Archive for the ‘Read House’ Category


Two Minutes between Paper Towels

April 6, 2010

 Perhaps you were wondering: what was the Curator of Education at the Read House and Gardens doing at 11:45 today? I would hate to leave you in suspense!

 Well, at 11:40am I was drying herbs, rosemary to be exact, in the microwave (two minutes on high, between paper towels, hit “start”- and keep an eye on them, wouldn’t want them to catch fire!). We use the herbs for grinding with mortar and pestle with school children for Frontier Delaware, at the Delaware History Museum. As the microwave beeped for the 3rd time it dawned on me, 11:45 was nearly upon me, so I hurriedly explored much more intriguing work going on around me here at the Read House!

Back Parlor Jib Window Reinstallation

 At 11:45, Chris, a carpenter (from JS Cornell) working on our Save America’s Treasures exterior restoration project, was busy reinstalling our second jib window in our Back Parlor. How joyous we are to see one of those jib windows back in place, luring us to the garden in this gorgeous weather! A jib window acts as both a window letting in a flood of light and as a door: the middle window slides up, and the bottom window (on a hinge) swings in, providing great space for people to walk out into the garden. Today we do not use the jib windows in this manner, but they are breathtaking to gaze upon nonetheless!

 As I walked from the Back Parlor toward our historic Kitchen, picking up the aroma of something besides rosemary, I caught a glimpse of a mason troweling mortar and laying the brickwork for our terrace.

Bricklaying on the Terrace

 It will be a welcome change to have another access way to the house, as we will be bombarded with thousands of school children this spring, who will undoubtedly march along our brick walkways from our back garden gate and stop at the terrace to discuss their “museum manners”.


Fresh Ginger Cakes


In the kitchen I was greeted by several spring camp children, chaperone, and guide on their way to visit the Nursery, they were each discussing the delicious “ginger cakes” they had just nibbled. Judy Austin one of our Read House cooks (interpreting Sylvia Rice today) was retrieving a fresh-baked tray of ginger cakes from the Dutch oven over our hearth. I could hear the dryer running, ah drying napkins that the laundress and children had just washed; they could have been drying on the bushes today in the historic way…

I poked and prodded the last burning log to encourage it to drop to coals and by this time 11:45 had passed. Back to the rosemary, paper towels, and two minutes.

 I wonder… what were you doing at 11:45???


Welcome 2010

January 7, 2010

Smiling Face and Color Coordination, originally uploaded by Delaware Historical Society.

The Delaware Historical Society staff celebrated the New Year with two special events. On January 3, we invited our very special Delaware Historical Society volunteers to the Read House for an open house. Our library and Read House garden volunteers enjoyed getting to know one another and sampling a variety of delicious dishes. We appreciate the hard work our volunteers perform and know that we could not accomplish all that we do without them!

Tap Room at 11:45

On January 4 at 11:45 our staff was finishing up another successful staff work day. Some big tasks at first seem insurmountable, but we realized years ago that if we all work together we can accomplish a lot in a short time. So one day each January the staff all works together on one or more designated projects. This year we worked on several projects at the Read House. Our biggest project was removing collections pieces from the early twentieth century basement tap room to prepare for ceiling repair that is part of our Save America’s Treasures project. Some staff members also helped to rearrange our woodshed in preparation for our February and March hearth cooking workshops and remove holiday decorations and clean period rooms under the direction of the Read House curatorial assistants. With seventeen of us working on the various projects we were even able to fit in a tour of the preservation activities for our Wilmington staff.

Tap Room collections are being stored in the b...

After our work was completed, we enjoyed lunch together at a local restaurant. What a great team!

Until next time…

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Catching Up on Read House Construction at the Delaware Historical Society!

December 16, 2009

Conservator Assesses Wallpaper, originally uploaded by Delaware Historical Society.

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.

Masons relay brick paving
Image by Delaware Historical Society via Flickr

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.

Steel Reinforcement in Place
Image by Delaware Historical Society via Flickr

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.

Concrete Posthold at Fence Line
Image by Delaware Historical Society via Flickr

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.

