South Lawn Cistern Project

Tudor Place, in pursuing sustainability and responsible stewardship of the historic house and grounds, is currently working to actively conserve water and regulate the stormwater flow on and from our site.

The stormwater management project, starting in February 2019 on the South Lawn, will reduce silt and water runoff, mitigate destructive erosion, and diminish our consumption of fresh water.

In collaboration with our architect, civil engineer, preservation consultant, and other experts, we designed a system that will meet our needs and our sustainable practice standards. Two underground cisterns will be fed by existing stormwater lines that gather rainwater from the Main House downspouts and gutters. These two cisterns can hold nearly 20,000 gallons of water, which we will use for irrigation after a short treatment process. Altogether, this project will involve excavating and placing the cisterns, installing the irrigation pump and water treatment system, and connecting the irrigation lines to the new water supply.

This project is a component of our Master Preservation Plan, developed in collaboration with stakeholders to reach the goal of enhancing Tudor Place’s interpretive capabilities while advancing the site’s overall sustainability. Other sustainability initiatives include implementing LED lighting throughout the property, and building an HVAC system based on geothermal energy.

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.

A “Revealing” Project in the Office

From a stuffed bird under a dome to manual typewriters to crystal and silver desk sets, the Office at Tudor Place is so densely stuffed with fascinating objects that it can be hard to know where to look first. The room appears almost exactly as it did in the 1920s, when Armistead Peter, Jr., the estate’s third owner, made it his headquarters for correspondence, estate business, and numerous hobbies and collections, reflected in its furnishings today.

Visitors on a second tour or given the chance, as at Tudor Nights or another event, to linger a while, may notice a more recent oddity, however. In the room’s southwest corner, the forest green plaster has been removed, revealing exposed brick wall beneath.

This seeming flaw is there on purpose. The open corner serves as a reveal, letting visitors see the wall’s basic structure, covered on the house exterior by stucco and, indoors, by plaster. It also enables preservation staff to monitor for deterioration of bricks or plaster.

Recently, that’s precisely what our Director of Buildings, Gardens and Grounds found — bricks at risk of disintegration from water damage, threatening the integrity of the entire wall. Tudor Place staff carefully removed furniture, collections objects, and books from the area, and commissioned Federal Masonry to make repairs. They replaced the weakened bricks with ‘new’ ones from our cache of old and original bricks conserved from prior projects. They also removed unstable mortar, and repointed the fresh bricks with historically-based lime mortar.

Last, the green plaster lines were neatened to maintain the reveal as an educational feature in the otherwise pristinely finished room. Now you will know to take a closer look at the corner when you next come through the Office.

Remembering Austin Kiplinger, Tudor Place Champion

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT
November 23, 2015 Mandy Katz
  Director of Communications
  ph: 202.580.7329

This is a charmed place. It just raises your spirits whenever you’re here. And I feel that way and I have felt that way for many years and I’m continuously reminded that there is a continuity in life, and the more we know about it, the better we can cope with changes that are coming… 

— Austin Kiplinger, Honoree, 20th Annual Tudor Place
Spring Garden Party, May 2012

The board and staff of Tudor Place mourn the loss of Trustee Emeritus Austin H. Kiplinger, known as “Kip,” who died November 20 at age 97. His passing leaves a void among lovers of D.C. history. His enthusiasm for preservation and gleanings from our shared past will be sorely missed.

“Working with him for 15 years, I found him to be gracious, ebullient, and generous in sharing his love for the history he knew so well of this city and of Tudor Place,” said Leslie Buhler, Tudor Place Executive Director until October 2015. “He connected the past to the present in very real terms,” she added, praising his “extraordinary memory, sparkle in his eyes, and thirst for knowledge.”

Mr. Kiplinger championed Tudor Place since the museum opened in 1988. He first delved into its history after he and his wife purchased Montevideo, a dilapidated 1830 house in Montgomery County, Maryland, in 1958. Montevideo’s builder, John Parke Custis Peter, was the son of Martha Parke Custis and Thomas Peter, the founders of Tudor Place. Peter built Montevideo to match the Federal-style center block of Tudor Place, his childhood home. His parents’ graves and those of two of their children remain on the property.

With painstaking attention to detail and sound preservation practices, Mr. Kiplinger restored Montevideo, raising his family there with a keen shared interest in its past and its “parentage” at Tudor Place, Ms. Buhler noted. When Tudor Place opened to the public in 1988, he joined the foundation’s Board of Trustees, becoming president two years later and serving in that role for eight years. He continued to support the museum for the rest of his life. Tudor Place celebrated his lasting leadership and commitment in 2012 by naming him honoree of  the 20th Annual Spring Garden Party.

