Monday, September 20, 2010

Bad News at Monumental Church

The Restoration Department has finished the demolition part of the stair tower room. What a mess! Of the seven original joists, only two could be salvaged. Of the period, heart pine floor boards, only four could be salvaged. An item of interest is that the four good floor boards were not tongue and groove, whereas all the rest were. All the floor boards were pit-sawn and adzed on their undersides and nailed with period "L" head nails, so they appear to have been installed at the same time. Puzzling.

The bad news is that we discovered active termites in the stair tower joists, floor boards and in the stairs themselves. Amy Swartz, the HRF Executive Director has had the Church treated for termites and has a contract with a pest control company for annual inspections. This should have been sufficient to prevent a termite infestation, but it was not. When we met with representatives of the pest control company, they were at a loss as to explain how their annual inspections did not detect the new infestation. Perhaps we can help. During the demolition phases of both the passage room and the stair tower, we observed numerous abandoned termite tubes clinging to both wood and masonry surfaces. We do not see how a termite company can tell if a these signs of activity are new or old, unless the pest control technician removes the tubes during the inspection. The tech could check for living termites as he is removing the tubes. Doing this annually would make new termite activity obvious. The logical conclusion is that Amy need to pursue a new pest control company, once her current company has finished its contractual obligations.

A last item of interest is the stairs themselves. The treads, risers and most other elements are cypress. We know they are period because there are "transition" nails attaching the bottom of the risers to the back of the treads. These nails, with cut bodies and forged heads were made mostly from 1790 to 1815, which fits nicely into the 1814 date of construction for the church.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Monumental Progress

I love the name of this structure. Every time we write about it, it sounds like we have accomplished mighty things. As you can see from the photo, the Restoration Dept. has completed replacing the four damaged, pit-sawn pine floor joists with pressure-treated pine ones. The loose brickwork under the safe was repaired, and a few bricks under the joists had to be reset. The utilities were reconnected to the framing. A subfloor of pressure-treated 1"x8"s was installed, followed by 1/2 inch plywood. We are now progressing to the stair hall, which has more extensive termite damage than the foyer. One item of interest, we found what appears to be an unused chimney flue in the corner by the safe. The flue was full of topsoil and shards of early window pane glass. Gold coins would have been better.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Tresspassers WILL be prosecuted... the Law of Gravity. After that last exciting blog I"m sure y'all are breathless with anticipation, waiting to know what the Restoration Department is doing the second half of the month of August. Well wait no longer, we are doing a preservation for fee job at the 1814 Monumental Church in Richmond, owned by the Historic Richmond Foundation. The first floor foyer and stair passage rooms have been heavily damaged by termites. The termites are gone, but not forgotten. Seven of the three inch by nine inch floor joists in the foyer have to be replaced, and the remaining need to be consolidated. The subfloors were destroyed. The white oak finish floor has some damage, but at least 80% is reusable. It was carefully labeled, toward its reinstallation. There are two manufacture stamps on the oak floor, one is "Peerless Flooring Co. of High Point NC". The other is "NOFMA Burress of Lynchburg, Va." It may be possible to establish a ballpark estimate of the date of installation with this information. We laid plywood down for the safety of the HRF staff before left.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Isle of Wight Punch List

The Restoration Department was at the Isle of Wight courthouse in Smithfield the first half of August to correct some moisture problems, to repair the stocks, and to renovate the bathroom. The stocks were approximately five years old and were constructed of white oak and painted brown. We have no idea why its' horizontal members started to decay so quickly, as white oak should have a 20 year life-span. The decayed members were replaced with band-sawn pressure-treated pine, and then the stocks were reassembled. The bathroom needed a baseboard and a piece of flooring to fill in a void where an HVAC register was removed. Some plaster repair was also done there. To correct long term moisture problems to the courthouse a major amount of regrading was done between it and the Clerk's Office. Patio blocks were placed in the drip lines of the two buildings to prevent runoff ruining the grade work. On the other side of the courthouse, a large hole in the exterior wall next to a gutter downspout was bricked and repointed. The effects of these moisture-control activities will be noted by the Isle of Wight branch over time.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Et Voila

The Hollow is finished on July 29, 2010. The locals were present to cheer us on.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Looks Like a Hollow Victory

The Restoration Department is within a week of finishing the installation of the North side heart poplar siding on the Hollow. When this is complete, and the bed molding is installed, it will be the completion of a restoration project they started in the summer of 2005. There may be future modifications to the Hollow as its function is refined, but the goals of complete stabilization of the structure have all been met. Its a proud moment.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Summer Projects in 2010

The restoration department is getting into their summer schedule. They are nearly complete with the Marshall house, with only the installation of two basement window sashes and a protective runner for the stairs to do. Jon Miano and Kaleb Newago are now painting the back entrance surround at Bacon's Castle, while Karl Newago and Mike Adams prep and install the heart-poplar siding to the North wall of the Hollow. These jobs will last 4 to 6 weeks. The department also had to take a quick trip to the Cape Henry Lighthouse to replace 7 missing 8x10 inch window panes that had blown out over the winter. The sashes are showing the stress of weather in a coastal environment, and the off season this winter would be the proper time to remove and recondition them. There will be no pictures accompanying our blogs for awhile, as our trusty old camera is being uncooperative.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


On June 7, 2010, the Restoration Department replaced the courthouse-side basement window for the John Marshall House. This window was replaced about 20 years prior by the department, using a prime grade heart pine. We now know why the window only lasted that long, as it was almost totally consumed by termites. Karl Newago is putting the finishing touches on the mortar pointing, while Jon Miano is caulking the inside edges. Since this window was made from pressure treated pine, and since the Marshall House now has rain gutters, we are expecting it to last much longer.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

JMH Windows

The Restoration Department is almost done making three reproduction basement windows for the John Marshall House. Two of the old windows were from the house restoration in the 1970's, and one was from the 1990's. It is perplexing that the latest window, which the department made out of a very good quality resawn heart pine, only lasted 20 years. In keeping with our policy to use renewable resources when possible, we made the new windows out of pressure-treated yellow pine. They will be painted so the use of pressure-treat will in no way detract from the appearance of the house. The windows took three men a full week to reproduce.

