Articles on Preservation of Historic Buildings and Architectures

 

Doors Open- Whatta ya Live in a BARN?

A few years ago deGruchy Masonry Restoration helped restore a destroyed barn. Arsons destroyed several barns in the Quakertown, Pennsylvania area and these kids behind it all were finally apprehended. Only the stone walls remained standing……Continue reading

Limelight Spark Segment: Barn Again

Barns are an amazing part of America’s agricultural history. They have housed livestock and have kept crops fresh. The number of farms over the past fifty years has dropped from six million to just above two million in the United States. Even though the numbers of farms have dropped in the United States, their barns are still standing strong……Continue reading

Statue Restoration: A Girl and Her Dog

Lately we have been restoring stone object art such as this historic marble statue of a girl and her dog. We do the repair work in our shop at LimeWorks.us HQ and utilize the skilled artisans who are employed here……Continue reading

Restoration of the Rotunda at the University of Virginia

The University of Virginia is the only US University with a World Heritage designation, it’s conservation is of the utmost importance and is currently undergoing the largest restoration campaign in decades……Continue reading

Neighborhood Preservation in Philadelphia

This week, the Chemical Heritage Foundation released an episode of their award winning podcast “Distillations.”  In this episode, Randy Ruth of LimeWorks.us discusses the chemistry behind lime mortar, historic masonry buildings and the ongoing efforts to preserve one of the finest works of notable Philadelphia architect Frank Furness……Continue reading

Preservation Pennsylvania has released their “Pennsylvania At-Risk: Twenty-Year Retrospective of Pennsylvania’s Endangered Historic Properties, Where Are They Now” edition. It’s a fascinating look at preservation in action and we’ll be posting a look at each property in a series of posts over the next several months.

INTRODUCTION
Preservation Pennsylvania established the annual Pennsylvania At Risk list in 1992, making us the first statewide preservation organization in the United States to have an annual roster of endangered historic properties. Since 1992, we have listed and worked to preserve more than 200 endangered historic resources, including individual buildings, historic districts and thematic resources statewide. For 2012, as we celebrate the 30th anniversary of our organization, we are presenting a 20-year retrospective edition of Pennsylvania At Risk. In this issue, we revisit some of the amazing historic places across the Commonwealth, some of which have been rescued from extinction through preservation and rehabilitation efforts, and others that still need our help.

Approximately 18% of Pennsylvania’s At Risk properties have been lost, having been demolished or substantially altered. Another 32% have been saved or are in a condition or situation where the identified threat no longer poses a problem for the historic property. Approximately 50% of the 201 At Risk resources remain in danger, or we have not been able to confirm their current status as either saved or lost.

By monitoring these properties over the past 20 years and working with individuals and organizations trying to preserve them, we have learned many valuable lessons. Those lessons are called out throughout this publication.

Roosevelt Middle School’s most distinctive design element is its series of tile motifs located behind its eight water fountains, which depict notable scenes from the life of President Theodore Roosevelt.

• AT RISK •

2007 — Roosevelt Middle School, Erie County

Roosevelt Middle School, Erie County

Erie’s Theodore Roosevelt Middle School opened to students in 1922 featuring 17 classrooms in addition to science laboratories, workshops, home economics rooms, a gymnasium, a library and an auditorium. Linoleum was used in the school’s hallways, rather than the more traditional wooden floor. Roosevelt Middle School’s most distinctive design element is its series of tile motifs located behind its eight water fountains, which depict notable scenes from the life of President Theodore Roosevelt. Due to maintenance and safety concerns, Roosevelt Middle School was closed in June 2007. Students now use part of the school district’s Central High School. Demolition of the school had been proposed by December 2007. Beginning in 2008, Preservation Pennsylvania worked with a number of local advocates who wanted to save the school, preferably for continued educational use. In the months that followed, experienced architects from Pittsburgh, Harrisburg and Erie toured Roosevelt Middle School, reviewed the school’s architectural plans and studied educational specifications provided by the School District. Based on what they knew about the existing building and the district’s needs, each architectural team designed a potential solution to renovate and enlarge the Roosevelt Middle School. These plans were then presented to the Erie City School District. Faced with financial problems, despite the fact that all three architects believed that the school was an excellent candidate for continued use as a school, the district did not act on any of these recommendations to renovate the historic school.

The building remains vacant today. The Erie School District recently hired an architect to conduct an assessment of all of the active schools in the district, as an important step in planning how they will use their facilities moving forward. Roosevelt Middle School was not included in the list of buildings that the district is considering as part of this study, indicating that they do not plan to use it in the future. Since they do not plan to use it themselves, advocates for preservation of the school are now working to try to find a new use for the building as an alternative to demolition. Currently, the historic Roosevelt Middle School is being considered for use as a charter school for at-risk students, including residential dormitories.

 

This article is a part of a series from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission’s excellent field guide on the architectural styles found in Pennsylvania.  In it, they’ve assigned key periods of development – from the Colonial period in the 18th Century to the Modern Movements of the 29th Century.  This article focuses on an overview of the Traditional/Vernacular style in Pennsylvania from 1638 through 1950

PA Architecture Beaux Arts Style 1885 – 1930

Identifiable Features

1.  Flat or low pitched roof
2.  Wall surfaces with decorative garlands, floral patterns or shields
3.  Symmetrical facade
4.  First story rustic stonework
5.  Grand and imposing in size and scale
6.  Roof line balustrade
7.  Pedimented or arched windows
8.  Columns on porches and porticoes
9.  Quoins

Beaux

The Beaux Arts style, named for the premier French school of architecture, the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, was introduced to the United States by American architects like Richard Morris Hunt who attended the prestigious school in the late nineteenth-century.  Hunt designed the Newport, RI mansion of Cornelius Vanderbilt, “The Breakers,” in this style in 1892.  The Beaux Arts style was most often seen in places where turn-of-the- century wealth was concentrated, major urban centers and resort communities.  The popularity of this style was advanced by the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.  With its grandiose treatment of classic architectural forms, the Beaux Arts style was seen as an ideal expression of both corporate or wealth and civic pride.  Buildings of this style are both formal and monumental with abundant and opulent decorative details.  The Beaux Arts style is especially suited for public buildings designed to deliver a strong symbolic message, such as libraries, museums, court houses, train stations, and government offices.   Privately owned Beaux Arts style mansions delivered a message as well, one of personal wealth.  This style was popular in an era of great American palace building marked by eclectic use of historic architectural themes and elements.

The Beaux Arts style uses formal symmetry, Italian Renaissance form, and  classical Greek and Roman decorative elements like columns, pediments and balustrades to create a grand and imposing architectural statement.  Exterior decorative details include may include quoins, balconies, terraces, porches, and porticoes as well as ornamental windows and grand entrances. This style also featured lavish interiors including pilasters, arched openings, elaborate chandeliers, coffered ceilings, or marble fireplaces.   The State Capitol Building in Harrisburg ,completed in 1906  and  designed by Josephf Huston, is a penultimate example of this style.  Envisioned as a “palace of art,”  the Capitol building has opulent detail and classically inspired design.  Described by President Theodore Roosevelt at its 1906 dedication as “the handsomest State Capitol I ever saw,”  the State Capitol is Beaux Arts style architecture at its most extravagant.   Other examples include private mansions and a vast array of public buildings, courthouses, libraries and offices.

