My Record Player Table

I have always loved the idea of family heirlooms, vintage furniture, or flea markets finds to decorate my house. My parents have many family heirlooms, from a buffet to corner cabinet to dresser and beds, to enamel top kitchen tables, an old standing radio, end tables, metal patio chairs, and more. So while my mother and I might have admired those garage sale goers, those who bought beat up furniture that they planned to clean, refinish, and love, we did not have the space for anything of the sort. Our house was filled with all that it could hold. Therefore, it goes without saying that I never had the opportunity to restore something of my own. When I was 15, my parents let me paint my bedroom “daisy blue” (I’m sure I picked the color for the name), but that was as far as my experience went in home renovation projects.

While preparing to move to North Carolina, back in summer 2006, I carefully chose what excess furniture I would claim as my own (or “borrow” from my parents). I picked the enamel top table that was my grandmother’s (we had two, so my mom wouldn’t miss one of them), the solid wood bookshelf that I had in my room, and an old record table that I used as my nightstand.  Aside from the fact that I didn’t have much money, I wanted to bring part of home with me, 650 miles away. The tables could be considered family heirlooms, and I just always liked the bookshelf.  Perhaps because I am the oldest child and was the first to leave home, my parents graciously gave me this furniture.

The enamel top table and the bookshelf were in fine condition, but the record table had seen better days. Its brown paint had started chipping long ago, and its support weakened as I piled on books and moved it from house to house. I had great plans to sand and paint the table, but I never got beyond sanding it. Yes, that was three years ago – furniture refinishing was never on top of my list of things to do.  And most of the time it was hidden beneath books and other belongings. This wear and tear has taken a toll on the poor record player table, and within the past few months, I’ve been wondering if it will survive the upcoming move 850 miles north.

Finally, the urge to refinish the old record player table struck me on Sunday. Luckily, Vinny has taken on such projects before, much more than my bedroom painting days. After gathering the necessary supplies (sandpaper, polyurethane, “red cherry” paint, paintbrushes, steel wool, clamps, wood glue, and wood filler) from home and the store, we were ready to begin.

Before - the front of the table

Before - the front of the table

Before - the back of the table

Before - the back of the table

The condition seen above in the pictures was basically how it looked for three years. The visible dark brown paint was the former paint color, which had I tried to sand all of the it, probably would have destroyed the table. The tabletop and legs are solid wood. The shelves and records slats are not.  Taking this into consideration, we sanded the top only, in order to get the surface as smooth as possible and ready for the polyurethane. Still, as Vinny taught me, we had many steps before it was time to paint. To fix rickety-ness, we attempted to hammer some tacks between the shelves and the legs. That didn’t work. The flimsy shelves were not thick enough to take tacks. Instead, we switched to wood filler for the crevices. (Note: stainable wood killer is necessary).  In order to fix the underside of the bottom shelf, we glued and c-clamped it.

The table upside down.

The table upside down.

Repairing the flimsy bottom.

Repairing the flimsy bottom.

Once everything dried, we could begin the fun part: painting! The “cherry red” for the shelves and record slats took two coats of paint. I thoroughly enjoyed painting, but I can say that I am eternally grateful for blue painter’s tape and if the amount of paint on me is any indication of amateurism, I must be akin to a four-year-old learning to color. Vinny took care of the polyurethane (quick-drying and clear/natural), which required about seven coats and many more hours.

In between coats of paint and polyeurethane.

In between coats of paint and polyeurethane.

I called home to inform my parents that I finally completed this long-standing plan of a project. My mother was thrilled; my father, I think, imagines that the entire table is red and is frightened by that. My mom isn’t sure where her parents bought the table but she remembers them being very common.

Now, there are two issues that preservationists may have with my project. 1) I have not studied decorative arts in depth, so my furniture vocabulary is limited and unrefined. I apologize, but hopefully you know what I mean.2) Does it matter that I changed the color from brown to red?  How do you consider alterations to furniture as opposed to alterations to buildings? If you are a furniture purist, then it might be an issue. What do you decorative arts students think? However, consider this: all I did was change the colors. Note in the pictures below that the brown paint remains in the details. To sand the brown paint from the flutes (if you will) would have been a disaster. Instead, I left it as an accent color.  Also, the table is now stronger.

Finished!

Finished!

Details.

Details.

The tabletop/

The tabletop, with the natural wood visible.

