Abandoned Vermont: Taplin School

This historic building appeared abandoned from the road; yet it always appeared to be kept up with some amount of care. The weathered gray clapboards, locked door, solid windows without broken panes and mowed lawn showed that someone used it recently.

Taplin School. It looks lonely, right?

It certainly could use a new coat of paint.

Old hardware on the front door.

At first, I couldn’t decipher exactly what it is. It has an institutional or civic look to it – something that isn’t quite residential.

It doesn't quite look like a school from here, either.

I peaked in the front windows, both of which appeared to have closets. I walked around back and saw the tell-tale sign of a schoolhouse.

The bank of windows, although the tree line is awfully close. It was obvious that this hadn't been a school for decades. I had never seen a schoolhouse with windows in the rear. Maybe this bank of windows was added when the school was modernized.

The building was empty inside, though I did notice a giant hole in the roof, debris on the floor and a damaged floor. Poor little schoolhouse.

Debris from the hole in the roof can be seen on the floor. The outline of a former chalkboard can be seen on the left - another sign of the schoolhouse!

You can see part of the roof damage on the eave.

Fortunately, I was able to find out the history of this building by looking in the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation files. It was built in the 1860s, modernized in the early 1900s to be a “Superior School” and operated as a school until the 1960s. The Division recorded the structure in 1976, and Green Mountain Power Company has owned the property at least since then. So, you could say that this building isn’t abandoned, but it certainly is neglected. And it needs a new roof! (Don’t worry, I’ve contacted the right people to inform them of the building’s condition.) Let’s hope it gets one before snow flies, because a hole in the roof can destroy an otherwise sound building.

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Chains that Change?

Chain stores. Big box retailers. Corporate America. Capitalistic society.  Independently owned. Mom & Pop. Local business. Local economy. Small scale.

All businesses started small at some point. Right? And some just kept growing. Or some went too far. Yes? No?  We could debate the American economy and society all day long, as well as the pros/cons, and roots of all large businesses. (Feel free to start the debate in the comment section if you’re up for tangents. I’ve written about big boxes here and here, among other times.) Instead, let’s think in reverse.

Have you noticed any big box chains giving back to “their” communities? You can usually find a business donating money/supplies/food to a fundraising or community event. That’s normal. It’s good PR, tax write-offs and just a good thing to do. (People are genuinely good, I like to believe. And, for the record, when I mention that big boxes are evil I am referring to the system of big box retailers and the negative effects it has on the core of communities where something existed prior.) Back to the point. Big box corporations help out communities in some ways, it seems.

However, more often than not  you can find that big box retailers often try to replicate the local, independent business –  in subtle aesthetic references and connotations such as calling the food section a “market.” These companies have long ago recognized the value of small scale operations in feeling, only they wanted to create a monopoly of sorts. 

Yet, why should one business offer every service or every product? Granted, this type of consolidation goes way back. Sears & Roebuck is probably familiar to most of us, but it has happened in all generations on varying levels.

Drug stores are an example of a ubiquitous big box store; if you don’t have a CVS or Rite Aid, you probably have Walgreens or Kinney Drugs — or all four of them. Modern drug stores have wiped out local pharmacies in most towns and cities. You can even buy food in the drug store, toys, etc.  With flu season approaching, you may have heard drug stores advertising offers for flu shots, saving you a trip a doctor. Vinny brought this to my attention the other day after hearing it on the news – drug stores are attempting to be seen as “health centers.”  (Oddly enough, these “health centers” are the same drug stores selling junk food.) This is taking business away from an unexpected source – actual doctors and physicians.

Retailers snagging business from non-retail businesses? That is a new level of “Corporate America” complications. Obviously, drug stores are not going to put doctors out of business; but I would imagine that small things like flu shots add to their revenue. I don’t know the economy of the health care world enough to actually comment; but, I will say that when one business sector attempts to control too much of the market share, no good can come of it.

So, I wonder, if chains are doing more to help the community, is it just for business purposes or are they actually trying to be a part of the community. Do you know what I mean? It is sincere or is it business strategy only?

Should chains be changing? Say a drug store chain decided that it wanted to be more like a pharmacy or a health center and less like a mini superstore, would you choose that chain over another?  What if a chain decided to stop building ridiculously large, brand new stores and chose to integrate downtown. Would business practices pertaining to sales or business practices pertaining siting and location matter more to you? They are here to stay, as history indicates, so what can we do to make the economy of chains and local businesses symbiotic?

I have never liked chain drug stores, mostly because every store seems to be one of the large rectangles with giant facades along the highway. I suppose I will not like them unless the entire business policies change: location, products and services. How likely is that?

Preservation Photos #101

Wood siding etched to look like stone blocks rather than wood boards. This 12/12 window has original panes, too. Taken at the Eureka Schoolhouse in Springfield, Vermont - a State Historic Site.

