FRIDAY, MARCH 31, 2006

B&B Convention

Dawn and I are meeting in Phoenix this weekend for a four-day B&B convention, with such titillating workshops as:

  • Selling to the Affluent
  • Yield Management for Inns
  • Master of Disaster: Planning for the Worst
  • The Art of Fruit
  • WalMart Budget, Tiffany Dreams
  • First, Do No Harm: Safety in the Kitchen
  • Granola…Much More Than Cereal
  • Internet Boot Camp Part I
  • One Wheat-Free-Vegan-South Beach Breakfast Coming Right Up

And my favorite…

  • Blogging for Business

The scary part is, I find all of this fascinating. Perhaps it’s just learning something new, or because it’s so different than my usual routine, but I want to go to “Capitalizing on Changing Guest Expectations” and “Profitable Green Trends.”

After the convention, we’ll return to Pennsylvania where I’ve already got a full schedule lined up:

  • File taxes
  • Visit a local winery
  • Review schedule, kitchen cabinets with the contractor
  • Visit the furniture
  • Hire a landscapist (is that a word?)
  • Meet with the Pennsylvania Dutch Convention and Visitor’s Bureau
  • Pick up a copy of the Lititz directory
  • Make final decisions on paint colors and lighting
  • And, of course…

  • Give a tour on April 8th at 10am

My cousin is also coming up from South Carolina to help with the design, furniture, and marketing. She’s terrified of airplanes and really wanted to make the 11-hour drive (or 12-hour train ride) but we somehow convinced her to take the 2-hour flight. Yesterday she told me she had a new pair of pajamas and a prescription for valium, and was all set. If nothing else, this trip won’t be dull.

And finally, we got our second reservation request today, but I don’t think it counts because it was from the same person who made the first reservation request! Of course, last August I told her we’d be open in May, so now I had to back-pedal and tell her mid-June.

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.
amish summer kitchen

The standing-seam roof on the Summer Kitchen was too far gone to save, so our Amish friends are redoing it in slate.


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


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.


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.


Mike and Mike

Mike and Mike, normally “the HVAC guys,” became “the propane guys” for the day. Dawn had two 1,000 gallon tanks installed and filled in preparation for winter. I saw the bill and immediately started wondering, why didn’t we put in geothermal again?

installing propane lines at the Speedwell Forge B&B

Don’t let Mike’s shovel fool you — they used the backhoe to dig the trench

We were originally going to install the propane tanks directly behind the house (buried, of course) but then Dawn found out that a regulator needed to stick up 16 inches above ground. (Again, nobody seems to get that we want to restore an historic building, not create a shrine to modern conveniences.) So she moved the tanks up the hill, informing me (after the fact) how much more it would cost to run the extra piping.

And then to add insult to injury, they still needed to put a regulator directly outside the building, so we have a little pipe sticking up outside all three buildings. Argh…


AAA Guidelines

I was just reviewing the AAA rating guidelines and I think we have a shot at a 4-diamond rating. That’s pretty exciting (at least for me) but it also means we need to rethink some of our choices:

Facility AAA requires We offer

Decor “An abundant variety of live plants or dried floral arrangements” These are not appropriate for a Colonial mansion — indoor plants were a Victorian thing, and dried flowers would kill my sinuses. Cut flowers are ok, and I plan to have a flower garden.

Floor coverings “Unique area rugs” My great-aunt hand-wove a number of large floor rugs. Is that unique enough? My mother can even identify specific clothes from her childhood.

Guest arrival “A guest key may not be left unsecured for a guest’s pending arrival” Then guests better arrive by 9pm.

Common areas “Multiple common areas; refreshments available” Parlor, library, and game room (with pool table) for guest use; coffee and tea available all day.

Meeting rooms “Variety of well-appointed meeting rooms; state-of-the-art audivisual equipment available” Uh-oh, the closest thing we have to a meeting room is the barn. Watch out for the swallows.

Public restrooms “Number appropriate for the number of meeting rooms” 0 meeting rooms, 1 public restroom — I guess that’s an appropriate number.

Breakfast “Full breakfast with flexibility in times; excellent quality tableware” 3-course breakfast from 8-9am with excellent quality tableware. (We’ll have good food, too, but AAA doesn’t seem to care about that.)

Sundries “Upscale gift shop” There’s enough gift shops in Lancaster County without me adding one.

