Something New, with Some Things Old

It’s done.  Well, almost done; the electrical service still needs to be added. However, all other construction has been completed and the Neebor Lee’s workshop building has come back to life! It was an expensive undertaking for such a little building (around $17K) but well worth the cost since I now have a safe place to store my tools and and a place to work while freeing up the Servant House for next summer’s renovation project. It helped that I engaged a good contractor who also had a passion for old buildings.

The objective of this construction project was to mimic the original workshop building, which was constructed in 1903, to the maximum extent possible while improving its durability. This meant constructing the new building on a real foundation. The original workshop degraded rather significantly because, for the most part, it was constructed without a foundation with wood largely sitting at ground surface. This exposed the building to rot and insect damage. By the time I purchased the Neebor Lee home, the workshop was too far gone to salvage and had to be demolished.

For this new construction, it was important that the new building also blend in with both the Lodge and the nearby Servant House. To accomplish this, it was necessary to match the siding on the Lodge, against which the workshop was to be built. Because this style of siding is no longer produced commercially, it had to be custom milled based on samples pulled from the old workshop building.  For this siding, the contractor chose a dense and insect-resistant hardwood called Paela (also known as “chakte viga”) which is grown in Mexico and South America.  This wood is twice as hard as oak and has a pleasant golden brown grain.  It was a shame that I eventually had to paint over it in order to protect it from the elements. At the urging of my wife, however, we left this wood exposed in the interior of the new structure so that we could still see the original color and grain.

Siding and windows installed on the new Workshop structure. The siding in this photo is of the unfinished Paela hardwood.

Once the framing, siding, windows and front door were all in place, the contractor’s work was completed. Responsibility for finishing the exterior and for the construction of the interior was mine. Thus, I took charge of the remaining work. This included the painting of the exterior siding and trim, painting the interior flooring, staining and weatherproofing the front door, building a trap door to cover the entrance of the root cellar, mounting cabinets and constructing work surfaces.

Trap-door constructed over the root cellar entrance. Because of the moisture coming from the root cellar, a moisture-resistant OSB with the trade name Advantech was used as flooring. In addition, a crawl space fan was subsequently installed in the floor to vent moisture from the root cellar to prevent mold and the potential long-term damage to the new building’s subfloor and joists.

One of the objectives of this construction project was to reuse as much of the material salvaged from the original workshop as practicable.  The reuse of such materials began during the exterior construction with the installation of the original workshop’s windows following re-glazing and refurbishment. Among the materials reused in the interior of the new structure was the original 2-inch thick hardwood workbench, which was cut to fit inside a window nook and then lightly sanded to remove grime without removing the original circular saw cut pattern on its surface from its original milling; floor joists from the original building that were cut and mounted vertically to support a new workbench that was constructed along the building’s rear wall; and an 8-foot long custom-made wooden shelf that was mounted high on a wall above a window.  In addition, a vintage wooden vice was salvaged, repaired and re-installed.  It remains in fairly good working condition. Lastly, an old closest door that existed in the old workshop building was reused. This old door was sanded to remove flaking paint and then re-purposed as a surface for mounting tools. It was itself mounted on a stud with hinges so that, once “opened” up against the wall, the mounted tools were hidden from view.

Other old items, which were not part of the old workshop, were also added to the new workshop’s interior. These included an old metal vice that was once owned by my father and, therefore, had sentimental value; wooden cabinets that we purchased  from a local Habitat-for-Humanity “Restore” outlet for only $26; and metal cabinets that were stored inside the Lodge itself.  The metal cabinets were, by my standards, in very rough shape, being rusted with their surfaces covered in pealing and flaking paint. I grabbed my sander with the intent of removing rust and pealing paint so that I may eventually repaint both metal cabinets.  However, once my wife saw the pattern left behind from the sanding, with exposed metal and rust interrupting areas of painted surface, she urged me to leave it unpainted.  She informed me that people pay quite a bit of money for this type of distressed look.  Thus, these cabinets were placed inside the new workshop distressed and unpainted where they now store many of my power tools.

The last element installed was the building’s front step. Rather than build something new, I stayed true with my geological education and kept it natural. In this case, a large stone that is presumed to have been leftover from the original stonework on the Lodge and Servant House was unearthed during the construction of the foundation.  This stone became the building’s front step.

In the end, I am very happy with how the new workshop structure turned out. It is new and yet has a good deal of history and style from the original 1903 structure. Considering the other renovation projects that I have coming up, I expect that this workshop will see good use in the future.

A vintage wooden vice that was mounted in the original workshop building was re-mounted onto the original workbench that itself was re-used in the new building.
Re-purposed door from the old workshop. It is now use as a tool mount.
New workbench with old cabinets purchased from Habitat-for-Humanity. The vertical supports for this new workbench floor joists from the original workshop structure.
The old workshop.
The new workshop.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. natalia rusak says:

    It is wonderful to see your progress.


  2. George Detwiler says:

    This is a wonderful site. I grew up in Audubon and my Dad in Port Providence and often he would talk about the Gumbes mansion on Gumbes Rd.that had burned when he was young. When I was a kid the remains of that mansion still sat on the lot. Little did I know it was one of four Gumbes estates in the area. I have driven past your home several times a week for almost fifty years beginning when I attended Ursinus College and presently from our home here off of Rte 29. You’ve done a wonderful job in rehabilitating the house and grounds. Congratulations on your work and thank you for rescuing a piece of our history.


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