Button Up Vermont Workshop

Last week I attended a Button Up Vermont workshop, hosted by Efficiency Vermont, geared toward those affected by the recent Irene flooding.  Efficiency Vermont is an organization committed to teaching Vermonters how to reduce energy costs, choose more sustainable energy sources and to increase the use of local energy. Many flood victims are forced to rebuild portions or all of their homes, choose new heating systems, choose new insulation, buy new appliances and much more; therefore, Efficiency Vermont is aiming to guide people to energy efficient choices.

The workshop announcement sparked my interest for three reasons. (1) Since the workshop was geared towards post flood recovery, it would discuss cleanup such as mold and moisture concerns, which is currently one of my main concerns. (2) We do need to buy a new heating system, and we are trying to decide between oil or wood pellets or both. (3) Also, I was curious to hear what they would say about windows and historic materials. Would they advocate replacement or maintaining what is existing?

To my delight, one of the first things the presenters discussed was mold and moisture. Fun, right? Much of it was geared toward wood and fabric, not concrete. But, I think here is where I solidified my idea to scrub the basement walls. More on that particular endeavor another time. It was generally helpful in the sense that it made me feel better as we had done many of the right things so far. And, it was a good reminder of what we still needed to accomplish. Many people had questions about dirt floor basements or mold on furniture.

Regarding heating systems, it is something I know little about (first time homeowner here!) so I appreciate any discussion on the different systems. Efficiency Vermont offers rebates and incentives to buy certain systems (that goes for appliances, too).

Now, about windows. I am relieved and proud to hear that Efficiency Vermont said that new windows are not worth it; the payback required for the ridiculously expensive windows is much too long. Hooray! That was exciting for me, a historic window lover.

The main part of the workshop (it was more like a lecture, than a workshop) was the discussion about insulation, specifically spray foam insulation. Yuck. I do not like any of it, partially because I have a hard time believing that it’s not toxic in some way (off gases?) and partially because I think it’s ugly. All insulation is generally hideous looking, but something about spray foam creeps me out. Am I crazy? Anyway, while I know energy efficiency is related to insulation, I tend to care less about wall insulation because I want my house to breathe. So if that means a drafty house, I am okay with it. (I know, I expect a lot of disagreement here.) I was disappointed by the emphasis on this insulation, but a lot of people do have to replace the insulation on their first floors, so the discussions were appropriate for the setting.

Overall, I’m glad I attended the workshop. After all, maintenance is preservation and preservation is maintenance, right? Has anyone else been to something similar? What did you think?

The Importance of Transportation Enhancement Grants to Historic Preservation

Historic preservation and transportation enhancement grants/funding are incredibly interconnected; so much of preservation work throughout this nation is funded by transportation grants. Why? Part of it has to do with federal regulations – Section 4(f) of the DOT Act of 1966, which is connected to fact that many transportation projects prior to that law devastated and erased historic resources. Now, a chunk of transportation money goes to funding transportation related preservation projects in your community. Think of streetscapes, sidewalks, rest areas, parks, rails to trails, bike lanes, historic buildings that related to transportation – the list is almost endless. Without Transportation Enhancement funding, our historic communities would look much different.

A bike path travels across a truss bridge on a dirt road - a good incorporation of a historic bridge that can longer service vehicles.

 

The view from that bridge. This project wasn't necessarily a TE grant project, but it is a good example of similar projects.

Recently, these Transportation Enhancement grants were at risk of being eliminated. Thankfully, on September 15, the Senate voted in favor of the transportation fund and saved the funding for another six months.

From the words of the National Trust for Historic Preservation:

Last week, we posted a call for action to help save the Transportation Enhancements (TE) Program. We are pleased to share that for now, funding for TE remains intact.

On September 15, a six-month extension of the transportation program (SAFETEA-LU) passed without a harmful amendment that would have stripped the TE program of its dedicated funding.

While this is excellent news, we must remain vigilant as future threats are likely. Congress will negotiate the long-term reauthorization of the TE program in the next six months. We will be asking for your help in communicating to your Members how important this program is to your state.

Visit our expanded transportation-related content on PreservationNation to explore the many ways historic preservation and transportation can combine to enrich communities. Find us on Facebook and Twitter to stay updated on this issue and others that affect the historic places that matter to you.

Hooray!

I’m sure I’ve rambled on about the connections between historic preservation and transportation. If you look around you and consider how many elements relate to traveling and mobility, a light bulb should go on in your head: sidewalks, roads, bike paths, historic bridges, transportation structures, parks… the list doesn’t really end. If you are interested in the actual legal connections, The Center for Environmental Excellence of AASHTO (American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, a non-profit group that represents all DOTs) provides a thorough explanation of transportation related cultural resource laws.

