TUESDAY, JULY 04, 2006

Independence Day

First, the good news: Last week’s record rainfall did NOT do any significant damage to the mansion. Had it occurred a week earlier, when the driveway was freshly paved, I would not be saying that.

Dawn, however, did not sleep for three days. When you’re sleeping in a greenhouse with a plastic roof, heavy rain sounds like bombs exploding. So it was with a weary head and cranky attitude that she arrived in LA last Wednesday, ready to sort through all of our belongings which I had haphazardly boxed and stored in the garage.

Four days of bickering later, and we were ready for the movers. Well, perhaps “ready” isn’t the right term. We finally went to bed around 4am last night, and they showed up this morning at 7am. We had already packed the doorbell, so it was some time before they woke us up. The driver had everyone moving like it was choreographed, except for me; I was stumbling around and thinking it’s days like this that I wish I drank coffee.

I had to go get more boxes (we’ve now invested at least $400 in carboard — I don’t know how homeless people do it) and while they were hauling out the furniture, we packed at least another ten boxes. At that point, paperclips were being packed, because it was easier than throwing them out. At about 80 cents per pound to ship, however, I’m going to be pretty annoyed with myself when I’m unpacking.

Now everything is out of the house. (The front lawn is another matter, but the Salvation Army will deal with that on Wednesday.) Tomorrow morning Dawn boards a plane back to Philadelphia, so she can get back in time for the electricians, while I start my trek back east.

FRIDAY, JUNE 23, 2006

A sign

Last October, Dawn and I spent a solid week working on a street sign, but we didn’t like any of our designs. We finally met with a signmaker, but we didn’t like his designs, either. Frustrated, we shelved the whole thing until…now.

We’ve been using the mansion as our logo, but it didn’t make sense to put a picture of the mansion on a sign in front of the mansion. (Especially when the picture is of the back of the mansion.) So we decided to just put our name, tagline, and phone number, but then we realized we aren’t going to get any drive-by traffic, so that didn’t make sense. We tried forge-related logos, like a hammer or a blacksmith, but that screamed “industrial park” instead of “historic elegance.” Finally we just put our name, “[no] vacancy,” and the picture of the speedwell flower (from our home page) on a simple red background.

We were actually pleased with this, until we saw what it looked like hanging from the existing sign:

New Sign

New Sign

TUESDAY, JUNE 20, 2006

Paymaster’s Office

I think the Paymaster’s Office is the second coolest building on the property. (The coolest, of course, is the privy.) But you can’t live in the privy, and you don’t get all of these other benefits:

  • The paymaster window. How many other buildings are divided by a wall with a double-hung window?
  • The basement, which only makes sense if you are trying to protect something very valuable and very heavy (i.e. the safe) upstairs.
  • The vaulted ceiling, though I may change my mind when I start having to clean it.
  • The massive fireplace. It’s actually not that big, but it just dominates the room.
  • The view of the creek. At sunset, with geese on the wing, it’s breathtaking.
  • The beaded board, stained in the main room, painted in the anteroom. I usually don’t like Victorian kitsch, but this looks nice.
  • The stonework, ever since James Groff pointed out that it was put together by journeymen who were practicing on it.
  • And finally, the willow tree in front, which has always been one of my favorite trees. (Though I’m still planting chestnuts.)

I look forward to putting a guest “diary” in the room, and reading what other things people found special. But first, we have to get it ready for guests, as the plumbers have just started working on it.

MONDAY, JUNE 19, 2006

Todd Auker

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: The people on this project have been fantastic. Todd is no exception. I’m not sure how Dawn found him, but it was a last minute thing, and he had to squeeze us into his schedule. (Which meant he would do one room, disappear for a couple of days, come back to do another room, etc.) Still, you can’t argue with the results:


Brian Schaeffer

I feel bad for Brian because, while he’s probably put in the most time on the project, his work will be the least appreciated.

Finishing the outside of the Summer KitchenThat’s not because his work is poor — on the contrary, he does excellent work, and he approaches every job with such care and attention to detail that even Dawn is impressed. (And she’s not easy to impress–there’s a reason they call her “Sarge.”)

No, the problem is he’s gotten all the jobs that no one else wanted. Nobody is going to go into the basement to look at the cement floor he poured. And if they are in the basement, they’ll notice the sound of water running, but they’ll never appreciate how Brian had to deal with three springs when pouring that cement floor.

Similarly, they’ll appreciate the air conditioning, but they’ll never see the workshop that Brian cleaned out, sealed, poured a cement floor, and installed a sump pump, all to keep the air conditioning units clean and dry.

