Abandoned Vermont: St. Albans Drive-in Theater (R.I.P)

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St. Albans Drive-in Movie Theater, as seen in May 2012. 

As of the 2012 photograph of the St. Albans Drive-in Theater, it was not abandoned. It was still open and operating, one of Vermont’s four remaining drive-in movie theaters.  As of 2014, the drive-in closed after 66 years of business, partially due to costs required to upgrade to the mandated digital projection from film reels. As of 2014, the land was for sale, and still is. Such is the fate of many drive-in theaters, especially on valuable land.

Because I’m a sentimental nostalgic fool for roadside America and Vermont, I wanted to photograph the St. Albans Drive-in Theater one more time, before it disappeared. On a cold, windy, February day, I said my goodbyes to this bit of roadside America.

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View from across US Route 7. Not as cheery as the 2012 view. February 2016. 


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Entrance & ticket booth to the drive-in. Still lined with lights. February 2016. 


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The speakers at the St. Ablans Drive-in theater were removed years ago. Instead, viewers tuned into the radio station. February 2016. 


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Ticket booth. February 2016. 


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No admission charge today. February 2016. 


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The screen is in disrepair and new traffic lights are in place for the development across the road. February 2016. 


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Stepping back you can vaguely see the remaining mounds in the earth for the cars to park. February 2016. 


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The snack bar (right) and the movie projection room (left). Note the chain protecting the projection. Windows are all broken. February 2016. 


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View of the playground and the dilapidated screen. February 2016. 


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The playground (swingset) remains intact, if not jumping out of the ground with its concrete foundation. Slide, two swings, rings, trapeze, bar, and see-saw. February 2016. 


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Beneath the screen looking into the drive-in. February 2016. 


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Pieces of the screen have fallen to the ground. February 2016. 


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Possibly from up there. February 2016. 


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The back of the screen. February 2016. 


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Some drive-in screens have their structures concealed. This one is out in the open, nothing too fancy. With high winds, the structure has to be sturdy. February 2016. 


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From the entrance road. February 2016. the marquee is barely visible, but you can see it to the right of the screen supports. February 2016. 

I can’t say for certain, but I would bet that one factor in the closure of the St. Albans drive-in is the construction and opening of this across the street:

As seen from the Walmart entrance road. February 2016.

With its October 2013 opening, I shared my lament.

Here is a great article from the St. Albans Messenger that highlights history and memories of the drive-in.

RIP St. Albans Drive-in. You’ll be missed by many.

The Perfect Case for Undergrounding Wires

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Imagine this building without the telephone pole and multiple utility wires. Waterbury, VT, 2012.

We’ve talked about utility lines previously, in terms of practicality. But what about philosophically and aesthetically? To me, the picture above represents the perfect example as to why undergrounding of utility lines is a good idea. Documentation is fairly difficult when there are telephone poles and wires in the way, don’t you think? And that is quite often the case on main street.

What do you think? Granted, utility wires and telephones poles tell a part of our history and technological growth, but they have not always existed. And who is to say that our future will include utility wires or should include above ground utility wires? Will there ever be a case for keeping wires because of historic significance? Do you think they are appropriate to keep or should we embrace new technology and remove the utility wires?

Architectural Survey Photography Tip

Early spring is the perfect time for architectural survey photography work. Before the leaves grow and the flowers appear, but after the snow has melted away, you will be able to capture the best shots of buildings. Take a look at this church in Waitsfield, Vermont as an example.

The United Church of Christ in Waitsfield, VT. April 2012. Note that this picture was not taken for documentation purposes; this is not a photograph that would satisfy NR or HABS standards (partially because it's a bit crooked), but I still like the image.

Summer is beautiful in Vermont, but the trees will obscure the church steeple in a few weeks. I don’t know about you, but I love looking in between the tree branches to the buildings. It makes looking up at rooftops even more interesting.

This is just an iPhone photo, but you can see how the tree does not block your view of the building. March 2012.

In other words, take your cameras outside to capture springtime views. While it’s more fun to stroll around with a camera in June and July (depending on where you live), you’ll be more pleased with your early spring photographs. You’ll thank yourself later, when you’re attempting to write an architectural description from photographs or remembering the top half of a building.

Anyone else have a great tip for survey photography?

