“Oh, you have the Amanda Dignowity House!” says a neighbor.

“Oh, you have the Amanda Dignowity House!” says the City of San Antonio.

“Oh, you have the Amanda Dignowity House!”, says the Conservation Society.

And consistent with my skeptical nature, my response has always been something like, oh yea — how do you know it’s the Amanda Dignowity House?

The previous owner also believed the house to be the Amanda Dignowity House.  And why not?  During the mid to late 1800’s Amanda Dignowity was known to be quite the active businesswoman on the Eastside.  As old-fashioned habits tell us, our neighborhood is her husband’s namesake. More accurately it’s their namesake or even her namesake considering the extent of her business activity.

Scattered about so many places is this often published description or something very similar: “Dignowity Hill was San Antonio’s first exclusive residential suburb. The area was settled by Dr. Anthony Michael Dignowity, a physician and Czech immigrant, who built his family home on a hill to the east of town and called it Harmony House.”

My response now degrading to cynicism says good thing Mr. Dignowity was accompanied by his multi-talented wife and didn’t have to do that settling all alone!   I digress.  But what edited histories for public consumption do is present simplified situations and often with a “lone wolf” endeavor. We forget how very dependent people were on each other in the pre-auto, pre-telephone, pre-digital media and pre-credit card, paypal and amazon days. These pioneer journeys often required entire large families to relocate while simultaneously depending upon remaining family members who often provided financial assistance. Of all of the truncated 100± word Dignowity Hill histories that are scattered about, the short blurb at http://eastpointsa.org/listing/dignowity-park/ has the best value in terms of brevity and accuracy.


A J + A M Dignowity, Harmony House. 1921 photo

Texas was incredible complicated during the 1800’s and the Dignowity’s like so many other families had a complicated history. What we do know is that Anthony Michael Dignowity (1810-1875) married Amanda J. McCann (1820-1907) in 1843 in Little Rock, AR. The Dignowity’s came to San Antonio in 1846 when Mr. D volunteered as a surgeon in the Regiment of Arkansas Mounted Volunteers serving in the Mexican War. When Mr. D decided to stay in SA to serve as a town physician instead of heading to the war front, it was a matter of a few months before Mrs. D and their two young children traveled by water via the Mississippi River, New Orleans and arrived in Texas through Port Lavaca and joined Mr. D in SA.

Both Mrs. + Mr. D were very skilled and knowledgeable since they both had full medical educations and both had practiced medicine in Arkansas. Both were also very enterprising business people as they started businesses and invested in land soon after arriving in San Antonio.   To give you an idea of the quantity of dealing by the couple, according the Bexar County Clerk Archives, the number of grantor deeds listed for Anthony M and A M Dignowity exceeds 260. Grantor deeds for Amanda J and A J Dignowity number close to 1100!

1848 was a big year: The Mexican War finally ends with the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo and the first women’s rights convention was held in Seneca Falls, NY. The importance is not lost on the Dignowity’s. The Dignowity’s took advantage of the Mexican War’s outcome by purchasing large parcels of land whenever they became available. Their original home was in a low lying area closer to downtown on Acequia Street.   In time, 2 large land grants were issued in Anthony’s name and by 1858 Amanda had power of attorney over all of their property dealings. In an era when women’s personal legal rights were limited, their property rights were relatively vast in that they could retain title to property acquired before the marriage and had community rights to property obtained during the marriage. However, the community property could only be managed by the male in a marriage and power of attorney was executed to allow both spouses to legally participate in the business. Ten years younger than Anthony, Amanda lived 32 years beyond the death of her husband, so her wheeling dealing years were rich and included much of the historic Eastside as well as other neighborhoods surrounding downtown San Antonio. Instead of following the Dignowity story, which in itself is exciting, let’s get back to the Crockett Street House story.

In the end, one could speculate that Amanda Dignowity had something to do with the Crockett Street House, but exactly what was the persistent question.  Eventually, I did find the Amanda Dignowity connection but it was not what I or anyone else expected.