Best of all, the table is a piece of family history that I hold close to my heart, updated to be a reflection of me, too. At most, the table is 60 years old. I don’t know the monetary value of such a thing, nor does it matter. I love the “new” old record player table. It has never looked better.

I’m glad that my home “renovation” resume can now include painting a bedroom and refinishing a table. After all, I continue to harbor the dream that Vinny and I will restore a rundown house one day.  I have a long way to go, but it’s good to start somewhere. And what could be better than with a piece of furniture that I love and that has been in my family for over half a century?

Does anyone else have good home stories?

Spotlight: the Harnett Historical Association

Many of us preservation minded folks are fortunate to live and work with in areas already established in preservation, whether it’s through one organization or several. Our work is much easier when someone has at least taken a few steps ahead of us because then we can follow suit, increase the workload and efforts, and build upon something already there. Yes, no matter what, preservation is forever an uphill battle. Still, starting at the beginning, creating a non-profit, and convincing a county or town that historic preservation, heritage, and historic buildings can benefit everyone is the biggest hurdle.

Meeting a preservationist with an impressive list of accomplishments happens quite often; after all, this is a field where you work hard to get what you want. Meeting a preservationist who leaves the rest of us inspired and motivated happens less frequently, and is always a refreshing reminder to find such exceptional individuals. From the first time I met Thomas Ellis and Elizabeth Crudup of the Harnett Historical Association (Harnett County, North Carolina), it was obvious that they are on the path to something phenomenal.  Their energy and determination is contagious. The HHA incorporated in 2008, with Thomas Ellis as the President and Elizabeth Crudup as the Executive Director. The pair was inspired to preserve local history when they found the McKay House, a 1910 Greek Revival house, on the demolition list.

The HHA worked with Preservation North Carolina and the City of Dunn to find John and Lynette Mercer of Bluefield, West Virginia, who were eager buyers with a restoration vision.  (See this article in the Dunn Daily Record). The McKay House is a landmark in Dunn, North Carolina and it prominently sits in the small downtown next to the public library. Today, its restoration is well underway and will soon become a coffee shop and spa.

The Harnett Historical Association formed “in response to need for a protective advocacy and restoration alliance for historic properties in the area.” Its mission is “to pull historical properties from the demise that is their present condition into opportunities to represent various periods in its history with vistas throughout the county.”

The above reads plain and simple to me; in rural North Carolina and fast growing counties like Harnett, developers and planners are not often inclined to look at what is there. Instead, houses and barns are demolished and history is lost. The Harnett Historical Association is trying to change that, one house at a time. However, the HHA reaches beyond houses, too. The HHA was able to convince the City of Dunn save the Rosenwald School, which had been vacant for nearly a decade.  Through efforts of the HHA, the school has been cleaned up and the city has plans to reuse the building in the near future.

Currently, the HHA is working on getting approval from the Harnett County Board of Commissioners to go ahead with their plan for an educational, interpretive, historic site that would showcase rural North Carolina history and Overhills history. See a brief summary below. There are many logistics involved including land transfers, moving a few small buildings, and acquiring appropriate permits. These are their biggest hurdles right now.

Such a place would be an incredible addition to Harnett County. The demographics are rapidly changing as more military families move to the region, people move from the Raleigh Durham area and the county progresses. For people like me who are relatively new to the Sandhills and the tobacco farming way of life, a place to learn the heritage of the region would be invaluable.

The goals of the HHA and the “Overhills Remembered” history center are ambitious and long; it will be a challenging, but rewarding route. But, with people like Ellis and Crudup in charge, I have no doubt that it will benefit everyone in the surrounding communities. People like Ellis and Crudup embody the quote by Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.” They saw a house in need of salvation, a town in need of a deeper connection to and understanding of its heritage, and they started from the very beginning.

On Friday May 15, 2009 the HHA will go before the Harnett County Commissioners at 9am to hopefully earn their support and votes in favor of the project. This will be at 102 E Front Street in Lillington, North Carolina. If you are local, please go and show your support. If you are not a local, but believe in people like Thomas, Elizabeth, the HHA, and their efforts, please leave a comment here or email them at harnetthistoricalassociation@yahoo.com. All support is appreciated and necessary. Without people like them and their unrelenting ambition, historic preservation would not be what it is.

Thank you to the Harnett Historical Association. Good luck on Friday.

