Pigeons in the Smoke House (Film Footage)

Pigeons in a smoke house? By the 1930s, the Peter family had converted the 1794 Smoke House, seen here, into a pigeon coop. It was most likely Armistead Peter 3rd, whose father owned the estate at the time, who shot these 1940s “home movies” of their brood in flight and perching. (The footage also shows an unidentified man, waving as he passes through the shot.) The film proved a useful reference for the recent restoration of the Smoke House arbor and fly pen, completed October 2017. It provided clues to otherwise elusive details of the pen’s structure, including how the mesh sides were attached to the frame and where the perches sat.

From Our Garden | The Pecan Tree

By Kellie Cox, Director of Gardens and Grounds

With the season upon us for nutty treats like stuffing and candied pecans, our thoughts turn to an arboreal star at Tudor Place, its widely admired pecan tree. (If this makes your thoughts turn to nutty treats, try our Candied Pecans recipe!)

In our historic gardens, we are fortunate to have a magnificent pecan tree (Carya illinoensis), Washington, D.C.’s, oldest and largest living specimen, according to the Casey Trees Living Legacy Campaign. This 80-foot-plus tree was planted from a seed nut ca. 1875, when Britannia Peter Kennon (Thomas and Martha Peter’s daughter) owned Tudor Place. Britannia planted the nut in the Dining Terrace, southwest of the historic house, from a pecan nut given to her by Maggie Carraher, an Irish immigrant who worked as the Tudor Place cook. Surprisingly, given pecans’ preference for southern climates, the tree has survived and produces fruit to this day.

The pecan tree to my left was planted during my great-grandmother’s lifetime, in the east end of the arbor, by the kitchen. I think that she had expected it to shade the path in front of the house in the afternoon, but they decided that it was a little too close to the house, and it was then moved down to where you now see it. My Father said that it stayed there for many years, practically with out growing at all, probably as a result of cutting the tap root. However, a few years later it started to grow and ever since then has made a splendid growth every year.

— Armistead Peter III

History of the Pecan Tree

The name ‘Pecan’ is a Native American term, translating to “all nuts requiring a stone to crack”.  The history of pecan trees can be traced back to as early as the 1500s. Many people consider the pecan to be one of the most valuable North American nut species, as it is the only major tree nut that grows naturally in North America. One of the earliest pecan tree plantings was documented to around 1711, 60 years before the first recorded planting by colonists in the future United States. The first pecan tree planting on these shores occurred in Long Island, N.Y., in 1772. Towards the end of the 1700’s, pecan trees were planted along the eastern coast, including in the gardens of George Washington (ca. 1775) and Thomas Jefferson (ca. 1779). Their cultivation and commercial planting started in the 1880s, in Texas and Louisiana, and sales of pecans emerged throughout the country. Where Maggie Carraher obtained the nut she gave Britannia is unknown. It may have come from Mount Vernon or a local store in Washington.

Try Communications Director Mandy Katz’s recipe for candied pecans (great for homemade gift-giving!). And visit the historic pecan tree here any Tuesday through Sunday on a walk or self-guided tour of the 5½-acre historic garden for only $3 a visit. We also offer scheduled garden programs throughout the year, including monthly guided garden tours in spring through fall.  Thanks for reading and stay tuned for a new From Our Garden post in December!

BONUS: A recipe for Candied Pecans. Try it!
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From Our Garden | The Bowling Green

By Kellie Cox, Director of Gardens and Grounds

For this first post in From Our Garden, a new monthly blog at Tudor Place, I want to share with you one of the property’s several garden “rooms” and one of my favorite places here, the Bowling Green. The Bowling Green was also a favorite spot of Armistead Peter 3rd (1896-1983), the property’s last private owner.  Since joining the staff of Tudor Place as director of gardens and grounds in August, I have been studying the plant collections and history in these wonderful gardens. This has meant getting to “know” Armistead 3rd and the generations that preceded him here and their approaches to the landscape. I’m also getting to know the amazing garden staff and volunteers who have accomplished so much in just my first two months here. We are looking forward to many projects to come and to connecting more deeply to our community with new garden programs.