In June 1881 Amanda Dignowity purchased the vacant lot (1120 E Crockett) as part of a larger parcel from James Jackson of New Orleans. By November 1882 she had sold approximately one acre to George W. Philips. The vacant lot was sold in February 1883 to Annie R. Smith for $750.  A reduced parcel of 1/3 acre was then sold on March 16, 1886 for $400 to Miss Agnes Cotton, a feme sole. The digital archive file that answered so many questions was a Contract and Mechanics and Builders Lien dated exactly 130 years ago today on March 25, 1886 between Miss Cotton and The Bexar Building and Loan Association. It’s in this handwritten five-page document that we learn that Miss Agnes Cotton borrowed $3400. Within this agreement, Miss Agnes Cotton refinanced the lot purchase costs, agreed “to erect, build and construct a one story Rock house on the property below described, according to the plans and specifications therefore marked Agnes Cotton’s Exhibits ‘A + B’. . . . .”, and financed the construction costs.

Miss Agnes Cotton : Bexar Building


For better or for worse, she hired a contracting company that specialized in wood carpentry,  “Cotton + Hornung” to build her stone house!  Previously in partnership with Gus Kampmann, Clem Cotton was Agnes’ brother and was relatively young at the time (20’s or 30’s) while Louis A. Hornung was the master builder and much older.

7:14:86 H+C AD copy

July, 14 1886, San Antonio Light.

What I’ve been able to learn about Miss Cotton has been only through archived publications. Luckily her professional activities were well documented and like so many social individuals during the 19th century, her comings and goings were often published in the local papers. Unlike the tradition that a proper woman would only be mentioned in the newspaper at birth, marriage and death, Miss Cotton was very well respected in town and her activities were sprinkled across decades of news notices.

So today, exactly 130 years to the day that Miss Cotton signed an agreement to borrow what was a hefty amount of money for a single woman to build her own rock house, I can begin the story of this remarkable woman. A future post will be about Agnes, but let’s just start by saying the naming of the SAISD Agnes Cotton Elementary School on Blanco Road in Beacon Hill is a minor honor for an educator that was a life-long advocate for nurturing curiosity and learning.

To set the record straight, what some call the Amanda Dignowity House, and I’ve been calling the Crockett Street House and The Rock is really the Agnes Cotton House of 1886.  Whew – that was easy!


A Twentieth Century History of Southwest Texas, Illustrated, Volume 1 (Chicago, New York, Los Angeles. The Lewis Publishing Company, 1907).
Clinton Machann and James W. Mendl, Krásná Amerika: A Study of the Texas Czechs, 1851–1939 (Austin: Eakin Press, 1983).
A Forgotten Past/A Nebulous Future, John E. Castaneda, 1979. City of San Antonio, Office of Historic Preservation.
UTSA / Institute of Texan Cultures; Digital Collection, General Photography Collection.
Estelle Hudson and Henry R. Maresh, Czech Pioneers of the Southwest (Dallas: South-West, 1934).
Pioneer Photographers from the Mississippi to the Continental Divide, A Biographical Dictionary, 1839-1865, Peter E. Palmquist and Thomas R. Kailbourn
San Antonio Light, July 14, 1886



If you grew up without a front porch, you just didn’t know what you were missing until you move into a house with one!  My childhood home was a neo-eclectic, American Colonial suburban house built in 1966 with a stoop-like entry.  Barely 40″ x 40″, it was large enough to hold 3 young children for trick-or-treat or maybe two adults for a photograph – but not much more.  With 1″ deep trim inserts flanking the front door that implied “pilaster”, this was a decorated front entry and not a porch.

The myriad of reasons of why porches disappeared on houses of the 1950’s forward might include, the proliferation of an automobile culture which resulted in private homes with clear delineation of indoor and outdoor spaces; the popularity of private indoor activities such as TV watching and record spinning; and the love of air conditioning in the summertime.  Why sit on the porch when all the good gadgets were inside the house?