Nor are they likely to notice how beautifully the mortar is pointed into the stone. They’ll notice the stone, the paint, and the windows, but not the mortar holding it all together.

They’ll never even know we had a back porch unless they saw the original video.

And except for the folks that visited before, nobody will notice the stone stairs and pavers that have all been dug up and re-set. Now they are flat and perfectly positioned, and look like they always have been.

Brian also did the demo work on the Summer Kitchen, taking out six walls and seven layers of linoleum, and he cleaned out the Paymaster’s Office, including the basement.

Plus he helped clean up the fields, removing seven dumpsters full of metal, countless loads of trash, a boat, and a freezer. Our guests will notice how nicely the grounds are kept, but they’ll never think, “I’ll bet there used to be a freezer in the middle of the yard; I wonder who removed it?”

When it’s cold, they’ll have Brian to thank that the heaters are working; when it’s hot, they’ll have Brian to thank that the air conditioners are running; and when it rains, they’ll have Brian to thank that the ground isn’t flooded. Brian worked on both chimneys, the retaining wall, the wine cabinet, and just about every other thankless task on this project.

About the only thing that guests will notice are the beaded board doors in the game room hiding the air handlers, and I want to replace those with panelled doors. I feel a little bad about that, too.

TUESDAY, JUNE 13, 2006

Leaders and followers

Make no bones about it: I’m a follower. I must hold a record for belonging to the most Pennsylvania organizations without actually residing (or ever resided) in the state. Here’s the list I’ve joined, am joining, or am trying to join:

  • Historical Society of Pennsylvania
  • The Lancaster Chamber of Commerce
  • Lititz Retailers Association
  • Pennsylvania Dutch Convention and Visitor’s Bureau
  • Pennsylvania Travel and Lodging Association
  • Lancaster County Historical Society
  • Susquehanna Valley Chamber of Commerce
  • Lancaster County Conservancy
  • Historic Preservation Trust of Lancaster County
  • Lancaster Vegetarian Society
  • Lancaster Herpetology Society
  • The Franklin Institute
  • Pennsylvania Heritage Society
  • WITF (PBS)

Plus I have memberships in the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Professional Association of Innkeepers International, the Nature Conservancy, and soon the American Chestnut Cooperators Foundation.


American Chestnuts

The world is an amazingly small place.

Several years ago, I read an article in Nature Conservancy about American chestnut trees. In the 18th century, they accounted for one-quarter of all trees in the Northeast. They grew up to eighty feet straight up, their wood was light, strong, and resistant to rot, and the chestnut itself was a food staple. Then in 1904, an Asian virus was introduced which wiped them out, literally. (According to the article below, of the estimated 4 billion trees, only 25 survived. Not 25 percent, just 25!) Oddly, the virus only attacks mature trees, so saplings will grow for about ten years and then, just as they start to reproduce, they die.

This, of course, brought out the romantic in me, and I decided to plant American chestnuts on the farm when we moved back. Of course, in the meantime I hadn’t done any research, but I had mentioned it to several landscape architects, who must have thought I was crazy wanting to plant trees that will probably die in ten years.

Then, today, I stumbled upon an article that was written about a month ago:

“Rooting out infestation” By Jon Rutter (Lancaster Sunday News, May 7, 2006) … A few weeks ago at Speedwell Forge Lake, [Derek Pritts] and other chestnut lovers embarked on a groundbreaking project… They are establishing two groves of trees with seedlings and seed nuts gleaned through The American Chestnut Foundation and the American Chestnut Cooperators Foundation in 12 states.
So I want to plant American chestnuts, and here is someone looking to plant American chestnuts, and he ends up right next door! I contacted him and we are going to meet in July, with the hope of planting next Spring. I’m also joining the ACCF, which sells 50 American chestnut seeds for $40.

Dawn, however, is not as enthusiastic. We already have a couple of chestnuts on the farm (probably Asian chestnuts, which don’t get as tall but are immune to the virus) and when they flower, it stinks. I mean, it’s like a skunk sprayed a manure pile. It’s awful.

And that’s just two trees. I want to plant dozens, maybe hundreds.


