From Barb Raid of Historic York, Inc.

Hi, Dawn & Gregg — Congratulations, the Pennsylvania Historic Preservation Board approved the Speedwell Forge Homestead nomination yesterday with no difficulty. Two of the board members (June Evans, who you met at the site visit, and Scott Standish of the Lancaster County Planning Commission) had nice things to say about your property. The main questions from other board members involved why the property was not nominated for its industrial significance (i.e., the forge operations). But it was explained that those resources are long gone and their underground locations are presently unknown. The nomination will now go to the National Park Service, which will give final approval in approximately 45 days (usually longer). I’ll let you know as soon as I hear. Barb

SUNDAY, MARCH 05, 2006

Update on Dawn’s tasks

On October 15, I published Dawn’s new to-do list. Let’s see what she’s accomplished in the last five months:


  • Repoint east side, spot point as needed (Hollenbeck) — repointed entire building!
  • Finish east gable, downspouts, front porch — east gable and front porch finished
  • Insulate between all floors (blown-in blanket) — done!
  • Paint all windows and sashes; hang windows — done!
  • Move basement door — done!
  • Paint front porch — stripped
  • Install whirlpool bath; put air pump in kneewall above (AH Moyer) — done!
  • Install humidistats in all bathrooms — done!
  • Run electric to all fireplaces (need 220V for kitchen stove?) — done!
  • Run electric to cedar closet (need 220V for electric dryer?) — done!
  • Install illuminated exit signs, emergency lighting (Joel Miller Electric) — wired!
  • Install window and door contacts (for burglar alarm) — wired!
  • Install pulls and horns around mansion (for fire alarm) — wired!
  • Run line sets from workshop for air conditioning — done!
  • Finish air conditioning ducts; install remote temperature sensors in return ducts — done!
  • Run new black iron pipe to all radiators — done!
  • Install 75 gal propane water heater and recirculating pump — done!
  • Buy and bury two 1,000 gal propane tanks — done!
  • Strip and re-paint all radiators — done!
  • Run radiant flooring under kitchen, bathrooms (except boys’ room) — done!
  • Tie waste lines to septic system — done!
  • Install chimney caps — east side done!
  • Restore iron firebacks — done!
  • Buy four electric fireplace inserts, one stand-alone fireplace — done!
  • Repair lath and plaster — done!

Summer Kitchen

  • Clean chimney — done!
  • Replace roof and gutters — done!
  • Buy and install new front door — found one on the property; not installed yet
  • Reinforce flooring upstairs; fix “bump” — done!
  • Install air handler — done!
  • Install electric panel — done!
  • Re-plaster brick wall; repair walls — done!
  • Buy and install stand-alone gas fireplace downstairs — done!
  • Run water and propane from mansion — done!
  • Run electric/telephone/cable/LAN/fire/burglar cables from mansion — done!
  • Run line sets from workshop for heat pump — done!
  • Install propane line to fireplace, hot water heater — done!

Paymaster’s Office

  • Finish cleaning — done!
  • Remove linoleum floor, brick “wallpaper” — done!
  • Clean chimney (flue okay for gas fireplace?) — done!
  • Move cabinet doors; create new wall — done!
  • Install electric panel — done!
  • Install propane line to fireplace, hot water heater — done!
  • Buy gas logs for fireplace — done!
  • Remove electric meter — done!
  • Run water from mansion — done!
  • Run electric/telephone/cable/LAN/fire/burglar cables from mansion — done!


  • Drill well — done!
  • Install well pump — done!
  • (November)Install new roof and gutters on workshop — done!
  • Install new drain along driveway — done!
  • Finish septic system — done!
  • Insulate old well house — done!
  • Build retaining wall on east slope — done!
  • Run telephone line under road into basement — done!
  • Restore bookshelf in basement — done!

In addition, Brian took out the stairs to the workshop, which apparently were not built correctly and ready to collapse. But that also means we have to replace them.

That’s quite a bit of work for five months, but there’s still so much left. Now that the plaster is finished, paint is Dawn’s next priority — and with so much trim and ornamentation, that’s a huge job by itself. Olde York Homes will be looking to finish the cottages, and also build the kitchen island. Village Glass has more than enough windows and storms to stay busy for four months, Henry Hollenbech still has the summer kitchen to repoint, and Brian, poor Brian, gets everything nobody else wants.

