Summer Cleaning, Summer Construction

There has been quite a bit of activity here at the Neebor Lee House as renovations proceed in earnest.  Work in particular has centered on the former Mason Lodge.  It began first with drying out the Lodge’s basement, which was subject to periodic flooding whenever there was a big rainstorm.  That basement space was important element in the renovations/restoration of our outbuildings and was a critical path item on our long-term renovation schedule. Without freeing up this additional storage space, all the “stuff” that my wife and I were storing inside the Lodge would remain in the Lodge, forever impeding any progress in our renovations.  Thus, the first order of business this Summer was to dry out that basement.

I had already begun this process last Summer with the installation of the bulkhead doors over the then open entrance to the basement. With this done, I was able to shift this Spring to the front of the Lodge where I sealed up the spaces between the concrete slabs that served as the Lodge’s porch.  Once this was completed, I focused on the roof and, in particular, on installing new gutters to drain water away from the building’s foundation. Unfortunately, I had give up my dream to installing the old-style round gutters and instead installed the modern k-style gutters.  With the cost of the round gutters more than three times the cost of the modern k-style gutters and their availability in the area practically non-existent, it wasn’t worth the money nor the effort in finding them.

I installed the gutters myself over several weekends. I had never installed gutters before but did not find it difficult once I had all of the hardware assembled. I am, however, very grateful that a Lowes home improvement store is located only five minutes from our house. When I would need a piece of hardware, it is only a short run out to that store to pruchase it. I do worry about what the Lowes’ employees must think after seeing me run in and out of that store three times in a single day, and sometimes five or six times over a single weekend. Regardless of all the runs needed to assemble all of the needed gutter hardware, which were many, the gutters in the end installed and have performed marvelously well, keeping the basement dry even after the worst of storms. No longer would the Lodge’s basement have standing water pooling on its concrete floor or have beads of water condensing on the wood ceiling beams, which certainly would have done significant structural damage over time (in fact, it had as older beams with rot and insect damage had already been braced with new lumber prior to our purchase of the property).

With the basement now dry, it was time to move the “stuff” stored in the Lodge to the Lodge’s basement. It took some prodding, but I am proud to say that my wife did a wonderful job of sorting through the “stuff” we had stored and throwing numerous items out that no longer had any usefulness or value. This can be a difficult task, particularly when throwing away items that represent the memories of your children growing up, such as an old doll, a ragged shirt or an old baseball glove. However, its better to get rid of an item than to let it remain in a box until the time your children are stuck throwing it out once you are gone from this world. The “stuff” that we did decide to keep was placed in plastic bins and then moved to a now dry basement to open up living space in the Lodge.

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The interior of the “Mason Lodge” introducing the new decorating motif: Early American

With the Lodge freed of “stuff”, it was time to begin implementing some modest renovation work. This consisted of sanding and re-staining several areas of the wood wall that had been bleached white or otherwise stained over time by pictures and other items that had been hung on the walls. I also removed several of the taxidermy animal heads, including two worn and quite unattractive mountain goat heads, and other nature displays including deer antlers and a tree branch that had an old deteriorating bees nest attached to it. In addition, fabric bench covers that covered the permanent seating areas on the Lodge’s “stage” and in the Lodge’s sitting alcove were removed.  These fabric bench covers were very old and likely original to the building, with the stuffing consisting in some areas of straw and other areas of horse hair.  The fabric was also very worn and in many places torn. It was obvious that it was time for these bench covers to go.  In uncovering the bench covers in the sitting alcove, I discovered that the benches also served as storage spaces. In removing planks from the bench surface, I was able to find lumps of coal, firewood and an empty glass vial  stored in the space below the benches.

We also began bringing in new furniture, including a re-purposed leather buggy seat that we will use as a love seat and a small table for the sitting alcove. Furniture that we already were storing in the lodge, including a leather couch, coffee and end tables and a pool table that we brought down from our old home in New Jersey were also also set up.

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The Mason Lodge’s sitting alcove after the removal of the seat fabric

We still have a long way to go with the Lodge renovations, including updating the electrical wiring, adding new bench covers, cleaning and then adding polyurethane to the wood floor surface, constructing new railings to prevent people from falling off the “stage”, building a bar (per request of my wife and friends), and just plain decorating. Getting to these next steps, however, required that another critical path element be addressed since I still had items in the Lodge that needed to be moved out, in particular several metal storage cabinets that were taking up space.