Keys “Each room must have a keyed locked and a non-keyed deadbolt for guest privacy.” I think a deadbolt is a little overkill for “privacy” but I can get some iron rim locks that are appropriate for a Colonial house. (Well, they’re not appropriate for Colonialbedrooms.)

Clothes “Two luggage racks and 8 wooden hangers” A 5-diamond property has to have10 wooden hangers.

Phones “24-hour access to incoming messages and outgoing calls” VoIP phones in every room.

Smoke detectors “A smoke detector inside each guest room” Ours are outside each guest room (per local fire code).

Bedding “Excellent quality, high thread count, triple sheeting and choice of pillow fills” I got the first three covered, but all the pillows are hypoallergenic. There is no other choice.

Furniture “Excellent quality furnishings” We’re spending $20,000 just to restore Dawn’s grandparents’ antique furniture.

Seating “Two comfortable upholstered chairs, one with arms; a desk chair” OK, but Bill’s room is going to beawfully crowded…

Television “Television with remote; TV guide; VCR” Portable television on request

Amenities “Insulated vinyl ice bucket with lid, two robes, fresh-cut flowers” I can provide the ice bucket, but there’s no ice machine. I just added “16 large robes” and “5 small vases” to my shopping list.

Guest bathroom “Upscale with style, some artwork” It’s a bathroom, not a gallery!

Fixtures “Enhanced faucets; upgraded showerheads” All showers got Moen pressure-balanced valves to prevent “shower shock.”

Soap “Two bars of soap, a 5-piece ‘amenity’ set” We’re going to install soap dispensers, rather than throw away all those little bars of soap. I certainly don’t want to be throwing away 5-piece amenity sets as well!

Bathroom “Make-up mirror and electrical outlet near the sink” I hope the architect thought of electrical outlets, because I didn’t. And what the heck is a makeup mirror? I have a vanity mirror in each bath–is this different?

Reservations “Accepted 24 hours a day” Answering machine after 9pm

Phone “Promptly answered and warm and sincere greeting offered” Depends on my mood

Parking “Uniformed attendant promptly opens the car door” Hahahahahaha

Turndown “Service available on request” I’ve heard stories of B&B owners going into guest rooms to turn down the sheets and finding…well, let’s just say the sheets didn’t need to be turned down. No, thank you.

Wake-up call “Available 24 hours a day, seven days a week” All rooms have a clock radio.

Room service Available Not available

Express check-out “Available 24/7” After you’ve settled the bill, you can leave anytime you like.

Laundry “Overnight valet and laundry available” You’re welcome to use the washing machine (except 10am-2pm).

Swearing “All associates exhibit a professional vocabulary” I will use my indoor voice.

Courtesy “All associates consistently maintain eye contact with guests” Really, that’s a AAA requirement!

Attire “All associates are appropriately attired; name tags” No name tag. I’ll answer to anything you want to call me, but no name tag.


Before and Current

Dawn just sent me 121 pictures. 🙂 It’s too soon for “Before and After,” but I can do “Before and In Process.”


Channel 11 news

Picture this: It’s September 6, the last day of my “vacation”, and I’ve spent the last five hours talking to the plumber, the contractor, and the septic guy, when the channel 11 news van pulls up, ready to do an interview.

Of course I knew they were coming — Dawn specifically scheduled them for my visit so she didn’t have to appear on camera — but that didn’t mean I was ready. Like so many other things on this project, if I knew what was coming, I wouldn’t have done it. Or at least I would have scheduled it early in the morning, so I wasn’t exhausted from talking all day.

Dawn was still dealing with the septic guy so she was in the cornfield during the entire interview, which was probably a good thing because she would have been kicking me throughout. Instead, she had to wait until it was on TV before she kicked me.

The original clip was ninety seconds long, but I’ve abridged it to 45 seconds — partly for bandwidth, but mostly to remove embarrassing clips of me saying the stupidest things. (Such as, “The biggest challenge is the cost, that’s what keeps me up at night.” Way to market the B&B, Gregg!) Rebecca Baer is the anchorwoman and she also did the interview.

Afterwards, I picked up a copy of “Guerrilla Publicity” which devoted an entire chapter devoted to common mistakes people make on camera. I’m pretty sure I hit every one.

Two technical corrections: Rebecca states the mansion was unoccupied for a year (it was 20 years) and that we gutted the entire mansion plus two other buildings (we worked very hard to preserve as much as possible in the mansion and Paymaster’s Office; we did gut the Summer Kitchen because there wasn’t anything worth saving.) Also, the “1902” seen at the end of clip was where the paper hanger had signed the wall; it is crossed out because the next paper hanger (in 1947) was a jerk.