Now, back to Transportation Enhancements. From the US Federal Highway Administration (FHWA):

Transportation Enhancement (TE) activities offer funding opportunities to help expand transportation choices and enhance the transportation experience through 12 eligible TE activities related to surface transportation, including pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure and safety programs, scenic and historic highway programs, landscaping and scenic beautification, historic preservation, and environmental mitigation. TE projects must relate to surface transportation and must qualify under one or more of the 12 eligible categories.

Those 12 eligible categories are defined as these:

  1. Provision of pedestrian and bicycle facilities
  2. Provision of pedestrian and bicycle safety and education activities
  3. Acquisition of scenic or historic easements and sites
  4. Scenic or historic highway programs including tourist and welcome centers
  5. Landscaping and scenic beautification
  6. Historic Preservation
  7. Rehabilitation and operation of historic transportation buildings, structures, or facilities
  8. Conversion of abandoned railway corridors to trails
  9. Control and removal of outdoor advertising
  10. Archaeological planning and research
  11. Environmental mitigation of highway runoff pollution, reduce vehicle-caused wildlife mortality, maintain habitat connectivity
  12. Establishment of transportation museums.

See how broad these categories are? You can probably find a connection in your project, or make connections in order to qualify for transportation grants. Each state has different programs – check it out on the National Transportation Enhancements website.

The FY 2010 National Transportation Enhancements Clearinghouse report states that since 1992, over $12 billion have been apportioned for transportation enhancements grants. WOW!  What a difference TE money has on our communities. Grants have even funded preservation projects for transportation related hotels. Check out examples of TE projects. Search by state to find one near you. You’ll be surprised at what has been funded by TE grants.

Now imagine if this money was suddenly cut from the budget? All of the activities and projects that connect our communities to each other and our history would be lost. Transportation is more than potholes, paving and plowing; it is essential to our everyday lives and our environment.

As cheesy as this sounds, I like to think that it all comes back to transportation because you wouldn’t be anywhere if you couldn’t get anywhere. What do you think? Ridiculous? Too trippy for a Friday afternoon? Think about it.

Now, I’m curious. Readers, were you aware of the transportation-preservation-community connection in terms of funding or even theory? It’s so normal to me, but before I worked in transportation, it wasn’t as obvious. Let me know! What do you think of TE grants?

The approach to the Cross Vermont Trail bridge - go for a bike ride this fall!

Industrial Appearance

Taken at Fort Ethan Allen in Colchester, Vt.

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Concrete, wire glass, large metal windows, it is almost poetic. Industrial buildings aren’t my favorite, but I really like this one.

Mold Removal + Concrete

As you know, water or moisture can cause the most damage to buildings. Whether from a leaking roof or something as disastrous as a flood, water can be considered the root of all building problems. Water and moisture often lead to mold growth, sometimes in visible locations, but also in unseen locales throughout your building. One of the most important tasks after water damage is to remove all items from the building that have been touched by the water: sheetrock, insulation, rugs, furniture, everything.

Following the removal of flood water and then the removal of mud, we removed all items from the basement. It took days to remove all of the mud and over one week to get the basement to where it looked dry.  We washed our belongings, sanitized them, and have yet to return anything to the basement.

Now we are dealing with mold issues on the concrete basement walls, generally in locations at or below where the muddy water settled for a few hours. Originally we thought bleach would do the job, but it’s been a few rounds of bleach (one of those rounds was undiluted bleach!) and the white, fuzzy mold on the walls keeps appearing.

We have heard conflicting information, too. First, we heard that bleach would remove the mold and that the other products were all marketing. Then we heard otherwise. So, like a good homeowner and preservationist, I turned to my books and online resources. I learned that the chemicals in bleach are inactivated by organic compounds.

Darn. But, that explains why the white fuzzy mold keeps returning.

The concrete walls in our basement are certainly not of the non-porous variety. They are 83 years old and quite porous. In a handful of locations, I can see the aggregate that composes the concrete. It is not like today’s concrete, that’s for sure. Thus, the dirt and whatever else has migrated into my concrete walls is deactivating the bleach, and allowing the mold to grow.

We’re stumped.

All of the literature I have read, whether it’s from the National Trust or a university or any random website, simply talks about the importance of mold removal and safety precautions. The articles discuss the importance of drying out the basement and air circulation and a dehumidifier, of course. But, I need to know what to use in order to remove the mold and keep it away. I have yet to find a resource that mentions specific products proven to remove mold from concrete.

Can you offer a suggestion? What should we do?

I think our next step is to suit up and scrub the walls. But, with what? I’ll keep looking, but if you have an idea or even better – a proven solution – I would love to know.

Thank you!

Preservation Photos #100

The Old Schoolhouse in Isle La Motte, VT.