On that occasion, he recalled first encountering Tudor Place not as a homeowner, but as a boy. “When I was in my teens and a student at the great, distinguished Western High School here in Georgetown,” he told the audience of several hundred gathered in his honor, “I used to wander past this great place up on the hill and wonder about it and wonder what went on behind that gate. And little did I know at the time that a lot of American history went on behind that gate, a reflection of it at least, in five generations of one family.”  (See the video.)

A pioneering publisher and journalist, Mr. Kiplinger recognized innately the importance of knowing history to understanding modern times. At Tudor Place, he said in his Garden Party address, six generations of one family “lived through some of the most tortured times in any nation’s history…  And we can deal with the present and the future better if we know something about the past.”

Tudor Place extends condolences to Mr. Kiplinger’s his son and daughter-in-law, Knight and Ann Kiplinger, his companion, Bonnie Barker Nicholson, and the extended Kiplinger family.

Tudor Place Friends and Collaborators Celebrate National Preservation Award

Current and past staff members, consultants, conservators, and other supporters gathered June 18 to celebrate the bestowal on Tudor Place of the coveted Ross Merrill Award for Outstanding Commitment to the Preservation and Care of Collections. Cool wine and beverages offered relief from the heat for the 64 guests gathered for the awards ceremony, catered reception, and socializing in the Dower House administration building.  In recognition of a conservation focus that permeates all aspects of the house, collection, and grounds, select museum areas were open for viewing, with the spotlight on collection pieces that have received special conservation care.

“Tudor Place excels in telling its story,” enthused Eryl Wentworth, executive director of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC) as she presented the award jointly with her counterpart from Heritage Preservation. The Merrill Award confirms Tudor Place’s reputation for a level of collections stewardship more often found in far larger institutions. Past recipients include the National Archives and Records Administration, Shelburne Museum, and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, among others. So selective is the awards committee, according to the AIC director, that in some years, since it was first presented in 1999, the prize was not awarded at all.

Since Leslie Buhler became executive director of Tudor Place 14 years ago, Ms. Wentworth said, “[I] have watched and applauded her stewardship of this remarkable site… There is no question in anyone’s mind–Tudor Place well deserves the honor of receiving this special award.”

In his remarks, Heritage Preservation President Larry Reger praised the long-term focus on preservation concerns that recommended Tudor Place to the committee. “Even in the early years of its transition from private ownership to a public institution, the Tudor Place Foundation made it a priority to ensure there was a sustained review its collections and archives,” he noted. The award recognizes, the comprehensiveness and systematic nature of the museum’s collections care, the daily attention devoted to it from an expanding collections staff, cultivation of strong board support, and the engagement of conservators, preservation architects, architectural historians, archivists, engineers and others with necessary skills.

In accepting the award, Ms. Buhler alluded to the capital campaign and Master Preservation Plan that will undergird the museum’s future. “What we collectively have achieved in the past is truly remarkable, but it is what we must achieve in the future that will secure Tudor Place,” she said, noting, “we are not celebrating in the main house tonight because of the heat. Not only is the heat dangerous for visitors and staff, but heat extremes cause fluctuations in humidity that damage the collection and archive.”

The proposed master plan includes HVAC modernization and other practical improvements crucial to conservation and preservation of valuable objects and structures, she noted, adding, “This is the future of Tudor Place, one that is imperative to secure if we are to continue to exist as a public museum.”

All images © AVANTphotoDC.

Orlando Ridout V: In Memoriam

Executive Director Leslie Buhler offers this tribute to Orlando, who died April 6, 2013. A pillar of architectural history and preservation, he was a deeply admired friend to her and others fortunate enough to have known and worked with him. 

Orlando Ridout V on roof
Orlando on the Tudor Place roof.

There are few people one meets in life who stand heads above others. One of those people in my life – as in many others – was Orlando Ridout V. While few outside the fields of architectural history or preservation will have heard of him, all of us will benefit far into the future from his work. For almost four decades, Orlando helped create, shape, define, and advance the study of vernacular architecture, for thirty of those years as chief of field research for the Maryland Historical Trust, a state agency dedicated to preserving and interpreting the legacy of Maryland’s past.

I first met Orlando in 2000 when I began work at Tudor Place. Then-Trustee Al Chambers invited him into the city to meet me and discuss a path forward for the National Historic Landmark house. I was immediately drawn to him — his passion for old buildings was electrifying, his intellect inspiring, and his knowledge of building construction astounding. He was thoughtful, generous of spirit, and full of great stories. He shared his vast knowledge humbly and did not judge the recipient.  From that meeting to this day, he has been my touchstone as I have led efforts to understand and preserve this historic site.
Orlando Ridout V giving Tudor Place tour
Orlando explaining the architectural history of
Tudor Place: He shared his vast knowledge humbly.

