Category Archives: Historic Places

Posts related to Historic Places of interest

EAIA 2013 Cape Cod — Day 2 Heritage Museum, Sandwich Glass Museum and Tool Auction

Day 2 of the EAIA 2013 Cape Cod conference turned out to be as jam packed as the first day. The weather was perfect and we got to explore some new museums.  First stop was the ‘Heritage Museum and Gardens’ which I had never been to before.

The Heritage Museum's trough that leads seemingly uphill to a waterfall. Very Neat.
The Heritage Museum’s trough that leads seemingly uphill to a waterfall. Very Neat.

The entrance had this trough which looks like it just just out into space and almost looks like it is flowing uphill…

The beautiful gardens and waterfall at the Heritage Museum.
The beautiful gardens and waterfall at the Heritage Museum.

From the side you can see how it ends with a waterfall surrounded by one of the MANY beautiful gardens on site.

Circular Shaker barn -- a very good copy of the barn at Hancock. It was home to the automobile collection and related exhibits.
Circular Shaker barn — a very good copy of the barn at Hancock. It was home to the automobile collection and related exhibits.

There is also a very good replica of the Hancock Shaker Village round barn which is home to the automobile collection and related exhibits.

Motorama signage and the largest collection of Corvette Prototypes I've ever seen in one location
Motorama signage and the largest collection of Corvette Prototypes I’ve ever seen in one location

Inside the barn was an exhibition on automotive design, GM’s motorama exhibitions and the largest collection of Corvette prototypes I’ve ever seen under one roof.

Harley Earl's retirement gift from GM -- a 1963 Stingray Vette that matched his shark.
Harley Earl’s retirement gift from GM — a 1963 Stingray Vette that matched his shark.

Harley Earl’s 1963 Stingray Corvette convertible that was designed to be painted like the mako shark that hung on the wall of his office. After several attempts to match the color of the shark, the engineering staff stole the shark at night, painted it to match the car, and then said ‘Look the car matches the shark now’

Corvette CERV III Prototype from 1990 stuffed full of technology that was ahead of its time. Looks a lot like the much later 1997 C5 generation
Corvette CERV III Prototype from 1990 stuffed full of technology that was ahead of its time. Looks a lot like the much later 1997 C5 generation

This 1990 prototype corvette was one of the HEAVIEST corvettes ever made and was jam packed with so much new technology it was not feasible as a production vehicle. But its absolutely amazing to me how many of the design cues eventually made it into the car during the much later C5 generation.

Tour of the gun collection
Tour of the gun collection

Next up was a tour of all the long guns and interesting pistols the museum had in their archives.

Alyssa riding the carousel with me.
Alyssa riding the carousel with me.

There was also a restored carousel that we all got to ride on. It was probably 10+ years since my wife and I last rode a carousel — but even as an adult it was still a lot of fun.

One of many interesting trade signs...
One of many interesting trade signs…

Near the carousel there was a section full of interesting weather vanes and trade signs.

Trade signs for a butcher shop were about as literal as you can get.
Trade signs for a butcher shop were about as literal as you can get.

Next up was a visit to the Sandwich Glass Museum which recounts the history of the Sandwich Glass Works.

Working kiln inside of the Sandwich Glass Museum
Working kiln inside of the Sandwich Glass Museum

Inside the visitor center is a nice new and working kiln.

Glass blowing demonstration
Glass blowing demonstration

After a video history and lecture on the women of the Sandwich Glass Works we were treated to a glass blowing demonstration.

Re-heating the glass
Re-heating the glass

In the evening we returned to the hotel for the Great Planes tool auction. In a room full of tool collectors and experts the prices for a lot of items seemed to go higher that I would have expected — or at least higher than I was willing to pay, but I got a couple of small items near the end after all the big spenders got a little tired out. I got a nice pair of old Disston hand saws and a 4′ carriage maker’s boxwood folding rule which I can put to good use.

Great Planes tool auction at night
Great Planes tool auction at night

It was another busy day down on the Cape. Up next, Day 3 Demonstrations, Lectures, Silent Auction and Banquet….

EAIA 2013 Cape Cod — Day 1 — Woodworking with Peter Follansbee

For me, one of the highlight’s of this years EAIA conference was a lecture from and later talking with Peter Follansbee of Plimoth Plantation.  I met Peter before as some of my classmates from NBSS have worked at the plantation, but on this visit, it was particularly interesting to learn more about what brought him to the plantation and how his work and research have changed over the years.

Peter Follansbee in his natural habitat -- the Joiner's shop
Peter Follansbee in his natural habitat — the Joiner’s shop

Peter answered many questions and demonstrated some carving at the bench. In person I find he often has funny anecdotes and snarky comments that are both cutting and entertaining.