One way to share more of the gardens is on the web: This blog inaugurates what we hope will be much new media and educational garden programming online. We will write and share photos here about garden programming, background and information on our plants (comprising, so far as we know, the only formally accessioned flora collection in a historic house museum), and ongoing projects. And sometimes, like today, we will simply invite you to “visit” a special spot.

This tour starts not in the Bowling Green, but above it, in the enclosure called the Summer House, built in 1960-1961 during Armistead 3rd and Caroline’s ownership. This small structure and the path before it offer a delightful view of the Bowling Green stretching southward, framed by a matching pair of elegant greyhounds sculpted in lead. Proceeding from there down a curved flight of brick and flagstone steps that skirt the terraced area, a shaded brick pathway leads to the Green’s only entry, midway along its west side. Prominent in the entry path stands a tall, octagonal bird bath adorned by a cupid statue – a feature designed by Armistead Peter 3rd with inspiration from the works of Verocchio. This bird bath was once surrounded by Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis), and our goal this fall is to restore these historically-based plantings surrounding it.

Entering the sheltered area of the Bowling Green, you will find it surrounded by beautiful specimen trees and shrubs including American Boxwood (Buxus sempervirens), American Holly (Ilex opaca), Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum), and Kobus Magnolia (Magnolia kobus). No records suggest that any actual bowling went on here, but the name likely refers to the long, narrow lawn, which could have served for games like bocce or other forms of “bowls” or “lawn bowling.” At the green’s southern end, a statue by sculptor Paul Wayland Bartlett overlooks the brick-edged lily pond. Bartlett’s stepdaughter was Caroline Ogden-Jones Peter (1894-1965),Armistead 3rd’s first wife, and the collection contains many of his works. The lily pond statue replicates a figure Bartlett designed for the U.S. Capitol pediment, House wing, in 1909. The seating area by the lily pond here is one of the garden’s most relaxing areas, a great place to read a book for the afternoon.

We hope you enjoyed your digital visit and will come see us in person soon. You can tour the garden (orsix days a week, whenever we’re open, for only $3 a visit, or attend an upcoming garden program.  Stay tuned for a new garden blog post in November!

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Urban Archaeology: Evidence Emerges of Enslaved and Servant Home Life

by Director of Preservation Jessica Zullinger

After uncovering what first looked like a simple builder’s trench
(upper left unit), archaeologists opened  a second (lower right)
to determine the extent and distribution of artifacts. What they
found was not a builder’s trench at all!

Week two of excavations in and around the north garden “Tennis Lawn” at Tudor Place continues to produce remarkable archaeological findings. Last week, contractor Dovetail Cultural Resources uncovered what appeared to be the edge of a builder’s trench in one of the Orchard “units” (spade-dug pits). To follow up, Dovetail opened a second, adjacent unit to try to determine the trench’s size and extent.

What they discovered was not, in the end, a trench. At the level where they expected to find back-filled dirt in a narrow channel built to hold a foundation wall, the archaeologists instead found mounds of debris indicative of a domestic feature: Rather than a trench, they were digging in the feature itself, and coming across good-sized fragments of bone, ceramic sherds, buttons, a piece of pipe bowl, nails, and oyster shells, among other materials.

Artifacts removed from the dwelling feature include rough,
handmade pottery (left), ceramic sherds (center top)
and buttons (lower left).

The type and distribution of artifacts accords with what is typically associated with domestic dwellings inhabited by servants, and specifically enslaved servants. Equally exciting, from a reseearch perspective, are the nature of some of the ceramic sherds. These rough, hand-made pottery pieces suggest the type of vessels known to have been made by enslaved African Americans and primarily found in the Chesapeake and Carolina low-country regions. For Tudor Place, this remarkable discovery will be a huge step toward understanding and interpreting the lives of enslaved workers on this property and in nearby urban settings.

While this phase of archaeological investigation is coming to a close, we will continue to learn more about the project findings as the Dovetail team dates and analyzes the artifacts and their distribution pattern.  Stay tuned to the blog for more details in the months to come!

