FRIDAY, MARCH 17, 2006

Awesome facts about the history and restoration of our B&B

If anyone is interested, here are some of our stories, and I will do everything I can to “feed the beast,” so to speak.

  • One of the walls we removed was made with hand-split lath and hand-forged nails, dating it to c. 1795. We have some of the nails. and pictures of the lath. You can clearly see the difference between the hand-split lath and the machine-cut lath they used when they raised the ceiling, probably during the Victorian period. (Not sure if it was because people were taller, or they were just converting the attic from storage to living space.)
  • All of my wife’s grandparents’ furniture was still there, even after being vacant for 20 years, including a victorian art glass chandelier that had been converted from gas to electricity, an Eastlake bedroom set, an antique dresser, a german shrunk, a rope bed (c. 1880), and a crystal chandelier. It was in perfect condition until 2004, when a hole in the roof let in so much rain and moisture that some of the wood buckled. It is all getting restored as we speak.
  • The Paymaster’s Office still has the window where forge employees would collect their salary, and the floor is reinforced with stone where we believe the safe was kept. In the basement we found a cornerstone carved “Henry B. Grubb 1746,” but we have no idea why it was there because it doesn’t belong to our place. We’ll probably donate it to a local heritage museum.
  • In a desk we found a portion of an early draft (c. 1960) of a book about the original owners, James Old and Robert Coleman, written by a local professor who published several books on the history of Lancaster.
  • When indoor plumbing was added in 1941, the plumbers “notched” one of the main structural beams, leaving about one inch of wood in a six-inch-thick beam, then poured four inches of concrete over it for the tile floor, and two bathtubs on either side. The beam spanned the downstairs hallway and we still have no idea how it stayed up.
  • Dawn’s grandparents converted the third floor hallway into a large walk-in cedar closet to protect her furs. However, the only fur we found was a double-headed weasel stoll that was in a cedar chest downstairs.
  • Almost every room has a full-length corner cupboard, but an architectural historian discovered that only two were original; the rest were reproductions built around the Victorian period.
  • A mason pointed out that one of the stone buildings was probably used for training journeymen, as many of the features (including keystones, straight lines, complex cuts, and other stonebuilding techniques) were completely unnecessary and out of place.
  • The windows were replaced in the Victorian period, and the contractor initially wanted to pull them out (all 52 of them) and build new Colonial-style windows. We decided that after 100 years, the windows deserved to be restored. It took Dawn about a day to strip each window, and the whole process took over six months.
  • The floors were also replaced, but in the attic we found the original wide floorboards (some 13″ across!) under the Victorian narrow-strip flooring. On some of the boards you can still see where they were hand-planed, dating them back to the 18th century.
  • We know that half of the house was built in 1760 and half c. 1795, but nobody is really sure which is which. The architecture indicates the east side was built later, but the west side shows no sign of ever having a front door. Some of the stone pointing also indicates the west side was the add-on. There is an exterior stone wall running through the middle of the house, but along the back there is an inexplicable “jog” where the two halves were joined.
  • There is a massive stone column under the staircase which Dawn’s father, in his youth, decided was hiding treasure, so he took a sledgehammer to it. Fortunately he had only knocked out about half a dozen large stones before his father stopped him. The stones were never replaced, and still lay in the basement next to the column.
  • We’ve seen the original 1784 document transferring the property from James Old to Robert Coleman.
  • In the fields we found about 50 years of refuse, including an old boat still on its trailer, with a tree growing through it. Dawn burned what she could, but the metal debris alone filled seven twenty-yard dumpsters.
  • The large, Victorian radiators are all stamped “1874” and are still in perfect operating condition. Again the contractor wanted to remove them to restore the original Colonial feel, but we decided to keep them because they were so cool.
  • We found an Amish roofer to replace the slate roof. They did an amazing job, and the only electric tool they used was a small motor to shuttle the tiles up to the roof.
  • My mother-in-law has an original signature stamp (c. 1800) from Robert Coleman, plus an old glass butter churn and a toy ship that was left by the previous owner (a direct descendant of Robert Coleman) in 1941.
  • After the forge shut down, the Colemans raised standardbred horses, and their pride was one of the sons of Rysdyk’s Hambletonian Ten, from which all standardbreds trace their line. He was buried at the center of the half-mile racing circle (now overgrown) on the property, and a copper marker placed on his grave. Unfortunately Dawn’s grandfather loaned the marker to the local historic society for a newspaper article, and it was lost. (50 years later I contacted the newspaper, but unfortunately they couldn’t locate it.)
  • Finally, we have an 18th-century stone privy (outhouse) which is pretty rare–most were made from wood and were not meant to last, for obvious reasons. We’ve had several people offer to excavate it for us, but so far I haven’t been able to stomach the idea.