Shavings from the early part of a day's work -- the way a shop should look.
Shavings from the early part of a day’s work — the way a shop should look.

I particularly liked the carved book stand (seen below) which could be adjusted for viewing angle, and had small dowels that can keep the book open.

Carved Book-stand by Peter Follansbee
Carved book stand by Peter Follansbee

He also demonstrated some light spindle turning at his pole lathe.

Peter turning at his pole lathe
Peter turning at his pole lathe

In the shop, as always, were examples of the varied sorts of work he carries out. Seen below is a great looking carved English style chair, and behind is a greenwood chair similar to that which is seen in Jennie (John) Alexander Jr’s book on working with green wood which I heard was the inspiration for Peter’s recent book on making joint stool from a tree.

Beautiful carved chair. In the background a chair built to the specs from 'Make A Chair From A Tree : An Introduction To Working Green Wood' which was the inspiration for Peter's 'Make a joint stool from a tree' book.
Beautiful carved chair. In the background a chair built to the specs from ‘Make A Chair From A Tree : An Introduction To Working Green Wood’ which was the inspiration for Peter’s ‘Make a joint stool from a tree’ book.

Peter was gracious enough to sign my DVD of his carving, so that also made my day.

Peter splitting wood with a froe and answering questions from the audience
Peter splitting wood with a froe and answering questions from the audience

Surrounded by a throng of overly eager visitors, Peter took question and demonstrated the use of a froe for splitting wood.

Peter's version of the Anarchist's Tool Chest
Peter’s version of the Anarchist’s Tool Chest

Above you can see some joint stools from his book on that subject along with his own interpretation of the Anarchist’s tool chest based on the recent book by Chris Schwarz. It was neat to see how Peter used (presumably) blacksmith made hinges and painted the chest. (Along with a different panel configuration for the lid). You can learn more about it on Peter’s blog here.

A sample of the high style work Peter produces. Similar to a piece he has at the MFA next to a partial original. It's amazing to see how much brighter the colors were originally.
A sample of the high style work Peter produces. Similar to a piece he has at the MFA next to a partial original. It’s amazing to see how much brighter the colors were originally.

And finally, shown here is an example of some of the high style work Peter produces. When I give my class a tour of the MFA America’s wing each summer I am always happy to show them the original they have on display alongside the reproduction Peter produced for the museum to show how the piece likely looked when it was new. I always find it interesting to see how earlier generations enjoyed color, and changing styles much as folks do today.

It was another great visit to Peter’s shop, and I look forward to seeing what he’s been up to on my next visit to the plantation.

EAIA 2013 Cape Cod — Day 1

This past weekend Alyssa and I attended our first EAIA annual meeting which was held in Hyannis on Cape Cod. For those not familiar with the EAIA, it is the Early American Industries Association which is an organization that celebrates the trades, crafts, and tools that were a part of American history and have made an impact in all our lives.  We were members for a few years, but this was the first event we attended…and now we can’t wait for next year’s events! Below and in some upcoming posts I’ll try to recap some highlights from this years events which kept us busy.

Obligatory tourist picture of me in front of the sign where we are...
Obligatory tourist picture of me in front of the sign where we are…

You can learn more about the EAIA here

View of Plimoth Plantation from the Fort
View of Plimoth Plantation from the Fort

We started out our day with the introductory/orientation film and then an interesting talk by Peter Follansbee who is an expert on 17th century woodworking and quite the interesting character. He talked about his own background, interesting changes at the plantation over the years and research into traditional woodworking of that era.

Beautifully stacked firewood getting ready for the long winter ahead
Beautifully stacked firewood getting ready for the long winter ahead

After that program we were free to explore the plantation and/or take part in some other behind the scenes tours.

Justin Keegan (NBSS CFM + Plimoth Interpretter) hewing a log
Justin Keegan (NBSS CFM + Plimoth Interpreter) hewing a log

My wife and I had been to Plimoth many times over the years, and some of my classmates from NBSS worked at the museum so I did not have high hopes for this part of the event, but I was happy to see some programs and behind the scenes events where I learned some interesting new information. We also got to have lunch ‘Like a Pilgrim’ eating some food prepared as it would have been back in the 17th century — so some traditional turkey, vegetables, desert, condiments, utensils (or lack thereof — I missed my spork), and table manners.

New building in the village
New building in the village

In the Plimoth Maritime Workshop we took part in a lecture on 17th century Shallop boats, how they were used in the colony and how the plantation recreated some of these vessels, issues that came up during construction and how they fared on the open sea.

Lecture about the 17th century Shallop (boat), its use in early Plimoth, and the recreation of some of these vessels
Lecture about the 17th century Shallop (boat), its use in early Plimoth, and the recreation of some of these vessels

I love to see this sort of behind the scenes workshop — to see how they setup, how they work, what tools they use etc.

