Virginia “1/2” I-House

The first stop on the House Hopping with Preservationists tour is in Central Virginia. Hume, an engineer,  & Ali, a historic preservationist,  bought their house four years ago and have been lovingly working on it since. With their combined knowledge and dedication, they tackle many structural projects that cause the rest of us to shudder. Read on to find out why we could call this house a “1/2” I-house, how Ali & Hume have uncovered its history and how the present interfaces with the past in this house.

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By Hume and Ali Ross

Our house was built in 1930. We have pieced together information about how it evolved from neighbors and relatives of the previous owners. We heard from the granddaughter of the original owners that the house always was meant to be based on the traditional I-house form that is common in Virginia, a two-story, three bay, symmetrical façade with a long front porch. Our interpretation is that the plan was modified – perhaps in response to the Great Depression – and half of the typical I-House was never built. What would have been the central hallway now runs along one of the exterior walls.

Three main additions have been built out from the original footprint. The clearest evidence of what is an addition is the framing style. The main “half-I-House” is constructed of balloon framed, true-dimension Southern Yellow Pine that will snap a modern drywall screw off at the head if it manages to pierce and grab in the first place. The additions are constructed of modern “whitewood” dimensional lumber with headers and sill plates.

This facade photo shows how the house really makes sense as an I-House with the location of the front door; you can just picture the door centered on a larger facade, which is a characteristic of I-houses.

The first addition, a kitchen on the West elevation was constructed likely in the early to mid-1940s, as evidenced by a newspaper found under the floor discussing ongoing military action in Corsica. The house was expanded again; we think about 10 years later, a one story “beauty salon” was tacked onto the north elevation. We arrived at this date from what appeared to be the calling card of the trim installer penciled onto the back of some crown molding: “WM 53-12-8.”

“Beauty Salon” is not a typical room name in a residential house but this was its original purpose. Our neighbors across the street have lived here for almost 50 years and they remembered lots of women coming to our house to chat and get their hair cut by the previous owner in the salon. In the attic we found a few boxes of 1950s and 1960s hairstyling magazines. The name for the room remains, although the hair washing sink has long been removed.

The third “addition” was the enclosure of a pre-existing porch off of the kitchen. This is the hardest to date – the construction methods are different from the kitchen, suggesting it was enclosed later on, even if the porch was built at the time. A marking in a concrete pad outside this porch has initials and the year “47” – although this pad could have been poured concurrent with the construction of the kitchen and original open porch.

This MicroLAM shot shows the door opening we made between the kitchen and middle room. Note the contrast of the modern header with the back of the lath and plaster showing .

Another shot without the support poles, again showing the door opening we made between the kitchen and middle room.

It is interesting to think about how future owners may understand how the changes we have made may fit in chronologically. LVL Beams, pressure treated lumber, structured wiring, galvanized joist hangers, subfloor adhesive, the pane of glass we bought at ACE Hardware next to the original wavy glass pane in the kitchen window; all are products of our renovations to the house. Which of these will become the first that could provide a TPQ (terminus post quem) for future renovators to discover when our work was done? For instance, we installed CAT5e cable throughout the house, which is already practically antiquated. CPVC pipe may be the future or may be phased out entirely as PEX improves. We have hidden some dates around the house, written in concrete or on cross bracing under the kitchen floor to help confirm their assumptions of when we did our renovations, if they happen to find them.

Our initials for future renovators to find.

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Thank you to Ali & Hume for sharing your house’s history and some of your projects!

Ali is also part of the fabulous Mary Washington Preservation class of 2006. Ali graduated from UVA in 2010 with a MA in Architectural History and a certificate in Historic Preservation. She has recently worked in the Easement Department of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. She is also on the Board of Directors for the Thousand Island Park Landmark Society in upstate NY.

Tomorrow on House Hopping with Preservationists, we head to the Midwest: Ohio!

Pedestrian Malls

What do you think of streets closed to traffic (pedestrian malls)? Do you like to visit places with pedestrian malls? Would you like to live in a town or city with a pedestrian mall? They have a time and a place, yes?

Church Street in Burlington, VT is lined in brick and cars are only on the cross streets.

Church Street Marketplace in Burlington, Vermont is an excellent example of a successful pedestrian mall. Restaurants have outdoor seating. There is public art. Retail stores have actual sidewalk sales. Musicians sit on the brick lined street and play. Kids, couples, families stroll up and down the pedestrian mall. It’s beautiful and sunny and ambient. However, Church Street has not always been like this. Just a few decades ago it was a traditional downtown which had gone downhill until 1981 when Burlington began to reinvent itself, including Church Street. (Disclaimer: there is more history to downtown Burlington than that!)

