe, but historians sometimes disagree about things. The PHMC’s field guide states:

“It is important to remember that while some styles are universally recognized, scholars and architectural historians sometimes disagree on the categorization and naming of styles and different books consulted on the topic may offer varying names and periods of popularity. Growing research in the field also has provided better understanding of traditional and vernacular building traditions and greater discussion of some previously overlooked areas. So, while there is a basic language and perception of established architectural styles, it is an evolving understanding and sometimes there is no clearly correct answer.”

[/sws_pullquote_right]

 

[sws_toggle1 title=” 1638-1950 Traditional “]1638-1880 Log Buildings

1682-1730 Postmedieval English

1700-1870 Pennsylvania German Traditional

1700-1930 Barns and Outbuildings

1695-1950 Meetinghouses [/sws_toggle1]

[sws_toggle1 title=”1640-1800 Colonial Period”]1700-1800 Georgian Style [/sws_toggle1]

[sws_toggle1 title=”1780-1830 Early Republic Period”]1780-1820 Federal Style

Early Classic Revival Style:
1790-1830 Roman Classical Revival Style
1820-1860 Greek Revival Style[/sws_toggle1]

[sws_toggle1 title=”1830-1860 Mid 19th Century Period”] 1830-1860 Gothic Revival Style

1830-1850 Exotic Revival/Egyptian Revival Style

1840-1885 Italianate Village/Italianate Style

1850-1870 Octagonal Style[/sws_toggle1]

[sws_toggle1 title=”1850-1910 Late Victorian Period”]1840-1900 Romanesque Revival Style

1860-1900 Second Empire/Mansard Style

1860-1890 High Victorian Gothic Style

1860-1910 Chateauesque Style

1860-1890 Stick Style

1880-1900 Queen Anne Style[/sws_toggle1]

[sws_toggle1 title=”1880-1940 Late 19th & Early 20th Century Revival”]1880-1960 Colonial Revival Style

1890-1940 Tudor Revival Style

1890-1940 Collegiate Gothic Style

1890-1935 Italianate Renaissance Revival Style

1895-1950 Classical Revival Style

1885-1930 Beaux Arts Classicism Style

1915-1940 Spanish Colonial Revival Style[/sws_toggle1]

[sws_toggle1 title=”1925-1950 Modern Movement Period”]1920-1930 Exotic Revival/Egyptian Revival Style

1925-1940 Art Deco Style

1930-1950 Moderne Style

1930-1950 International Style[/sws_toggle1]