Addressing this critical path element has already begun. When complete, it will involve the demolition and ultimate replacement of the Workshop structure located at the rear of the Lodge. As much as I would have liked to have saved this old structure, it was too far into a state of disrepair to restore. This was largely due to the manner in which it was constructed.  It’s foundation was a single layer of brick or, in some places, the ground surface itself.  With the wood sill sitting directly on or near the ground, there was no saving it from water damage, rot and insect damage. In fact, we found that a significant amount of the structure had termite damage. It was simply too far gone to be saved.

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The old decrepit Workshop prior demolition

That meant, of course, that in order to construct a new building at that location, a new foundation needed to be constructed. Because this was beyond my expertise or the time I had for implementing such an major task, I hired a general contractor to perform all of the work.  The work plan, however, included reusing as much of the old material as was possible in the new structure, including the original windows and old lumber that was still intact.

I contracted a local contractor who was experienced in working with old structures. He conveniently was also a Freemason and, thus, was very interested in both the Lodge and constructing a new building that closely matched the exterior architecture of the Lodge as well as the Workshop that was to be torn down. He went as far as ordering custom wood siding to match the existing siding, at his own expense. Another task he was assigned was to preserve the entrance to the property’s old root cellar, which existed inside the Workshop structure. To do this, the contractor was to design and construct a hinged trap door that would preserve the entrance to the root cellar without giving up floor space inside the new Workshop.

We settled on a price and then work began.  The Workshop, which had stood for 113 years, was torn down in single day. As noted above, certain elements were saved for re-use or for re-purposing.  This included the windows, some of which were believed to have predated the Workshop, having been part of the original farmhouse prior to that building’s 1903 transformation into the Neebor Lee house. The Workshop’s three old wooden doors (front, closet and cabinet), having resale value in the re-purposing market, were also saved.  Old 113-year old floor joists, which were true two by sixes, were saved, as well as several of the wood trusses, a wooden shelf that was used to store tools, thick wood workbench surfaces and an old, yet still operational, wooden vice. While I already have designated uses for some of this saved material, others will be saved for a yet determined future use or sold off for re-purposing.

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The Workshop as it is being dismantled
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It’s gone! The opening to the root cellar is clearly visible in the foreground.

Once the building was removed, several needed repairs became evident. The most significant was the absence of a lintel to hold up the stone wall above the opening of the root cellar. This, of course, was exposed at about the same time the town’s building inspector arrived to inspect the demolition work. Fortunately, my contractor pledged to use the former building’s floor joists to construct a new lintel as well as to frame the root cellar’s interior entrance way. This satisfied the building inspector, who soon after ran off to his next inspection.

With this repair made, it was time to construct a footing for the replacement building. This entailed excavating to a depth of 4 feet, which removed quite a bit of stone, soil and one black walnut tree that was positioned too close to the new foundation. The stone was stockpiled apart from the other debris for the purpose of using it later to line the exterior of the block foundation, thereby providing the new building with a natural stone foundation appearance. As this work proceeded, I took the opportunity to begin restoring the old windows. This included scraping and sanding away the old peeling paint, removing the old glazing and then applying new glazing.  I re-glazed three of the Workshop’s former windows.  Two additional windows, which are to replace one that had been missing from the old Workshop and another that was severely rotted, are still needed. My wife and I are now in the process of searching for two old wood replacement windows at antique and architectural salvage shops. We’re discovering, however, that finding windows to match the ones we already have is difficult.

That sums up the progress on our renovation projects to date.  The foundation is being completed this week, and framing is expected to begin next week. In the meantime, my wife and I continue to search for two old wood replacement windows.  I am, however, looking forward to the completion of these tasks. Once complete, I will be able to move the metal cabinets currently stored in the Lodge and all of my tools currently stored in the former Servant House, where I had set up a temporary workshop. I can then shift my attention first to completing the renovation of the Lodge, and then by next Summer to renovation of the former Servant House.

Restoring the old windows
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Building a new foundation
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