We’ve learned a lot in the past six months, including a lot of jargon:

  • Alarm system: Being legally robbed to protect yourself from being illegally robbed.
  • Back-prime: The tedious and thankless job of painting the backs of boards, in the hope that your house will survive the next natural disaster.
  • Bath: a bathroom, not a bathtub. (The sink is called the lavatory.)
  • BIBS: Blow-In Blanket System. Probably the most expensive way to insulate your home, and therefore the one recommended most by contractors.
  • Blueboard: Used in place of lath, it is a moisture-resistant form of drywall that is then coated with plaster. It has no character, but the finished product looks the same. Future renovators will laugh at us.
  • Board: A 1″ thick piece of wood (e.g. floorboard, baseboard). Can be any width or length, but can’t be thicker than one inch. A 2×4 is not a board.
  • Casement: A window that swings out rather than slides up and, if it’s big enough, can be considered a secondary exit for building code purposes.
  • Casing: The molding around a jamb; it is programmed to self-destruct when removed.
  • Chase: The near-criminal act of cutting a hole in something to put something else.
  • Checking (aka alligatoring): What happens when you have too many layers of paint. Get yourself a good sander.
  • Sander: Someone (besides yourself) willing to spend weeks on end stripping old paint
  • Chimney cap: What you need to keep birds, squirrels, raccoons, and rodents out of your chimney.
  • Cornice: The bit between the eaves and the soffit, I think. Not really sure.
  • Fascia: What you have if you don’t have a cornice.
  • Demolition: The act of removing 20 years’ worth of water-damaged plaster, ugly wallpaper, walls that need to be moved, insulation saturated with rodent waste, outdated plumbing fixtures, and all of the plaster in the attic because your contractor wants to replace your 200-year-old roof joists with green wood from The Home Depot. Be sure you protect the floors first.
  • Dentil: A pattern of notches in the molding; makes painting a joy.
  • DIY: see “false economy.”
  • Dry rot: A fungus that eats wet wood; your worst nightmare next to foundation problems.
  • Drywall: A new wall system that doesn’t include wet plaster; hence it is “dry.”
  • Eaves: The part of the roof that sticks out over the walls in order to drip rain on you.
  • Envelope: The outer shell of the house, used by the insulation contractor in discussing the infiltration and exfiltration with the R-rating to convince you to buy the BIBS system. He will neglect to mention that most of your heat loss is through the windows.
  • Existing wall: What the contractor uses to write notes on.
  • New wall: What the contractor calls six 2x4s nailed to the floor
  • Fenestration: A set of windows. Next time you see a Colonial house with 6-over-6 windows and appropriately-sized shutters, you can impress your spouse by saying “Look at that beautiful fenestration.”
  • Fixtures: Anything not included in the contractor’s quote.
  • Flashing: Metal strips that seal the joint between masonry and roofing. (You thought I was going to say “see plumber’s crack” didn’t you?)
  • Flue liner: A flexible metal pipe installed in a chimney to avoid chimney fires. Voice of experience: An 8″ flue liner will not fit in a 7″ flue.
  • Frame: A series of joists, plates, studs, braces, headers, and sills.
  • Glazing: Putting lights in the sash with points and putty. (i.e. fixing windows)
  • Grading: See “strip mining.”
  • Gutters: Contraptions used to catch leaves before they fall harmlessly to the ground
  • Heat pump: An extremely efficient heating method, which we are not using.
  • Steam: An extremely inefficient heating method, which we are using.
  • HVAC: High Velocity Air Conditioning. (There is no such thing as Low Velocity Air Conditioning, so it’s just really pompous.)
  • Joists: Horizontal beams which everyone will tell you always run in the same direction; do not listen to this.
  • Ladder jacks: An insane method of scaffolding made by holding a horizontal ladder between two vertical ladders.
  • Lath: Originally, small strips of scrap wood that provided a base for plaster. Later, a metal screen that served the same purpose. Today, Blueboard is used. Unfortunately, not many funny things you can say about lath.
  • Light: Glass in a window; often counted as in “six-over-six” or a “four-light transom.”
  • Line set: Two pipes that connect the outdoor air conditioner (or compressor) to the indoor evaporator (or air handler). The “liquid line” is smaller than the “suction line.”
  • Lintel: A stone header at the top of a roof or window which displaces the load. When looking at an old stone house, look for lintels in the middle of nowhere to indicate where an old window or door was.
  • Load-bearing: What plumbers cut chases into.