 

Articles on Preservation of Historic Buildings and Architectures

 

Granville Ohio in 1830s two views

When I first saw the thumbnail for this drawing in the current catalogue at Garth’s Auctions, I knew the composition was familiar – namely, it was a subject illustrated in a lithograph by one M. French, made between 1835 and 1839, in the collections of the American Antiquarian Society…..Continue reading

Former Cyrus Strong Building

Standing alone it would be a very impressive structure, but situated as it is between the Perry and Press Buildings, two of Binghamton’s most magnificent architectural landmarks, the building at 17 Chenango Street tends to go unnoticed. Unnoticed that is, until something spectacular happens… like last month for example, when a raging 3-alarm fire ripped through the building shooting flames high into the night sky and threatening to destroy the very heart of Binghamton’s historic district……Continue reading

Middlle Octorara United Presbyterian Shrine Church

Township, Lancaster County, Pa

“Churches of Today and Yesterday in Southern Lancaster County” by Fellowship of Solanco Churches, Raymond Dunlap, George Herbert, & Richard Yates, Sr. printed 1968

MIIDDLE OCTORARA UNITED PRESBYTERIAN SHRINE CHURCH

The Octorara Covenanter, Associate, Associate Reformed, United Presbyterian Church of North America, “Shrine” Church is located on the North side of Route 372, between Green Tree and Quarryville, in Bart Township, at what is locally known as Middle Octorara. On the opposite side of the road is found the Middle Octorara Presbyterian Church……Continue reading

St. Catherine of Siena Church

Irishmen engaged on the farms and in the foundries along the Octoraro, the Pequea, and the Conowingo Creeks united as a Catholic congregation about 1830. Father Bernard McCabe, the pastor of St. Ma1achy’s Church in the woods of Doe Run, Chester County, cared also for the Catholics in Coatesville, in Parkesburg, and in southern Lancaster County. Each month he administered baptism, heard con-fessions, and offered Mass in the farmhouse of Bernard McCaffrey, which is now the home of Carl Johnson……Continue reading

Ever wonder; How to?

“Don’t sign a contract with a contractor for the entire job. First ask them to do a sample of their work, a good size sample that can represent the quality of work that you are going to get for the entire project. Plan to pay them for it and tell them that you would like the sample to remain as part of the overall project so that it will represent what the remaining job will look like.” If a contractor knows he cannot really accomplish the task, he/she may walk away from the challenge and that is good for historic building conservation……Continue reading

Preservation Pennsylvania has released their “Pennsylvania At-Risk: Twenty-Year Retrospective of Pennsylvania’s Endangered Historic Properties, Where Are They Now” edition. It’s a fascinating look at preservation in action and we’ll be posting a look at each property in a series of posts over the next several months.

INTRODUCTION
Preservation Pennsylvania established the annual Pennsylvania At Risk list in 1992, making us the first statewide preservation organization in the United States to have an annual roster of endangered historic properties. Since 1992, we have listed and worked to preserve more than 200 endangered historic resources, including individual buildings, historic districts and thematic resources statewide. For 2012, as we celebrate the 30th anniversary of our organization, we are presenting a 20-year retrospective edition of Pennsylvania At Risk. In this issue, we revisit some of the amazing historic places across the Commonwealth, some of which have been rescued from extinction through preservation and rehabilitation efforts, and others that still need our help.

Approximately 18% of Pennsylvania’s At Risk properties have been lost, having been demolished or substantially altered. Another 32% have been saved or are in a condition or situation where the identified threat no longer poses a problem for the historic property. Approximately 50% of the 201 At Risk resources remain in danger, or we have not been able to confirm their current status as either saved or lost.

By monitoring these properties over the past 20 years and working with individuals and organizations trying to preserve them, we have learned many valuable lessons. Those lessons are called out throughout this publication.

• SAVED! •

2006 — Gruber Wagon Works, Berks County

 Berks County

Located in Bern Township, Berks County, the National Historic Landmark Gruber Wagon Works is the most complete surviving example of a rare late 19th/early 20th century wagon manufacturing facility of its kind in the nation. The building and its contents represent rural wagon manufacturing, which was essential to the transportation needs of the Commonwealth’s agrarian and early industrial economy. The facility reached peak production in the 1920s, when 20 men worked six days each week to produce 100 vehicles each year. Manufacturing ended at the Gruber Wagon Works in the 1950s, but the facility continued to be used as a maintenance shop into the 1970s.

Gruber Wagon Works clearly illustrates that nothing is ever truly saved, and that ongoing maintenance is critical to sustaining historic properties. The historic property had to be moved in 1976 to protect it from the Army Corps of Engineers’ Blue Marsh Lake Project, which flooded 22,000 acres, including the original site of the wagon works. They dismantled and moved the building to safety and restored it, giving it to Berks County with the requirement that they maintain it in perpetuity as a public museum. The moved building was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1977, and the restoration received an award from Preservation Pennsylvania in 1981. Gruber Wagon Works was opened as a museum in 1982.  After operating as a museum located in a public park for more than 20 years, in 2004, the National Park Service considered the property to be an endangered landmark.

In 2006, it was placed on Preservation Pennsylvania’s Pennsylvania At Risk list after an inspection found that, in addition to needing paint and window repairs, the historic property was in severe structural distress, likely with major concealed decay. The frame of the wood building was wracking. There was significant damage from animals and from water infiltration caused by improper roof drainage. In 2007, the Berks County Parks & Recreation Department received a planning grant from the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission (PHMC) to help fund a condition assessment, which identified existing problems and probable causes, provided prioritized treatment recommendations with cost estimates, and a cyclical maintenance plan. A follow-up construction grants from PHMC in 2008 kick-started the construction, which was made possible by additional support from several other sources, both public and private.

Taking place in 2010-2011, the project focused on improving roof and site drainage, repairing and replacing structural elements, siding, windows and doors, as necessary, and improving handicap accessibility. At the completion of this project in September 2011, Gruber Wagon Works was again a shining example of a significant historic site that is available to the public as a museum. It received another preservation award 30 years after its first. With a cyclical maintenance plan in place now, Gruber Wagon Works is likely to be sustained for many years to come.

There are a variety of tasks that can be done on a regular basis to extend the life of a porch. In addition, a visual inspection of the porch should be made every spring and fall to determine if more in-depth repairs are necessary. Fortunately, ongoing maintenance significantly reduces both the need and cost for later repair work and represents good preservation practice. When properly maintained, a well-constructed porch can last for decades.

Routine Cleaning and Other Surface Work

Since many porches are essentially another living space, extending housekeeping to this space makes practical sense. Regular maintenance includes sweeping the wood porch decking, and, if needed, an occasional damp mopping. Removing dirt and leaves by sweeping is preferable to frequent hosing off the deck with water. The latter can saturate the woodwork, thereby promoting decay. Frequent sweeping will reduce the accumulation of abrasive materials, such as dirt and sand. While visually pleasing to some, vines and plants should be kept trimmed away and not be trained to grow onto or allowed to grow beneath porches. Plants and vines unfortunately reduce ventilation, promote a moist environment for insects and decay, accelerate open wood joints and impede cyclical maintenance. As an alternative, traditional freestanding trellises can be used to support plant growth away from the porch.

There are certain precautions that are recommended for wood floors. Rubber mats, rugs or indoor/outdoor carpeting can trap moisture and condensation on their underneath side and should not be used on a wooden porch floor. Keeping flower pots up off the wooden deck will help prevent moisture buildup and decayed spots – wood, clay or metal “trivets” that hold the pots an inch or more off the wooden deck are helpful, but the pots should be moved to different locations periodically. In colder climates, light snow can be swept off the porch. Snow shovels with a hard rubber leading edge or plastic shovels cause less damage to wood than metal, while paint in good condition helps ice to release more easily. Sand or clean kitty litter can be sprinkled on ice to prevent slipping; however, they should be later swept off the porch, as they are abrasive. Salt (sodium chloride) is not recommended for ice removal on older porches as it can promote corrosion and failure of nails and other fasteners. Magnesium chloride is an alternate de-icing salt that is less corrosive and less damaging to masonry and plants. If any de-icing salt is used, be sure to scrub and rinse off the porch deck in the spring. Boot scrapers and brush-mats at the bottom of the stairs are recommended for muddy areas.

