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.

Vermont Barn Census

Here in Vermont we love barns. Barns are symbols of the Vermont lifestyle that people live or at least envision. As my professor pointed out, barns are on the official highway road map. People picture big red barns amongst the rolling green hills.  However, agriculture is changing fast everywhere and that does not exclude Vermont. Ways of life are never immune to jumps and slips in technology and economy. Long winters wreak havoc on the historic structures and every year more are lost to the climate, to development, to lack of necessity, etc. How does one state go about documenting all of these barns and farm structures?

Meet the Vermont Barn Census, established by Vermont Division for Historic Preservation, University of Vermont Historic Preservation Program, Historic Windsor’s Preservation Education Institute, Save Vermont Barns, Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, and Preservation Trust of Vermont with funding from Preserve America. The short version is this: volunteers across the state can visit the website, learn everything they need to start the survey, and then submit the information through the website. It’s an incredibly innovative way to involve the public’s help. Individuals, communities, historical societies, students, teachers, anyone is invited to assist on the census in hopes of, in the end, gathering a complete survey of Vermont barns in order to establish how many are standing, how many have fallen, and how the landscape has changed.

Insert the UVM’s Historic Preservation 206 class of Researching Historic Sites and Structures. As part of our class project, we are working on the census (and adding our own in class twist to research for other purposes). We’ll be out there photographing, recording, and later researching the barns and communities. Who doesn’t love a good barn? I’m psyched.

Across the country, my cousin Evan Robb, Project Manager of the Washington Rural Heritage project, informed me that Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation also has a Heritage Barns Project. I imagine many states have the same. Perhaps some could take a lesson from Vermont and enlist volunteers, if they do not already.

Do you live in Vermont? You can help! Join in the fun. The Vermont Barn Census “week” will be October 2 – October 12, which is supposed to be the peak of leaf season. (A good atmosphere always makes for good, fun work, but you can work on this project all year round.)

Stewart’s Folly

By Maria Gissendanner

Stewart’s Folly is an interesting forgotten roadside attraction from the 1970s also known as the Round House of Logan, Ohio It is located on the outskirts of town as you are entering into Logan from the west along County Road 33A. I came across the mysterious structure this winter while doing a HAER documentation on a bridge in the area. I was driving along and almost found myself in the ditch as I craned my neck to double check what I just saw. On the side of the road in an overgrown lot was a round concrete building that appeared to have once been some sort of house that had been abandoned years ago.

I decided to turn around and go back and investigate this strange structure and sacrificed my body and car on the icy Ohio ground to get a closer look. Up close, it was clear that the structure was a poured concrete sphere sitting up on a rectangular pedestal and that it had been left to the elements years ago as all the windows and doors were missing and interior floors were collapsed rendering it impossible to enter along with the hazards of the ice. The concrete itself was still in good condition and I couldn’t help wondering what that forgotten structure was and why such a weird little building didn’t have anyone showing it any love. A quick Google search for “concrete round house in Logan, Ohio” got my answer; apparently I was not the first one to be stricken by this roadside oddity. I found out that locals refer to the building as “Stewart’s Folly” after the name of the man who designed and built the structure.

Logan Round House. Courtesy of Maria Gissendanner.

Logan Round House. Courtesy of Maria Gissendanner.

“Stewart’s Folly” was constructed as a prototype in the 1970s as a new durable type of housing to be constructed in hurricane and tornado-prone areas of the country. Its round design was supposed to make the structure wind resistant and its concrete construction and special windows also made the exterior of the building fire resistant. The concrete for the building was poured by using a special elevator system; the concrete was poured into the wooden shell mold from the top. It had 8-inch thick walls at the base and the rest of the building had 5-inch thick walls. The building had two floors with a basement, a porch and a garage. The building was never lived in. It was used for storage for several years and although meant as a prototype, no others were ever constructed although other companies have come out with similar designs.

For more information on “Stewart’s Folly” and to see pictures of the building while it was slightly more intact go to The Logan Roundhouse on Forgotten OH

Adventures in the Field: Week 3

Adventures in the Field: Archaeology at Historic Bath, NC is a series of posts about Lauren’s experiences as a TA at East Carolina University’s summer 2009 archaeology field school in Bath, NC.  This is post # 3.


By Lauren McMillan

Week 3: 6/1/09-6/5/09

This week started off as usual on Monday; we continued working inside the cellar and started bisecting the entrance.  The reason archaeologists bisect a feature like this, and in fact, all features, is so that we can get a good profile view of the fill.  This profile can help us understand deposition and how the feature was made.  For example, if the feature was filled in one episode, that tells us it was done quickly and most likely deliberately, whereas, if we can see multiple fill layers, this would tell us something very different; these multiple fill episodes could show that the hole was left open and used as a trash pit for years (and the artifacts that come out could tell us which layers date to what years), or if we can see mostly natural deposits, then the hole was abandoned and allowed to fill in by itself.