But, pedestrian malls are not always successful. Look at Fayetteville Street in Raleigh, NC, which was converted to a pedestrian mall in 1976 in hopes of revitalizing the city. Instead, it had the opposite effect. In fact, the street was less populated and less popular than ever. Finally, in 2005, the city decided to return the street to vehicle and pedestrian use rather than just pedestrians.  However, the new plan included wider sidewalks, street furniture, plantings, wayfinding signage and a plan for additional development. The current result? Success.

Fayetteville Street in Raleigh, NC with wide sidewalks and street planting and furnishings. Image via Metro Jacksonville. Click for source.

Charlottesville, VA has a pedestrian mall as well that seems successful. And it has the giant chalkboard, if you recall.

Charlottesville, VA pedestrian mall and community chalkboard.

The best examples for pedestrian malls that I can think of lie in cities with a strong population base of college students and/or tourism. Aside from big cities, what about small towns? Could pedestrian malls work and would there be a good justification for creating them? I think of Vermont towns with small main street business districts. Many of our towns have one or two through roads, and converting a street to a pedestrian mall would not seem feasible. A park or a courtyard or a side street; however, could be another story. Additionally, many towns have limited parking and sidewalk space. A large sidewalk to accommodate seating, shopping, walking and street furnishings is just not possible.

What if we consider daily shopping v. tourism shopping? Ideally, our main streets and business districts across the country have restaurants, retail, pharmacies, markets and overall a good combination of – shall we say – those every day sorts of businesses and those fed by tourism and our “expendable” incomes.  In a business district that caters to the town itself rather than tourism and large crowds, a pedestrian mall would seem improbable and inappropriate. One reason is parking. People who need to stop at the pharmacy or the bagel shop or the bank want to be able to park in front of or near the building, and not have to walk from a parking garage or a far away spot in order to run a quick errand or two. Hence, pedestrian malls have a time and place. Small town America may not be the place.

Does anyone know of a town with a small main street business district that has been converted to a pedestrian mall? I’d be interested to know. While pedestrian malls are aesthetically pleasing, they seem ideal in warmer climates or those with large business districts that will attract many people. I’d like to hear a debate on pedestrian malls, one given by planners who have studied such issues and weighed the pros and cons and the factors at play. Are any of you readers skilled in such discourse? Care to give a brief overview of what is important to consider for the creation (or removal) of pedestrian malls?

So, readers, tell me your thoughts on pedestrian malls and parking in front of businesses? What do you think is preferable in theory? In practice?

Ruminations on a Small Town

By Elyse Gerstenecker

Now that I have departed Southwest Virginia for sunny Florida and have had time to reflect on my experience there, one of my greatest regrets is dismissing the small town of Glade Spring as an option for my home. When I first moved to the area, I largely focused on finding an apartment in Abingdon, the town where I worked, and preferably one in a historic building. On an early apartment-hunting trip to the area with my mother prior to starting my position, my soon-to-be co-worker suggested looking into Glade Spring, which is nearby. Not having had much success in Abingdon, we drove to the town, which my mother promptly pronounced “that shabby little town” (a descriptor that soon substituted for the town’s actual name). I am ashamed to admit it, but I wholeheartedly agreed. Little did I know that the town was on the verge of a major revitalization project and that I would soon become friends with many of those involved.

Glade Spring Town Square. Photo by Elyse Gerstenecker.

Glade Spring lies in the lower Valley of Virginia, along the most easily traversed path through the Appalachian Mountains. This area witnessed the migration of people south from cities like Baltimore and Philadelphia along the Great Wagon Road, a travel route that followed previous paths established by Native Americans, as well as the development of railroads along this same route. The town truly became established after the Virginia and Tennessee railroad built a depot in 1856, allowing passengers to travel to the area to see the springs and take advantage of what were thought to be its curative powers.

In 1918, the state road leading from Bristol to Roanoke and running near Glade Spring was connected to the state road from Roanoke to West Virginia, and this road became part of the enormous US Route 11 in 1926. US Route 11 ran from upstate New York (and continued in Canada) to New Orleans, Louisiana and was one of many US roads that served as popular routes for motoring tourists from the 1930s until the 1960s, when the interstate system was developed.