Soil removed from the unit and awaiting screening to separate artifacts
from soil. Large pieces of bone and bits of shell are visible in the bucket.

Things They Left Behind: Exploring Domestic Life Through Archaeology

by Director of Preservation Jessica Zullinger

December 2010: The comprehensive
Phase I archaeological survey begins.


There was excitement in the air Monday morning, despite the chilling wind, as the staff of Dovetail Cultural Resource Group arrived at Tudor Place to being a much anticipated Phase II archaeological project aimed at uncovering information about servant life at Tudor Place. Dovetail completed a comprehensive Phase I archaeological survey of the property in 2011. It entailed digging carefully mapped test pits at close intervals around the 5.5-acre property — exploratory archaeological work that uncovered fascinating fragments of domestic life, including ceramics, personal items such as buttons, and architectural debris.

These tantalizing hints from the Phase I study confirmed that the Tudor Place grounds are rich in archaeological resources and offered several intriguing possibilities for further study. Test pits in and west of the Tennis Lawn, to the house’s northeast, yielded a high concentration of domestic artifacts in a relatively small area, suggesting a possible connection to servant life at Tudor Place. This evidence of consistent activity over time, along with an 1863 map suggesting the location of an outbuilding in this area, prompted its selection for further study as part of the Phase II investigation, generously supported by The Marpat Foundation.

1863 Boschke Map showing location of outbuildings in north yard.
The current dig is targeting a possible structure in the eastern rear yard. 

Results came quickly: By 11:00 a.m. Monday, less than two hours after the dig started, several exciting ceramic fragments had turned up in the upper layers of the Tennis Lawn test pit. Among them was a lovely fragment of Rockingham ware, a type of refined earthenware produced in North American ca.1830-1930 and distinguished by the presence of a brownish glaze with a dripped or mottled effect over a yellow base.

Rockingham ware fragment found in the Tennis Lawn test pit
soon after the dig began, Monday, March 4.

Archaeologists dig test pits in layers, with the color of the soil or a change in texture and composition signifying the end of one layer and start of the next. In this way, artifacts can be understood in the context of the property’s history according to where they fall in the stratigraphy of the pit.

The topsoil has been removed from this test
pit just west of the Tennis Lawn. Archaeologist
Joe Blondino is beginning to dig into
the next layer of soil.
This test pit in the Tennis Lawn revealed flecks of brick
and charcoal in the layer just under the topsoil.

Throughout the week (when it isn’t snowing!) the archaeology team will continue digging up to seven test pits in hopes of uncovering more information about domestic life at Tudor Place, and particularly the lives of free and enslaved servants.

If you are interested in archaeology, or just curious to see how a dig operates, what a great time to visit Tudor Place and observe this exciting work in progress!

Ribbons, Roses and Wine in the Garden: Box Knot Rededicated

 

Tudor Place Trustee Bruce Whelihan, here flanked by
wife Alice (RIGHT) and Executive Director Leslie Buhler,
was celebrated for helping to secure funding for the
project from The Ruth S. Willoughby Foundation.
Celebration came to these historic gardens this month when Tudor Place Trustees and staff gathered with neighbors and other supporters to “cut the ribbon” on the newly restored Box Knot Garden. This formal layout of heirloom roses in geometric beds defined by boxwood hedges dates to the home’s earliest days. Its renewal and restoration for centuries to come, completed in November 2011, signals the commitment to the preservation of the entirety of historic assets stewarded by Tudor Place Foundation for the public good.
The North Garden donned its best spring colors for the evening reception, which featured wine, canapes, and heartfelt remarks on the historic estate’s past, present, and bright future. Once the ribbon was released, guests trod lightly among the flower beds where Tudor Place founder Martha Custis Peter herself once tended beloved roses. During the Civil War, the garden fell into disrepair and its original layout was lost. It was recovered in the 1926 from a garden design book showing Avenel, in Virginia, where the Knot had been copied, and a restoration was completed in 1933 based on the Avenel drawing.