On Tuesday and Wednesday I took a group of students out on a satellite project to Edenton, NC. Edenton is another one of those beautiful small historic towns on the water I’ve come to love in North Carolina.  Founded in 1712, Edenton was the first colonial capital of North Carolina and hosted the first Tea Party in 1774 lead by fifty of the town ladies (the town’s symbol is a teapot).  This is definitely one place you want to visit if you love architecture and historic downtowns (I believe this will be the subject of a later “Preservacation” post).

Edenton site clearing with circle of trees and visitors. Courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

Edenton site clearing with circle of trees and visitors. Courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

This was basically a Phase II investigation of an 18th century site located just outside of the town (for the protection of the site, I will not say exactly where).  A few months back the owner of the property contacted Dr. Ewen asking for more information on artifacts he had been finding (he’s actually been collecting, and doing a little digging, for about 20 years).  Dr. Ewen, Dawn and I went out and checked it out before field school and determined based on the artifacts, site location and documents that this was most likely a mid to late 18th century house site.  We decided then that more investigation was needed to determine integrity and the boundaries of the site and I would be heading the two day project during field school.  Dr. Ewen wanted to know these details so that it could become someone’s thesis project in the future.

Well, on Tuesday two field school students (Ash and Robert), another graduate student (Jonathan) and I took the hour and a half trip up in the morning.  The site is located in a clearing just inside a wooded area of the property.  The site had been plowed since the 19th century until 25 years ago when it was allowed to grow over.  In the middle of the clearing, there is a circle of trees, which immediately piqued my interest; if there was an intact cellar, that’s where it would be.  Trees love to grow in the soft soil of features.  We established a grid with the Total Station (a laser transit that can be hooked up to a data collector), which proved to more difficult than I had anticipated because the clearing wasn’t a perfect rectangle and didn’t line up with true North.  Luckily, the others are more tech savvy than I am; I prefer a shovel to technology any day.

Jonathan pushing the Ground Penetrating Radar. Courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

Jonathan pushing the Ground Penetrating Radar. Courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

Once we had a grid, we ran the Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) over the clearing and into parts of the woods.  The objective of this is to locate any anomalies that could indicate intact foundations of a building.  Our GPR is relatively new, and has a screen that shows a live feed, in addition to storing the information to make a map later.  While Jonathan and Ash did this, Robert and I worked on mapping in the circle of trees and exposed brick rubble and fragments with the Total Station.  That pretty much took up the rest of the day, and when we got back to school that afternoon we transferred all the data from the GRP and the TS into GIS and made a map of the site.  As you can see, there were quite a few anomalies present (as represented by the red lines), but a few stuck out.

Me holding the stadia rod (idiot stick). Courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

Me holding the stadia rod (idiot stick). Courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

GPR map with trees and brick fragments. Courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

GPR map with trees and brick fragments. Courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

The GPR data suggest three possible intact foundations, so we decided to conduct a judgmental survey on Wednesday to look for any sub-surface remains.  We placed several shovel test pits (STPs) along the red lines, and had mostly positives.  In the STPs that did not have in situ brick and mortar, there was rubble, and one failed to reach subsoil, suggesting a deep feature, such as a cellar.  The information from the STPs supported most of what we saw from the GPR map, that there appears to be two buildings made of brick.  The artifact density was rather low, but the ceramics found, redwares, tin glazed and white salt glazed, and the hand wrought nails are good indicators of 18th century occupation.  The “coolest” artifact found was a bone utensil handle with iron in it.  I will be writing up the full report later and returning the artifacts to the owner, who hopes, with the addition of the stuff he has collected, to make a display for the Edenton Visitor’s Center.  This is a good example of public education and outreach by archaeologists.  Hopefully ECU will continue to have a working relationship with the folks in Edenton, and this site will make a very good Master’s thesis.  Overall, despite the over abundance of ticks and mosquitoes, this was a fun two day survey with interesting results.

Two in situ bricks. Courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

Two in situ bricks. Courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

Robert with his glory find: bone handle!

Robert with his glory find: bone handle! Courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

Well, back to Bath.  When I got back to the site on Thursday, I was greeted by a fully bisected entrance and much deeper units in the cellar.  If you look carefully at the steps of the entrance, you will see that the steps appear to be short, like one would have to tip toe down.  I do not think this was a way to keep thieves and pirates out, nor do I think it’s because people in the 18th century were shorter with smaller feet.  I’ve been thinking on these stairs a lot, and I think that there would have been wooden extenders, and there even appears to be slots in the wall every other step.  This is something that will have to be further explored.  The profile of the entrance fill seems to coincide with the cellar fill, with one filling episode, like they decided one day the building was no longer needed, and pushed it in on itself.

Bisected cellar entrance. Courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

Bisected cellar entrance. Courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

Slots for wooden stairs. Courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

Slots for wooden stairs. Courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

Well, other than the normal ceramics, animal bones, wine bottle glass and pipe stems, nothing new came out of the cellar this week.  Join us next week for more adventures from Bath.