In 2001 and 2002, we commissioned Orlando and Willie Graham, his longtime colleague at Colonial Williamsburg, to write a Historic Structures Report for the estate. Their systematic approach greatly advanced our knowledge of the building’s evolution and formed the foundation for the interpretive approach used today. Through endless hours of investigation, examination, and delving into documentary material (including early images), they produced a comprehensive site chronology and a keystone essay on the house’s evolution and architectural importance. From their inquiries, we gained invaluable understanding of the people who lived and worked at Tudor Place over 173 years of ownership by the Peter family.

Several years later, when the stucco was removed from the house, Orlando came to examine the exposed exterior brick. While many of those in the collected group of staff and experts were examining the east wing to identify whether, in fact, it had been a stable and carriage house, Orlando pulled out his notebook and deftly sketched the structure with it horse and carriage entrances. He showed us the difficult-to-discern alterations in the brick that indicated changes made to make the wing habitable. By the end of the day, after close examination of the exterior brick, Orlando’s notebook was full. (For a closer look, click the image below.)

 

Orlando last came to Tudor Place in early 2012 to examine the construction of the Temple Portico roof while it was being restored. He clambered up 2 stories of scaffolding and ladders to examine lumber and nail-hole patterns. With his usual command of regional construction practices, he immediately helped us understand the challenges facing those who made the domed roof and the construction techniques used to create this highly unusual structure.
Orlando examining nail-hole patterns on the Tudor Place Temple Portico dome, January 2012.

This was just months before he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. News of his illness caused a seismic shock in the architectural history and preservation fields. He was not to leave this world without the recognition he so deserved. In 1979, Orlando had helped found the Vernacular Architecture Forum (VAF), dedicated to the interdisciplinary study of the built environment, and historic architectural resources and their relationship to local culture in particular. In June 2012, its Board awarded him the Henry Glassie Award recognizing special achievements in and contributions to the field of vernacular architecture studies.

Marcia Miller, his Maryland Historical Trust colleague, captured Orlando’s spirit so well as she accepted the award on his behalf, so I will quote from her tribute:

    …His contributions to this field have redefined how we, as a profession, look at buildings. Not content to simply maintain the status quo, he has elevated the standards of our field, continuously working towards bettering our understanding of buildings, refining our documentation standards and rethinking the types of questions we should ask about the built environment.

    Perhaps his greatest legacy, however, is as a teacher and mentor… He gives freely and profusely to anyone who is passionate about buildings, and he is especially dedicated to those who desire to become field surveyors. How many people in our field have learned the basics about nail chronologies, framing techniques, and hardware while spending a hot day in a tobacco barn or cold, snowy day in an abandoned eighteenth century house with him? Benefiting in a special way are his students who took his legendary course, “Field Methods for Architectural History,” at the George Washington University.

    But these examples do not do justice in any way to Orlando’s expansive generosity with the fruits of his intellect and his labor. No matter how elementary or complex the question might be, nor how many times he has answered it before, he always answers with thoughtfulness, unselfishness and modesty.

Orlando’s work in the Chesapeake region included so many historic structure investigations, restorations, and reconstructions. Some of the most notable among the numerous historic sites he analyzed in Maryland, Virginia, and South Carolina were the Octagon, a William Thornton-designed home in downtown Washington owned by the American Architectural Foundation; Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest; James Madison’s Montpelier; and the Aiken-Rhett House in Charleston. His work in South Carolina earned him the Frances R. Edmunds Award from the Historic Charleston Foundation.
In Maryland, his work is legendary, and his public service followed that of family members before him. The Ridout family’s roots in Maryland go back to the 17th century and include two royal governors, members of the Maryland Legislature, and the state’s first historic preservation officer. In 30 years working for the state, Orlando helped compile a catalog of Maryland’s historic resources, the Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties, which establishes the basis for all preservation activity in the state and is a model for other states. With his father, Orlando was awarded the Calvert Prize, the Maryland Historical Trust’s highest award for historic preservation.
As prodigious and inspiring as his personal gifts were, Orlando was a prolific writer. With Marcia Miller as editor, he contributed to Architecture in Annapolis: A Field Guide. His other writings include a book, Building the Octagon, which received VAF’s Abbott Lowell Cummings Award in 1990; Architecture and Change in the Chesapeake: A Field Tour on the Eastern and Western Shores, written with Michael O. Bourne, Paul Toart, and Donna Ware; and a chapter in The Chesapeake House, a newly released comprehensive study of early buildings, landscapes, and social history edited by Cary Carson and Carl Lounsbury. His additional studies,papers, and articles likewise provide a rich resource for future generations.
He leaves us the rich legacy of these works and his scholarship, but in himself, more than anything, Orlando was a gift to us all. I will miss him greatly.

 

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.