  • Keystones: A poor man’s lintel. An arch of smaller stones was used instead of a single piece; the keystone was the center stone which, when driven in, held the rest of the arch in place through compression.
  • Mansard: A flat roof with very steep sides; makes for a much nicer attic than (our) gable roof
  • Mantel: The wood (or marble) panel around a fireplace. A full mantel goes from floor to ceiling. Hopefully, your grandparents didn’t apply marble-like wallpaper to their mantel.
  • Mortar: A mixture of water, sand, and cement used to hold things together. See “pointing.”
  • Mortise-and-tenon: The art of joining two pieces of wood by creating a tongue (the mortise) and a hole (the tenon). To check an old door, look at the edge–you should see the end of the tongue for each panel.
  • Parging: To plaster. (See photo, below.)
  • Permit: Zoning, Building, Occupancy, Parking, Stormwater, Well, Septic, Land development, you name it. Unless your brother-in-law sits on one of the local committees, don’t even think of restoring an old house.
  • Plans: What you paid good money to have an architect draw up, and paid more money to have the contractor scribble all over. Note that every contractor will want his own set of plans to scribble all over.
  • Pipes: copper, cast iron, black iron, pex, PVC, heating, plumbing, etc.
  • Plumb: A very recent phenomenon, unheard of 50 years ago.
  • Pointing: To fill in the space between stones with mortar. Note that the color, thickness, and shape of the mortar is the difference between a professional job and the mess you just made.
  • Powderpost beetles: Self-explanatory. Much less destructive than carpenter ants or termites, but over 200 years the damage can add up.
  • Preparation: The reason you hire a contractor, because anyone can apply the paint.
  • Punky: Soft or rotted, as in “this window is punky,” or “this beam is punky,” or “this door is punky,” or a hundred other things the contractor looked at.
  • Radiators: Large, ugly, problematic, and potentially unsafe heating method that all historic specialists will try to convince you to keep.
  • Renovation vs. Restoration: Something people who have never done either like to argue about.
  • Risers: To a plumber, it’s the hot water supply; to the carpenter, it’s the back of a stair. Don’t worry, the plumber and carpenter will never talk to each other so there is no chance of confusion.
  • Rosebuds: The marks a hammer makes when it hits something it shouldn’t, like a floorboard. Old hand-forged nails used to be called “rose-head” for the same reason.
  • Safety equipment: What the contractor knows he should be wearing. Includes safety glasses, mask, gloves, long pants, and thick-soled shoes.
  • Sash: The window frame without the glass. Old windows had true dividers, because the glass could not be made in large sheets. Today’s windows have large glass and fake “muntins” (dividers) which look good from about 50 feet away, and cause for pointing and laughing any closer than that.
  • Double-hung sash: A simple name for a complicated set of lights, cords, and weights that you will never, ever, be able to re-assemble.
  • Shutters: Practically, a set of panels used to protect windows during a storm. Aestetically, a set of panels that set off the window. Popularly, a set of panels that could obviously never close to cover the window they are mounted on. See “eyesore.”
  • Sill: The bottom of a door or window; it is the opposite of “header.” (Beneath the sill is the apron.)
  • Sistering: Nailing a piece of wood onto another piece of wood because it is soft, punky, split, or, in the case of our contractor, just because it’s old.
  • Soffits: The underside of the eaves. Please don’t ask me why someone had to come up with a new name for this.
  • Split-system: The act of cooling the first floor from the basement and the second floor from the attic. Works well if you don’t have a 12″ thick stone wall running down the center of the house like we do.
  • Stain: Oil mixed with dirt. When finished staining, you seal it to protect it from dirt.
  • Storm windows: A second window that goes against the first to make an early (but effective) version of dual-paned windows.
  • Studs: The wooden posts you hope your wife is referring to when she’s 3,000 miles away and surrounded by a dozen men who do everything she asks.
  • Subcontractors: See “herding cats.”
  • T&G: Tongue-and-groove, a method of installing hardwood floors to ensure they can never be taken up again without extensive damage.
  • Toenail: Driving a nail in at an angle. It has nothing to do with your anatomy.
  • Vinyl windows: Eyes with no soul. See also vinyl siding and vinyl flooring.
  • Wallpaper: A wall covering that is difficult to put on and impossible to take off.
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