Digital Calendars and Paper Planners

For all of my school years, from middle school to graduate school, I kept meticulous planners that were color coded for exams, assignments, track meets, newspaper deadlines, club meetings, birthdays and more. I religiously wrote my homework each day next to the class name/number in the daily/weekly pages and organized those important dates in the monthly calendar pages. My best friend (hi Landau!) did the same thing. And we’ve kept these planners after all these years. Ah, the memories. Surely, we cannot be the only two organizational dorks out there. Confess? Who else needed planners to survive and loved his/her planners?  Choosing a new planner each year was an important new school year decision. And then decorated the planners — usually with a fun magazine ad and clear mailing tape. The few times I left my planner in the locker room or a classroom, I felt so lost without it! Planners were no joke.

Despite my love for this planning system, in the years between college and graduate school, I did not need such an intensive record keeping/organizational system. Even though my job had many dates to remember and I had other commitments, it was easier and less hectic than my school days. A monthly planner would suffice; those daily/weekly pages were looking empty and lonely. It was difficult to find a calendar system that suited me. Call me crazy or OCD, but this bothered me. After all, my planners were almost works of art, choreographed  with colors and now full of nostalgia. When I look back at those planners, I often wonder how I managed to do everything on there. They seemed so superior to my current planners that represented a less hectic life.

Needing to use a familiar planner once graduate school began gave me more joy than it would should have warranted. However, once I completed school, I found myself in the same predicament. What kind of planner would work for me?

For work I need to keep track of which projects I work on each day or which meetings I attend, etc. My solution has been to use a blank notebook and start  a new page each day to take notes and record my daily work activities. I use a book until it’s full and then choose another small book. It’s my own daily record, but not a calendar, I guess. I use my outlook calendar to keep track of meeting dates and now add them into the trusty iPhone as well.  However, it’s just not as satisfying as my old planners.

Recently, I’ve been pining for my hard copy planners. They are such complete records. I’m tempted to start using a daily/weekly/monthly planner again. The only thing stopping me is that I might not have enough space for each day. I like to keep my notes with the corresponding day.

Maybe this doesn’t seem like such a dilemma to anyone else.  Maybe it’s more information that you can care to know about me. However, it brings up a choice between the digital world — so much of what I do and how I communicate is digital — and the trusted, lovely hard copy records. And you probably know how much preservationists value documentation. My phone is more likely with me than a book (generally speaking) and the calendar can be shared easily. It’s convenient and yes, still a novelty sometimes. But what is more likely to be around in a few years – my electronic calendars or my planner books? Obviously, the books. Is it strange to choose a calendar/planner system in the present based on what I might want to keep in the future? Again, preservationist = documentation. I think I might have to custom make a planner that works for me. Maybe I’ll solve this dilemma in time for 2013.

Who has converted from hard copy planners to electronic means? Who else is this obsessed (or more) with planners and calendars? Do you pine for hard copy planners like you pine for snail mail rather than email? How have you adjusted from school to work, from hard copies to electronic calendars? What do you think is better for documentation and posterity?

Overhills Revisited

Overhills will forever remain a beloved memory of mine and a peaceful bubble of a world in the rural sandhills of North Carolina. I may not have lived or visited Overhills during its life as an active hunting retreat or family retreat, but I had the honor and pleasure of working for the buildings and the people who inhabited and loved Overhills. There was  a point in time when I thought that there would never be a day when I did not think of Overhills; but, years have passed since my oral history work finished and it now seems like a dream, like another world. My thoughts on Overhills are spaced further apart, but no less meaningful. The place, the people, the project have helped to define who I am. (The oral history project report can be accessed and downloaded through Fort Bragg.)

Aside from the Overhills Oral History Project, the property was documented under the Historic American Landscape Survey for the Library of Congress as the Overhills Historic District. (Read the HALS report.)Many of the records have been digitized: photographs of Overhills, floor plans, landscape plans, historical research. Not everything is digitized yet, but it is enough to trigger memories as I browse through the collection. Take a look with me.

