Phase II Ramps Up

What with all the posts about movies and photos shots you are probably thinking we are not doing any work around here.  But rest assured, we have been working hard on planning the next phase of the restoration.

The first step was to obtain the base funding to pursue the project.  In the Fall of 2010, we were awarded a $58,500 New York State Environmental Plan Fund (EPF) grant allowing us to develop a detailed plan for the restoration including the creation of architectural drawings, bid documents, engineering studies, and archaeology reports.  In the Fall of 2011, we were awarded a second EPF grant of $300,000 to conduct the Phase II restoration itself.   The EPF grants requires us to raise matching funds from private sources including foundations, individual donors, and, yes, movies and photo shoots.  Currently, we still need to raise $125,000 to begin the construction in Spring/Summer 2013.  

Phase II of the restoration will concentrate on stabilizing the south side of the house including rebuilding partially collapsed stone foundations, restoring the southwest Davis bay from 1849, and completing the rest of the roof replacement.   All of this sounds relatively straightforward until one see the actual site conditions:

The south elevation presents a daunting jumble of later service additions and accretions as well as erratic grade changes.  Included in this is a highly dilapidated one-story kitchen addition on a brick foundation, a brick tunnel of unknown function with later concrete retaining walls and ramp, and a partially collapsed flag stone and concrete patio.

All of this presents real challenges for preservation and restoration work (not to mention substantial health and safety issues).  One cannot attempt to rebuild the stone foundations of the original house without removing some or all of the later accretions built in front of and over them. But before you start bringing in heavy equipment to remove any material you first need to understand the historical layers that you have and the pattern of building and landscape evolution.  When was the kitchen addition added?  What was the brick tunnel used for?  What did the historical grade look like?   There is a lot of important information hidden here that we need to understand before we move forward.

Our primary historical period of significance for the restoration is the residency of Oliver Bronson and family (1838-1854).  Landscape was an integral part of A.J. Davis’s design work and we are particularly interested in learning more about the historical grading, path systems, fencing and retaining walls that were part of Davis’s 1839 composition and the changes he made when he returned in 1849 to create the large new tower addition.

Accordingly, as part of planning for Phase II, we are devoting substantial resources to archaeological investigations, and site plan work to learn as much as we can about the Davis-era appearance of the house and landscape before beginning any active restoration work.  This work will inform the preparation of the final architectural drawing and construction documents by our architects Mesick-Cohen-Wilson-Baker Architects (www.mcwb-arch.com).   We have selected Hartgen Archaeological Associates (www.hartgen.com) of Rensselaer, New York to work with us and our architects in investigating the area around the south side of the house.  Hartgen brings extensive archaeological experience working on historical sites in New York state and beyond to the project team.  Additionally, we have retained the landscape architect firm Robert M. Toole & Associates of Saratoga Springs, New York to update the historical landscape study prepared for us in 2000.

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3 Responses to Phase II Ramps Up

  1. Judith Novick says:

    Hi Peter, This is Judy Novick, Debby’s older sister. She just came back from Hudson & we were talking. I didn’t realize that she didn’t know what was found when my mother was renovating Debby & Valerie’s bedroom (The room to the left of the closet room as you go up the stairs from the ground floor). I thought you might be interested to know that they uncovered a board that had the names of 4 men (not sure now whether it was written or carved but I think it was carved) who were presumably carpenters who worked on the building of that room Anyway it said the 4 names, and then “good men and true and hard on the Copperheads.” That would date the board to pre-Civil War and presumably late 1840’s or 1850’s if I remember my American history.
    ( I know the Copperheads were southern sympathizers in the North but not the exact time period of their activity).

  2. Peter Watson says:

    Hi Judith. Thank you for the information. It was great to meet your sisters and welcome them back to the house. All these little bits of history are extremely useful to us in understanding the chronology of changes to the house over the past two-hundred years. The term “Copperheads (or Peace Democrats) seems to first appear in Northern newspapers after the onset of the Civil War to (derisively) describe individuals and groups that advocated for an immediate settlement with the South. But the term may have been in popular usage prior to 1861. In terms of our house history, this would date the floorboard to either the residency of Frederick Fitch Folger (1854-1864) or Mary Whitney Phoenix (1864-1876). The later is a more likely candidate. People are more likely to have carpenters working in the house soon after purchasing it, making changes to personal spaces like bedrooms to better suit their needs. Very interested to know more.

    • Judith Novick says:

      Thanks for the info.especially on the Copperheads. Is there any written info about the Folger and Phoenix occupation of the house?

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