Thursday, June 25, 2015

Preserving History

Original farm house
Writing history and restoring an old house have a lot in common.  Both require you to consider seriously whether what you are preserving is worth saving.  Both require a great deal of research and reflection to determine what should be included in the final version.  Both require severe editing and acceptance that what appeals to you may not appeal to others.

My husband and I have been restoring my ancestral home at the same time I have been editing and tightening my manuscript about Isaac B. Werner.  The picture at right shows the original house as it was built in the late 1890s, then doubled in size in 1907, and modified by my parents with enclosed porches in 1944 and the 1950s.  My husband and I rescued the house after years of vacancy in 2001 and are currently making some further modifications.  My love of history is apparent in the rescue of the old house, for it is rich in memories.  I thought you might enjoy seeing one of the projects I did to preserve the trim used in the original 1890s construction.

Original corner block & trim
Reproduction corner block
The front door of the 1890s original structure, with 2-rooms downstairs, 2-rooms upstairs and a kitchen separated from the rest of the house for safety from fires, had a staircase directly inside the front door, with the parlor to the right as you entered.  My Grandfather paid for the expense of 'fancy' wood trim for the parlor and the hall at the top of the stairs which could be seen when guests entered the front door.  As for the rest of the rooms used by the family, there was only simple trim around windows and doors.

I used one of the corner blocks from the original parlor to make a mold, from which I produced 88 plaster reproductions for the rest of the house.  I also designed two styles of smaller corner blocks for the narrower trim around several other doors and windows.  Our current construction has required me to make even more.

Latex mold for small block
Here is the process I used:  1.  I applied liquid latex with a brush to cover the top and sides of the wooden corner block.  It needed to be applied at about the time the previous coat was tacky but not completely dry in order to make the layers of latex adhere to one another.  I applied about 25 coats, setting the alarm during the night to continue the process.  2.  I made a plaster form to hold the latex mold so that it would maintain its shape when plaster of Paris was poured into the mold.  3.  Once the plaster of Paris was set, the latex mold was peeled away from the reproduction plaster corner block.

Small "bee" design blocks
The plaster of Paris does not take too long to set, so several blocks can be made in a few hours.  The two different designs I made for the narrow trim around windows and doors were first sculpted in molding clay.  The plaster form I made to hold the latex molds  allowed me to pour two blocks at once--a bee design and a bull's-eye design.  The image above left shows both latex molds, with plaster of Paris hardening in the bee design and the bull's eye design ready to have plaster of Paris poured into it.  The image above right shows a group of bee design blocks ready to be used.

Although my grandparents did not have corner blocks on all of their windows and doors, my reproductions and new designs now decorate the entire house.  Unlike the necessity to adhere strictly to documented events and descriptions when writing history, I can exercise some creative license in restoring the old Victorian house.  Although Isaac Werner knew both of my grandparents and their parents, he did not visit the house we are restoring, having died a few years before its construction.  However, he did visit their earlier homes.

I hope Great-grandmother Susan, my grandparents Royal and Lillian, and my parents would like what we have done!  I'm sure they would love the fact that another generation is enjoying the old house.


The Blog Fodder said...

There is something wonderful about restoring an older home to original. Your corner block work is brilliant.

Lynda Beck Fenwick said...

Thank you! Since we chose to paint, rather than stain, the wood trim, no one notices that these corner blocks aren't antique wood original to the house...