Nursery Road, one of the roads through Overhills. Photograph credit: HALS NC-3-26. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

Overhills approach road to the Hill. Photograph credit: HALS NC-3-15. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

Overhills polo barn. Photograph credit: HALS NC-3-16. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

Croatan, a house at Overhills. Photograph credit: HALS NC-3-8. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

These pictures remind me of the drive to and through Overhills, walking the grounds through the long leaf pines, exploring and attempting to learn as much as I could about the layout and landscape, piecing together historical research & oral history, visiting the houses and barns and imagining Overhills in its heyday.

Sadly, today, Overhills continues to deteriorate and/or suffers from vandalism. It pains me to hear of another building that has caught fire or to come across current Overhills pictures scattered across the internet that show the state of the place. It is incredibly sad, amplified by the fact that I know the stories and the history and the people of Overhills. Eventually, I’ll stop randomly searching for Overhills photos on search engines.

However, the HALS photographs and documents, in addition to the oral history project products, allow the good memories to stay with me. So I continue to look through the documentation. I don’t want to forget anything I know about Overhills. I’m sure my reaction time to specific questions – probably those found in the Overhills archives – is delayed from a few years ago, but that’s okay. I remember the bigger pictures. While my preference is preservation and rehabilitation instead of mitigation, I understand the importance and strength of proper and creative documentation because of this project. No matter which memory strikes me, I am reminded of the significant and unique story of Overhills, and how much I love(d) it.

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Other posts about Overhills: 3 Hours in the Life of an Oral Historian. Carolina Day. Another Day in the Field. My Ode to Oral History. Overhills by Jeffrey D. Irwin & Kaitlin O’Shea. Oral History & Me? It’s Complicated. Overhills Book Release. Johnny. Those Unknown Photograph Subjects. Why They Don’t Let Me Outside. Time Travel Wish. Voice as a Powerful Primary Source.

Historic Preservation Basics No. 7

Series introduction. No. 1 = Ideas You Should Not Believe About Historic Preservation. No. 2 = Vocabulary for Translating and Holding Your Own in a Preservation Conversation. No. 3 = Let’s Talk about Architecture / The Very Beginning of Describing Buildings. No. 4 = Let’s Talk about Buildings A Bit More.     No. 5 = The National Register of Historic Places (What You Should Know). No. 6 = The History of Historic Preservation.

No. 7 = The Basics of Documentation

Much of our work in historic preservation involves recording our past, often by way of documenting the built environment. When our environment is documented, we can connect it to people, events, and other places and tell our collective history.

Simply put, documentation of a historic structure involves three parts: (1) historical research, (2) measured drawings, and (3) photography. Each has standards established by the National Park Service / Historic American Buildings Survey, and these standards remain the industry practice. An excellent source is the book Recording Historic Structures by John Burns, which teaches the reader the HABS/HAER/HALS standards for documentation.

This post will not outline the standards, but rather, give you and introduction to what documentation involves, and hopefully inspire you to start practicing on your house.

Keep in mind that more than buildings can and are documented; sites, structures, objects, districts, landscapes… they count, too! Saying historic “building” just streamlines the discussion. Now, let’s begin.

(1) Historical Research

What is the history of ownership of the building? Who has lived there? What functions has the building served? Is there any available information about how it has changed? Are any historic photographs to be found? The extent of research  and details will vary by project (i.e. funding, time, purpose), but the goals are the same.

How do you find this information? Many of these items can be found at your local library.

a) Deed Research (City Hall, Town Offices, County Clerk’s office — depending on where you live. A few lucky places such as Cumberland County, NC have their land records digitized). Some locations will require that you pay for your time and photocopies. Some are charging now for digital photograph permission, too! But if you are a student or an educational endeavor, you can probably ask to have the fee waived.

b) Historic Maps – Beers, Wallingford, Sanborn Insurance Maps, Plat Maps. Check your library and ask for help. In some cases you might find them online through sites such as the David Rumsey Map Collection. Maps will help you date your property and sometimes identify former landowners.

c) City Directories – These are usually only for larger cities and not small towns (like Sanborn Maps), but they can provide information on the use of the building and the owners.

d) Miscellaneous town records and files at the town library, historical societies, state archives.

e) Newspaper articles – Head to the local resource room at your library and get cozy with microfilm. After you’ve used it a time or two, the nauseous feelings should subside.  Historic newspapers often had much more social content that our current papers. You can learn a lot about the local area and its people.

f) Oral history – Ask around! Word of mouth will lead you to the best sources. Asking interviewees to describe buildings and places will often give you great information.