Friday, April 23, 2010

New Finish

The stairs at the John Marshall House are getting a new finish. The old finish was worn away, and foot traffic was starting to damage the treads and risers. After three days of sanding, the stairs were clean enough to stain and varnish. The stain used was Minwax "Provincial" that was brushed on and immediately ragged off. The pictures show one coat of oil-based varnish. They will get at least two more coats.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Watch That First Step

The Restoration Department is doing conservation work on the period stairs at the John Marshall House. Here, at the second floor landing, the ballistrade had to be removed so the the landing nosing could be conserved. The crew had to glue and screw a split where the tread crossed over the riser. They also reinforced the groove section in the back of the floor board. The upper shoulder of the groove had worn thin from foot traffic, and a section of it was broken out, probably from a high-heeled shoe. The lower shoulder was sawn away, and a full size strip was glued under the upper shoulder, to make it as thick as the rest of the floor board. The corresponding tongue on the adjacent board will be cut away, and the boards will be simply butted together. A dutchman was used to replace section broken out by the shoe.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Memory Update on Porch

Not bad for an old guy. My files reveal that the decking on the 9th Street porch was actually done by Peter Post and was completed in June 1986. It was part of the same project that did have Fred Ecker involved, but while he was still on our staff. Our crew (Chuck, Fred and Mike according to Grant billings - talk about a dream team of restoration carpenters!!)worked inside replacing panels on the interior shutters while Peter was hired to do the work on the porch. According to his billing records, most of the deck was replaced using 2" by 6" salt treated lumber purchased from Siewers, which he made tongue in groove. That deck has been in place for 24 years and is holding up remarkably well. A good paint job should ensure us at least another 10 years if not more.

9th Street Porch at JM House

Among the items to be addressed at the John Marshall House as part of the Exterior trim portion of the project is the 9th Street porch. Even though it is rarely used, it is on a major thoroughfare and needs to be kept in good condition. Walking on it this morning, the decking itself is actually in pretty good shape. Fred Ecker and his Tidewater Preservation group relaced the decking in the late 1980s? Going by memory here but I believe it was about that time frame. The paint is in very bad condition and will need a thorough scraping, unless it manages to completely peel itself off before we get there to scrape it. Then a good coat of deck paint and a commitment to refresh it every five years or so.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

John Smith Roasted His Weenie Here

Hey, it could have happened. The restoration department just finished installing an exterior outlet for a food kiosk by the Archaearium. The 110 volt, 20 amp GFCI circuit runs in pvc conduit for just over 200 feet and is mounted to the statehouse fence. It took 3 men about 3 days plus $265 in materials to install. Good luck keeping guests with their food purchases out of the museum.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Happiness is Cape Henry in Your Rear View

The Restoration dept. has finally finished the Cape Henry gift shop renovations, five weeks behind schedule. We replaced the front door, some siding that had sun or termite damage, two outside lights, added an interior partition wall, hung twelve sheets of slatwall, and built an 8' by 10' storage shed with lights, insulation, shelves and a ramp.
None of the work was complex, so what took so long? Most of the extra time can be blamed on inefficient materials handling, while some was from the gift shop being open for normal operation during the renovation. When the department met with all parties in December of 2009, they were informed that the shop would be closed for two weeks in mid-January,2010. This would have allowed Restoration to use the shop as a depot for materials and tools, and allowed them to work past the 4:00 pm closing time. With the shop open, Restoration had to acquire only the materials they were going to use that day, and pause in their work to be respectful of visitors. Tools had to be loaded in the morning and offloaded in the evening because of the threat of inclement weather. With the siding taking up most of the usable extra space in the Mulebarn, Restoration could not stockpile much additional material, which meant a trip to Lowe's almost every morning. With a one to two hour trip to Lowe's every morning, plus loading the tools and then slugging through commuter traffic 1.5 to 2 hours , fast starts were not an option. In retrospect, given that there was no available lockable storage at the job site, renting a good size steel storage unit, about twenty feet long, would have made good sense. Hindsight really can be a bitch.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Ramped and Amped

The Restoration Department, with the addition of a two-light circuit and a walk ramp, have finally finished the storage shed at Cape Henry. Mike has started to replace the deteriorated siding on the visitor center/gift shop, and discovered an active termite infestation which seems to be confined to the two lower pieces of siding to the left of the front door. Meanwhile, Jon has finished repairing water damage to the 1854 wing at Bacon's Castle, that was caused by a second floor toilet leak. Karl and Jon are spot painting the porch room and adjoining hallway, the West chamber and the Great Hall in preparation for the 2010 visitation season.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Cape Henry Shed

The storage shed at Cape Henry is done. The 8'x10' shed copies the architecture of the gift shop and is built to withstand the strong coastal winds of this area. Items left to complete are the ramp, the electric line for the interior light, and a bulkhead for the hillside of the shed. The front door of the gift shop will be replaced as soon as time and weather permit.