Catching Up on Read House Construction at the Delaware Historical Society!December 16, 2009
Okay… here is my big confession…on most days at 11:45 I am not technically making history because I am eating my lunch. Of course because of the current preservation project my work day begins at 7:00 a.m., so taking lunch at about 11:30 feels just right!
Nonetheless, lunchtime usually allows me to take a few minutes to review morning projects and prepare for afternoon endeavors. On Fridays I also think about the week’s activities and plan for the coming week. So I guess my weekly recap posts make sense on our Making History 11:45 blog.
It has been awhile since my last post because I have been busy with wrapping up year-end goals and projects. In the meantime, our construction crew has been working against the clock to complete as much work as possible on our preservation project before winter weather brings some outdoor activities to a halt. Updating an earlier post, after receiving permission from the National Park Service to repoint 100% of the Read House façade, the masons carefully completed mortar removal and replacement in the thin joints characteristic of the front elevation of a fine house.
While removing caulk around the façade windows, the masons discovered a surprise. The windows on this elevation are characteristic of the finest from the Federal period. They are recessed from the façade with no heavy brickmoulding , creating a very minimal appearance. In order to create this delicate window framing, the original masons broke the backs of the bricks immediately around the window, sometimes creating a sizable gap between brick course and window frame. George Read II’s original crew must have used putty to fill in the gap, and successive owners used caulk, which created a noticeable band around the windows. The latter was not the intended effect these monumental windows were meant to create.
The project manager, restoration architect, and I surveyed the situation and discussed possible options. We needed to assure that a secure seal to exterior weather was created, but preserving the intended appearance of the front windows was paramount. We decided upon a brick patch that would help to close the existing gap and retain the very fashionable Federal period appearance, allowing a thin layer of caulk to create the seal.
More recently the masons have been relaying sections of our garden walks to create a safe walking surface and assure that in our graded garden area rainwater flows away from the house foundation. Yesterday the masons discovered a concrete post hole at one of our fence lines. After reading information about archaeological excavations performed on the property the masons knew that this feature should not be removed without examination. I noted its similarity to another post hole found during a recent excavation. Because this one was located on a fence line, the masons were able to pave around it without disturbing it so that we can investigate it further in the future.
High above our brick garden walks, roofers have been working in between periods of rain—some quite heavy—to install a new roof membrane for the flat roof of the house’s primary block. Before the membrane could be applied, an old membrane had to be removed, as well as a layer of tin and a layer of plywood. Non-historic German siding placed on the bridge between east and west chimneys was also removed, revealing that the most recent roofing layer did not extend beyond the siding to the original masonry wall surface. Water was infiltrating and becoming trapped between the roofing layers and possibly contributing to existing leaks on the third floor. We look forward to the completed installation of the new roofing membrane and flashing and caulking that will help make the house watertight.
Inside, the carpenters were able to move forward with reinforcing the northeast window lintel in the Laird dining room.
The lintel was reinforced with steel on the outside several weeks ago so that the lintel could support the outer brick wythes. The inner stabilization supports the innermost brick wythe. In order to stabilize the lintel from the interior, the carpenters had to remove the window casing and several inches of plaster above the window, and the wall surface is covered with an early twentieth century hand-painted wallpaper depicting scenes of New Castle.
Therefore, before the carpenters proceeded with the repair we first consulted with conservators regarding the condition and possible removal and/or repair of the wallpaper in question. After an initial general assessment a paper conservator was on site this week to prepare the wallpaper for the work and for possible repairs. We discovered that the wallpaper, which had been repaired and conserved in the past, was adhered fairly securely to the wall, and in some places wallpaper had long ago been lost and infill painting was performed directly on the plaster wall surface. Therefore, we decided that the conservator should fabricate a new piece of wallpaper to fit above the window, recreating the blue sky that comprised this section of paper. While the conservator was on site, she also adhered sections of the wallpaper throughout the room that were lifting from the wall surface.
Presently the carpenters have replaced the window casing and are plastering the area above the window. The conservator will return in January to carefully replace the section of wallpaper above the window.
And the work continues!
Until next time…