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A Brief Summary of the History Center, provided by the HHA:

The heritage that was the Overhills has mostly been ignored. With the demand for more combat ready soldiers and the immediate need to accommodate these new solders and their families, historical heritage has really taken a devastating blow in Harnett County.

But wait a ray of hope. One small square piece of land and a handful of structures are all that is available to showcase this history. Harnett Historical Association has risen to the occasion and formulated a project that will preserve and present the heritage of the Overhills in an interactive way.

The History Center will be a hamlet of the surviving Overhills historic structures not put into military use. A tobacco barn, the freight station and various dwellings will be moved to the Haire Farm location. These will be set up to narrate various scenes from day to day life in the early Overhills. This center would serve as the main educational field trip venue to the local schools.

A horse arena will accommodate stables and arena to represent the old equestrian life that prevailed in the region. It will be aptly called “The Circus”. It will have stables, dog kennels and host an array of equitation events and dog shows.

A demonstration crop grown on the property could be tobacco or even tapping turpentine from the many mature pine trees. This would give area students a chance to experience, hands on, the life of an early 20th centaury farmer.

The miniature golf course will be an adaptation of the original design of the one by the Croatan Club. This would be the last project construction project completed.

The resulting area will be not only informative but also thoroughly enjoyable by everybody. Visit our website at www.harnetthistoricalassociation.org  to learn more about our organization

US Route 11 in Abingdon

U.S. Highways, more aptly those referred to as US Route ___, often serve as windows to the roadside from a few decades ago. Many U.S. highways existed before the interstate system, and at that time, everything a traveler needed could be found next to the highway rather than at an exit. Highways rolled through towns and cities, not around them like interstates do. While towns have been bypassed and land adjacent to highways developed, certain US Routes still provide an excellent showcase of good old Roadside America architecture and businesses. US Route 11 is such an example, and when I visited Elyse in Abingdon, VA a few months ago, she took me on a driving tour of the roadside architecture highlights in the area. It was a rainy weekend, but that didn’t take away from the roadside entertainment. Here’s a photograph roadside tour with comments:

The Moonlite Drive-in Theater in Abingdon

The Moonlite Drive-in Theater in Abingdon

Moonlite marquee

Moonlite marquee

The theater is still in operation - I just visited out of season.

The theater is still in operation - I just visited out of season.

The Hi-Lo Burgers & Shakes, still operating. It is a drive up window.

The Hi-Lo Burgers & Shakes, still operating. It is a drive up window.

Hi-Lo is raising money in order to restore the neon sign.

Hi-Lo is raising money in order to restore the neon sign.

Further south, closer to Bristol, the Evergreen Motor Court, still open.

Further south, closer to Bristol, the Evergreen Motor Court, still open.

Across the street from the Evergreen, the Robert E Lee Motel is abandoned. There were some neat glass block windows visible.

Across the street from the Evergreen, the Robert E Lee Motel is abandoned. There were some neat glass block windows visible.

This is not historic, but I had to laugh. I'd never heard of Pal's. As it turns out, the restaurant chain dates to the 1950s and this particular building idea, 1985. Check out the Pal's timeline http://www.palsweb.com/timeline.htm

This is not historic, but I had to laugh. I'd never heard of Pal's. As it turns out, the restaurant chain dates to 1956 and this particular building idea, 1985. Check out the Pal's timeline http://www.palsweb.com/timeline.htm

Not on US 11, but near Bristol, TN is the world' largest guitar and museum. The museum was closed when Elyse and I stopped to visit. The guitar strings definitely needed to be tightened, but regardless it was fun to see!

Not on US 11, but near Bristol, TN is the world' s only guitar shaped museum. The museum was closed when Elyse and I stopped to visit. The guitar strings definitely needed to be tightened, but regardless it was fun to see!

For sunny Route 11 photographs, check out this group on Flickr.

Preservacation: The Aurora Fossil Museum

Preservacation is a series of essays by Brad Hatch about the preservation related adventures, issues, and sites that he and Lauren have encountered on their travels.  This is #2 in the series.