Painting

45-painting-porch

Decay can start when wood is left exposed to the weather or where joints open up. An inexpensive way to extend the life of the existing porch paint without jeopardizing the historic material is spot paint and caulk where needed every year or two. This cost-effective procedure is particularly effective in maintaining wood porches where the exposure to weathering is high. Photo: John Leeke.

Spot painting and resealing of open joints should be undertaken at least every other year. Heavily used stair treads may require more frequent paint touchup. When peeling paint or bare wood is evident, inspect to ensure it is not signaling deeper problems, such as decay. With sound wood, scrape off the loose paint, sand, prime, and repaint the area. Where lead paint is present, appropriate lead hazard precautions and procedures apply. Only top-quality exterior primers and paints are recommended, selecting for the deck and stairs specially formulated paints. Where wood porch steps are exposed to moisture, grit added to the wet paint during application will help improve safety.

Repair

Many repairs may be successfully undertaken by property owners, while major projects often require the special knowledge and equipment of an experienced contractor. Repairs generally include patching and reinforcement of historic materials. The roof and foundation are particularly important to the preservation and the structure of a historic porch yet they often receive much less attention than ornamental features. Their neglect will usually lead to more costly work. Repairs to features such as a balustrade or flooring can encompass limited replacement in kind when the porch part is severely deteriorated or when a part of a repeated feature is missing altogether. Some common porch repairs are discussed in this section.

Filling Open Cracks or Joints

To seal open cracks or joints, start by scraping off the paint back a few inches from the opening and removing old caulk to expose bare wood. The opening should be examined for any signs of wood decay, and to determine if the joint is loose due to a loss of connection, such as rusted nails. After correcting any problems, apply a water-repellant wood preservative that can be painted. Such preservatives are either an oil-based or waterborne solution of oils or waxes with mildewcide, fungicide and pesticide added. Then apply a high quality exterior wood primer to the wood surfaces where a sealant or caulk is to be used. Most open cracks or joints then can be filled with a sealant or caulk, while larger ones may need the addition of a backer rod. In some cases, small metal flashing over the crack or open joint may be more effective and longer lasting but, when used, care should be taken with proper installation. The final step is painting.

Patching with a Dutchman Repair

end

The ends of porch roof rafters are often susceptible to moisture decay. When concealed by a soffit or ceiling, rafters can be repaired by adding new sister boards. Where roof rafter ends are exposed, splicing new wood onto the old (dutchman repair) and use of epoxy consolidants and fillers both preserve sound historic fabric while retaining the historic appearance. Photo: Paul Marlowe, Marlowe Restorations.

This traditional technique is often used to repair localized cases of decayed wood and, when undertaken with skill and care, will serve as a permanent repair. If the damaged area has a structural function, temporary bracing or other support will be necessary. Otherwise the first step after removing any paint around the damaged area is to chisel or mechanically remove the decayed wood. It is best to use the same type of wood being replaced and the new or recycled wood should be seasoned to avoid shrinkage. The repair procedure involves cutting a piece of wood, called a dutchman, slightly larger than the area of damage that has been cut out. The dutchman then is laid over the damaged area and an outline scribed into the original wood surface below. Next, a chisel or router is used to follow the scribed line to form an opening in the existing wood for the new piece. As a preventive measure, an appropriate fungicide should be applied to the surrounding old wood and allowed to dry. The dutchman is then glued into place with waterproof adhesive, such as an epoxy formulated for wood. The repair is finished by trimming or sanding the surface of the new wood down flush with the surrounding existing surfaces, priming and painting.

 

Patching with Epoxy or Wood Fillers

There are a variety of commercial wood fillers. Cellulose based fillers consist of wood fiber and a binder and have been available in stores for many years. Only those suitable for exterior applications should be used and they will require a protective finish. Epoxies are a more contemporary product, commonly used by experienced contractors and woodworkers. Epoxies are petroleum-based resins created by mixing two components in accurate proportions that result in a chemical reaction. The result is durable, moisture-resistant consolidants and fillers that bonds tenaciously with wood, and can be sawn, nailed or sanded. Epoxies are for use only in areas that will be painted, as they do not take stain and deteriorate under sunlight. Since epoxies are more difficult to work with than other wood fillers, experience working with epoxies is needed for successful repairs.

Repairing Railings and Balustrades

Balustrades and railings are not only practical and safety features, they typically are highly visible decorative elements. Unfortunately, balustrades and balusters are frequently altered, covered, removed or completely replaced even though in most cases they can be repaired in a cost-effective manner. To preserve historic fabric, the repair of old balustrades and railings is always the preferred approach. A broken baluster usually is one in need of repair, not replacement.

Loose railings and balustrades present unsafe conditions and need to be repaired as soon as possible. Start by examining the points of attachment to determine exactly why the railing or balustrade is loose. Common reasons include rusted fasteners, decayed wood, or physical stress that has broken the fasteners or split the wood. Paint and decayed wood must be removed. Where fasteners are broken yet the wood is sound, the balustrade can be re-fastened using hot-dipped galvanized or stainless steel nails or screws, setting the heads of the fasteners below the surface of the wood and using a wood filler to cover and seal. Next repair deteriorated wood by using a dutchman or wood-epoxy repair. The repaired joints then can be sealed and painted.

Replacing Missing Balusters

The balusters help comprise a wood balustrade and come in three general styles: simple rectangular shape; flat, pattern-sawn (usually a board with some decorative edge or cutout); and turned. It may be necessary to replace certain balusters that are beyond repair or missing altogether. Some are easy to replace with new matching balusters while others can be more challenging in terms of both design and costs. Finding or affording replacement balusters may take time since they should match the historic baluster as closely as possible. In the meantime, unsafe balustrades can be temporarily stabilized, introducing temporary new material that soon will be replaced.

In replacing individual balusters, simple, rectangular balusters should not be replaced with pattern-sawn or turned ones unless physical or pictorial evidence survives which indicate they previously existed historically on that particular porch. Such an alteration can change the historic appearance of the porch or be incompatible with the character of the building.

Determine the size and shape of the missing balusters either by examining adjacent ones or temporarily removing an existing baluster as a sample. Heavy paint buildup should be removed so that the original dimension can be established. Scrape and clean the joint locations and make repairs to any deteriorated areas. A new baluster is then fabricated to match the original in design and material, either on site or by taking a drawing or sample to a local woodworking shop. The new baluster should be made one-half inch longer than needed on both ends. Measurements are taken from the bottom surface of the top rail to top surface of the bottom rail. Joints on the new baluster can be laid out with a pencil, using a sliding bevel to transfer any angles, and the new baluster trimmed to fit with a handsaw. After test fitting, the ends and any exposed end-grain of the baluster need to be sealed with a high-grade primer or epoxy. Next, apply a paintable water-repellant coating to all exposed wood surfaces, and apply a primer. The baluster can then be fastened in place with hot-dipped galvanized or stainless steel nails, and the nails set. Finally, seal joints and fastener holes and paint the baluster.

Repairing Column Plinths and Bases

column-both

This nineteenth century porch column is made of wood staves, similar to the way a wood barrel is put together. After replacing the torus and making dutchman repairs to the apophyge along the base, the column and pedestal are ready to be reinstalled on the porch. Photos: NPS files.