Our front porches in an earlier era of traditional houses did so many things – might it be called the hardest working room of the house?  Essentially, a front porch extends the private home to the public – it’s the first covered place you arrive to when you visit or return home.  Spatially it surrounds and embraces while our mind hears, “welcome.”  Porches are also a place where you can share your space with visitors without being obligated to enter the main, enclosed house, the private realm.  “The place is a mess”, “The cat is sick”, “The weather is lovely”, or “I don’t know you well enough” are all sufficient reasons to visit on the porch.

Our recently completed front porches, yes, more than one, are very functional 250 square feet of additional living space.  For a house with only 810 SF of livable area, 250 extra SF will go a long way.  Packages and muddy shoes can be left on the porch, cigar smokers can sit on the porch and it’s the perfect place for me to eat unshelled peanuts.  Porches also serve a function for the house as it protects the building face and windows from the wearing effects of sunlight and rain.

This quick bit of reading is a good introduction to the porch on American houses:  http://www.nps.gov/tps/how-to-preserve/briefs/45-wooden-porches.htm

If you recall from a while back, the wood porches rebuilt in the 1990’s didn’t wear so well. The west porch roof and decking had rotted and was pulling away from the house while the east porch roof was in almost complete failure.



To make matters more critical, the east porch was still sitting on the 1950’s-60’s concrete slab which was pulling away from the house and damaging the limestone foundation.  An earlier post, Porches – Gone! from April 2014 depict the chore of removing the modern work.


Today, The Rock porches are about 95% finished with only the post caps, bottom skirting and paint remaining.


As a vehicle for architectural expression the porch form alone, without the consideration of materials and details, says plenty about the program of the house, the habits of its owners and the traditions of its place.  In our case, we recreated the porch forms that were original to the house.  Evidence in the stone informed us of the locations and sizes of all three porches while the other physical evidence, research on the general style and elevations of the house hinted at the roof type.  In this regard historically the house is correct, however, as far as actual construction is concerned, we clearly “invented” the details.  And this is not entirely bad.  The photo record we have dates only to the 1950’s and it appears that since that time the porches have been rebuilt 3 times, not including this fourth version of ours.  Each version expressed something about its time whether it was the metal scroll work supports that were sold throughout the neighborhood during the late 1950’s, the modern, 2x handrails of the 1970’s and 1980’s or the post modern red “dots” on the roof beams from the 1990’s (more about those on a later post).  In our rebuilding, we wanted to show the basic elements of what might have been original but without copying the ornate Queen Ann center canopy bracket which just might be original to the house or the classically inspired gable trims most likely from the 1920’s.


Without a record of the original house style, our aim is to let the form of the house be the primary historic record and keep the wood details to a minimum distraction.  More historic research on the circumstances around the house’s construction may allow us to one day rip off the guardrails, add doodads or other architectural elements, but for the time being, the porches’ simplicity and clarity is refreshing.
Lastly, we had a very special angel help us rebuild these essential porches – The San Antonio Conservation Society knows well the importance of porches on this house and very generously provided a grant to pay for a large portion of the work.  We can’t say enough how grateful we are to the Society for their support which ranged from the financial to technical and encouragement.  They are the preservation treasure in this town and the heroes for The Rock.  https://www.saconservation.org/





It certainly is high time that we post another update on The Rock as we now lovingly call the house on Crockett Street. For better or worse, working on The Rock has been like base jumping – an experience like no other and nearly as daring for the rookie. The rehab work is slow but is thorough. With the excellent guidance of the San Antonio Conservation Society, the City of San Antonio’s Office of Historic Preservation, a slew of knowledgeable people, documents from the US Department of the Interior and the Association of Preservation Technology, combined with our own 3 years of owning the house, we know we’re on the right track. Those of us who own a rock or block house know we have true gems.