Historic research will often be incorporated into a historical narrative about the property that serves the purpose of recording a fair history.

(2) Measured Drawings

Measured (to scale) drawings document the building as-is. The level of detail might vary, but a full set of drawings will include elevations, sections, and details. Every part and detail of the building is measured. Most are done on CAD nowadays, since it is faster than hand drawing and easier to transmit and share. In order to learn standards and proper methods, it is best to take a drafting class. For instance, different line thicknesses are used to denote types of walls. However, if you aren’t documenting a building professionally, you can do your own “measured drawings” at home. These would probably more akin to field sketches. Draw/sketch your floor plan, elevation, or detail as best as you can. Record your accurate measurements on your sketches.

When sketching your building, think of it from largest to smallest. Draw the outline or frame of the building. Start at the bottom and work your way up. Then include doors and windows. Draw and record details (window frames, cornice details) in a separate drawing so your numbers don’t get mixed together.

Measured drawings are not required by every project, but if a significant resource is to be demolished, measured drawings often serve as a form of mitigation for the loss. For buildings of national significance, the measured drawings would serve as an important research resource for the present and the future.

There is too much to say about measured drawings, but here are a few tips: 1) It is much easier with three people (one for the measuring end of the tape, one for the dumb end (aka zero end), and one to record); 2) Accept that you will probably have to go back more than once because you will inevitably forget to measure a detail; 3) If necessary for your understanding, redraw your field sketches with clear numbers and delineation; 4) Sometimes it helps to photograph a detail with the tape measure in the picture; and 5) Decide if you are rounding up or down and to which segment of the inch.

(3) Photography

Photography is perhaps the most prolific form of documentation, and some would say the easiest, thanks to the aid of digital cameras. However, good photographic documentation requires more practice than a point-and-shoot camera. Standards are changing in terms of which mediums are accepted and which types of ink, but the basics of what to photograph remain the same. To effectively document the building, be sure to include all elevations and corners (N, S, E, W elevation and NE, NW, SE, SW corners for example). These corner shots are often called record shots . Do your best to get both elevations in the picture. It is best to take an image with as little parallax distortion as possible. In other words, stand as far back as you can in order to get the entire plane within the photo frame and do not tilt the camera.  You may find yourself standing on stone walls, cars, or hanging out a window. Just be careful and do not trespass (unless you have permission)! After elevations and record shots, photograph details. Perhaps the door frame is significant or the portico columns. For interior rooms, it is important to have the ceiling, walls, and floor within the frame.

Photographs should be accompanied with the name of the subject of the photograph, the property and its location, the direction from which the picture was taken and to where it is looking, the date, and the name of the photographer. This is the basic necessary information, but, again, keep in mind your SHPO may have different requirements.

So the three main components of documentation are historical research, measured drawings, and photography. Once you are familiar with the tree (and now you are!), you can learn the standards of your organization and start practicing. Many preservation programs have classes in documentation if you are interested professionally. However, if you want to document your own house, you do not have to be a professional. Check out those deed records, draw your house floor plan, and take good, thought-out photographs. It’s fun!

Some Resources:

HABS, HAER, HALS Guidelines from the NPS

Recording Historic Structures by John Burns

Documentation cheat sheet by State of Minnesota

Sacred Places overview of Measured Drawings (very helpful!)

Vermont Division for Historic Preservation – Requirements for Photographic Documentation of Historic Structures

When in doubt, speak with your State Historic Preservation Office or State Historical Society.

 

A Life in the Trades: December 2010

Series introduction. October 2009. November 2009. December 2009. January 2010. February 2010. March 2010. April 2010. May 2010. June 2010. September 2010. October 2010. November 2010.

By Nicholas Bogosian

A Photo Diary of the Fall Quarter at Belmont Tech’s BPR program.

Metals class introduced us to the art of blacksmithing as well as the deterioration and preservation of various metals. Jeff Forster, guest instructor, owns a decorative ironworks and metal restoration business in Wheeling, WV.

The author at work.

Our Field Lab class in Morristown, OH gave us the opportunity to carry out sandstone foundation repairs. Improper face-bedding of the stone as well as the use of a Portland cement had caused some noticeable deterioration of the stone. The joints were repointed with an appropriate Virginia Lime Works mortar and one significantly damaged stone was given a plastic repair with a Jahn restoration product so that its cavernous face could be made sound again.