In the Plimouth Maritime Workshop -- I love to see the behind the scenes workshops at this sort of living history museum
In the Plimoth Maritime Workshop — I love to see the behind the scenes workshops at this sort of living history museum

The pungent smell of pine tar on the rigging from the Mayflower II which was in drydock was quite strong, but added to the ambiance — though folks with asthma did not agree with me on that.

Even if you were great with knots as a scout, I bet you'd have trouble with the massive rigging covered in pine tar that belong to the Mayflower II
Even if you were great with knots as a scout, I bet you’d have trouble with the massive rigging covered in pine tar that belong to the Mayflower II

We had great weather all weekend. We also took part in a private tour event where one of the curators explained how the plantation uses experimental archaeology and character interpretation to explore the mindset and problems of the time period and also to try and answer some of the questions we have about the times given the incomplete records that survive.  Who would have thought that thread + textiles specifically spun to recreate a 17th century coat would help improve sutures used in open heart surgery?

Annual session of 'Whatsit' where members try to guess what some particularly odd tools were used for
Why did these chickens cross the road? …. to get to Peter Follansbee’s talk of course.

The livestock on the plantation were quite used to humans and friendly; no animatronic squirrels like at Williamsburg (*wink* to my friends at CW with that old joke)

Peter Follansbee in his natural habitat -- the Joiner's shop
Peter Follansbee in his natural habitat — the Joiner’s shop

There were also numerous demonstrations from folks working in the historic trades — blacksmithing, woodworking, pottery, textiles, cooking etc.

Carved Book-stand by Peter Follansbee
Carved Book-stand by Peter Follansbee

If you’d like to learn more about Plimoth Plantation or plan a visit of your own, check out their website here.

Annual session of 'Whatsit' where members try to guess what some particularly odd tools were used for
Annual session of ‘Whatsit’ where members try to guess what some particularly odd tools were used for

After dinner and an ice cream social for first time attendees we took part in the annual ‘Whatsit’ session. Folks try and stump the other tool enthusiasts with their recent finds — or figure out what that oddball tool your late relative left you in his will was actually used for. Not surprisingly there is not as much demand for a brass button polisher or ox training yolk as you might think.

It was a beautiful day filled with back to back events. Stay tuned for a bit more on woodworking at the Plimoth Plantation and Day 2 and 3…

Signing your name in wood…

It’s easy enough to sign your work with a Sharpie or branding iron…and I’ve done both many times in the past. But what if you are looking for something that will give your work that extra flourish? Or work on a massive scale like a timber framed barn? Or be a new sign for your shop? Often the best solution is to carve your own sign or inscription.

This past weekend I had the opportunity to take a two day workshop in letter carving with Janet Collins at the North Bennet Street School.  I had a great time. Below is a quick recap of how I spent my Superbowl Weekend.

Demonstrating how to make the first cuts
Demonstrating how to make the first cuts

Janet is a graduate of the NBSS CFM program, instructor, former workshop director and accomplished artisan. She has a passion for woodworking and loves sharing the craft with others.

Laying out your letters
Laying out your letters

After sharpening your tools the first step is laying out your text first on paper or a computer.

Transferring your pattern
Transferring your pattern

Transfer your pattern on to the workpiece.

Carving
Carving

Now for the fun part — carefully carving your letters into the piece. You want to take a light touch, always be aware of the grain direction and strive for an even depth of cut.

Carver's natural habitat
Carver’s natural habitat

Just as you can never have too many clamps, you can never really have too many carving chisels and gouges.

Completed name carving
My completed name carving

A raking light and solid platform to secure your work are requisites to success in this sort of work.

Gilding lesson
Gilding lesson

Beyond the carving exercises we were also treated to a nice demonstration on how to gild this sort of hand carved sign.

Janet Collins with completed sign
Janet Collins with completed sign

Pictured here is Janet with her carved and gilded number sign.

Chip carving samples
Chip carving samples

Beyond letter carving, these kinds of woodworking skills can be applied to may other forms of carving…

More chip carving
More chip carving

such as chip carving…

Chip and relief carving samples
Chip and relief carving samples

relief carving…

Celtic knot and floral carving
Celtic knot and floral carving

organic designs, geometric designs, anything you can imagine. The above sample boards are just a few from the large bag of samples Janet brought to show the class.

Carved and Gilded sign at NBSS
Carved and Gilded sign at NBSS

Above is a hand carved and gilded sign honoring the founder of NBSS — Pauline Agassiz Shaw. If you study it carefully you can see how it was clearly laid out by hand and shows many of the tool marks and design cues you’d expect to see in hand work. Pictured below is a nice old sign in the Cabinet and Furniture Making department at NBSS which is a combination of painting and carved details — “All Kinds Of Woodwork Done Here” which is an apt description for what goes on in the upper bench room. I am also partial to the “Please don’t feed the woodworker” sign.