When we think of the many glorious and large stone mansions in the City, the King William mansions built during the late 19th century come to mind. But a walk through KW also reveals that many smaller more modest structures of stone dot the neighborhood. And they’re all equally beautiful.


kg wm 3 kg wm 4DBL RAINBOW at Pereidakm wm 5

Dignowity Hill Historic District is similar in this regard – the neighborhood has a few grand mansions of rocks and blocks while several small, more modest structures of stone cropped up during the same time. Maybe it was a stroke of convenience and surplus materials from a larger project that enabled the smaller houses to be built of stone. Maybe it was a traditional preference from a northern transplant.

We have a copy of the original deed that described the financial deal when property was purchased and the Crockett Street House was commissioned. The deed cites “plans and specifications”, but unfortunately, we haven’t found more documents related to the house. The Rock on Crockett Street was built of stone when most houses in town during the last quarter of the 19th century, were built of wood. Sure, commercial, institutional, civic and religious buildings continued to be constructed with stone and we even see steel entering the picture. Then we consider what was happening during the late 1870’s and early 1880’s – regular railroad service arrived to San Antonio in 1878 and brought loads of lumber from points east to yards and shops (source: 1886 San Antonio City Directory).  To this day, names like Calcasieu, Steve’s, Reimann, etc. . . are still found on exposed walls and in attics throughout town.  It seems that The Rock and a few other modest stone houses sit firmly in the transition between rock and wood construction.



Stone brings qualities to a public building that can also be desirable for a house – stone creates a sense of permanence, allows a level of formal and decorative plasticity, and provides structural mass that effects thermal and acoustic properties –  and we can presume that the individuals who commissioned the rock and block houses in Dignowity Hill wanted a stone house for some of those reasons. Wood is good in that it provides economy and ease of workmanship and very good structural properties, but it has to work pretty hard to achieve the distinct architectural qualities of stone.

Folk Victorian.     One thing is certain – of the houses that were built of rocks or blocks in Dignowity Hill between the 1870’s and 1890’s, they are each unique. Although a handful of houses may have followed a folk Victorian L or T floor plan and have an asymmetrical front elevation, much of the detailing is notably different among those houses. Roofs might be lower sloped Italianate or higher pitched Gothic style. Roof connections and resulting eave details are custom for each house.   Then look at the porches. The range of stylistic expression of the column supports and the brackets is simply fascinating! And that’s just for the folk Victorians.

Mansions.   From my quick look-around, I see that Dignowity Hill has approximately three rock or block mansions. The magnificent high Victorian and Greek revival stone house known as the Elmendorf house is on Burleson Street. The landmarked structure built in 1884 was designed by Alfred Giles and sits on a raised foundation and on a hill. The result is a very successfully sited house that oozes prominence!

Another example is the “yellow house” at the corner of N Olive and Nolan Streets. Built of rocks and blocks (brick), the Neoclassical house is in visible disrepair but still very salvageable with a dedicated owner and focused effort (thank you, Google).728 nolan

On the opposite corner across the two parks at the corner of N Olive and Hays Streets is a Colonial Revival brick house. Just as stately, the house will hopefully undergo rehabilitation soon.  IMG_5699

Romantic Revivals.   Another house style, albeit rare, found in the neighborhood is the plan layout that creates a symmetrical front façade. One distinguishing feature of these houses is a very simple rectangular front volume.  Another feature or by-product of the simple front elevation is either a fully continuous front porch or several front porches covering the majority of the front of the house. I currently know of only three of such houses in the Dignowity Hill Historic District. If anyone knows of other stone houses with symmetrical front elevations please let me know so that I can include them here. The house on Olive Street is made of structural brick while Nolan Street (photo by M. Jacob) and Crockett Street are both structural limestone and caliche. All three houses are currently undergoing extensive renovations and rehabilitations to bring them up to contemporary living standards. Although an older house and folk German in style, the Dullnig-Schneider house at the bottom of Nolan Street is in this same unique category.


As with all houses, regular maintenance is necessary. We all know how to maintain wood structures so we can simply say that just a few replacement boards and a bit of paint is all we need. Wood is relatively inexpensive, easy to source and easy to load up into a Honda for your next project. Easy.  I love it.  I use wood all of the time!