Jahn repair.

After Jahn repair.

In Windows & Doors class, damaged sashes and sills were removed from an 1880s one-room schoolhouse in Pleasant Hill, OH for repairs back at our lab space. Repairs included documentation of conditions, wood consolidation, paint removal, and re-glazing. Our final project was the creation of a paneled door with traditional mortise and tenon joinery and raised panels.

Graining & Marbling Class introduced us to the art of faux painting. Projects included sample boards of various stones and wood species. Final projects involved the creation of a “Pietra Dura” panel or stone marquetry as well as a panel with a graining and marbling combination.

And finally, my advanced material science class, which I elaborated on in my last blog, involved the conservation of structural timbers. Various techniques were carried out, including: splices/ dutchmans, WER (wood epoxy reinforcement), as well as mechanical repairs.

 

Carving out interior wood rot.

Splice/dutchman of knee brace.

 

BETA system repair to end rot using fiberglass rods and epoxy.

All photographs courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

A Life in the Trades: May 2010

Series introduction. October 2009. November 2009. December 2009. January 2010. February 2010. March 2010. April 2010.

By Nicholas Bogosian

Everything is green in Ohio. The hydrangea and the dandelions have sprung. The buds of Sugar Maples have turned to drooping tassels of flowers and finally to green leaves. The seeds have been sown and little chard leaves have peaked from the soil. The onion is taking root. The birds are happy.

I have to admit that I’ve been a little distracted from school lately. There’s been a severe case of burn out in the program at Belmont Tech among many of the students. Winter’s “state of emergency” snow load and intensive winter projects took their toll. It seems many of us are still trying to recuperate.

My classes this quarter include: Construction Management, Mechanical Systems, Field Documentation, Paints & Clear Finishes, Plaster, and Field Lab. In Mechanical Systems we’re doing hands-on exploration of electrical systems, plumbing systems, and HVAC systems – historic and present-day.

Mechanical Systems Class. Soldering of a copper supply line. Photo by Nicholas Bogosian.

Field Documentation has us at an 1870 one room school-house where another classmate and I are documenting the landscape. Our work will culminate in a sort of Cultural Landscape Report within a broader HSR.

Documentation Class. Rear view of the Great Western School House and surrounding property. Photo by Nicholas Bogosian.

In Plaster I’ve been doing an augmented reproduction of the Drayton Hall ceiling medallion. The process includes modeling from clay, molding the clay pieces, casting with plaster, and creating tin profile jigs for the running. The wall plaster and scagliola components to the class are to follow.

Plaster Class. Design of medallion applique. Photo by Nicholas Bogosian.

Perhaps my favorite class this quarter has been the Field Lab. We’re required to take four quarters of Field Lab where we work at an actual site applying our lab work experience under the guidance of either Dave Mertz (director of the program) or John Smith (superintendent to Allegheny Restoration).

The Spring quarter has us at the 1840s Swaney House in Morristown every Friday. We’ve begun with several projects: stone lintel crack repair, hanging of exterior window shutters, wall plaster, gutter hanging/soldering, and finish carpentry for the porch. John knows quite a bit about the preservation trades. His first trade is carpentry, but he seems to know just about everything. Working beside him feels much like working as an apprentice at times. You feel he’s giving you invaluable information, trade secrets, time-tested techniques. For example, using a coping saw to cut your inside mitre joint to allow for imperfect corner flexibility. Or that the “scratch coat” for wall plaster need not have any scratches. Or that the joint on metal downspouts should always create a 90 degree angle to a brick wall to avoid the brick being damaged when the metal expands in changing temperature.

Soldering gutter joints. Photo by Nicholas Bogosian.

Soldering gutter joints. Photo by Nicholas Bogosian.

Lime putty. Historically left to hydrate for many years. Photo by Nicholas Bogosian.

We’ve been able to see quite a bit of historic “apprentice work” throughout the house – brick walls laid in a bond one can only define as “apprentice bond.” This past Friday it felt like I was only adding to the collection of apprentice work with imprecise wood measurements while cutting some wood molding. My friend Abby, who was helping me, mentioned the old “measure twice, cut once” adage to which John replied that we actually just need to measure once. Correctly. He also informed us that the old “practice makes perfect” adage is a fallacy as well. Practicing the wrong way doesn’t make anything perfect, after all.