Again, because of the lack of available alternatives in this region, US Interstate 81 largely follows the path of US 11 in Southwest Virginia, but unlike US Route 11, bypasses many of the small towns of the region, albeit often very closely. For Glade Spring and other towns, the introduction of the interstate and concurrent closure of passenger rail service signaled the end of an era of tourism and the economy it supported. Much of Glade Spring has been in a state of downfall since the 1960s (and probably longer), thus my mother’s designation of “that shabby little town” was not entirely incorrect.

However, the dedication of a group of citizens, led by Project Glade, has transformed the central square of this small town into a business center. The group’s stated goal is to “promote for Glade Spring, VA sustainable development that relies on the town’s traditions and on the innovations as it engages a dedicated citizenry in the improvement of community life.” The evolution of the square was underway before I moved to Southwest Virginia but really began to show in the following years.

Coburn Creative, a graphic design group led by now mayor Lee Coburn, anchors the square with a thriving business centered on creativity. Salon on the Square, operated by Coburn’s partner Melissa Dickenson, is next door and showcases the creativity of the pair. You do not typically see hair salons this cool in small towns, let alone Southwest Virginia. The pair live with their daughter above their businesses, demonstrating their dedication to this town. Improvements such as new sidewalks and lighting began prior to my move in 2008. Surber & Sons, a hardware store/anything-you-could-possibly-think of store, was already established, as was the Carolina Furniture Company and the Arise Community Center. The largest improvement in the town square has been the new Glade Spring branch of the Washington County Public Library. The library formerly occupied a tiny church, but, with Project Glade taking up the cause, the WCPL system and Project Glade raised enough funds to renovate an old corner grocery store on the town square into a beautiful new library to serve the town’s residents, and it opened in early 2011.

Glade Spring Half Church. Photo by Elyse Gerstenecker.

Before my departure in February 2011, I enjoyed great food from the Town Square Diner, a new greasy-spoon style diner also located on the square. MADE, which opened in 2010, has presented Glade Spring with another great business opportunity. This small boutique showcases handmade items created by members of the Glade Spring community and surrounding areas, and the owners encourage crafters to come by and work on projects in-store. Building a town center based on creativity, if not an overall sense of quirkiness, highlights the community’s unique character and serves the basic needs of the town while attracting visiting types like me who delight in finding one-of-a-kind handmade jewelry and flower pins at MADE, browsing the shelves of Surber & Sons (a veritable cabinet of curiosities), buying local produce at the farmer’s market, or eating cheese fries while getting a haircut at a great salon.

With Emory & Henry College so close, I cannot help but think that these kinds of businesses will see patronization, with a little encouragement, from the local student population. The town now hosts Movie Nights and music concerts in the square. Plans are in the works for transforming a beautiful but decaying bank in the square into an artisan’s workshop (the craft culture in Southwest Virginia is hugely important) as well as addressing some issues of buildings that have become so decrepit that they are beyond repair. I am not unaware of the fact that Glade Spring has a long way to go, and that many more adventurous, creative entrepreneurs like Coburn and Dickenson are needed to make the town successful, even beyond the square, but this is a promising start. It is truly beautiful, as a historic preservationist, to see a community take on this type of challenge with this much dedication and enthusiasm. I now wish that I had the foresight back in 2008 to move to this town and become a participant in this wonderful, extraordinarily welcoming, and often hilariously quirky community.

Sadly, Glade Spring suffered a setback on April 28, 2011. The same weather system that generated the record-setting, massive tornado in Tuscaloosa, Alabama set off an F-1 tornado in Glade Spring directly along the path of Interstate 81, virtually destroying a truck stop and flinging trailers along the highway like toys, combusting houses into piles of rubble, heavily damaging many other homes and businesses, terminally damaging several historic buildings, and killing three people. The county’s request for FEMA funding for Glade Spring was denied, despite appeals, and fundraising efforts to help homeowners and businesses continue. While this community has not suffered the devastation of Tuscaloosa or Joplin, Missouri, it has also not received the publicity or awareness that these cities have. The town is also located in a traditionally poor area of our country. Those interested in supporting Glade Spring and Washington County’s recovery efforts can make donations to United Way of Russell and Washington Counties, through which all funds go directly toward the cause. For more information, please see http://www.rcwunitedway.org.

Fort Monroe Joins the National Monument Club!

Okay, it’s not actually called the “National Monument Club,” but it sounds fun, right? I’d wear a button.

On November 1, 2011 President Obama designated Fort Monroe in Hampton, VA a National Monument using his presidential power designated in the Antiquities Act of 1906.