Deteriorated Lintel

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…

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

An Intern’s Work is Never Done….

November 16, 2009

Meaghan prepares wash house for November and December school programs., originally uploaded by Delaware Historical Society.

I can’t believe that this semester is half way over already! With all the excitement here at the Read House, time has been flying by so quickly. There have been so many things for me to get involved with between research, cleaning, moving collections back and forth, and just talking with everyone here about the changes underway at the house.

I know more about windows than I thought I would ever need to know, and I could tell you which type of duster to use for finished wood and which type for unfinished wood. While this all seems like arbitrary information, it comes in handy actually working with the objects in the house. It’s great to be able to take everything that I’ve been learning in my classes and see how they can relate to actual real world experiences.

There is so much more that goes into planning and maintaining a historic house than I would have imagined. While I’ve worked as a tour guide before, I am seeing all the behind the scenes aspects of interpreting the stories that are a part of the tours. That’s really what I’ve been exposed to more than anything. I’m learning how museums go about interpreting the past and connecting it to the present. This includes interaction with the community and responding to the needs and interests of visitors.

Every day there is a new project to get involved in, or an event going on to sit in on. Last month I had the opportunity to sit in on a staff meeting and learn about (and be completely overwhelmed by) the new cataloging system which is going to make the collections of the Delaware Historic Society more accessible to the public. I also joined up with a class of college students from Wesley University that came to visit. They were concentrating on professions in the field of history—which is pretty relevant, as I’m graduating with a history degree from the University of Delaware in the spring, and should start thinking about what I’m going to do next year.

I guess to sum it up, my experience so far has taught me a few things. On the surface I am learning how to care for historic pieces: how to clean them, how to handle them, etc. More importantly, however, everything that visitors see when they visit a museum or historic house is there for a reason. Historians interpret the past and in museums, they tell this story through objects. While scholars may write an article about family relationships at the turn of the nineteenth century, museums can give a sense of family through the placement of books and globes around a table, as in the Read House. There are countless stories that could be told, and so museums interact with the public to tell the ones that are most relevant to the community.

I am glad to be a part of this interaction and I am looking forward to the second half of my stay here.

Meaghan O’Connor
Material Culture Studies Intern

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

A Robin’s View of Putting the Garden to Bed

November 11, 2009
Bird’s Eye View of Flower Garden from Scaffold Perch, originally uploaded by Delaware Historical Society.

From a bird’s eye view at 11:45 Saturday morning in the Read House garden three women walked the pathways below chattering away like bluejays while one made periodic notes.

They were preparing, it seemed, for a day spent putting the flower garden to bed for the winter, but also looking forward to the late winter and pruning in the park and kitchen garden sections. At noon the women disappeared into the basement of the big house to fortify their willing volunteers with soup and cake and discuss the hidden meanings of flowers and future steps for the Read House garden.

Volunteers Cut Back Hostas
Image by Delaware Historical Society via Flickr

By 2:00 the Delaware Historical Society volunteers and organizers returned to the garden and much to this bird’s chagrin began to cut back all the perennials in the flower beds and even dig out the dahlia bulbs in the center boxwood basket. Only the canna lilies still in bloom were left alone. What’s a bird to do for food?

Leaves from the trees on the property are being gathered in the park section of the garden and will soon be spread atop the flower beds to insulate the perennials over the winter—lucky plants!

In the back section of the garden a group of men trimmed limbs from a few trees. From what I could see in my perch in the mulberry tree, some bottom limbs were trimmed back from the lilac bushes below. One of the “bluejays” helped a man determine where to cut a dead limb out of one of the old quinces, and the fig tree was trimmed back below the sheltering brick wall beside it.

Luckily my habitat in the tree and shrub-filled park and kitchen garden sections was not altered too much this time around. There will be some berries to eat if I decide to winter over. But I know they’ll be back to target the shrubs and trees in the late winter. Hopefully they’ll take pity on this poor bird!

Until next year…
The Robin (with help from Michele)

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Historic Windows Workshop a Success!