John perpetually keeps us laughing throughout the day. Always an anecdote for every step in the process. Always a story from preservation-assignments-past. This is the one day of the week we get to relax a little. Though we have to keep a log of what we’re doing and document the process, there’s usually no strict time frame for what we‘re doing. No note-taking. No textbook. No tests.

And believe me: I’m fine with that.

Abby and I taking pictures while the others are working. Photo courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

Field Notes

My field notes are horrendously illegible to anyone besides me.  I know this.  To remedy this problem and ease the stress of creating worthy field notes, I accept the fact that I redraw my field notes.  Yes, this takes more time, but it is also a good way to double check which measurements I’m missing and to become more familiar with the house.  This was my method in HISP205 & 305 in college and as I found out today, it remains my method.  If you are not quite sure to what I’m referring, the answer is measured drawings for measuring buildings.  Before arriving at the beautifully drawn HABS drawings, we must take measurements of every part of the building – window sills, overall wall lengths, chimneys, door frames, you name it – we measure it and draw it.  Despite my long-winded documentation methods, I truly enjoy it.  Drafting seems to take me longer as well, but it’s something that I willing to keep working on and adjusting. 

Here are a few pictures of the house that we measured today in field school:

Above is the front of the house, but unfortunately it is right on Rt. 29 and therefore, a good photograph would have caused some injury.  The front porch is not original (too Greek for this Federal house) but you can get the idea of its beauty.   The walkways and formals gardens were beautiful (at some point) as well.  Sadly, this house has been vacant for almost one decade (my guess) and will probably be demolished, which is our reason for doing the documentation.  Currently we do not know much of its history.

east elevation

This photograph, above, cannot really do justice to the complexities of the east elevation.  We weren’t exactly doing elevations, more like a building footprint but some of us (including me) felt the need to sketch the elevation and add basic measurements.  It took quite a while.  The addition here, ca. 1960 or so, is not the pretty part of the house but we obviously had to include it as well.

I love it. I love buildings and measuring (though I’ll take interior over exterior in this house.) I love tape measures and clipboards and pencils.  I love sitting on the porch and eating lunch.  However, I had forgotten how exhausting measuring and sketching can be.  (And that house certainly brought out some sneezing and coughing.)  Today we did the exterior measuring and descriptions and the interior measurements.  Tomorrow we are responsible for drafting the floor plans that way we can begin interior descriptions and details on Monday.  This is quite the intense field school, but extremely valuable and fun.  Another good point is that many things I have learned are seeping back into my brain.

I’ll fill you in on drafting tomorrow.

Abandoned buildings and the lime cycle

Restoration field school continues to be interesting.  Today we began with a lecture about building materials (lath and plaster, wood, nails, etc) and then some nail identifications (ever heard of a burr? Did you know there are three main categories of nails: handwrought, machine cut, and wire nails.)  We had two field trips today after lunch. First we headed north on Route 29 to investigate a house that someone wanted Travis to look at – they claim it was a tavern at some point.  I’m not sure how long it’s been abandoned, but the doors to the first floor (from this side of the photograph) or the second floor (from the road side) were locked.  I’ll bet there is still furniture inside.  My oral history side wondered when the last time someone sat in the chair on the porch.  But about building investigation…it was a good exercise to look at ghost marks, bricks, floors, windows, etc.  See picture below.

investigation house

Then we headed to Virginia Limeworks where they create mortar, burn lime, and all of this crazy. It is amazing, the work that they do.  They are also amazing masons and have reconstructed the church at St. Mary’s City in Virginia.  Reconstruction, as in by hand using traditional put-log timber scaffolding and methods. It is just amazing.  The picture below shows what happens when you add limestone with water, called slaking.  It bubbles and spits things at you and steams!  Chemistry plays a large part in it, obviously. It is truly amazing what these guys know and how involved craftsmen are in preservation. I love it.  And they truly care about the projects. 

VA limeworks

Tomorrow we are investigating our house and documenting the outside.  Hooray for measured drawing or at least sketches!