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By Brad Hatch

As archaeologists know, we are time and again plagued by several oft repeated questions from the public. Among these are: Have you found any gold? Aren’t you hot out here? Do you dig dinosaurs? Well, I’ve never found any gold, it is hot, especially around late July or early August, and I don’t dig dinosaurs. Actually, come to think of it, I do kind of dig dinosaurs, but not professionally, and they’re not usually dinosaurs. I’ve always had an interest in old things, and often times, the older the better. Like many archaeologists, especially the elderly ones, I’m a collector of old stuff. From antique wooden fishing lures, to coins, to fossils, I have a fascination with things that were around long before I was. Fossil collecting, however, didn’t find me until I started doing archaeology.

Working at Stratford Hall Plantation in the summers as Doug’s field school assistant got me into the habit of doing two things: fishing every evening and combing the beach for fossil shark teeth. Many people don’t realize that much of the tidewater region of Virginia was a shallow sea millions of years ago teeming with ancient marine life. Fewer people realize that the erosion of the cliffs at Stratford above the Potomac River has exposed the geologic formation that is full of the remains of these ancient creatures. As these fossils erode out of the cliff the river brings them to the beach at Stratford where they wait to be found. While there are all kinds of fossils to be recovered there, the main type that people collect are sharks’ teeth, due to their abundance (a shark can lose up to 35,000 teeth in a lifetime), ease of recognition, and natural beauty.

Fossilized whale skeleton. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

Fossilized whale skeleton. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

Lauren inside the reconstructed Megalodon jaw. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

Lauren inside the reconstructed Megalodon jaw. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

This past winter Lauren (another archaeologist turned fossil collector by the Stratford Hall field school) told me about a fossil hunting trip she took to Aurora, North Carolina with some of her friends from Eastern Carolina University. Soon after, she and I were on the road to go visit. Aurora, like most of the rest of eastern North Carolina, is pretty much away from everything. This isolation, coupled with a unique geology that includes a rich phosphate formation, makes it the perfect place for the PCS phosphate mine, one of the largest in the world. The town itself has one street with a few buildings, two of which house the Aurora Fossil Museum. The fossil museum was opened in 1978 as a cooperative effort between the local government, PCS, and area collectors. Since then it has grown to encompass two buildings which house fossils that represent millions of years of life on earth found on most of the continents. Naturally, its exhibits tend to focus on the geologic history of North Carolina, particularly the Pungo River area where Aurora is located.

The PCS phosphate mine. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

The PCS phosphate mine. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

Me in the real Megalodon jaw. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

Me in the real Megalodon jaw. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

The museum experience starts with an introductory film made by PCS about the geologic formations they mine and some of the ancient history of the area. In general, it’s a pretty good overview of the geology and what the mine does, but it has a propaganda feel to it and looks like it was made prior to 1978. The majority of the exhibits consist of certain fossils and the information about the animals they are from in terms of size, diet, etc. In some ways this makes for dry reading, but there really isn’t too much you can say about 15 million year old bones. Interestingly, they have a whole section in the back of the museum about Native Americans. This sort of exhibit is actually a pet peeve of mine because it lumps Indians in with animals, as if they’re more a part of the natural world. These kinds of exhibits in natural history museums serve to perpetuate the myth that Native Americans were somehow closer to nature and by extension less cultural (or less human?) than Europeans. Having said this, however, they did try to incorporate the fossil theme into this exhibit by showing tools, such as scrapers and axes from the area made out of fossils, which are actually pretty unique artifacts.

A stratigraphy diagram in the Native American section of the museum. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

A stratigraphy diagram in the Native American section of the museum. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

Native American artifacts. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

Native American artifacts. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

Getting down to it though, the real draw of the museum is the pile of mining spoil they have out front for visitors to search through. This spoil contains all kinds of fossils from coral, to bone, to shark teeth, to coprolites (fossilized poo). The chances of finding big fossils, however, are slim since most of the spoil is picked through by the mine workers before it arrives in town. With a little patience, though, and a sharp eye you can find a bunch of cool things, and even if you don’t you can always go to the gift shop and buy some (they also sell Native American artifacts, but I wouldn’t recommend buying them, it’s pretty unethical). While Lauren and I were there we spent about an hour or so combing through the pile out front, and a smaller one behind it, and found two Ziploc bags full of shark teeth, stingray teeth, bone, and a few coprolites. The best find of the day was a piece of a Megalodon tooth, which can be as big as a dinner plate (these sharks could grow larger than a school bus). Afterward, we rode through the PCS mine, which was a very unnerving experience. It’s unbelievable what these large scale pit mines do to the landscape, and one can only imagine the environmental impact. I won’t get into those issues here, but I will say that at least they are trying to give back to the community through the fossil museum, as well as allowing fossil hunts within the mine.

