Thomas and Zilpah Ludlam House (ca. 1790)

Thomas and Zilpah Ludlam House (ca. 1790)
Thomas + Zilpah Ludlam House, ca. 1790

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Scavenger Hunt, part II

I mentioned in a previous post that we were scavenging historic building materials to use in the addition.  I'm a firm believer in the saying that a historic building is a green building because of the investment in labor and natural resources that the already-built house represents.  The same goes for building components.  Recycling materials is a green option to filling your cart at one of the big box home centers.

We've got historic doors from a ca. 1800 house that we're recycling and they've got their original door locks.  Scott, cabinet maker that he is, decided to make a base cabinet for the bathroom sink using heart pine boards that had been submerged for 100 years while standing sentinel for a bridge abutment.  A co-worker saved them from the dumpster when the bridge was re-built some 10 years ago and Scott brokered a deal to get a few hundred board feet.  A local sawyer (now retired) believes that the planks were sawn from trees that were already 100 years old when placed as part of the bridge 100 years ago.  They are knot-free and beautiful, and the cabinet is spectacular!  We're putting a copper basin sink on top with copper faucets and the casual look is just what we wanted.  I'll post a photo once it's in place.

George left us some beautiful old floor boards of both hard pine and cedar in what is now Scott's workshop.  Those will get placed underfoot in the kitchen, but we don't have quite enough so we're looking for some more. 

If we can't find any, I may have to make old boards out of new ones.  Something you don't know about me is that I'm a painter, trained by my mother who was a professional "Early American decorator."  I learned theorem and tole painting from her, but then discovered a passion for realistic oil painting in the style of Philadelphia's well-known Peale family of artists.  I'm self-taught in the art of faux painting and I honed my talents restoring our old house.  For example, Scott filled the holes in the exposed joists (drilled there for electrical wires) in our living room and I faux-painted knots over the patched holes in the beams to match others.  Folks cannot tell which ones are original and which ones are fake.

We're also reusing historic bricks for the foundation and I learned first-hand yesterday what it takes to chip mortar carefully, very carefully, from used bricks.  The old lime mortar is fairly easy to remove, but the "newer" stuff with Portland cement takes strength, finess, and a whole lot of patience.  I'll leave those for Scott to clean!

George also left us a pile of used, historic bricks that were left-over from building the foundation of the original house when it was moved here in 1975.  But, many are broken and I worried that they'd have to be thrown in the dumpster.  We spent a few days in Williamsburg last fall and during our meanderings in the historic area, I looked down and noticed I was walking on a sidewalk made largely entirely from broken bricks.  Perfect!  I took several photos and will be modeling our patio and sidewalk of used bricks following the random patterns I saw there.

Working with historic buildings professionally as an architectural historian, I've learned that our forefathers and foremothers didn't waste a thing.  Houses were moved regularly; in fact, I found a reference dated 1767 that mentioned a house here in Cape May County being moved by a wealthy land owner to a different location.  Houses were also recycled for different purposes, too, often becoming barns or shops, and vice versa once their original use was outdated.  Similarly, the joists in what is now our kitchen were re-used from a much-earlier house and then recycled in ours around 1830 when the kitchen lean-to was rebuilt.

I like to think that Scott and I are following in the footsteps of those Cape May countians before us who wasted nothing and had no idea they were living the "green movement" a few centuries ahead of time.

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