"Don't feed the woodworkers" and "All Kinds of Woodwork Done Here" signs by the entrance to Cabinet and Furniture Making department at NBSS.
“Don’t feed the woodworkers” and “All Kinds of Woodwork Done Here” signs by the entrance to Cabinet and Furniture Making department at NBSS.

After taking this course I have a new sign for my workshop, and a whole new appreciation for hand carved signs. Next time you are walking around your town take a moment to look at some of the carved signs and see if you can differentiate the ones that were carved by hand versus those which were made by machine. After looking at a few of them you’ll likely see that many of the signs with the best details were carved by hand.

I’m looking to make some signs for my barn and workshop and will be sure to post them here on the blog. In the meantime you can learn more about Janet Collins and her work via her website here and here. And if you are interested in taking workshops at NBSS you can find out more here.

NBSS Holiday Party 2012 + BAC Building Opening

During the holidays there is always so much to do, so many errands to run, so many people to try and catch up with, and all of the other usual holidays stresses. Even with all the running around, one of my favorite events of the season is the North Bennet Street School Holiday party. For me it always evokes images of what I imagine a party at Old Fezziwig’s warehouse would be like.

Band Playing at the NBSS Holiday Party
Band Playing at the NBSS Holiday Party

There is always lively holiday music being played on a fiddle recently made by its owner.  Lance plays a tune on his saw. Everyone brings homemade dishes. Many of us are covered in saw dust or smudges from the shop and there is a energy in the room. The annual table hockey tournament is being played to a cheering crowd.

A view of the NBSS Holiday Party
A view of the NBSS Holiday Party

The room is alive with students, faculty and alumni talking about their work, their passions and the year ahead.

Front of the new home to NBSS after 125+ years on North Bennet Street they are moving to a larger facility that will put the entire school back under one roof.
Front of the new home to NBSS after 125+ years on North Bennet Street they are moving to a larger facility that will put the entire school back under one roof. Located right off the greenway the new building has a nice street presence.

This year (Thursday 12/13/12) was the first North Bennet Street School Holiday Party at the new building which is located at 150 North Street in Boston which is now partially occupied by the school (the rest of the departments to move in this coming year).

Side view of North Street Building. This rear corner is where Preservation Carpentry will reside.
Side view of North Street Building. This rear corner is where Preservation Carpentry will reside.

The new building will start an exciting new chapter in the school’s history. While I am nostalgic for the original NBSS building which had a lot of unusual quirks and a TON of history in the walls, the new space is starting to take on a life of its own and as more tools make it up onto the walls and the old benches find their way to their new homes you can see a distinctly NBSS feel develop.

New workspace for the Bookbinding program
New workspace for the Bookbinding program

The Bookbinding program was one of the first to move into the new space. And even during the party a few dedicated folks are still toiling away at their benches as party-goers make the rounds to see what students have been up to.

DSCN7022
Massive wooden bookbinding presses waiting to be set up

Walking the halls you can see all the tools and equipment that have seen many years of use.

Violin making department -- even during the party a few students were still working at their benches
Violin making department — even during the party a few students were still working at their benches

In the violin making department there are a few more folks finishing up their bench work. The new space is larger and more spread out.

A Violin being constructed
A Violin being constructed

The school also has many of the posters from the new ‘Do What You Love Every Day’ marketing campaign you can see around the city and in related trade magazines. It really captures a core tenet of the NBSS Philosophy and how skilled hand work is a very fulfilling vocation.

'Do What You Love Every Day' NBSS Ad campaign (In this poster is a friend named Nikki from Bookbinding)
‘Do What You Love Every Day’ NBSS Ad campaign (In this poster is a friend named Nikki from Bookbinding)

You can learn more about NBSS and their efforts to bring the school ‘Under One Roof’ here on the website. There is also a powerful video clip about why this move means so much to the NBSS community and the surrounding neighborhood.

'Do What You Love Every Day'
‘Do What You Love Every Day’

Thursday was a busy night for me in the city. After the NBSS Holiday Party I had to head over to the BAC to see the public opening of the new building they’ve renovated/re-purposed at 951 Boylston Street in Boston.

Entrance to 951 Boylston Street Boston, a new building for the BAC. The desk shown here was fabricated by NBSS students
Entrance to 951 Boylston Street Boston, a new building for the BAC. The desk shown here was fabricated by NBSS students

On display in the entry way is a beautiful desk and shelving system which was fabricated by NBSS students.

Interior of 951
Interior of 951

The interior of this building is now a bright and modern space designed to celebrate student work, host school and community events, and provide more studio space for students.