Stone houses are a different animal.   But once we understand how the different structural systems interact, it’s also pretty straight forward. Our stone houses may need a lime wash treatment, lime stucco or minor crack patching every few years, but even without it, significant maintenance might occur only every 50 – 100+ years.  When completed, Nolan Street will receive a lime wash (photo by M. Jacob), Olive will receive a stain and sealer and Crockett will get lime stucco.  Wood trims and roofs need attention more frequently. JACOB HOUSE

Most of the stone houses in the neighborhood have endured an unbelievable amount of neglect, deferred maintenance and even destructive vandalism over years and even decades, but are very much repairable and can last as long as other block buildings such as our beloved Missions.  I know that our dear, sweet Rock sat empty for over 20 years and was the victim of at least 2 fires set by squatters. The wood needed replacing, but the stone was fine.

Here’s my current listing of rock and block houses in the DHHD. Firm dates are based on evidence unless noted as ca (circa) in which case the date is sourced from BCAD. There may be more structural rock or block houses in our Historic District but may be concealed with additions or stucco, so let me know of others.  DHHD Rock and Block Houses

519 Nolan, ca 1890, brick
528 Nolan, 1884, limestone + caliche
724 Nolan, ca 1895, limestone + brick
1019 Nolan, ca 1910, brick
732 N Olive, 1872, limestone + brick
903 N Olive, ca 1905, brick
609 Hays, ca 1890, limestone + caliche
509 Burleson, 1884, limestone
1120 E Crockett, 1886, limestone + caliche
413 N Pine, ca 1890, limestone

Obviously, stone is really, really durable and when locally sourced as the caliche examples are, is a very sustainable material. The Crockett Street House foundation perimeter beam is anywhere from 4’-7’ deep, 18” thick and composed of hard limestone blocks. The caliche blocks that make up the walls were most likely sourced from the San Antonio River bed in the area of what is now Brackenridge Park. Unlike the hard, dense limestone that was quarried further away in the hill country, caliche was the inexpensive rock that could be carted to the work site in a matter of hours versus days and could be groomed and installed much quicker due to its soft matrix. Likewise, as we’ve infilled one doorway, modified one window opening and repaired walls at the previous concrete porches, we’ve laid new stone pretty easily with our skilled mason, B. Espinosa and his family.repair-rick

Again, the work is slow but thorough. Once the irregularities of excess moisture and eccentric loads are addressed, the stone is set, work continues and the repair will last decades if not centuries.


Mary and Hilario Guajardo were the previous owners of The Rock and they invested much time and resources when they completely rebuilt the south wall of the main room that was failing due to an unmaintained wood addition on the rear of the building.ESPINOSA INC

Now it’s our turn to care for other parts of the house. If we’re lucky, we’ll have this for a couple to a few decades at which time someone else will do their thing with the house, and so it goes. The house survives and along with it, its history and the history of the people who owned it and lived in it.

As simple as it may seem, once a house is gone, sadly, the history of the people almost always goes away.  And this is why we work on The Rock.  1990'S SOUTH ELEVsmall



RICHARD ruwhereur@yahoo.com   Scott City, KS

copyright  RICHARD ruwhereur@yahoo.com

In addition to the form and roof, original windows are the next most distinguishing features of a structure. For this reason, preservationists are in agreement that the windows are incredibly important when rehabilitating a building. Preservationists, among others – people from other countries, parks and recreation, writers and other clever types often say, “the windows are the eyes to the house”.
I suppose as metaphor, that’s not too far off, however I do think it’s a take-off of an older saying that, the eyes are the windows to the soul. So what’s keeping us from switching up a couple of words here and there? Alec Guiness’s gangster character in Ladykillers (1955) actually uses these two different phrases in one sentence when chatting up the unsuspecting Louisa Wilberforce played by award winning Katie Johnson. Prof. Marcus: I always think the windows are the eyes of a house, and didn’t someone say the eyes are the windows of the soul?