Columns not only enrich the historic character of the porch, they provide support for the roof structure above. Because of their detail and complex construction they can be costly to repair or replace, making maintenance and minor repairs important. Column plinths and bases tend to deteriorate because of their exposed location on the outer edge of a porch. Leaking gutters can result in water draining into the entablature and down into hollow columns, while clogged or capped gutters can allow water to pour down and splash back onto the column bases. Open joints and limited wood decay can be repaired using methods previously discussed. Column repairs usually are undertaken by an experienced carpenter, since it may involve structural support of the roof above.

Repairing Floorboards and Ceiling Boards

Floors should slope down toward the outer porch edge for proper drainage. If drainage is inadequate, moisture buildup will cause deterioration of the floorboards. Flooring can also deteriorate due to movement in the supporting structure below. If a floorboard is soft or broken, the extent of decayed or split wood can be determined by probing gently with an awl. The existing floorboard can then be removed, cutting the length if needed so that the end will center on the next nearest joist or girder. Once the board has been removed, the structural framing beneath should be examined for deterioration and to ensure it is sound. A new floorboard is then cut to length, and the outer edge shaped to match the adjacent boards. After priming the replacement board, nail it in place and repaint.

If a section of the ceiling is deteriorating, it is likely that there is a roof or gutter problem. To determine the cause of deterioration, inspect the ceiling, gutters and roof, including the internal roof structure. After making necessary repairs, the ceiling boards can be repaired in much the same manner as a deteriorated floorboard.

Repairing the Porch Roof and Gutters

With roof leaks, the entire porch is at risk. Leaks can promote decay in roof rafters, ceiling joists, and columns as well as in areas more easily to detect such as the ceiling and fascia. Inspect the roof covering, gutters and flashing for deterioration and improper performance. They can then be repaired or replaced, as needed, to keep water out of the structure. Avoid having the gutters and downspouts on the main roof drain onto a porch roof.

Repairing the Foundation

Unstable foundation supports can cause serious damage to a historic porch. There are numerous causes and solutions. If the posts supporting the porch deck rest on stones or brick set directly on the ground, there can be seasonal shifts due to the changing moisture content of the soil or freeze/thaw conditions that will require regular attention. Under certain conditions, it may be advisable to extend footings for the posts below the frost line. Where moisture problems exist, improved drainage may be necessary. It is not uncommon to find that masonry joints in the foundation wall or piers have deteriorated as a result of rising damp, where moisture from the soil percolates up through mortar joints. This condition may lead to the eventual breakdown of the mortar and even old brick and soft stone. In such cases, it will be necessary to replace the areas of damaged masonry and repoint the mortar joints.

With wooden posts, insect damage or rot may necessitate corrective measures to strengthen the foundation. Techniques can include one or more of the following: epoxy consolidation; dutchman repair; or the addition of supplemental supports to the foundation posts and joists. In some cases damage may be extensive enough that the only real solution is rebuilding the foundation.

Repairing a Porch Apron

The apron, skirt, or latticework is a highly visible and functional porch feature. An apron keeps animals out from under the porch, while at the same time allowing air to circulate, preventing unwanted moisture buildup. Aprons typically are made up of a wood frame, surrounding either a simple lattice or a repetitive pattern of decorative sawn boards. Because the frame is so close to the ground, decay is common. Other causes of decay include plantings around the house that are growing too close to the latticework and improper water drainage. An apron may require partial or complete disassembly for proper repair. One or more of the apron frames should either be hinged or secured with turn buttons for easy access to under a porch for inspection and maintenance.

Replacement

When individual porch parts are deteriorated beyond the point of repair or missing altogether, replacement is necessary. To retain the historic character of the porch, the replacement parts should match the historic component as closely as possible in material, design, color, texture, and other qualities. To achieve this, existing evidence of the historic design, such as a baluster or column detail, or a tongue and groove floor design, should serve as a pattern for the replacement part. When replacing an element, it may provide a good opportunity to upgrade the wood to another species that is more decay resistant, or to one with a vertical grain that is more resistant to cupping or splintering. In limited cases, it may be appropriate to use a substitute material for the replacement material as long as it conveys a close visual match. Before replacing a deteriorated historic porch component, it is important to understand how it was constructed and installed, and what lead to its deterioration. If the replacement part does not sufficiently match the historic part, the character of the porch may be diminished, or even lost. If the cause of material failure is not addressed, the replacement will also fail.

Replacing Porch Floorboards

If a large section of the porch floorboards is deteriorated, the framing beneath may also be damaged and should be assessed. Replacing floorboards can often expand into repairing the structural sills, girders, and joists beneath. Complete floor replacement will likely require the removal of floorboards that are under structural posts or columns. This may necessitate the careful stabilizing in place or the removal of the posts or columns and the installation of temporary support for the roof structure. If the floor failure was caused by inferior wood, the wood quality can be improved at this time. However, the new wood flooring should match the existing in thickness, width, shape and texture. The slope of the floor should be maintained, or a slope may need to be created if none exists. A slope of ¼ inch per foot or greater, away from the house, is needed for adequate drainage. Boards are usually laid in the direction of the slope, sloping down to the outer edge of the floor.

Replacing Steps

Porch stairs receive heavy usage and are close to the ground, making them predictable candidates for deterioration. Stairs should be repaired or, if necessary, replaced by an experienced carpenter who understands the safety codes and is experienced in fabricating custom stair parts to match original detailing without depending only on store-bought parts.

shaft

The lower shaft of the porch columns had decayed as water wicked up through the end grain (top). The column shafts were repaired in place by cutting out the deteriorated wood and making repairs using epoxy consolidants and fillers. (bottom). The column bases were replaced. Photos: Paul Marlowe, Marlowe Restorations.

Replacing Column Plinths and Bases or Entire Columns

When plinths and bases are deteriorated beyond repair, they can be replaced without replacing the column shaft, which may still be in good condition or require only minor repairs at the bottom. Such replacement will involve temporary shoring for the roof. One-story columns and shafts are often more easily removed during this work, while taller columns are sometimes supported in place. If only a few plinths or bases are deteriorated, it is often economical to have new ones made of wood to match. If numerous plinths and bases are deteriorated, replacing with bases made of rot-resistant materials can make economic sense; however, care must be taken to ensure that all the visual qualities including design, size, shape, color and texture of the historic part are matched.

Entire columns may need to be replaced, but an owner should first consider all repair alternatives. Some contractors routinely recommend complete replacement of one or all columns due to the challenge of a clean repair (particularly with stave-built columns), or because they see the potential for more profit in complete replacement. If a contractor recommends complete replacement, other opinions should be sought to ensure repair is truly not feasible. Preserving the historic appearance of old columns is not the same as preserving historic columns.

Where a replacement turned or staved column is needed, a local millwork may be able to match the profile or pattern. Alternatively, the Internet is helpful in identifying potential sources of replacement columns that can match the appearance of the remaining ones.

wood

Replacement Materials

Wood

When selective replacement is necessary, the key to success is the selection of suitable wood. Dimensional stability, decay resistance and paint holding ability are wood characteristics that effect durability. Wood that expands and shrinks too much can cause paint to crack. Substances found naturally in certain kinds of wood repel fungi and insects that destroy wood. Selecting wood that is relatively stable and naturally decay resistant helps avoid problems.