The sundial that centers the geometric layout came from CrossBasket Castle in Lanarkshire, Scotland, the childhood home of Robert Peter, tobacco merchant and first mayor of Georgetown. His son Thomas bought the land on which Tudor Place sits with his wife, the former Martha Custis, in 1805. They funded the eight-acre purchase with a legacy from George Washington of $8,000 (some $11 million in today’s dollars).
Trustee Dan Dowd came prepared for rain, but none fell.
Instead, a gray twilight lent its glow to the spring blossoms.

 

Curator of Collections Erin Kuykendall (RIGHT) shared stories with
Collections Committee member Elizabeth Edgeworth.

 

Director of Gardens & Grounds Suzanne Bouchard, who shepherded the project from vision to completion, discusses its contours with Board Vice President Geoffrey Baker and Trustee Margaret Jones Steuart.

 

Guests were invited to take home cuttings from the
estate’s historic boxwood.

 

The Circle Garden, with the aroma of mock
oranges floating in from its perimeter, made a
perfect setting for cocktails.

 

As a token of appreciation, Mr. Baker presented Mr.
Whelihan a painting of the restored garden, commissioned
for the occasion from Tudor Place Artist-in-Residence Peter Waddell.

 

Director Leslie Buhler exchanges a word with Trustee
C. Jackson Ritchie, cradling his boxwood seedling.

 

A new leaf, literal and figurative, for a landscape nearly spanning our country’s history — truly something to celebrate!

 

What Lies Beneath, Part II: Secrets of the Temple Portico Roof

By Elizabeth Peebles, Preservation Manager

The Temple Portico is sporting a new roof, its first in almost a century and a half. (Keep reading for the details behind that estimate.) Just as important as a repaired roof to keep the house interior dry, conservators and historians are excited by what the preservation process “uncovered” about the roof we replaced (“Phase 2,” from the 1870s) and the original that preceded it, “Phase 1,” 1814-1816. From acorns to rafters to double-struck nails, the dome’s innards revealed a rich  history to anyone patient enough to read the clues. Among the key revelations, we can now confidently date and type the roof’s previous incarnations.

Following Preservation Protocols
The roof project followed years of planning and weeks of studying its foundations. As posted earlier, conservation began with removal of the existing, Phase 2, metal cladding, followed by documentation and stabilization of the framing — curved wooden rafters — and wood sheathing beneath. When we opened a small section to examine existing conditions back in January, it looked like this:

Architect William Thornton had made the Temple Portico the centerpiece of his drawings for Tudor Place, as seen below, but left construction details to be worked out by the unnamed craftsmen who built it. Because they left no records, this conservation project was our chance to see how, with simple equipment, materials and tools, they made the sketched dome a physical reality.

Early drawing by Dr. William Thornton, architect, for Tudor Place.

Any project that removes historic fabric requires scrupulous notes on all that came before — materials, design and construction — for future reference and interpretation. That’s why, as soon as the scaffolding was complete, Curator Erin Kuykendall and I mounted its top level on the first of what would be many ascents. (You can just make out the ladder to the right of the sign.)

We made measured drawings and took photographs of the old tin roof’s seams and other construction particulars. As the project progressed, we gathered material samples for our architectural fragment collection.

Clues “Written” with Wood and Nails
From the prising up of the first metal scrap, we could see that this was going to be an exciting reveal: The wood below appeared relatively intact and displayed clear evidence of nail patterns from a still earlier roof. (We also found two acorns sitting on the rafters, which Director of Gardens and Grounds Suzanne Bouchard identified as white oak.)

Through the patterns of nail holes, the roof’s story began to emerge. In the photo above, the pulled-back metal reveals nails spaced at three-to-five-inch intervals. Looking right, though, other lines of nail holes — black ones — appear, spaced about every inch. Their pattern creates eight-inch-high rectangles of widths between six and 12 inches. This is roughly half the size of the metal pans being removed in 2012; that accorded with what we already suspected about the Phase 1 roof. But now we were getting closer to answers about how long it was there and of what it was made.