ENOKO123  Milan, IT

copyright ENOKO123

Ones eyes can be the first things we observe when meeting someone and can make a great impression. Similarly, original windows tell us about the history of the building by revealing the material from which they’re made. They tell us about the intended style through size, proportions and arrangement. From the interior, the window / eye allows the occupant to view the outside world.

I like the fact that windows so readily reveal functional facts. For example, in our semi-tropical region, tall windows are paired with tall ceilings for optimum venting during the summers. Crockett Street like many other stone houses in San Antonio have windows whose sills are at the finish floor for more venting and access to adjacent porches! Windows can also tell us about the building structure. For example since a wood structure typically has a wall depth of no more than 7” and the window jamb, trims and sashes will be pretty compact. The walls of a wood structure with stone or brick veneer can be slightly thicker, but rarely as thick as a structural rock wall.

The Crockett Street exterior walls are approximately 12”, which provides generous depth for the wood frame windows. The layering of sashes, stops, casings + trims are extensive and Mark’s been leading the charge to strip paint from these beauties. Overall, the windows are in OK shape and are large. All doors and windows have the same rough opening width at approximately 42”-48” resulting in a 36” clear opening for either. And to provide a sense of scale: the height of window clear openings on the exterior walls is approximately 9’-6”!


The 3 interior doorways and the 3 rear exterior doorways have a clear opening of 7’-0” x 3’-0” which was considered a standard proportion in a finished 1880’s cottage. In the 1990’s the previous owner repaired the pulleys, replaced glass and replaced a couple of window frames. However, the remaining window sashes and trims are still covered with paint, soot from fires and grime over original shellac finish.



We spot tested approximately 6-8 locations for lead in the paint and luckily, found only trace amounts, which is normal. Every window is being disassembled, scraped, sanded, oiled and re-puttied.


Broken panes will be re-glazed. Considering these are the original windows, they’re in incredible shape! After the prep, we’ll prime, paint, weather strip and install new hardware.



This great little house has had over 5 different doorways to the exterior which leaves me amazed to see how flexible and functional the house has been over the years as it accommodated individuals, small and large families. And here we are to impose our ideas of where doorways need to be.
We’re assuming since we still have no documentation on the original intent, that the original house most likely had 2 or 3 doorways: front, side and rear to kitchen and toilet structures. The front door might’ve been either at the very front of the house under the center canopy as a door with sidelights or it might’ve been more modest and located to one side as it we found it. This is where the lack of documentation is a determent since I would expect the front door to be in the front center. Alas, those two windows look to be in their original location.

We’ve swapped the current west facing front door to the east to better accommodate a modern entry sequence via the front walk and driveway.


In place of the two 1920’s rear doors that accessed a wood structure, we reduced the openings and installed in each respective opening new wood casement windows whose framing and mullions are compatible with the original windows.

And this is what we need to “button up” the building envelope and make it possible for us to inhabit.
And to think . . . . several decades ago, the structural failure on this house was sufficient to request a demolition. I’m so glad the previous owners knew that wasn’t the correct path for this house.

1990s rear house

But back to the design detective work and how we might find who originally provided the plans and specifications for the house – we did get some useful information when researching some of the only original woodwork in the house. One part of the original casing trim has a reference that we found with the good and helpful people at Alamo Hardwoods here in San Antonio.


We’ll save this for another day.

Historic Preservation Homeowner Fair in San Antonio


Over the past several years the City of San Antonio’s Office of Historic Preservation has hosted a Homeowner’s Fair which has proven to be an excellent source of information, news and encouragement for those interested in preserving or rehabilitating domestic structures. We are honored to be invited to present at this year’s fair! Mark Kusey and I will speak to the work in progress at the Crockett Street House and spill some secrets to how we stay motivated.


Tempering the imminent flow of progress and the rampant redevelopment in our cities as it relates to historic preservation or simply renovating older building stock is challenging at best, and downright futile at its worst when property taxes are set to motivate tear-downs. We’ve found that the City of San Antonio and the San Antonio community-at-large has been incredibly encouraging providing information, incentives and plain ol’ good times as we work on “the Rock”.  For the most part, this City really “gets it”.