The wood from trees cut one and two centuries ago was much different than most wood available today. The mature trees in older forests grew very slowly and, as a result, the annual growth rings were very close together. Today, trees grown by commercial companies for their lumber are fast growing so they can be harvested sooner. As a result, commercially farmed trees have annual growth rings much further apart, resulting in the cut lumber being less strong and decay resistant than older timber. These differences in quality are one of the reasons it makes sense to save old wood when possible.

Wood Selection: When choosing wood for repair and replacement work, the species, grade, grain and environmental impacts should be taken into consideration. This is especially applicable to historic porches because of their high exposure to the weather and vulnerability to decay. The best species are those with good natural resistance to decay, such as redwood, cypress, cedar or fir. A clear (knot free) grade of wood is best; however, if clear wood is not readily available or too expensive, a grade with small or tight knots is acceptable. Finally, the use of more stable vertical grain lumber is preferable to flat grain boards. Vertical grain lumber expands and contracts less with changes in moisture content, resulting in reduce warping and checks. Paint thus will hold better. The downside to using vertical grain boards is the cost, which tends to be as much as two to three times the price of flat grain lumber in the same grade and species. However, this expense is typically recovered through lower maintenance costs over the years. Thus, a decay-resistant, high-grade, vertical grain lumber is the best choice for the replacement of deteriorated porch elements, particularly flooring, stairs and milled elements such as balusters and moldings.

The best species to choose will vary depending on the region the house is located. For example, in the South, cypress is more available, making it the selection of choice in the region. Because of this wood’s relative ease with which a carpenter can shape it, cypress is a good choice for replacing brackets and trim boards on a porch. In contrast, vertical grain Douglas fir is less workable, but is a very good choice for the replacement of porch floorboards in most climates. Although Douglas fir is from the Northwest, it is generally available throughout the country. For most protected trim boards on porches, white pine is a good choice as it is easy to work and is moderately decay resistant, especially if the wood is back-primed before installation. Availability of any specific wood will change annually based on market supply and demand.

Chemically Treated Wood: Chemical wood preservative treatments are available to resist insect and fungal attack, but care should be taken to avoid using ones that may cause environmental or health risks. Borate preservatives can be applied to surfaces or injected to penetrate and protect the entire volume of the wood. Preservatives with zinc napthenate can be applied to the wood surface, where necessary, especially to protect hidden joinery and the end grains of wood. Water-repellants can also be used to help seal out moisture. Finally, primers and paints should be applied to both protect the wood and to maintain the historic character of the porch. Note that these treatments are different than those used on most pressure-treated wood, which is typically a plantation-grown southern pine of lower quality that is impregnated with chemicals. Pressure-treated lumber can be effective when used for hidden structural members like posts, joists and sills. However, because typical pressure-treated wood is very susceptible to the deterioration of checks, warping and splitting, especially when left unpainted, it is not a good substitute for the better quality wood that is needed for visible finish porch parts.

 

Stock Components

For over a century, prefabricated architectural parts have been sold through catalogues or at home improvement stores. Some companies still make generic, stock architectural components in the same general sizes and designs as those that were first manufactured. These components can be available in both wood and substitute materials. Thus, it may be possible to replace a historic stock component, such as an architectural grade column, with a new prefabricated column that matches the original. Unfortunately, these replacement parts are not designed to match the historic parts of any particular porch. Because traditionally there were many different porch elements, a wide range of styles and considerable regional variations, stock replacement parts available today are not often found to match what is needed in a specific porch repair project. When faced with deterioration of a few porch parts, all the historic material should not be removed in favor of a readily available stock design that does not match the historic appearance. The expressed goal may be to create a porch with a “consistent look,” but this approach diminishes the building’s historic character and authenticity.

Plastic and Composites

A variety of modern materials are marketed today as a substitute for wood. They are usually composite materials typically in the form of plastic resins, including vinyl (PVC), fiber-reinforced polymers and polyester resin. There are other products on the market as well, including medium density wood fiberboard and composite fiber-cement boards. The market is ever changing with the introduction of new synthetic materials and the re-formulation of existing ones. The more costly synthetic products tend to offer the best potential for matching historic features while offering good durability. This means that potential cost savings over new wood tends to be more long term than immediate. Such products generally are not carried in local home improvement stores but rather are available from building supply companies or direct through catalog sales.

The historical significance of a particular property and its porch influences decisions regarding possible use of substitute materials. In general, greater emphasis is placed on authenticity and material integrity when maintaining and repairing individually significant historic properties. However, a front porch that is repeated on rowhouses may be one of the defining characteristics of the historic district and thus of importance to the entire streetscape. So, too, can the location and appearance of a porch influence material decisions, as with, for example, a prominent front porch with ornate detailing as opposed to a small porch over a rear door.

Thus, when the historic porch contributes to the historic character of a building, the particular substitute material that is being considered should accurately match the appearance of the wooden feature being replaced. Composite materials that can be routed or shaped in the field to match specific pieces being replaced have greater potential for use in repairing a historic porch. Materials that cannot be shaped to match the visual appearance of the historic pieces being replaced usually are not suitable for use on historic buildings.

Substitute materials need to be finished to match the appearance of the historic elements being replaced. In nearly all cases, this means that the material should be painted, or where historically appropriate, stained as with some porch ceilings. While there are substitute materials being marketed as pre-finished with either a plain flat surface or generic wood-grain texture, select those that can be painted or stained in the field.

When a substitute material is to be used in conjunction with existing or new wood material, it is important to consider the differences in expansion and contraction due to temperature and moisture changes. Before making a decision, it is also important to understand how a particular substitute material will age, what its maintenance requirements are, and how the material will deteriorate. For example, sunlight can break down exposed surfaces of plastic resins, so painting the surfaces is needed just as with wood. Low and medium density plastic foam parts are easily damaged by abrasion and physical damage, exposing the interior foam to weathering.

Wood porches are just that, porches made out of wood, just as a brick houses are made of brick and cast-iron porches are made of cast-iron. The type of materials used historically in the construction of a building helps define its character. Limited use of substitute materials that closely match missing or deteriorated features may not endanger this historic character, but wholesale replacement with substitute materials usually will.

 

Considerations for Contemporary Alterations

Enclosures

A porch

This old porch enclosure, located on the back side of a house, has acquired significance over time and is remarkable both in the appropriateness of its detailing for use by others today, as well as its high degree of maintenance. The enclosure is set behind the columns; the balustrade has been retained; and the light divisions and the size of the glass panes echo that of the windows above. Within each bay there are two well-crafted, inward swinging doors, providing for greater seasonal use of the porch. Photos: Charles Fisher.

Much of the character of a historic open porch is clearly its openness. Therefore, in most cases, a historic open porch should not be enclosed. If a porch enclosure is being considered, its significance and location—as well as the nature of the planned enclosure—play key roles in whether it can be done without changing the porch’s and building’s historic character. While it is almost never appropriate to enclose a front porch on a historic building to create interior space, enclosing a less prominent porch on a less visible elevation could have less impact. In addition, an enclosure should retain as many of the historic porch features as possible.

Insect Screening and Awnings

Traditionally, the seasonal use of porches was extended with screens and awnings. Screened porches have been popular since the advent of inexpensive and durable wire insect screening in late 1800s. Screens were often set unobtrusively behind railings and columns so the decorative components of the porch remained prominent and visible. Since screens can be damaged easily, the screening material was often set in slender, easy to repair, removable wood frames that could be installed during the warmer months, and stored in the winter. When screening a porch today, this historic precedent is recommended. Screened panels should have minimal wood framework painted either to match the porch or in a darker color to make the framing less visible. Decisions on whether screens should be installed inside the porch railings and posts, between the posts, or on the outside will depend on local traditions and on the design of the porch and trim. Screen doors on porches should be sized to fit proportionately with the porch, made of wood, and hung to swing out so insects are not brought inside with use.