SUNDAY, MARCH 04, 2006

As I’ve mentioned before, plastering is a lost art. And to the people who used to do it for a living, I’m sure they said “good riddance.”

plaster ceiling

Jerry Lieb Plasterers in Bill’s room

First, you had to put up lath, which originally was thin strips of bark or leftover wood, whatever you had available. This was nailed to the frame and a “brown coat” of plaster — a mixture of lime, sand, and water, mixed to the consistency of toothpaste — was applied. Some of the plaster (the “key”) squeezed through the lath and dried, which is what held the whole thing up. Next came a “scratch” coat of plaster — same ingredients but different ratios — which was a little finer than the brown coat. This was sanded down and a final coat was applied, which was also sanded to create the final smooth surface, ready for painting.

The good thing about plaster was that the materials were cheap, and as long as it didn’t get wet it would last forever. The bad thing was that it required a lot of time and labor, was horribly messy, and the walls were never, ever straight.

So imagine everyone’s delight at the turn of the last century, when drywall was introduced — it was cheap, it was flat, it was easy to install, and it didn’t make a mess. Unfortunately, it wasn’t appropriate for a 1760 mansion, so we couldn’t use it.

But we could cheat a little. Rather than install lath and a browncoat, we used “blueboard,” which is really just drywall that is moisture-resistant so you can apply wet plaster over it. That saved about half of the labor costs, but didn’t save the mess as they sanded the two coats of plaster. I imagine we’ll be blowing plaster dust out of every nook and cranny for the rest of our lives.

We also cheated on the ceilings. Rather than patch all the cracks and the holes made by the insulators, we just put up blueboard and a coat of plaster. That saved a lot of labor at the expense of the crown molding in some of the rooms. But since the blueboard was only a quarter-inch thick, it seemed a reasonable compromise.


The retaining wall

I mentioned our first fight was over the bathroom fan switches. I may have mentioned our second argument was over the retaining wall.

retaining wall

Henry Hollenbech and Brian Schaeffer keeping the forces of nature at bay

The east slope had slid into the house, and the dirt was two feet higher than it should have been, so we knew we had to do something. My thought was to terrace the slope, with large flat areas to absorb the rain and low walls to prevent runoff. However, that would have meant removing about half a dozen small trees.

Dawn wanted to keep the trees, which meant keeping the slope and building a tall retaining wall at the bottom of the hill, right next to the mansion. It also meant building a “swale” through the slope to direct the water around the house. I did not like this arrangement at all, and said so.

You can see how much they listen to me.


The Top 10 reasons to stay at Speedwell Forge B&B:

10) Built in 1760, and it’s not a pile of rubble like most historic sites.

9) Comfortable and friendly, unlike your in-laws house or your friend’s foldaway sofa.

8) It’s close to Lititz, which has an historic chocolate factory and an historic pretzel bakery, but doesn’t sell chocolate-covered pretzels.

7) Quiet and secluded, with about 1,000 acres of nature (including the lake and the park) for hiking, bicycling, canoeing, and birdwatching. Great for catching fireflies, bad for peoplewatching.

6) Close to Amish farms, but not too close–they use organic fertilizer, if you know what I mean.

5) A three-course breakfast served every morning. Just don’t wear your pajamas in the dining room.

4) Fresh-baked desserts every evening. That beats a chocolate chip cookie any day.

3) The Paymaster’s Office, a private cottage with a huge fireplace, in-room whirlpool bath, views of the creek and wetlands, and its own kitchenette. Heck, even I want to stay there!

2) Tours of the Wolf Sanctuary of Pennsylvania, right next door. Warning: You may me awakened by howling early in the morning.

And the number one reason to stay at Speedwell Forge B&B:

1) It’s in Lancaster County, one of the most picturesque locations on the east coast, filled with great food, friendly people, and plenty of unique and interesting things to do. It sure beats Cleveland.


First advertisement

The guy from Preservation magazine never responded, so my first advert is actually with the Lititz Retailers Association, They distribute 40,000 directories each year, and a half-page ad is only $210 (plus $110 annual dues), which seems pretty reasonable to me.

Our first advertisement

Our first advertisement

Their deadline was actually last week, but they’re waiting for me. I’m both excited and paranoid–I’m a software guy, accustomed to being able to change anything at a moment’s notice. Having to commit to a print ad for a full year is difficult. By the time the directory actually comes out next March, who knows what I’ll regret…


110 years ago

This appeared in the “Out of the Past” section of last week’s newspaper:

Looking for iron at Speedwell,

Friday Morning’s Record
November 29, 1895
Speedwell Forge – Last week two men from Allentown got off the cars here and proceeded to the Speedwell Farms in Elizabeth Township on the site of the old iron forge which was abandoned some forty years ago, where they examined a cinder bank and took some of the cinder with them for the purpose of having it assayed. If there is enough iron in it to pay to have it re-melted it will be resurrected, brought to Lititz on wagons and taken to Allentown to take all the iron out.