Me, in front of an example of what will be preserved in the old building
Me, in front of an example of what will be preserved in the old building

Above I am standing in front of a section of this building which was a hot topic of discussion during the summer Historic Preservation (HP) classes at the BAC. Originally this historic masonry work was going to be concealed in the wall, but with some pushing from the HP students and faculty this architectural detail will be the subject of upcoming materials conservation work and will be incorporated into the design of the space and a creative example of work on display.

BAC Student work on display
BAC Student work on display

You can learn more about this new space at the BAC here.

It was a great night to be in downtown Boston and helped get me into the spirit of the holidays.
Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!

Well Done Wellington

The historic Wellington House in Waltham MA dates back to the late 1700s and has a long history which was almost lost to development. In recent years this house has seen some exterior restoration, but now things are progressing on the interior as well. This post is the tale of how the kitchen fireplace surround was documented and restored.

Front of the Wellington House
Front of the Wellington House

First some history about the house:

It was home to the Wellington Family from 1779 – 1930 when it was sold to the state and became part of the Middlesex County Hospital and was used as an office for some of the hospital administration. After the hospital closed the house stood abandon for 20+ years and the weather and neglect took a toll on the building

Interior Front Door of the Wellington House
Interior Front Door of the Wellington House

This house is an interesting specimen of Massachusetts Architecture from the time of the revolutionary war, the local militia and the large percentage of original details that remain intact in the house, though many of them are in desperate need of preservation.

Central Stair Hall, Wellington House, Waltham MA
Central Stair Hall, Wellington House, Waltham MA

In 1989 the house was put on the National Historic Register of Historic Places.  As a developer was looking to develop the acreage behind this historic property the city of Waltham had the foresight to ask that this house be donated back to the town along with funds to cover the restoration work. Since that time the roof was replaced, some structural stabilization was carried out and much of the exterior has been touched up, but the interior is another story. Once restored this building will eventually serve as the offices for the historical commission.

Now on to the interior of the main kitchen:

The 'Before' this was the kitchen fireplace surround as we found it
The ‘Before’ this was the kitchen fireplace surround as we found it

Above is what the kitchen looked like when I arrived at the house.

Steve O'Shaughnessy working with me on documenting what was left of this historic fabric
Steve O’Shaughnessy working with me on documenting what was left of this historic fabric

Steve O’Shaughnessy and I examined what was left and worked to document the fireplace surround, paneling, cabinets, hardware etc via photographs and site notes. Water had been infiltrating the chimney stack and was causing a lot of damage to this woodwork — along with various small animals. The paneling on the right side was bowed several inches off the wall. Sara Chase, NBSS adviser and paint analysis expert examined samples to determine the original color of the trim.

Carefully removing pins so we can disassemble the paneling
Carefully removing pins so we can disassemble the paneling

After initial documentation we carefully disassembled the paneling so the masonry could be examined and repaired and so the woodwork could also be restored.

Getting the large panel and surround down in one piece (Pictured Bill Rainford)
Getting the large panel and surround down in one piece (Pictured Bill Rainford)

Getting the central panel out in a single piece was an accomplishment and while exhausted at the time we were happy that everything came out without breaking anything and it even revealed a nice surprise….

Signed and dated 1904 in beautiful cursive -- likely when the panel was put back in to cover the earlier hole made when a stove was installed
Signed and dated 1904 in beautiful cursive — likely when the panel was put back in to cover the earlier hole made when a stove was installed

Behind the large panel was a large signature in fancy cursive writing that read: “Ernest S Farr January 28th 1904” I did some digging around on the internet and found that there was an Ernest S Farr (ca 1874-1920) in Middlesex who was married to Ida Farr and had a daughter named Helen N Farr in 1895.

The masonry seeing the light of day for the first time in well over 100 years (At least since 1904, possibly since 1799)
The masonry seeing the light of day for the first time in well over 100 years (At least since 1904, possibly since 1799)

With the paneling removed you could see the masonry work of the chimney mass. You could see the heavy wood lintel was sagging a bit, but otherwise the masonry was largely intact. You could also see the scars of installing a stove into the main chimney flue and also into the flue for the beehive oven.  It appears that the work of Ernest S Far was to replace the fielded panel and cover in the stovepipe hole in the primary fireplace, which leads me to think the stovepipe in the beehive oven was the later addition. I also have to comment that Ernest did a very good job getting that panel in place without disturbing the other woodworking — when we removed the rest of the surround we could see the cut nail holes and the rest of the paneling were original to the first installation.

Martin Hickman fine tuning some hardware during installation
Martin Hickman fine tuning some hardware during installation

My friend and colleague Martin Hickman (also from NBSS) restored the woodworking that was removed. This was a laborious task that took many days to complete.