Awnings, drop curtains, and valances were common porch accessories during the nineteenth and well into the twentieth centuries. Both functional and decorative, these canvas features helped shield porches from the sun’s direct rays, while their colorful stripes embellished and complemented the house’s exterior. Some awnings were fixed in place; others were of a roller assembly that allowed owners to easily lower or retract the awning, depending on weather conditions.

Today, modern solution-dyed acrylic fabrics—materials that resemble, but are more durable than canvas—are often used on porch awnings and drop curtains. When new awnings are installed on a historic porch, the selected awning should be appropriate in shape, material, size and color. Care should be used not to damage existing historic porch features such as columns or cornices.

Temporary Enclosures

Temporary enclosures allow a porch to be used in colder months while not permanently altering its appearance. In fact some have become historic features of buildings. Particularly in New England, there is a continuing tradition of installing relatively substantial glass and wood panels on porches during the winter, especially around an entrance door. These tended to have small divided lights. Sometimes porches were fully enclosed with a divided light glass door for entry, creating an enclosed vestibule that reduced the amount of cold air entering the house when the door was opened. Others consisted of simple sidewalls perpendicular to an existing entrance door, serving as a windbreak. Such enclosures were generally removed in the spring.

In recent years, some porches have been enclosed during the winter with plastic sheeting (polyvinyl) for perceived energy conservation or for creation of an enclosed space. Such a treatment generally diminishes a building’s historic character and is not recommended for highly visible porches.

oldporch

Particularly in New England, there is a cold weather tradition of installing temporary glass and wood panels at entrance doors, thereby creating an enclosed vestibule. These enclosures with their small divided lights were generally removed in the spring. Photo: John Leeke.

New Permanent Enclosures

Enclosure of a historic porch can result in significant changes in the appearance and character of the building. When considering the possible enclosure of a porch, a number of questions and concerns should be successfully addressed.

Is the porch on a significant elevation of the building? A porch on a prominent elevation was there to be seen and its open qualities are visually important. Enclosing such a space should be avoided.

aoldporch

The enclosure of a prominent porch can dramatically change the historic character of a building. The L-shaped porch on this 1896 Shingle-style New England residence was later enclosed with aluminum windows and screens. Recent owners elected to reopen the historic porch. Among the other work, it was necessary to correct structural damage, as with this post, where beneath the wood casing carpenter ants had done serious damage. In reopening the porch, the historic character of the residence has been brought back and the traditional use of the porch is once again enjoyed. Photos: Mark Landry, Landmark Services.

Is the enclosure necessary?An enclosure will undoubtedly change the porch as a historic feature and may result in damage or loss of historic materials. Depending on the significance of the porch and the nature of the building, a new porch enclosure may also change the historic character of the building. Consideration should be given to alternate solutions such as recapturing underutilized space in an attic or basement .

Is the porch a highly distinctive feature of the building? Even porches on secondary and rear elevations can be distinctive, such as a two-story porch on the side ell of a farmhouse. Porches ornamented with decorative trim that embellishes the house can also be distinctive. Enclosing these features should also be avoided whenever possible.

Is the porch a feature repeated on a row of buildings in a historic district?Open front porches on a block of row houses can be not only important to an individual building but can also make up a significant feature of the streetscape. Enclosing such a porch usually is inappropriate even if a porch on an adjacent building already has been enclosed.

Will the proposed enclosure encompass the entire porch? History has shown that the enclosure of a portion of a porch on a secondary elevation does not always alter the character of a building. In the past as indoor plumbing was introduced to old buildings, the partial enclosure of a one or two-story porch on a secondary elevation was a convenient means of providing new bathroom space while limiting disruption to the building’s interior. Since early bathrooms were traditionally small in size, most of the existing porch could be retained as open space. It was common to create new walls set either between columns or behind them, since the columns usually served a structural as well as decorative purpose. Where sleeping porches with full-length louver shutters were present, the new wall could simply be set behind and the shutters retained and fixed in place. In both cases the resulting effect minimized the impact of the partial enclosure on the appearance of the building. This also provides us with an approach that may be appropriate for a particular project today.

Will the enclosure result in the loss of considerable historic fabric? Unless the historic porch is so deteriorated that it is beyond repair, any consideration of enclosing all or part of a porch should incorporate retention of historic fabric. This may mean that the existing structural system needs to be augmented but generally not replaced. Distinctive features such as columns, brackets and balustrades should be retained and the new wall set behind them.

Is the foundation adequate for the enclosure of the porch and the new use of the space? Porches were often built on simple posts or piers, some with only minimum footings. Such structural supports may be inadequate to carry the added load of the proposed changes and the typical low space beneath a first floor porch may make installing a new porch foundation difficult and expensive. Such installations may result also in an extensive loss of historic fabric.

How will the proposed enclosure be viewed from the outside once the interior space is furnished? One of the approaches to enclosing a porch is to utilize near full glazing set behind existing columns in an attempt to retain a feeling of transparency. Whether such a treatment is successful depends on how it will look once it is constructed and how will the appearance on the outside be impacted by interior lighting, mechanical systems and furnishings. The traditional use of plantings and porch awnings for shade also provided extended privacy. If historically appropriate, an existing or new awning and plantings may help to reduce the impact of a porch enclosure on a secondary but visible elevation.

45-glass-enclosure

A traditional technique of porch enclosures still used today involves the insertion in each column bay of one or more glass enclosures set in wood frames . This enclosure is properly set back an entire porch bay from the front of the house and utilizes traditional light divisions and wood frames. The balustrade, added here for illustration purposes, shows the importance of retaining this linear feature within the enclosed bays. Photo: Charles Fisher.

Is the design of the proposed porch enclosure in keeping with the historic character of the building? Where the enclosure of all or part of a historic porch is appropriate, the selection of a compatible design and materials is important. Windows, doors, and wall material selection, along with how the new infill fits within the existing porch, are all factors to consider. A traditional technique of porch enclosures still used today involves the insertion in each column bay of one or more glass enclosures set in wood frames. The enclosures are located between or behind the columns, depending upon the nature of the porch, and mimic the pattern or size of glass panes found in historic windows on the building (Figure 15). An alternate treatment involves the use of much larger sheets of clear, non-reflective glass recessed behind the porch supports, balustrade and railing. This more contemporary treatment may be appropriate, depending upon the historic character of the building, location of the porch, and other factors. Windows, doors, and wall material selection, along with how the new infill fits within the existing porch, are all factors to consider.