Digging down further yielded clues. Once the entire upper portion of the Phase 2 metal was gone, we found wood sheathing in varying condition. Some crumbled at the touch, but other sections were sound. Most exciting from a historical standpoint, almost all of it appeared to date to 1814-1816, the construction period of the house’s center block. From an architectural standpoint, the roofers and I marveled over the high level of craftsmanship employed in the dome’s construction, including hand-cut, curved wood sheathing and massive rafters that taper in depth as they near the dome’s top. Most likely, the rafter structure would have been crafted and pieced together at ground level before being installed above.

When it came to further narrowing dates, nails proved the best clues. The light colored wood sheathing you see at the dome’s pinnacle, above, is a different thickness than most of the darker wood below it and was attached with different nails. The wood below is sash-sawn yellow pine, cut by hand on a curve so as to wrap evenly around the spherical shape.

At left, a “double-struck” nail of a type generally used (with regional variations)
between 1780 and the 1830s. The two 
machine-made nails at right are products of
mid- to late-19th-century manufacturing. The shorter one attached tin plates;
the center specimen secured wood boards to rafters.

The specimen at far right above is a one-inch machine-cut nail used to secure tin plates. In the center is a machine-cut three-inch nail that attached the lighter-colored wood sheathing beneath the metal near the top of the dome. (These were also lightly scattered through the rest of the wood layer.) At left is the most interesting find of all: A double-struck nail of a style employed for only about three decades starting in the 1790s. This period marks the transition from fully hand-wrought nails made by blacksmiths to the introduction of completely factory-made nails, in the first half 19th century. Double-struck nails combine a machined part — the long, cut “shank” — with a head shaped by a blacksmith with two strikes of the hammer, hence the name. The blacksmith’s blows gave the heads a distinctive rectangular shape showing two depressions from each hammer strike.

The Portico roof findings conformed with date estimates of the main (central block) roof, as that larger portion was also secured with double-struck nails. This match of materials and craftsmanship confirmed our conviction that the Portico was constructed concurrently with the center block of the main house.

The Clues Beneath: Dates and Materials Answer Old Questions
Struck by the richness of this and other new information in the roof’s lower layers, we opted to delay the project for additional investigation and documentation. The postponement enabled us to invite an examination by Orlando Ridout V, renowned architectural historian and co-author of the Tudor Place 2002 draft Historic Structure Report (an architectural analysis commissioned by Tudor Place). Ridout, who heads the Maryland Historical Trust’s Office of Research, Survey & Registration, confirmed that we were indeed looking at the circa 1814 building fabric.

Until this point, Tudor Place staff and researchers had been unable to say for sure what material covered the dome during the earliest (Phase 1) period of 1814 to the 1870s. Based on wood shingles that had been found in a roof over the hyphens (the corridor sections linking the center block to the outer wings), we had surmised it might have been clad in wood. But Ridout’s inspection of the tightly spaced nail pattern (black holes) indicated that metal was the material of choice in 1814.

He also helped us home in on the dates of the later, Period 2, roof. Because its tin pans were attached with machine-cut rather than wire nails — the next step in nail technology — it must have been installed in the mid- to late-19th century. Knowing that, and assuming a life span of at least 50 years for the original 1814 roof, I delved into the Tudor Place Archives to examine early photos of the house’s south elevation.

Eureka. Although difficult to see here on a computer, looking through a magnifying glass at an early print of this circa 1873 photograph showed seams on the Portico’s metal roof that matched the seams of the tin roof we removed this year. The means the tin roof and, most likely, the repaired wood sheathing beneath it date to sometime between the Civil War and 1873. That means most of the tin still there in January 2012 was 140 years old!

The demolition process also unveiled evidence of numerous repairs over the years, especially to the roof’s flashing and water table.

The photo above shows the water table: It is the flat portion at the bottom of the dome. Just above it, you can see a series of wood shims that were installed all the way around the dome. These were nailed atop earlier flashing that was very rusted and had obviously failed long before. Probably in an effort to skim water from the roof toward the gutter, the shims changed the angle of the bottom of the dome. Because they were attached with wire nails, we recognize them as an early-20th-century alteration.