Lauren on top of the spoil pile with her bag of fossils. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

Lauren on top of the soil pile with her bag of fossils. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

A sample of shark teeth I found. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

A sample of shark teeth I found. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

Fragment of a Megalodon tooth I found. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

Fragment of a Megalodon tooth I found. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

So, many of you are probably wondering what this has to do with preservation. To be honest, I’m not completely sure, but I think the museum experience and history raises important preservation-related questions. First of all, it shows how a community can cooperate with industry to at least gain something out of a bad situation. Despite the mine’s affect on the environment, the town of Aurora has taken advantage of it and used it to attract people from near and far (supposedly, it is packed during the summer with fossil hunters) for better or worse. Secondly, it raises questions concerning the environment, how can it not with huge open pit mines all over the place?

Thirdly, it makes me wonder, as an archaeologist, if paleontological collecting is ethically dubious. Archaeologists discourage collecting artifacts, it destroys context, which is crucial to our interpretations. Do paleontologists feel the same way about this? I’ve never heard from any one way or the other and am very interested to know if they have similar views to archaeologists. Finally, and most interesting to me, it raises the question of the design of natural history museums. Specifically, should Native Americans be included in them and what sort of stereotypes does this inclusion perpetuate? These are all important questions we, as preservationists, need to think about and address. The Aurora Fossil Museum, in addition to being a fun place to visit, acts as an important place to get people (especially preservationists) thinking about the role of industrial propaganda, the proliferation of stereotypes, and environmental conservation in a museum setting.

Vote to Name the Flamingo

Below are the 8 possible names for the adopted flamingo. Check out the flamingo’s portrait if you prefer to associate a name with a face. Please vote – it just takes one click! The poll will be open until 6pm (EST) Sunday May 17.

*Only one vote per person – repeat voters are blocked by ip address and cookies. If you have problems voting, send me an email. Thanks!

Flamingo Name Contest Update

Due to the large number of suggestions (19) from a small number of people (4), I will choose 2 from each who submitted names and post those for a final vote on Monday May 11 – Friday May 15. With this change, each participant has the same chance of winning as the other three.

Stay tuned!

Last Day of the Contest

Submit your suggestions for the flamingo’s name by the end of Saturday May 9. All names will be posted in a poll tomorrow or Monday. See details here. Thanks!

Running Notes

Normally, when I run, I observe the houses in the neighborhoods. Sometimes I take note of which architectural styles I prefer, or of the landscaping, or additions to the house, how many have vinyl siding, which houses are newer, how many decades old each house is, and so on. While this might be terribly inaccurate, I tend to think that the preservationists or at least those who are historic-building-sensitive can be identified based on how an addition fits to their house or if there is vinyl siding, and such things.  Granted, it’s fairly easy in historic neighborhoods. And, yes, this is subjective, but a fun running game. (I, in no way, advocate this as anything but a game). Some runners prefer trails, but I generally prefer neighborhoods because I like to observe houses and town activity such as how busy the local shops are and what is open late, who is at the park, etc.

A few miles of my most recent run took me through a neighborhood where it happened to be recycling day. Our town just started curbside recycling in January – finally – and it’s nice to see that most people take the time to recycle at least some materials. As I ran I realized that aside from deciding on a home owner’s preservation status, I can judge their level of environmental concern and green actions. This method is much more accurate than judging a house because the recycling bins are on the ground, open for all to see (think of the green bins). Still, it’s just a game to entertain me during these humid Carolina running days.

It’s easy to spot those who are good at recycling. The bins are organized with plastics and paper in a way that as much as possible can fit. Some houses managed to obtain two bins to hold all of their recycling. Others, are not as diligent and while it is important to recycle, including things like unwashed containers and plastic bags in the green bins does not count as recycling. In fact, your bin will not be picked up and emptied if such things are there. Others pack the bin so papers can blow away with a big wind gust. While I don’t mean to be negative, if people are going to recycle, the extra two minutes of reading what is recyclable would go a long.  This list may seem long, but part of helping the environment is understanding how.

Still, it is so nice to have curbside recycling. I would bet that many more people recycle now than they did with just a recycling drop-off center.

And there you have it, how a preservationist entertains herself during a long run. Anyone else?