This article is a part of a series from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission’s excellent field guide on the architectural styles found in Pennsylvania.  In it, they’ve assigned key periods of development – from the Colonial period in the 18th Century to the Modern Movements of the 29th Century.  This article focuses on an overview of the Traditional/Vernacular style in Pennsylvania from 1638 through 1950

PA Architecture Prairie School Style 1900 – 1920

Identifiable Features

1.  Low pitched hipped roof
2.  Wide overhanging eaves
3.  Emphasis on horizontal lines
4.  Massive square porch columns
5.  Paired double hung windows

Prairie

The Prairie style is a true American creation, developed by an American architectural legend, Frank Lloyd Wright. Wright was part of an impressive group of talented architects known as the Prairie School working in Chicago at the turn of the 20th century.   As a student of Louis Sullivan, Wright was part of a creative force that was changing the world of architectural design.  The time period itself was one of great change and growth as was reflected in the emerging new building styles.   Wright was especially interested in the design of houses, rather than public buildings, and he became the master of the Prairie style, a new domestic architectural form designed to complement the terrain and temperament of the mid-western prairies.  In describing the style Wright said, “The prairie has a beauty of its own and we should recognize and accentuate this natural beauty, its quiet level.  Hence gently sloping roofs, low proportions, quiet sky lines, suppressed heavy-set chimneys and sheltering overhangs, low terraces and out-reaching walls sequestering private gardens.”  Many other notable architects in Chicago and the Midwest generally designed well-executed Prairie style houses, mostly in that region.  The shape and form of the Prairie style house was distinctly different than previous domestic architecture.  Wright wanted to create organic homes with strong horizontal emphasis that did not resemble the traditional,  revival style houses popular in the past.  Wight’s interest in organic architecture, designed in concert with the natural environment continued to develop far beyond the Prairie style and period.  Wright’s masterpiece Fallingwater, was built in 1936 in Fayette County, Pennsylvania and reflects the evolution of Wright’s work and the Modern Movement in architecture.  Pure examples of the Prairie style are scare in our state, but it is represented in more vernacular forms which were made popular by pattern books.

The main vernacular form of the Prairie style seen most often in Pennsylvania and throughout the country  is also known as the “American Foursquare” or “American Basic.”  American Foursquare houses are generally two stories in height, square in shape, and have low-pitched, hipped roofs  with broad overhangs and symmetrical façades with broad front porches with square columns.   Their connection to the Prairie style is seen in the horizontal emphasis created by the roofline of the dominant front porch and the overhanging eaves of the roof itself. These vernacular buildings may also incorporate details from other styles, like Spanish Revival tiled roofs, or Italianate cornice brackets which make their association with the Prairie style more difficult to identify.  As with all vernacular building forms, designation as examples of a specific style may not be appropriate.   Like the Bungalow style houses popular in the same period, American Foursquare houses could be ordered in prefabricated kits through mail-order catalogs.  Sears Mail Order houses are well known, but other companies provided this service as well.  This American Foursqure building form, like the bungalow, was a popular and affordable housing choice in the growing suburbs at the beginning of the twentieth century.

 

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From the National Park Service’s Preservation Brief #45: Preserving Historic Wood Porches:

In colonial America, buildings in the northern colonies tended to echo British precedents with small gable-roofed extensions to protect main entrances. Whether open or enclosed, these extensions were called porches (from Medieval English and the French word porche, which stems from the Latin, porticus). Also known as porticos when supported by columns, these covered entrances were sometimes designed to respect classical order and details, especially on more stylish buildings. Hooded doors or small covered entryways flanked by benches, often called stoops (from the Dutch stoep for step) that served as short covered transitions to and from the outdoors were common features, especially in New York and the mid-Atlantic colonies.

During the late 1700s and early 1800s as longer shed-roofed porches became more common, they were typically called piazzas, as they were then called in England. This term, still popular in some areas of North America, is adapted from the Italian word for open space or plaza. An alternate term for a long open porch, veranda, reflects British colonial design influence from the Indian sub-continent.

Porch

Porches help define the architectural character of a building, serve as living areas and can be designed to take advantage of views. Cedar Grove, the home of the 19th-century landscape painter Thomas Cole, has an L-shaped veranda on the front and a two-story porch on the rear, with an enviable view of the Catskills. Photo: Marilyn Kaplan.

In French colonial areas, such as the Louisiana Territory, houses were often built with broad roofs extending well beyond the exterior walls to form surrounding porches, known as galleries. Porches were also important features of Spanish colonial buildings. In California, for example, many adobe ranches featured a portal with the roof supported by wooden posts. African and Caribbean influences can also be found in North American porch traditions.

By the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, porches became more common in larger, wealthier areas such as Philadelphia, Boston and Charleston. In both the North and the South, formal colonnades with tall columns dressed in classical orders were sometimes added to help dignify public buildings, hotels, and mansions. This trend continued through the 1830s and 1840s, as the Greek Revival became the dominant architectural style in many areas of North America.

The social role of porches as a transition space between indoors and outdoors and as a link between private and public realms evolved during the 1800s. By offering grand entrances and sheltered landings with views of the surroundings, prominent porches became expected features of inns, hotels and resort spas, where they could serve as promenades, social gathering spots, and refuges for more private retreats. Porches were also added to private homes to serve many of these same functions (Figure 2). As the country began to thrive and expand, porches became more than just covered entrances or ceremonial features; they became an integral part of domestic social life.

milwork

Throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, millwork catalogues offered a wide variety of designs for porch parts, including columns, newels, balusters, spindles and brackets. As extolled in the Cedar Rapid Sash & Door Company’s Standards Design Book, stock parts made embellishments to porches affordable both for new construction and “updating” existing homes. Courtesy of Charles Fisher.

Some of the most significant factors that aided this shift were America’s industrialization and later suburbanization. As improvements to mass production methods helped spur industrial growth, many Americans had more money to spend and more leisure time. Meanwhile a growing middle class was moving to new suburban neighborhoods. Inspired by the pattern books of Andrew Downing and George Woodward and the published designs of such architects as Alexander Jackson Davis and Calvert Vaux, the homes of these mid-1800s suburban neighborhoods were typically ornamented by elaborate porches dressed with fancy millwork. By this time, millwork catalogues and builders’ pattern books offered a wide variety of designs for porch parts. With mass production, these fancy brackets and other ornamentation became less expensive, making it easier and more affordable to construct decorative porches (Figure 3). With mechanized wood turning lathes, the cost of posts, balusters and decorative spindle work also decreased to a level affordable by many. Adding a porch with wood ornamentation could enhance even the smallest and simplest of houses. Even older homes could be modernized with a fancy porch addition, stylized to the latest fashion trends. Such changes culminated in the large, highly decorated wrap-around porches of the Queen Anne style.

The second half of the nineteenth century was the golden era of porches. The social role of the porch increased as it evolved into an outdoor parlor, a true extension of the house into the landscape. Often partially screened by shrubs, porches could provide occupants with discreet opportunities for social contacts that might otherwise be difficult to achieve in an age obsessed with manners and proprieties. For many, sitting on the porch became an important part of their daily routine. Perhaps President Rutherford B. Hayes best summed up the love that Victorian-era Americans felt towards their porches when he recorded in his journal in 1873: “The best part of the present house is the veranda. But I would enlarge it. I want a veranda with a house attached.”

By the early twentieth century, the hygiene movement, which stressed that access to fresh air could help prevent or remedy such diseases as tuberculosis, contributed to the development and proliferation of the sleeping porch. These porches were usually located on the second floor next to bedrooms. This era also saw the rise in use of insect screening on porches to guard against the discomfort of mosquitoes and the diseases they spread, such as yellow fever and malaria.

While innovations fostered the proliferation of porches in the nineteenth century, new inventions helped lead to its decline in the twentieth. As the automobile boom of the early twentieth century made it easier for people to get out of the house for entertainment and relaxation, porches began to lose popularity, especially as architectural styles and social attitudes changed. With the telephone, neighbors and friends could chat without personally meeting. And housing styles popularized in the construction boom after World War II often omitted front porches all together as backyard patios became the focus of private outdoor activities. Finally in the mid-twentieth century the broad availability of air conditioning and television enticed many people to stay inside at night and brought the golden era of the American porch to an end.

Understanding the History and Significance of a Porch

In preserving historic buildings, it is important to understand the history and evolution of a particular structure and what features contribute to its historic character. This is especially applicable when working with historic porches since they usually are prominent features, significant to the character of a building.

Answers to the following questions will help establish the significance of a porch.