Restored paneling being re-installed (Pictured Martin Hickman)
Restored paneling being re-installed (Pictured Martin Hickman)

Beyond the dissassembly, paint scraping and basic repairs , Martin also had to work to remove the large bow in the paneling caused by the water damage

Martin finishing up the final pieces of the installation
Martin finishing up the final pieces of the installation

Martin’s efforts paid off well as the final product once re-installed would likely have looked very familiar to the original Wellington’s who once inhabited this house. This room will eventually be used as a conference room for the Waltham Historical Commission.  If you notice the small patch above the fireplace that is an area deliberately preserving the long paint history of this woodwork and will be exposed as a reminder to the later inhabitants of the room.

The 'After' -- the restored surround, paneling and cabinets have been re-installed and are looking great. The off color patch in he middle will be preserved under glass as a reminder of the change this woodworking has seen and for future paint analysis if ever needed again in the future.
The ‘After’ — the restored surround, paneling and cabinets have been re-installed and are looking great. The off color patch in he middle will be preserved under glass as a reminder of the change this woodworking has seen and for future paint analysis if ever needed again in the future.

While there is a LOT of work that remains on the rest of the interior the Wellington House is off to a great start and I hope that the rest of the building will be restored to its earlier glory in the coming years.

You can learn more about the Wellington House and some of its history here.

It’s all in the details — The Zimmerman House — by Frank Lloyd Wright

When people talk about the works of Frank Lloyd Wright (FLW) the focus is usually on his grander houses and public buildings like Falling Water or the Guggenheim, but all too often his smaller homes for middle class families were overlooked. These smaller projects often captured the needs or personalities of the families that were to live in them. They also had smaller budgets so a lot of the magic is in the details and creative use of space.

The Zimmerman house in Manchester NH is a great example of one of these smaller homes and the only FLW house in New England that is open to the public.

Decades before the Not So Big House and the modern Green Building movement, FLW and his apprentices were pushing the design ideas of doing more in less space, investing in materials and craftsmanship to build character, building for the long term and going green when possible. In order to do more with less space, a lot more effort is spent on design and attention to detail. This can be seen in the way the grain of wood plugs are lined up in the Georgia Cyprus siding which are all laid out in combinations of 10″ and 3″ spacing as are many other details in the house including the masonry and walls and how the home’s design reflected the needs of the occupants. The Zimmerman’s loved music and entertaining and the living and dining spaces were laid out to host such events with grace. The attention to detail also flowed into the furniture in the home which was also designed by FLW and company and delivered as part of the house. The living room and dining room tables were designed to interlock and make a banquet table. The large music stand could hide stools, store music and provide lighting. The mail box was designed to reflect the aesthetic of the house and is the only know extant example of a FLW designed mailbox.

In this 1600 square foot home, which seems small compared to the McMansions popping up today, the house boasts some other interesting features which seem ahead of their time given the home was built in the early 1950s: radiant heat, vaulted ceilings, adaptive use of living space, gardens and windows that blur the distinction between interior and exterior space, custom cast concrete window frames that give privacy in the front, a wide array of modern appliances for the day, site layout designed for passive solar heating, integrated car port etc.

Why is this relevant to home builders and home buyers today? In recent years the effects of human impact on the planet — whether it be global warming or increasingly limited resources and also the sputtering economy are all stark reminders that we need to build for our present enjoyment and comfort but also with an eye for the future. To accomplish this we need to respect and incorporate the lessons learned by our forefathers and embrace the technological advances of our day. I want future generations to look on the work of my generation and feel like we were faithful stewards of the resources we had and I found my visit to the Zimmerman house to be a reminder that as joiner’s and house-wrights we are part of a continuum of forward looking craftsman the spans from the distant past well into the future. This line of reasoning always brings me back to the popular quote by Ruskin:

“When we build, let us think that we build forever. Let it not be for present delight nor for present use alone. Let it be such work as our descendants will thank us for; and let us think, as we lay stone on stone, that a time is to come when those stones will be held sacred because our hands have touched them, and that men will say, as they look upon the labor and wrought substance of them, “See! This our father did for us.”” –John Ruskin

You can learn more about the Zimmerman House or plan a visit from the Currier’s web page for the ‘Z’ house as it is affectionately nicknamed here.

What to do with 56 pounds of horsehair at Montpelier?

On a recent visit to Washington D.C. my wife and I took a day trip out to Orange VA to see Montpelier — the rural estate of James and Dolley Madison.  If you have never been to the home of the 4th U.S. President and ‘father’ of the U.S. Constitution,  I highly recommend taking a day to visit especially if you are interested in modern historic preservation.