 The Antiquities Act states:

The President of the United States is authorized, in his discretion, to declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States to be national monuments, and may reserve as a part thereof parcels of land, the limits of which in all cases shall be confined to the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected.

Read here to learn which Presidents have designated which monuments. It began with Teddy Roosevelt and Devil’s Tower in Wyoming.

Devil's Tower (future) National Monument, ca. 1900.

The PreservationNation blog gives you the full scoop on the efforts by the National Trust, politicians and citizens to persuade the President to designate Fort Monroe. Here is a brief bit of history about Fort Monroe, from Rob Nieweg at PreservatioNation:

Located at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, Fort Monroe is a principal landmark of African American heritage. Old Point Comfort was the site of the 1619 First Landing of enslaved Africans in the English-speaking New World, and in 1861 it became the unique birthplace of the Civil War-era freedom movement. The May 1861 events at Fort Monroe inspired 500,000 African American women, children, and men – dubbed “contrabands” by the Union Army – to liberate themselves from bondage. They didn’t wait for permission, but made their way at great risk to relative safety behind Union lines, first at Fort Monroe and shortly thereafter at the ring of fortifications surrounding the nation’s capital. The courage and plight of the freedom seekers influenced national politics and hastened President Lincoln’s formal Emancipation Proclamation.

Fort Monroe. Image from Citizens for a Fort Monroe National Park. Click for source & CFMNP website.

Read the rest of the article and browse through the blog for more information. If you’re happy to hear this news, join the National Trust in thanking President Obama for his efforts and designation. (It’s a simple form to fill out, but as your parents should have taught you, saying thank you goes a long way.)

Wondering the difference between a National Park &  a National Monument? The National Park Service describes it as such:

The two classes of reservations comprising the national-park and national-monument system differ primarily in the reasons for which they are established. National parks are areas set apart by Congress for the use of the people of the United States generally, because of some outstanding scenic feature or natural phenomena. Although many years ago several small parks were established, under present policies national parks must be sufficiently large to yield to effective administration and broad use. The principal qualities considered in studying areas for park purposes are their inspirational, educational, and recreational values.

National monuments, on the other hand, are areas reserved by the National Government because they contain objects of historic, prehistoric, or scientific interest. Ordinarily established by presidential proclamation under authority of Congress, occasionally these areas also are established by direct action of Congress. Size is unimportant in the case of the national monuments.

Thanks to everyone for your efforts. Here’s to another success story in preserving our national heritage!

The Upside of Interstates

The Eisenhower Interstate System began in June 1956, and changed the American landscape and culture forever. For much of my preservation life, I have only thought of the negative side of the interstate system. Interstates bypassed small town America, fueled sprawl, encouraged poorly designed developments at exits … basically everything that ruined America. Need a small town America sob story? Watch the Pixar movie Cars. It tugs at my preservation heart strings and makes the interstate the devil.

Driving up and down I-95 never helped, either. It is not a pretty interstate, particularly between New York and Virginia. The only positive associations I had associated with the interstate were the entertaining billboards for South of the Border and Ron Jon’s in Cocoa Beach, FL. However, while they were entertaining, they certainly did not help the scenery. Driving through Virginia and the Carolinas always showed glimpses towns that seemed to be split by the interstates — houses and old town centers just sitting on the side of the road.

My opinion of the interstate began to change in 2006 when I took a road trip with my mom and sister. We drove across South Dakota on I-90 and loved every bit of it. Yes, there were many billboards (think Wall Drug!)  but we loved the drive because of the new scenery and big Midwestern sky. Still, I knew what the interstates did to towns across America. There is no denying that small towns suffered and died and the pace of American life grew faster. We all changed. My opinion of the interstate was quite complicated by now, as I had traveled on the decommissioned Route 66 and read the harrowing effects of the interstates.

I recall driving from Southern Pines, NC out to Wilmington, NC and passing through “future corridors” of an interstate. A slow country highway was going be an interstate even though we seemed to be in the middle of nowhere and these little crossroad towns would be forgotten. It hurt to think about. So, in general, I did my best to avoid the interstates – especially on road trips.

But, then I moved to Vermont. Our interstates do not have billboards. I-89 is beautiful, scenic and green. There is barely any traffic and I love driving on I-89. Once I started working on project reviews with the Agency of Transportation, I began to understand the benefit of interstates. This high speed road allows people to work far away from where they live. Vermont is a small state and some drive 75 miles each way. On the interstate, that’s not much more than a one hour drive — an easy one hour drive without traffic. This enables me to visit project sites, as well.

