THURSDAY, MAY 12, 2005

Slow news week

Speedwell Forge Dairy

Speedwell Forge Dairy

Actually, lots of things have been going on, I’ve just been in denial all week. (It’s my ‘overload’ defense, and it does not serve me well.) We’re moving ahead with the appeal on the sprinkler system, as nobody wants to talk sense there. (I swear they’d be happier if we bulldozed the building and put up a Wal-mart.) There was some confusion about how to file the appeal, with the township pointing at the code inspector and the code inspector pointing at the township, but I think Dawn got that straightened out today.

Meanwhile, Mike is making good progress framing out the baths and shoring up the dormers. In fact, he’s moving too fast — he wants to get the ductwork in next, but I haven’t decided if we’re doing a conventional system or a geothermal system yet. It’s strictly a cash flow issue; hence the denial. Thinking about our cash flow for the next couple of years is an extraordinaly depressing activity.

Gary Geiselman, our contractor, paid Dawn a back-handed compliment: He said when we first met, and I was volunteering Dawn for much of the grunt work to save costs, he didn’t think Dawn would last two weeks. Well, it’s been two months now and Dawn is still going strong, so Gary volunteered her to do all the exterior wood and window sashes as well. It’s the Pennsylvania Dutch equivalent of “G.I. Jane.”

SUNDAY, MARCH 06, 2005

Moving Day

Dawn farewell dinner party in LA 2005

Dawn farewell dinner party in LA 2005

Dawn flew to Pennsylvania today. There were a lot of tears, and a lot of questions — is it worth being apart? Is there a better way? Will Dawn and her mother kill each other? Hopefully, in a year, we’ll know it was worth it.

She took a lot of new toys with her – a digital piano for practicing, a laptop with wireless high-speed Internet access, a camcorder, and a bunch of DVDs from her friends. We even got webcams so we can talk to each other at night. It was Christmas in March. (No, really — I didn’t give her anything at Christmas because I knew this was coming.)


The week after

I thought the grand opening meant we were done. I’m not sure how I can still be so naive after everything else we’ve gone through, but I think that eternal optimism is one of my charms. Of course, that may just be me being optimistic…

I’d forgotten about all the crystal and china that had been packed away and needed to be cleaned, or the 141 new sheets and towels that needed to be washed (85 if you don’t count washcloths and pillow cases), or the property management software I was supposed to setup two months ago, or hanging 40-odd paintings, or buying 25 pounds of granola, or setting up Internet access, or moving all of our stuff from the greenhouse to the mansion. Our building inspector also helped out, giving us a list of a dozen items to correct before he would issue the occupancy permit. Needless to say, we were quite busy all week.

Everyone who sees this place tells me we’ll never be finished, and I’m not sure if they’re trying to steel me to the cold hard facts of life, or they think that will somehow cheer me up, or they’re just having a private joke at my expense. In any case, they’re right. I’ve had to abandon my day planner because there’s just too much to do every day to fit it on those little pages. It’s quite overwhelming.


The end of the beginning

The building code inspector came out on Monday for the “final” visit and flagged us for a dozen issues, from a broken emergency light (which we knew about) to all of the shower lines being reversed (which we didn’t know about). Dawn has taken care of everything and so we expect to get our occupancy permit tomorrow, after the inspector’s “final, final” visit.

Our grand opening weekend went very well, with over 500 people attending. (At least, that’s how many signed our guest book.) Matt, Terry, Louise, Josh, Ben, and Beverly did an amazing job managing the parking and shuttle service, and deserve a lot of kudos. In fact, the only foul-up of the entire day was mine: I made 100 copies of the “tour guide,” and we ran out within an hour. Everyone else just got to see the results, without getting any context, but I think they appreciated it anyway.

I’ve got eight reservations so far, including three this weekend, so we’re getting ready for the next stage. It’s not the “second half” because we’ve still got a lot to do–finish the Paymaster’s Office and privy, landscape, clean up the barn, stabilize the Stallion Pen, etc. Caring for a place like this is truly a neverending task.

But right now we’re in the eye of the storm, as it were, with only a couple of contractors, and after the last two weeks of chaos, everything seems kind of serene. Last night I hooked up my stereo and played some of my dad’s vinyl records–that may seem quaint, but I find it very relaxing. So relaxing, in fact, that I fell asleep in my office and slept there overnight.

TUESDAY, JULY 25, 2006

Grand Opening!

The moment you’ve been waiting for — I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves:

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.

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.


National Historic Register

Brilliant article in the Lancaster New Era today:

Mansion at Speedwell Forge makes U.S. register,

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)

SUNDAY, JUNE 04, 2006


It may seem odd, but when restoring an old house, the best you can hope for when stripping paint is to find more paint.

Not only does that give you some chronology of the house, but also clues as to the original color because, ideally, that’s what you want to use. (And in the 18th century, they used really bold paints, colors we would never imagine using today, like bright oranges and dark greens.)

If a family had money, though, they would strip the old paint, leaving no clues as to the original color. (There’s even a cliche that poverty is preservation’s best tool.) Unfortunately, the Coleman family had lots of money.

victorian cabinet

We originally thought this cabinet was built-in, but it turned out the roof had just collapsed on top of it.

We only found one or two old coats of paint. Under the wallpaper, they had stripped the walls cleans. And in the cabinets, where you are almost assured an original color tucked away in an inaccessible crevice, we found nothing. It was terribly frustrating.

In the third-floor hallway is a victorian cabinet that, like all of the woodwork in the house, had been painted white. We were going to repaint it white (because we are a product of our generation) but had to strip off the first layer to get to a sound surface, and under the latex they found the original paint job, in pretty good condition!

Now keep in mind this cabinet only goes to 1880 or so, but it’s still fantastic to be able to showcase something like that. So we painted the interior (so we can use it as a linen cabinet) but then left the existing paint as-is. (We encapsulated it with a clear sealant, because that old paint is no doubt lead-based).

We have a matching cabinet that’s a little smaller, which Dawn wants to turn into an armoire for the summer kitchen. Now we’re going to see if we can expose the original paint on that, too.

FRIDAY, JUNE 02, 2006

Hh2>Great news!

I received an email today from Barb Raid, architectural historian at Historic York, Inc., who handled our National Register nomination.

Hi, Dawn & Gregg —
I just received word from Carol Lee at the BHP that your property was officially listed in the National Register of Historic Places on May 24, 2006. Congratulations!


I also found an official notice on the National Park Service web site.

Since our future solvency rested on this decision, this was very good news, indeed.

200 year old sycamore tree

Carol Lee did a site visit in 2004 and said, “You can have anything you want. if you’ll just cut the ivy out of that tree.” She was referring to our 200+ year old sycamore, which is now ivy-free.

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