The Mansion at Montpelier
The Mansion at Montpelier

The mansion is situated on ~2700 acres and provides stunning views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and surrounding terrain.

View from the second floor roof deck
View from the second floor roof deck

Many people have seen Washington’s Mt. Vernon, Adam’s Peacefield, Jefferson’s Monticello over the years and depending on when and how they were preserved you can see varying degrees of ‘re-muddling’ from generations of caretakers each with their own budgets, skill sets and agendas. In more recent years Historic Preservation efforts have evolved along with related science and technology to try and adhere to more scientific methods and standards which allow for better educated decisions around reading materials, doing research etc — though there are still politics and agendas — my belief is that modern interpretations attempt to be more grounded in findings from the site and related research and more forthcoming with calling out what was done based on fact and what was carried out based on an educated guess — a trend I hope continues as new facts are learned about a site.

Front door flanked by columns
Front door flanked by columns

Many people have not seen Montpelier since the the property was a private residence for parts of the DuPont family for much of the 20th century. In 1983 the site was bequeathed to the National  Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP) which carried out a $25M major restoration effort from ~2003-2009.

Earlier entrance to the older portion of the home, note the ghost lines in the brick
Earlier entrance to the older portion of the home, note the ghost lines in the brick

After doing extensive research which called upon many experts in the field of historic preservation — from the National Parks Department, Colonial Williamsburg and private practitioners — the NTHP removed 23,739* square feet of living space from the 20th century additions made by the DuPonts.  The goal was to restore the property to what it looked like at the time the Madison’s lived there.

View from the ice house/temple
View from the ice house/temple

One exterior feature that survived largely intact was Mr. Madison’s temple which sat atop the ice house which was the source of ice for Dolley’s famous ice cream.

The Temple
The Temple

The exterior work ranged from removing later exterior renovations to stabilizing, preserving, restoring and/or replacing exterior architectural details like the front door surrounds.

The side lights flanking the door can lower into recessed pockets to promote air flow
The side lights flanking the door can lower into recessed pockets to promote air flow

A close up detail of the pediment and its crisp detailing:

Detail view of the pediment
Detail view of the pediment

Other work was based on archeological and documentary evidence of the site — this was the case with the outbuildings which would have serviced the main home and was where the slaves and servants lived and worked.

Re-constructed timber frames of some of the outbuildings
Re-constructed timber frames of some of the outbuildings

The interior of the mansion also underwent extensive work, unfortunately we are not allowed to take photos inside, so if you want to see it for yourself you will have to visit.

Rear service door
Rear service door

What has me so excited about this site compared to many others is the fact that is was largely preserved — even with all the later renovations and additions the core of the house and many of its doors, windows and mantels survived on site AND the preservation and restoration work mainly happened during the last ten years with the benefit of being carried out by some of the best practitioners in the field.

Window with louvered shutters.
Window with louvered shutters.

The restored mansion takes on the look and feel of many of the historic buildings I often work on  — you can see and smell the fresh plaster, the rooms are sparsely furnished as the Foundation is still looking to acquire some of the original furnishings —  you can see active preservation projects going on at the site — it feels more alive and tangible compared to some of the similar sites which feel more dusty and tired from a constant stream of visitors.

The meticulous attention to detail in the restoration is evident throughout. On the second floor of the mansion they have a room that is partially restored and shows some of the more interesting finds from the exploration of the building — paint details on plaster and timbers, tags and branded numbering on repairs so future generations know who did what during this period, and an array of other interesting facts and figures. (Similar to the Gedney house in Salem MA)

So why would I ever need 56 pounds of horsehair at Montpelier? To mix into 90 tons of dry mix plaster* of course! That is how much plaster it took to restore the interior of the mansion. Staggering figures and interesting facts will keep your inner preservation carpenter  happy as you take the tour.  The foundation offers many books in the gift shop about the Madison’s and other founding fathers but below are two of my favorites as they are also used to train some of the docents. I recommend picking them up if you go there.  They walk you through the history of the site and its inhabitants, documentation of the restoration and related research.

Montpelier Foundation Books on Preservation of the Site
Montpelier Foundation Books on Preservation of the Site

If you are interested to learn more about the restoration of Montpelier check out the official website here. And for the gardener in your life — the history of the various gardens and landscapes can be found on this site.

The Gardens
The Gardens

If you are interested in visiting Montpelier, check out their calendar of activities on the main Montpelier website here.  There are lots of events throughout the year including candle light tours, and tours going more in depth on the Madison’s, Archeology, Historic Preservation, and the life and times of inhabitants of that period in American history. I hope to see you there.