The biggest realization and change in my interstate opinion is that while interstates funnel much of the traffic away from village centers, they are also protecting the smaller state roads. In Vermont, many of our small towns have building directly adjacent to the road — practically on the road. Increased traffic often means upgraded safety standards, which equates to widening the roadways. If every state highway or smaller road had to be widened, then these buildings would be in the footprint of the road and severely affected or demolished.  And yes, the interstate system did cause destruction to the landscape and cultural resources, it is important to keep in mind that as preservationists we are also managing present actions with respect to the future. Thus, protecting the existing resources is important, and the interstates help in their own manner. For those who are commuting, the interstate is often the best route of transit; whereas we hope that travelers take the “blue highways” and appreciate the historic and cultural assets of Vermont.

My complicated feelings about the interstate will continue.  How about you?

Good resources for history of the interstate system are FHWA – Eisenhower Interstate System and the Interstate Highway System in Tennessee.

More of Carl’s

It’s summer; it’s hot, raining, humid, sunny, cloudy — basically everything in the Lake Champlain Valley. We even had an earthquake here (and it’s all the radio hosts can talk about). I digress. Anyway, even with the crazy weather patterns passing over the lake, it is undeniably summer in Vermont. Traveling for work on country roads, I often pass farm stands and ice cream stands and it makes me want ice cream, of course. So, I thought I’d share some more photos of the famous Carl’s Ice Cream in Fredericksburg, VA (which was featured for Preservation Photos #37).  After all, what is more summery than a roadside ice cream stand on a hot day? Enjoy!

Quite the popular spot on Princess Anne Street in Fredericksburg.

Front elevation -- note the flamingos and friends.

I have a compulsive urge to photograph roadside stands.

Choose your ice cream!

The ice cream cone glows neon at night.

Ice cream machines!

Or, have a milkshake.

Preservation Photos #37

Happy Summer!! This is the famous Carl’s Ice Cream (c 1947)  in Fredericksburg, VA. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Read the nomination here.

Flamingo Celebrations!

Laurel, me, Elyse, Missy, Ali, Maria, Kerry - at Missy & Shane's wedding!

Two special flamingo announcements:

1. June 7 – Happy Birthday Kerry!! I hope you have a fantastic day. You are one of the best preservationists I know!

2. Congratulations to Missy & Shane, the newlyweds! We all had an amazing weekend in Virginia and wish you the absolute best.

Mary Washington flamingo tradition at weddings.

The tradition began in Thousand Island Park (see here and here).

Surveys For Those of Us With Opinions

Who is opinionated? Most of us, right? Well good, because there are a few surveys around the internet that need some well-reasoned, fairly opinionated preservationists (and others) on the case.

First, how important are trails to communities? Do you think they’re great? Spotsylvania County, VA is currently running a survey to find out what people would like to see in the area. For those of you familiar with Spotsylvania County (Mary Wash grads!) take one minute to fill out the survey and help Spotsy create a safer environment for pedestrians and cyclists. For the survey, click here.  (You do not have to live in Spotsylvania County — just be familiar with it — the quiz asks for your location, but can otherwise be anonymous.) Thanks to Andrew Deci for sending the survey.

Second, preservationists and those familiar with the Secretary of Interior Standards for Rehabilitation, you are aware that preservation + sustainability are natural friends, but we haven’t quite figured out how to meld them into guidelines that aren’t so incredibly case-by-case or trial and error.  Do you have ideas and thoughts as to how the guidelines should or should not incorporate sustainability? This is the perfect survey for you. Sent from Andrew Deci via Megan J. Brown at the Historic Preservation Grants Division at the National Park Service:

As the custodian of the Secretary’s Standards and of the Guidelines for interpreting them, the National Park Service is beginning the process of expanding the Guidelines for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings in order to address questions raised by the current emphasis on sustainability. Before we begin to draft any expanded Guidelines, it is critically important that we hear from those who rely on the Standards and Guidelines to preserve  their local communities. We need to know what general concerns you have, and we need to know of specific issues you have encountered where historic preservation values and sustainability were or appeared to be at odds with each other.  In all of the current discussions concerning historic buildings and sustainability, an important component is the relationship between the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation and the various recommended building treatments designed to attain more sustainable communities and energy efficient buildings. While there is a growing body of information on how to undertake these alterations, there is not yet a set of official guidelines on how to make such changes in ways that appropriately maintain the character of historic properties.  Please take a few minutes to complete this online survey before June 1. The survey will no longer be available after that time.

To take the survey click here.

Thanks everyone!