October 29, 2009


Carpenter Displays Cast Iron Sash Weight, originally uploaded by Delaware Historical Society.

Twenty people, fifteen chairs, three tool benches, a video camera with tripod, and two monumental window sashes all in the space of one third of the Read House front parlor could be a disaster waiting to happen.

Fortunately, like our preservation project, our October 24 historic windows workshop was a well-choreographed success!

Carpenters Demonstrate Removal of Window Stops
Image by Delaware Historical Society via Flickr

While two project carpenters demonstrated the removal of our south elevation front parlor window sashes, as well as various window components, the project manager talked through the process for an audience of fifteen. Both the project manager and the carpentry foreman provided suggestions for techniques and tools that minimize breakage of parts that must be removed to access the sashes and their counterbalancing weights. In addition, the project restoration architect provided helpful context about the Read House windows and window preservation, as well as fielding questions from the do-it-yourselfers in the audience.

Located within a National Historic Landmark district with seventeenth through early twentieth century homes extending for blocks around the Read House, we decided before applying for the Save America’s Treasures grant that we wanted to involve our neighbors in our preservation process. Therefore, we included in our grant application our ideas to keep our followers informed through frequent blog posts and preservation workshops. Much to our delight we have been able to partner with the New Castle Historical Society in our preservation programming as scheduled preservation work has also taken place at their Dutch and Amstel House museums.

Carpenters Demonstrate Window Weight Pockets
Image by Delaware Historical Society via Flickr

Our preservation programs this year have included creating a historic home maintenance plan and a behind-the-scenes look at chimney and hearth restoration in the Amstel House kitchen. We hope to follow our latest window workshop with a session on storm windows at the Amstel House.

Until next time…

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Ah Nor’easters…need I elaborate?

October 21, 2009

Shiny New Copper Gutter, originally uploaded by Delaware Historical Society.

Inspecting First Floor Window Lintel
Image by Delaware Historical Society via Flickr

Despite rain, wind, and cold temperatures another busy week has passed at the Read House. Roofers joined the flurry of activity on site this week. They have begun installing new gutters and replacing flashing on all roof elevations. Meanwhile the masons have continued to remove and replace old window caulk on the back buildings of the house. Early in the week the carpenters concentrated their attention on repairs to the west elevation dormer window molding and detail. During the latter two rainy days they turned their attention inside and investigated areas of wood deterioration in one of our third floor north-facing window frames.

The third floor, however, is not the only area where we face wood deterioration. Overall, the old growth wood used to construct the Read House windows is in good condition, but on all elevations wood that has endured prolonged moisture and weathering has deteriorated. This is true on the interior as well as the exterior, where water has infiltrated or bricks have retained moisture over extended periods of time. Such was the case for the header of the third floor window and the lintel of a first floor window in the Laird dining room. These wood members located above Read House windows are very important because they carry the load of the brick above them so that a window can be located below. If unrepaired, their eventual failure could cause damage to the window below as well as the wall and structural elements above.

A Workshop in the Trees--Carpenters Repair Dor...
Image by Delaware Historical Society via Flickr

Repair to the third floor window header is straightforward. The carpenters have removed the window casing and also a portion of plaster above the casing to expose the window frame, fully investigate deterioration, and repair with steel reinforcement. The first floor Laird dining room window, however, is framed by fragile hand-painted wallpaper. Carpenters, masons, and architects have thus spent a week attempting to devise a plan to carry the load of at least four wythes (a continuous vertical section of masonry one unit in thickness) of brick while they examine and reinforce the lintel. Their calculations have included the possibility of removing a section of brick several feet wide, which could be more disruptive than accessing the lintel from the interior.

Thus, we are currently in the process of contacting a conservator to examine the wallpaper and offer an opinion regarding approaching the lintel repair project from the inside. Preservation of multiple materials in close proximity often provides challenges! In the meantime, much of the glassware has been removed from the room and the china cabinet closest to the window encased in a plywood box to protect these important collections pieces. Check back with us to see how we deal with this and other preservation challenges.

Until next time…


Reblog this post [with Zemanta]