Since i am not in many pictures on this blog (I'm usually behind the camera) I figured I'd add this one into the collection
Since I’m usually behind the camera, I figured I’d add this one  — “Now try to look more like a tourist”

And last but not least, since I an not in many of the pictures on this blog I figured I’d add on at least one touristy pic in front of the visitor’s center. If you make your own pilgrimage to Montpelier, let me know or better yet share your own picture in front of this sign. 🙂

* Above facts were taken from ‘James Madison’s Sovenir Book’  UPC 190001 and available from the gift shop at Montpelier.

Anarchy at the Tool Show — Classic Tool Chests

I need to get something off my chest– literally. Ever since reading the Anarchist’s Tool Chest I’ve had Tool Chest envy. My wife and I recently moved up to NH from Boston and it seems like it has been taking a lifetime to get my shop setup and fully functional again. Teaching, work, life, smaller projects and commissions keep getting in the way. Once winter sets in and I get more ‘me’ time in the shop I plan to build my own proper tool chest — though right now hand my tools ride around in style via a mobile tool chest/cart I built as a student at NBSS — complete with curved fenders, a retractable handle, 4 drawers and a tray top  (I’ll post more on that in an upcoming post).

This past week I was at the Live Free or Die tool show and auction in Nashua NH — and is part of my twice annual pilgrimage to the ultimate old hand tool show. Beyond great deals on hard to find tools, it’s also a great place to see lots of faces from NBSS, vendors I’ve been buying from for years and the one random guy who only seems to sell very ornate turned plumb bobs every year.

Below are some of the more interesting tool chests I was able to find and photograph with my camera phone (please excuse the quality of them).  The wide variety of what survived was a great source of inspiration.

 

You can learn more about the Anarchist’s Tool Chest here on my friend Chris Schwarz’s blog. (Along with other great books by the Lost Art Press)

Sorry Chris — I was unable to find any slant topped chests, but I gave it a good try.

Turning Wood Into Stone — Rustication at Mount Vernon

Why would someone want to turn wood into stone?

A stone building or home often conveyed a sense of lasting presence, wealth, and a connection to the many famous stone structures of antiquity that we so often try to emulate and incorporate into our architectural designs. So why not just build with stone in the first place?

The answer is usually economics — wood is a lot cheaper, easier to move and shape compared to stone — so if you could make your wooden home look like stone you’ll be keeping up with the Jones’ and not break the bank.

I just returned from a  trip down to Washington D.C. where we also visited  Mount Vernon — the home of George and Martha Washington with amazing views of the Potomac — and the most famous example of Feigned Rustication I am aware of.

George and Martha Washington's Home -- Mount Vernon
George and Martha Washington’s Home — Mount Vernon

What is Rustication?

Rustication is a term from the world of Masonry wherein the individual stones are squared off or beveled so as to accentuate the textured edges of each block.  You can learn more about it on Wikipedia here. You can often see this feature on the lower and/or first levels of large masonry structures like banks and older stone office buildings. It provided a sense of grounding and provided a stark contrast to the smoother ashlar work on upper stories.

Close up of the Mansion
Close up of the Mansion

What is Feigned Rustication?

Feigned Rustication is the process of taking wood siding — carving/shaping it so that it looks like a series of rusticated stones, priming and painting it, and then when the paint is still wet covering it with fine sand so that the board takes on the color/shape/texture of stone.

Rustication Process
Rustication Process as shown in stages on a sign out on the grounds of Mount Vernon. (Click to enlarge)

Here is a close up view of this technique applied to the exterior siding and trim:

Close up detail of Rustication
Close up detail of Rustication

While not alchemy, this technique got the job done and from a distance it’s hard to tell the building is not made from stone until you get up close — and even then you have to know what you are looking at.

The Rusitcation lets the home look like as if it is made of stone
The Rustication lets the home look like as if it is made of stone

So while George and Martha Washington were generally quite wealthy during their time, they did make decisions that weighed materials vs. appearance vs. cost much the same way we do in our own homes today and stretched the dollar as much as they could. As you can see in the picture below, for secondary buildings they only applied this technique to the fronts of the buildings — around the corner you can see the siding reverts back to a nice beaded clapboard detail. You can also see some other more common faux finishes like artificial grain applied to some doors in the home — to make them look like expensive mahogany.  This was a fairly common practice and not looked down upon the way some readers may be interpreting this.

Note the transition from Rustication back to beaded claps on the side of this secondary building
Note the transition from Rustication back to beaded claps on the side of this secondary building

Now that you’ve seen how we can transform wood into stone — were you fooled by the illusion? Are you going to work some similar alchemy on your own home’s exterior?

I highly recommend visiting Mount Vernon if you are in the Northern VA/Washington D.C. Area. You can find out more about this historic home, museum and grounds here.

In your travels if you find some other examples of Feigned Rustication, let me know here on the blog.  (Another famous place with this treatment is Monticello also in Virgina)