National Historic Register

Brilliant article in the Lancaster New Era today:

Mansion at Speedwell Forge makes U.S. register, LancasterOnline.com

Some interesting facts about the National Register:

  • In Lancaster County, there are 212 sites (including us) on the National Register. By comparison, York has 92, Berks County has 130, and Lebanon has 24. (Chester County, though, has 313.)
  • 25 of Lancaster’s “sites” are railroad cars in Strasburg, 25 are covered bridges, and 24 are tobacco buildings.
  • Only 20 Lancaster sites have been added in the past 10 years.
  • The first sites listed in Lancaster were the James Buchanan House (1966), the Robert Fulton Birthplace (1966), the Stiegel-Coleman House (1966), Ephrata Cloister (1967), and the Fulton Opera House (1969).
  • Lancaster has five “National Historic Landmarks” — the James Buchanan House, the Robert Fulton Birthplace, the Stiegel-Coleman House, Ephrata Cloister, and the Fulton Opera House. (I once asked what it would take to be listed as a landmark, and was basically told “You had to be listed before 1970.”)
  • Other Lancaster B&Bs on the National Register: King’s Cottage (built 1913), B.F. Hiestand House (built 1887), Limestone Inn (built 1786), and Churchtown Inn (“18th century”). Forgotten Seasons B&B (built 1735) should be on the National Register, but isn’t.
  • Other Lancaster sites on the Register that are associated with the early ironmasters: Stiegel-Coleman House, Mount Hope Estate, Spring Grove Forge Mansion, Poole Forge, and Windsor Forge Mansion. (I understand Caernarvon Township bought Poole Forge last year and is trying to figure out what to do with it.)

So now that we’re recognized by the Lancaster County Historic Preservation Trust and the National Register of Historic Places, you’d think I’d be satisfied, but I’ve still got three more goals:

  • Be recognized as a Lancaster County Heritage resource.
  • Have the state erect an historic marker for James Old, the ironmaster who built Speedwell Forge.
  • Convince the state to give me the historic tax credits without requiring me to rebuild the back porch (which is really inappropriate for a colonial building)

TUESDAY, JUNE 06, 2006

Grand opening July 23, 2006 – You’re invited!

I would like to say that Dawn and I drew up a list of everything that still needed to be accomplished, set down a reasonable timetable, built in sufficient contingency, and then selected an opening date. However, we more or less just threw a dart at a calendar and came up with July 23.

Please come by that Sunday for an ‘open house,’ any time from 10am to 6pm, to see what we’ve been up to for the past three years. There will also be tours of the wolf sanctuary, although there is a charge for that. Tell your friends (especially the ones that work at newspapers, TV stations, magazines, colleges, and local businesses).

We’re also taking reservations now for July 24, with the assumption that we will get our occupancy permit in early July.

That gives us seven weeks, although the remaining tasks look more like seven months: Finish painting; finish the floors; install all plumbing and lighting fixtures; re-upholster the furniture; build the kitchen island; install blinds, storm windows, and shutters; set up phones, cable TV, fire alarm; replace basement doors; and make glass tops for all the furniture. That doesn’t include the Summer Kitchen, which needs a door, seven windows, plaster, paint, a heat pump, a fireplace, kitchen cabinets, lights and plumbing fixtures. Oh, and resurface the driveway, which is 500 feet long.

Plus, we need to buy 5 mattresses, 2 armoires, 2 chairs, a secretary, a day bed, kitchen bar stools, 12 sheet sets, 36 towels, a stove, washer and dryer, a commercial dishwasher, a pool table, exterior lighting, a sign, 4 hairdryers, and luggage racks. Then there’s the new web site, online marketing, a credit card account, a AAA inspection, insurance, guest tracker software, reservation forms, room diaries…

And even after we’re open, we’ll still be working on the Paymaster’s Office, privy, and the chicken coop. (Yes, I still want to restore the chicken coop.)

However, an impossible timeline is just an incentive, and Dawn is confident that anything that’s not finished by July 23, she can hide. Besides, once we’re open, we won’t be able to give tours except through the local historical societies, so…

MONDAY, JUNE 05, 2006


Time was, planting grass over a large area was a tedious chore of spreading fertilizer, then seed, then raking it all in, then watering it all daily. No more. Now a truck backs up to your house and blasts water, seed, and fertilizer out of a firehose. Plus, the fertilizer acts like a glue to keep the seed in place, a definite bonus in an area prone to heavy rain like Lancaster.

So applying the seed wasn’t the problem; finding someone to do it was. During the dead of winter, with snow covering everything, we weren’t thinking about seeding, but apparenly everyone else was, so by the time we started calling around, everyone was booked until July! Since we thought a giant mud-pit was not a good backdrop to our grand opening, we couldn’t wait that long.

One day the tree guys were on the farm (their third visit this year, since there was so much dead wood on the trees overhanging our brand new roofs) and Dawn happened to mention she couldn’t find anyone to do the seeding. “Uh, we do that,” was the response, and they squeezed us into their schedule at the end of May. Two weeks later, we have baby grass everywhere.

I know we’ll regret this as soon as it’s tall enough to mow…

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