Clues for Further Research
More clues came from the metal used for the flashing — smaller metal pieces that bridge and seal the junction of roof and wall. We found two manufacturing stamps. The earlier metal was stamped by a company called Blue Ridge, while some of the later flashing (at the water table level) was stamped by a company called Potomac. Both names indicate they were regional manufacturers, which gives us a great starting point for future research about the materials and craftsmen involved in construction and maintenance of Tudor Place.

Stamp on metal flashing from the early 20th century identifies its source as the “Potomac” company.

Because half the dome extends into the mansion’s interior, the roof restoration also proffered an opportunity to look at its hidden, back side. At its top, we found, the wall is wood frame rather than masonry.

The photo above shows how the dome’s rafters were formed before the expert smoothing and shaping of the carpenters’ planes. In the shadows, what looks like scrap lumber is actually nailed joints of rafter boards coming together to make the curved dome. On the exterior, they were smoothed and carved into a semi-spherical surface, before being covered by flat metal tiles or “pans.” (The cuts ran to depths of about six inches near the top of the dome, expanding to about 18 inches near the bottom.) But within the house walls, the rafters required less labor: Their upper edges were left with the awkward-looking right-angle joints seen above.

Here is what you see looking down between two roof rafters.

Unfortunately, no great artifact was hidden there — just construction debris and a great view of the curved rafter design on the one side, and the backside of the dome’s plaster ceiling on the other.

A High-Tech Record of a Low-Tech Roof
Given all the roof revealed, we couldn’t resist capitalizing even further on this once-in-a-century opportunity to see “what lies beneath.” Delaying one day more, we brought out a crew from Direct Dimensions, a laser-scanning firm, to document the roof with state-of-the-art laser cameras. The data they gathered will be used for historic documentation and future research. It will help with identifying and sorting out the nail hole pattern associated with the circa 1814 roof. Most exciting of all, it enables us to create three-dimensional virtual models to use in  future interpretation on the evolution of the house.

Direct Dimensions’ laser scan required a two-man crew, a full day of tripod-based shooting,
and no shaking or rattling of the scaffold on which the highly sensitive cameras were perched.

These are snapshots from the laser scan draft report:

Below, the larger dots indicate nails securing the wood sheathing to the rafters. The hundreds of lighter dots are nail holes left from the Period 1 (1814-1816) and 2 (1870s) metal roofs. If you look closely, a pattern of the smaller, Period 1 roof pans emerges (follow the gray “lines,” which are actually rows of closely spaced dots).

At Last, Repair and Reconstruction
Once the roof was scanned, repairs to the wood sheathing began. Wagner Roofing applied reclaim heart pine to adjust the water table’s slope and repair short “sister” stretches of the rafters damaged by moisture and dry rot. They used southern yellow pine to fill gaps in the sheathing. Even working with thicknesses of only 5/8 inch, they found it challenging to bend the wood onto the dome, inspiring new respect for the craftsmen two centuries ago who managed the job with only saws, hammer and nails.

 

Once the gaps were filled, the sheathing was covered with 1/4 inch-thick plywood to provide a solid surface for the new metal roof. Using plywood allowed us to retain most of the original sheathing, even though parts of it were in poor condition.

Next, the metal crew arrived to install new lead-coated copper pans and to line the dome and gutter.

The height of each course of metal matches the tin roof just removed. This preserves the Phase 2 roof’s visual character. The metal’s shine will fade, meanwhile, to the weathered gray seen today on the hyphen roofs (to either side of the house’s center block).

The metal installation having been completed, the surrounding stucco was replaced around the roof flashing’s edges.

Be sure to visit Tudor Place soon to see in person the restoration of this remarkable roof!

What Lies Beneath: A Peek Behind the Physical Fabric of Tudor Place

By Elizabeth Peebles, Preservation Manager

While Tudor Place is closed to the public in January, the entire property buzzes with activity to ensure the long-term preservation of collections and buildings. As an added bonus, what’s good for maintenance and preservation is good for scholarship and inquiry.

