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…

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.


Summer Kitchen status

Lest you thought we were near completion and it was smooth sailing for the next six weeks, let me show you the current state of the Summer Kitchen:

SUNDAY, MAY 21, 2006

Grand opening party

I’ve thought long and hard about this, and I have no idea what to do.

For our grand opening, I want to have a big party, but we can only handle about 20-30 cars at a time. I think if we do an “open house” affair, not everyone will come at once, but that means a lot more organization and preparation. Having a 90 minute tour is one thing; having a two-day open house is quite another.

With two staircases, we can direct traffic so people aren’t walking into each other, but I’ll need to staff each room, plus have a parking attendant, so that’s 13 people! And of course we’ll need tour guides for the wolf sanctuary. I have no idea where I can find that many people, though I’m hoping I can press some of the contractors into service so they can talk about what was done.

Plus there should be some food. What do you serve a couple hundred people arriving over the course of two days that will get them to refer their friends to your B&B? I do a mean Belgian waffle, but that’s a lot of work, and I’m not sure it’s legal. (Serving hot food, for some reason, is always treated differently than serving cold food.) Maybe Dawn can whip together twenty bundt cakes?

For entertainment, I tried to get a Revolutionary War reenactment troupe, but they were booked until 2008! (I will try again in 2010, when Speedwell Forge turns 250.) So then I contacted Landis Valley Museum about having people do forge-related demonstrations, but so far nobody has contacted me. Maybe I’ll just set up some folding chairs and do a slide show in the barn.

I’ve also got to find out if we need a permit, but unfortunately I’m only there for the Memorial Day weekend, which means Dawn has to do it, and she’s got so much on her plate right now, plus she caught a cold. Today she had a fever and was out stripping a door. I think she’s crazy.

We still haven’t picked a date, but I’m shooting for July 1 and 2, which is only six weeks away!

SATURDAY, MAY 06, 2006

Field of Dreams

My toll free number is finally set up: (877) EST-1760. (Established 1760, get it?) I’ve also set up an online reservation service, so I’m going to spend the weekend updating the web site, and we should be ready to take reservations starting Monday.

I just hope if I build it, they will come. In fact, much of this project is eerily similar to “Field of Dreams”–building something in the middle of a corn field, spending everything we have, being told we’re crazy, seriously straining our relationship. I wonder if I can get Kevin Costner to do a guest appearance, or James Earl Jones to record our answering machine?

I do have to say, the first reservation is for Mary of Maryland, who has asked three times, “Are you open yet?”


Latest colors

We’re using Sherwin-Williams paint simply because they gave us a good discount, but the guys at the Lebanon store have been extremely helpful. For the rooms that aren’t yet painted, I used the “color visualizer” tool on the Sherwin-Williams website; hopefully you can tell which rooms aren’t ours!!


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.


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.

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