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.)

SUNDAY, JULY 30, 2006

Hh2>Day One, Revisited

I know I wrote that a year and a half ago, but now that the restoration is (almost) over and the innkeeping has begun, it seems just as appropriate today.

Our first guests were a couple from Philadelphia just looking to get away on a Friday night. The sheets had arrived that morning, and I had to rush out at the last minute to find little bottles of shampoo, but we just finished it when the guests arrived…at 8pm.

They went out to dinner and I went to turn down the room, and realized I had no idea how to turn down a room. Dawn, who had to show me how to do “hospital corners” earlier that day, was also stumped. So we unmade and remade the bed at least four times, finally abandoning the whole idea.

The couple didn’t mention the bed when they returned, but did let us know the remote for the whirlpool tub wasn’t working. We assumed it was batteries, but the only other AAA batteries were on the other side of the farm, so I ran as fast as I could, in the pitch dark, to the other end of the farm and back, only to find it wasn’t the batteries. The wall controls worked, but after a few minutes of us playing with those, they stopped working, too.

So there was no whirlpool bath and no turn down service. And no phone or water glass, either; I’d forgotten those. In the morning, though, I think I made it up with home-made bread, fresh fruit, and waffles, plus a mini-tour of the wolf sanctuary. When it came time to go, though, I couldn’t pay the bill.

I’d just set up a merchant account a week ago, but hadn’t received the credit card reader yet. So even though the couple wanted to pay, I couldn’t accept it. I ended up printing a “receipt” on my computer, and telling them I’d charge the card as soon as the terminal arrived.

And that was it. Oh, except for the part about cleaning the room. I realized that I haven’t cleaned a bathroom since 1996, the year we discovered housekeepers. It took me twelve trips around the house to assemble all of my cleaning supplies, and in between I was interrupted by phone calls and several people stopping by for tours. In the end it took me six hours to clean the room, but I just finished it before the next guests arrived…at 8pm.

But that’s a story for Day Two.

WEDNESDAY, JULY 26, 2006

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 18, 2006

Coming together

Wow. In two days, the painting is finished, the duct work is finished, the kitchen island is finished, the locks are finished, the windows are finished, and the shutters are almost finished. (I was responsible for those, which is why they are behind schedule.)

The walkway will be finished tomorrow at 6am, the blinds and last mattresses will be here tomorrow, the B&B sign and office lights should be here on Thursday, and the drapes, sheets, and towels should be here by Friday. We’ve hired two Amish ladies to clean, and have some friends coming over to help organize the furniture.

The Summer Kitchen plumbing and air conditioning is complete, the doors are ready to hang, the cabinets are hung, the wainscoting is set, the gas stove (fireplace) is installed, and the painting is almost complete. We should be able to set up the bed, day bed, and armoire tomorrow.

We still have to install window pulls, thermostats, and bathroom hardware, buy a coffee maker, and unpack all of our stuff from California, but it really is going to come together. Amazing.

Oh, and the best news: After a blistering week of temperatures in the high 90’s, the forecast for our grand opening this weekend is 81 on Saturday and 77 on Sunday.

FRIDAY, JULY 14, 2006

Down to the wire

One week remaining…

Saturday

  • Buy coffee maker
  • Install new mailbox
  • Order sheets and towels
  • Find (or order) window pulls
  • Order one more kitchen pull
  • Schedule clock guy
  • Buy bathroom hardware (towel racks, etc.)

Sunday

  • Set up walkway, lay wood chips
  • Unpack boxes, organize furniture
  • Invite neighbors
  • Set up canopy bed on new frame
  • Find frame store
  • Yale lights (porch light, any standing lamps)
  • Verify wi-fi in all rooms

Monday

  • Finish painting kitchen island
  • Hang shutters
  • Finish raingutters and spouts
  • Schedule cable guy
  • Finish plumbing (by Wednesday)
  • Finish electric (by Thursday)
  • Finish painting (by Wednesday)
  • Prime and paint Summer Kitchen door

Tuesday

  • Granite countertop arrives
  • Restoration Clinic visit (remaining chairs, fix foyer light)
  • Take down billiard light
  • Set windows in Summer Kitchen (paint?)
  • Custom beds to arrive

Wednesday

  • Install cabinets in Summer Kitchen
  • Hang blinds
  • Hang Summer Kitchen door
  • Pick up B&B sign
  • Call vendor re: directional signage on 322

Thursday

  • 9am Blue Ridge Channel 11 news
  • Building inspector visit
  • Office light fixtures arrive
  • Paint workshop
  • Move Grubb stone
  • Prepare “welcome” sheet, make copies

Friday

  • Clean!!
  • Prepare slide show
  • Drapes arrive
  • Sheets and towels arrive?
  • Set up bed in Summer Kitchen

Saturday

  • Pick up food
  • Set up musicians
  • Grand opening activities at 12pm and 3pm

Sunday

  • 12pm-6pm: Public open house

Monday

  • Open for business (I hope!)

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.

SATURDAY, JUNE 10, 2006

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.

THURSDAY, JUNE 08, 2006

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)
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