The schoolhouse was built in 1930 to serve the community and school children of Isle La Motte, and has been rehabilitated as a bed & breakfast/bike hostel. The chalkboards, entry hallway, window banks remain intact and the setting is phenomenal.

Lake Champlain Bridge Arch Lift

Three weeks ago on a beautiful Friday, many Vermonters and New Yorkers spent the entire day watching the arch center span be lifted. After 14 months of watching the bridge construction through sun, rain, wind, snow, sleet, cold and all other weather, this sunny, perfectly calm day was one of my favorite days ever. You’ve probably seen many bridge photos, if you’ve been looking, since they are all over the web, so here are just a few (or many…) of my favorites. Enjoy.

(These are large files, so click and zoom for greater detail. They may appear blurry in a small size, but they are actually very clear when viewed larger.)

Just as the arch is arriving to the bridge. It was floated upstream from Port Henry.

Morning fog was heavy in the Champlain Valley.

View from the ferry.

The benefits of a zoom camera -- up close for scale. Port Henry NY in the background.

Looking from New York to Vermont, with the sun starting to shine through the clouds.

Looking to Chimney Point State Historic Site, VT. The bridge is behind the trees.

Around lunchtime, view from Vermont.

Later in the morning.

Picture perfect afternoon on the lake.

Zooming in from Crown Point State Historic Site, NY.

Mr. Stilts came along, too.

From New York.

It moved slowly. We picked a point to watch.

Just one of the many, many boats out for the show. Doesn't this make you want to visit the Champlain Valley?

View from New York at Crown Point Memorial Lighthouse and pier in the late afternoon.

Still watching movements.

Pier 4.

Around 5pm on the ferry.

The sun was still shining.

Heading back to Vermong on the ferry.

I couldn’t stay until the arch was set; that wouldn’t happen until after dark. But it was such a wonderful day; it was amazing to see this after seeing the entire project over the past 14 months. The bridge is not open yet, as there is still much work to do. But it’s getting closer everyday. What a project!

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You are welcome to use any of these photos, but please give credit to Kaitlin O’Shea and Preservation in Pink. Thanks!

Saturday Morning with PTV

On Saturday September 10, a group of about 20 people gathered for a work (half) day with the Preservation Trust of Vermont in Essex, VT. The purpose was to give the Molloy-Delano house a spruce – some cosmetic improvements, you could say. This house is an important landmark for the area, and sadly located where much of the historic landscape and environment has been erased by development. From the Preservation Trust of Vermont: 

The Molloy – Delano House was built ca. 1820 at Butler’s Corners, the site of an early settlement in the Town of Essex, Vermont. The house and the adjacent brick house were built by brothers Roswell and William A Butler who, with their sons, were engaged in several enterprises in the area, primarily lumber and mercantile operations. They also built a store, which no longer stands, located between the two buildings. At the intersection of Route 15 and Old Stage Road, Butler’s Corners was an important crossroads community with roads connecting Burlington and Winooski north to St. Albans, and east towards Cambridge and Johnson. The settlement consisted of several houses, the store, a blacksmith shop, a school and a handful of farms.

The Molloy-Delano House is distinctive architecturally. It is a 1 1/2 story post and beam, wood frame building with wood plank wall construction, clapboards, and a low-pitched gable roof. An early and rare example of an arcaded, recessed front porch with five arched openings extends across the full width of the front facade.

The house, after surviving for almost 200 years, could, after rehabilitation, continue to serve the community for generations to come.

We split into groups for cleanup and painting. My friend Brennan and I started with sweeping the upstairs, bagging garbage, and removing plaster or sheetrock from the floor. We then primed over the graffiti. Others took on yard work and others painted the front porch. For the age of the house, it was surprisingly intact with original woodwork, horse-hair plaster walls, floors, door hardware; it is lovely. One of the most interesting aspects was the wall construction. Studs and sheetrock were attached to the plaster walls (likely for insulation and wiring purposes), effectively concealing three layers of wallpaper. So in areas where the gypsum walls were wallpapered, too, there were at least four layers of wallpaper to investigate. Fun!

Volunteers included current UVM HP students, alumni, community members and board members of the PTV. Our reasons were fueled by curiosity and the opportunity to have access to a neat historic, abandoned building more so than the coffee, bagels, lunch and refreshments provided. Those, of course, were appreciated. It was a beautiful morning and a fun task. Here are a few pictures from the morning:

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Interested in buying the house?

Purchase Price: The house and garage are for sale for $29,500. The property is located within the larger Essex Town Center development. The buyer will lease the land under the building from the developer and in addition to the ground lease payment, the buyer will also pay monthly common area maintenance fees.

Conditions of Sale: A façade easement on the exterior of the house will be attached to the deed. The new owner will be required to rehabilitate the house within a specified time frame.

For more information, contact the Preservation Trust of Vermont.