Tuesday, January 27, 2009


The town of Lovettsville, where I live a few miles outside town, is in the process of using an empty lot at the edge of town to erect a new post office. The old one, which has its funky mid-Fifties charms, has grown decrepit enough that a new facility is needed.

The lot on which the new office will go was the site of a home at least until 1944, and possibly later. I find the house on a 1910 USGS topographical map, but not on one (much less accurate) dated 1853. There's no visible evidence of the original structure (or at least none that we could find in our desultory search), but the spring-house remained on the lot, a reminder of what once had been there.

The town contracted with a friend of mine to disassemble the spring-house; the town's planning an educational park with a model nineteenth-century farm, and this structure is perfect for that purpose. A great deal of the lumber can't be recycled -- it's pretty weatherbeaten -- but the pieces can be used as patterns to cut new replacement parts. The parts of the frame that can be reused, we numbered carefully and stored.

Here's the building as we found it Friday morning. It might be a little over six feet tall at the peak of the roof.

Here's an interior shot. The foundation partly caved in some while ago, as these things will do if not maintained. There was standing water beneath the caved-in stones.

Here's the interior after half of the tin roof was removed. Some of the rafters were pretty badly rotted, and over the years an entire menagerie of different bugs -- mud-daubers, paper wasps, bees -- had built little civilizations between them.

Here Jeff risks life and limb removing tin roofing:

Getting down to rafters, now. I was Siding-Boy, working with a prybar to wrestle against square-profiled Victorian-era nails. I'd gotten three pieces off before breaking to take pictures.

I thought this discovery was pretty enchanting in its small way. There were two local sources for milled lumber in the late nineteenth century, and this builder had used both. One mill had a (for then) old-fashioned band saw that sawed in a linear, up-and-down motion. The siding came from that mill; see the saw-marks? Straight lines.

(The lumber used to make the loft in my cabin shows these straight saw-marks as well. I suppose there's a distinct possibility that that lumber came from that same mill. Likehood, even.)

The other mill, a more modern facility, used a circular saw. Note the curved saw-marks on this piece of framing:

Down to the framing, now. These are the parts that were numbered for later reuse. We found evidence of a window once having graced one of the now blank sides (the south side -- to the right in the photo -- which makes sense).

Good view here of the collapsed foundation:

When the frame was removed, the only wood structure left to dismantle was the foundation on which the frame rested. These logs were both hand-hewn and milled; we think they were roughed out where the tree was felled, and then cut to spec at the mill. The parts were lapped together -- and those laps were strong. Hardest bit to disassemble all day.

The ground was far too frozen to do any metal detecting, but we did find a few humdrum artifacts, the detritus of a hundred years ago. Here we have a suggestion that Paw might have liked to wander on down to the safety of the spring-house for a little nip of medicinal whiskey:

Now the foundation itself. The small front-loader you see here couldn't dig into the ground to get the lower stones; it could only deal with the above-ground parts you see here. They came back with a backhoe the next day to get at those. Everything we salvaged, down to the stones, is now safely in storage.

One note that bears making: Those stones were heavy. I was destroyed after lifting a few dozen into the front-loader. Now imagine that all day, every day, as a farmer, you had to plow those things out of the ground and hump them over to wherever you're piling them up. Then, when you've got enough to make the foundation of your spring-house, you hump them again. Every last single one of them, you and your sons (if you were lucky to have any).

"Paw, what are we doing today?"

"Humping stones."

"Uh-huh, and what're we doing tomorrow?

"Humping stones."

"What about Sunday?"

"Church. Then... humping stones."

What, did you think they had 'em delivered from Home Depot?

This wasn't quite the nearly mystical experience I wrote about in this post; this little springhouse is a good eighty years younger than the house we disassembled then. But it was a helluva way to spend a Friday.

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