Tudor Place Foundation exists not just to maintain its historic treasures, but also to learn from and interpret them. Whether we’re replacing a roof, installing new capitals, rebuilding an arbor, restoring an iron gate–most every project we undertake offers insights into the foundations of this noteworthy 1816 estate. Behind every surface, we find clues to how it was built and why it has lasted.

It is humbling to think that only a handful of people (and with this post, you, too!) have ever seen this part of the physical fabric of Tudor Place. Enjoy this peek into three conservation and restoration projects currently underway:

31st Street Entrance
Our iconic entrance gate is showing signs of its age.

Rust is encroaching on the historic iron gates:

So off they went!

Last week, Conservation Solutions hauled the ironwork to their workshop for cleaning and recoating. Conservators will also replicate a few elements, like this missing finial.

The adjacent pedestrian gate will be carted off next for similar treatment and we should be welcoming back the refreshed and renewed gate in four to six weeks. In the meantime, you’ll see this temporary replacement if you visit:

North Entrance Capitals
Tudor Place’s main entrance centers the mansion’s north side and was originally constructed with flanking capitals made from locally quarried Aquia Creek sandstone. During 1914 renovations overseen by Armistead Peter, Jr., the capitals were removed and replaced with pilasters of cast concrete.

At least, we thought they had been removed. When the building’s stucco facade was removed in 2007, we found that much of the original sandstone blocks remained embedded in the thick walls behind the concrete replacements. When the stucco was replaced, these remnants remained hidden behind plaster pilasters temporarily inserted to replace the concrete ones (seen above).

But longer term measures were needed. After considering all the options, our Buildings and Grounds Committee decided to restore Aquia Creek sandstone above the door, after an absence of almost 100 years.

The Virginia-sourced stone appears in some of Washington’s most prominent early buildings, including the White House and U.S. Capitol. George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate, too, has Aquia Creek sandstone features, which proved fortunate for us, as Mount Vernon generously donated an unused piece of the material for use in the new capitals.

First, we removed the temporary plaster-pilaster capitals in place since 2007, revealing the remnants of the beautiful original sandstone. The pieces appear to recede through the full depth of the wall, and you can see the outline of the original molding profile:

As a guide in shaping the new sandstone blocks, the stone carver is referring to molding profile drawings from 1914, as well as traces of the original profiles still seen (as above) in the existing wood trim . It will take him a few weeks of carving before we can install the new pieces.

Temple Portico Roof
While the house’s main entrance anchors the north side, the south facade’s Temple Portico is possibly its most memorable feature. This month, for the first time in at least 100 years, its semi-domed roof is being pulled back, and its frame exposed to the open air.

The project addresses a vexing problem of longstanding. Moisture has been seeping for years into the southeast bedroom on the second floor, opposite the spot where the Temple Portico’s molded-steel gutter meets the exterior outside wall.

 

Earlier, less invasive attempts to repair the damage did not work. (The water damage seen below is usually concealed behind a bureau!)

 

The first option considered was simply relining the gutter. But after further examination, Wagner Roofing recommended completely replacing the Portico’s tin roof and metal flashing, and the Buildings & Grounds Committee approved this approach. The tin pans that comprise the roof are rusting and have grown thin from years of exposure to the elements. As far as we know, the replacement of this roof is the first since the 1800s: 20th-century improvements to the Portico dome appear to have been limited to minor repairs and many, many layers of paint.

Last week we opened a small portion of the roof to investigate existing conditions:

In the photo above right, you can see the pine rafters that shape the dome.

In a few weeks we will have installed the complete scaffolding, documented the existing metal roof, removed the metal, documented the visible wood framing below, and installed new flashing, roof, and gutter liner. Once spring weather arrives, Federal Masonry will return to replace the surrounding stucco removed to install the flashing.

Be sure to check back for pictures of the finished projects. Or better still, visit us soon to see for yourself!

Tudor Place Historic House & Garden, in Georgetown, is one of the District of Columbia’s first National Historic Landmarks. Tours are offered hourly Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Sundays, 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. (Doors close at 4:00.) The house is closed Mondays and throughout the month of January. For those seeking insights beyond the regular docent’s tour, special tours can be scheduled for groups of 10 or more.