Celebrating the 4th of July in 1912, this gathering of family and friends reflects the popularity of the porch as a social gathering place. While not overly ornate, each detail of the porch from the roof balustrade to the turned columns to the simple lattice work facing the deck contributes to its character, creating in effect the dominant architectural feature of the building. Photo: © Utah State Historical Society

Celebrating the 4th of July in 1912, this gathering of family and friends reflects the popularity of the porch as a social gathering place. While not overly ornate, each detail of the porch from the roof balustrade to the turned columns to the simple lattice work facing the deck contributes to its character, creating in effect the dominant architectural feature of the building. Photo: © Utah State Historical Society

 

 

 

What has the porch looked like in the past?

Early photographs, insurance maps, or tax records can provide useful information. These may be found at city or county offices, historical societies, libraries or even from former owners or neighbors. Such documents may indicate the footprint of the building or show long-lost details of the building’s appearance. Physical evidence of historic porch footings may exist. Paint shadows of a former roofline or moldings can provide clues about details now missing. Old porch parts may have been “stored” under the deck during past repairs.

What, if any, changes have taken place to the historic porch over the years?

On many porches elements such as columns, balusters, and finish details correspond with the design and detailing on the rest of the house. With other porches, the style of these features may differ from the rest of the building, but may reflect an important chapter in its history. Sometimes, parts of porches may have been lost due to neglect or remodeling. Questions about what historic fabric remains, what has been altered over time, and whether earlier changes are now an integral part of the historic character should be resolved before planning major porch work. Determining the historical evolution of the house may require both physical and archival research and in some cases the professional eye of an architectural historian.

What are the character defining features of the porch?

The open qualities are one of the key features of most historic porches. Overall size, shape and design are obviously important components as well. There are numerous other contributing features which may exist, including the shape of the porch roof, the way a large porch is divided into distinct bays as with columns, the nature of the supporting foundation, the style and size of columns and balustrade, and whether the porch is raised or largely at grade. The simplicity of a porch or its richness in detail will also help define it. Materials are usually important as well, not just the wood features, but also whether other materials exist such as masonry columns and steps (Figure 4).

How does the porch contribute to the building’s overall appearance?

The size and location of a porch and how much of the historic features survive will help define its significance. A highly ornate porch across much of the front facade may be the most distinctive feature of the entire house, while a small simple porch on an otherwise plain cottage may be equally significant. The architectural style of a porch may relate to the building and may help define its character. Sometimes a later style porch may have been added to a building or may have replaced an earlier porch. In such cases, the later porch may have acquired importance in its own right. On the other hand, a later porch may be of such poor quality that it detracts from the building’s historic character. Because porches are so diverse in terms of style, size, shape and detail, their significance should be assessed on a case-by-case basis with an understanding of the overall importance and evolution of the building.

The Anatomy of a Porch

  1. Pier, penetrates ground, supports floor structural system and columns
  2. Fascia covering floor framing
  3. Floor (or deck)
  4. Bed Molding covering joint between fascia and floor
  5. Column supporting entablature above

anatomy-porch-drawing

Entablature (f, g, h)

  1. Architrave of entablature
  2. Frieze of entablature
  3. Cornice of entablature

Roof Railing (i, j, k, l)

  1. Newel (or Pedestal) of roof railing
  2. Balusters of balustrade
  3. Top rail of balustrade
  4. Bottom rail of balustrade

Balustrade around floor (m, n, o)

  1. Top rail of balustrade
  2. Balusters of balustrade
  3. Bottom rail of balustrade

Structural system of deck (p, q, r)

  1. Girder rests on piers and ledgers, support joists
  2. Ledger fastened to house sill, supports girder
  3. Joist fastened to girder, supports floor

Roof Structural System (s, t, u)

  1. Beams inside the entablature span from column to column, support plate
  2. Plate of the entablature rests on beams, supports roof rafters and ceiling beams
  3. Rafter of the roof structural system

 

• AT RISK •

2004 — Mount Moriah Cemetery,Delaware County

Delaware County

Located in southwest Philadelphia, Mount Moriah Cemetery is a park-like burial ground that was incorporated in March 1855 and developed along the “rural ideal” popular at that time. Growing to more than 380 acres and stretching into Yeadon, Mount Moriah is the final resting place for many notable Philadelphians and thousands of veterans.

Despite state law that requires at least 15% of the price of the sale of any cemetery plot to go to the cemetery’s “perpetual care fund,” there were insufficient funds to provide the level of ongoing care needed to maintain the cemetery in good condition. By 2005, the ornate brownstone gatehouse that marks the entrance to the cemetery had been boarded up and was overgrown with vegetation. Gravestones and monuments were largely indistinguishable in the tall grass and brush. The neglected, deteriorating acreage was attractive to vandals and people dumping garbage. Once a peaceful destination, Mount Moriah Cemetery officially closed in 2011, and the property was completely abandoned.  Efforts to identify the property’s owner and party responsible for care of the property have been unsuccessful to date, making the city’s efforts to enforce code violations or force action to maintain the property particularly challenging.

Today, Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery work hard with the goal of restoring and preserving the cemetery through research, education and community engagement. This grassroots organization holds regular clean-up days at the cemetery and welcomes volunteers to help clear the cemetery of weeds, tall grass and debris.

To support Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery in their efforts to preserve this cemetery, Please visit www.fommc.org for more information on volunteer opportunities, or donate to the project.

• SAVED! •

2005 — Roxbury Bandshell, Cambria County

 Cambria County

Roxbury Bandshell was one of 27 public bandshells built throughout the U.S. by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in the 1930s and was dedicated, in person, by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Between 1935 and 1943, the WPA employed almost eight million workers to carry out public works projects, with a goal of providing one paid job for every American family in which the breadwinner suffered long-term unemployment following the Great Depression. Representative of the extensive park and recreational contributions of the WPA program, this semi-circular limestone and brick amphitheatre is one of the last remaining of the original 27 WPA amphitheatres. To build the bandshell, Johnstown’s Community Association worked on planning and fundraising efforts from 1937-1939, before plans for the project were approved by the WPA.  Construction occurred in 1939, with well over 3,000 tons of materials and nearly 100,000 hours of labor being invested in the structure. The bandshell had not been maintained for decades and was deteriorating and faced with demolition in 2005. To provide more parking for Roxbury Park visitors, the City of Johnstown entered into a contract to demolish the Roxbury Bandshell and clear the site. Outraged, a group of citizens that later came to be known as the Roxbury Bandshell Preservation Alliance (Alliance) sought an injunction to delay the demolition. The $20,000 required to do so was provided by a local steelworker with fond memories of attending concerts in the park. Though the demolition of the bandshell was temporarily derailed, the City was still not yet committed to its preservation. As a result of negotiations and legal proceedings that took place in 2005 and 2006, the City gave the Alliance 18 months to make major structural repairs to the facility. The Alliance, whose goal is to promote Johnstown’s rich, diverse culture and heritage through a celebration of music, education and artistry at the restored Roxbury Bandshell, met all of the obligations of that contract. As a result, in November of 2007, the City agreed not to demolish the structure, and leased it to the Alliance for 20 years. By 2008, the Roxbury Bandshell had been saved. The Johnstown Redevelopment Authority received an $85,000 Keystone Historic Preservation Grant for use at the bandshell, and the Alliance was busy raising funds to match that grant, with donations being accepted via the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies. Public programming resumed in 2008, and has continued since then, with the Alliance maintaining and operating the historic bandshell in Roxbury Park.

Articles on Preservation of Historic Buildings and Architectures

 

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Cleveland City Farmhouse

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