110 years ago, the road apparently was much lower as well (Why else would there be a drain 12" under the road?)

110 years ago, the road apparently was much lower as well
(Why else would there be a drain 12″ under the road?)

A “cinder bank” is apparently what you create from all the waste from a plant. I really liked the reference to “got off the cars,” obviously referring to a train. I have no idea if they actually took the cinder bank or not. Today, nothing remains of the forge but I know exactly where it was, because they say ironmasters always built their home so they could see the forge from the front door.


The future

I was in a pretty bleak state of mind last week, and I was pondering, “What’s next?” When the dust has settled and the last check has been signed and I’m ready to quit my job and sell our house in California and move to Pennsylvania to start the B&B, what next?

Before Dawn, I had a fairly clear plan to retire early to northern California and work on the Great American Novel (or not). Once Dawn entered the picture, the plan shifted to “retire early to Pennsylvania and restore the mansion.” When Dawn’s father passed away, the plan shifted again to “retire in five years and restore the mansion and run a B&B.” When we found the average innkeeper worked 80-hour weeks, we changed “retire” to “move.”

But we still had our house in California, our safety net, our “exit strategy.” Now the project has taken that, too. As it stands, we’ll finish this restoration with nothing — 14 years of savings wiped out; starting from scratch. I put together a business plan for the B&B, but I might as well be looking into a crystal ball. The fact is, I no longer have a long-term plan, nor any financial security, and that scares the hell out of me.

Barring any sudden shocks to the tourist industry — like September 11 — the business plan says we’ll be profitable running the B&B. But — and this is a big but — what if we don’t like running a B&B? What if we just spent all this time and money and hassle for nothing? On the bright side, the mansion will be restored, but at what cost?

They say experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want, and I’m getting a lot of experience here. The future will bring what it will — as it always has, with no heed for my plans or aspirations. Perhaps this task was given to me to teach me to be a little more flexible, a little less apprehensive, and a lot more appreciative. Or perhaps these were just the random cards dealt me.

Whatever the reason, I have to play out this hand to see what’s next. Again, barring any major disasters, I’m fairly confident that I can handle any situation. We’ve got insurance for everying — death, disability, property, liability, even construction risk — and I can always get another computer programming job. But I just wish I knew what the future held.

Maybe someday I’ll look back and laugh at what I wrote. Or maybe I’ll kick myself for not paying attention to the signs that, in hindsight, will have been obvious. Or maybe, if I’m really lucky, I’ll be so busy I won’t even have time to ponder such things..


Your Life

Be sure to check out this Friday’s edition of the Lancaster New Era, as the “Your Life” section will feature photos of the mansion by Marty Heisey (who took the great photo below back in March) and an article by Susan Jurgelski (who read most, if not all, of our journal, poor girl).

A quick update:

  • The heat is off. The steam boiler was backfiring, so Dawn had it shut down, and turned on the hot water boiler, which is providing radiant heat to the kitchen only. Not surprising, lots of work is being done in the kitchen now. (Just kidding.)
  • The plasterers were here today, dropping off materials and getting ready to apply the blueboard. I’m still somewhat saddened that we’re not replacing the lath and plaster, but given the cost of the blueboard (which they say takes about half as long as applying plaster) and the amount of plaster work that needs to be done, I’m quite sure we couldn’t afford anything else.
  • Bob Sipos of Old Guard Mortgage has found someone willing to finance this little project of ours. Obviously, they haven’t read this journal.
  • During my Thanksgiving visit, we completely failed to resolve the outstanding issues with the lighting, paint colors, kitchenettes, storm windows, sign, lightning protection, and flooring. (But we did get away to New York City for two days, which qualifies as our only real vacation this year.)
  • I have taken out our first official advertisement, a small 25-word listing in Preservation magazine, a publication of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. It reads in whole: Speedwell Forge B&B, Historic Elegance in Lancaster County, Pennysylvania, opening May 2006.


Summer Kitchen

On your left will be an in-room whirpool bath, on the right will be the bathroom (with separate shower).

framing summer kitchen

Mike Bodisch is repairing the hardwood floor. Some of the boards are 13″ wide!

Historic preservation guidelines prohibit leaving the brick exposed, but we’re doing it anyway. (The Summer Kitchen was a rental house for the past fifty+ years, so the interior was not a “contributing factor” to its historic significance. In other words, they don’t care.)

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