Here are 2 recent and relevant articles from Dallas and Houston regarding historic structures:



We hope to see you this Saturday!



While we’ve had a relatively mild summer, the heat still can limit the amount of time one works outdoors. Regardless, we’ve made good progress on various bits and pieces around Crockett Street.

The rotting wood porches that we originally thought we could repair were simply demolished. The rot was so extensive that while dismantling it we discovered that no part of the east and west porches predated the 1960’s! The east porch concrete slab was most likely poured in the 1960’s during a remodel, and the main wood structure dates from the mid- to late 1960’s as proven by the wood stamps. The eaves and trims were from the late 1990’s.  We opted to demolish all of this and will rebuild it with properly sized structural members using historic photos to guide us.



Below 6” of topsoil we found another poured concrete slab that might’ve been installed to protect the foundation from rainwater.  This was probably installed during the 1920’s when there was a garage on this side of the house.


One of the most important repairs made in the late spring / early summer was the reconstruction of all of the roof cornices. For years the cornices rebuilt in the late 1990’s had failed resulting in rainwater rushing down the 12:12 roof and pouring down the exterior walls. The water damage as a result has been pretty bad but luckily, repairable.


Repaired roof and new cornices throughout!  Even the front canopy got a new eave!


We’re getting our act together indoors as well! It might not look like it, but this is proto-bathroom and proto-kitchen.


Reviewing an awkward front entry.


We’ve owned the Crockett Street House for 18 months and have been working on it since April 2013.  Although much of the heavy lifting has been done, the house is still in the ugly duckling stage.

BUT  – – there is light at the end of the tunnel!  What few rooms there are, they’re beginning to feel like places that will support our living plans quite nicely.



Phase 2 is in full swing!


Wood porches – GONE.    Concrete slab – almost gone.     This will take some time.

Here’s proof that these concrete porches have significant drawbacks on old stone houses.  We already know that they direct rainwater and moisture towards the house foundation, and the moisture can attract tree and shrub roots.  This was evident with the super-healthy crepe myrtle we removed a year ago and also evident in hackberry tree roots we found creeping about 30’ from the nearest hackberry tree.  The root had found its way into the stone house’s foundation!

Another thing to consider is ground movement as moisture levels in the soil fluctuate.  The remaining front porch concrete slab had cracked on the surface because the movement was so great!  As the masons meticulously hand cut the concrete away from the house, we found that deeper down, the concrete had embedded itself into the stone foundation and was pulling at the foundation and weakening the wall.


Several sections of the exterior wall had crumbled as a result and needed to be repaired.  The frightening thought is that this is happening to hundreds of other stone houses in town.



Our current research strongly suggests that no original wood features from 1886 exist on the house’s exterior.   I’m still looking for any sign of the exterior house design through structure or trims remnants, but the evidence is sparse.  We’ve found stud pockets for the original porch timbers but not much more.

Most of the evidence through Sanborn maps, ownership records, steel bolt, plate and nail types, and lumber markings strongly points to major renovations and remodel campaigns between 1910 and 1925, in the 1960’s and then in the late 1990’s.  A few photos from the 1950’s to the present made available by past owners have been invaluable to guide our design decisions for the rehabilitation.  The rehab style will be general traditional or classical – not period and not post-modern, but something innocuous that will support the formal aspects of the house without being too distracting.  It’s important, however, to observe classic proportions even while not recreating an Italianate, Gothic, bracketed or other style that may have been in place when it was first built.  The following survey of existing exterior wood features and trims was taken into consideration as I designed our ambiguously classical exterior:

Concrete east, front porch and rear terrace:  1960’s

East and west front porch structure:  1960’s

Horizontal cornices on primary structure: 1997-98

•  Attic vent covers:  rectangle – probably between 1912-1924; round – 1997-98

Gable end overhangs and trims: probably between 1912-192

•  East and west front porch repair:  1997-98

•  Front canopy main structure: probably between 1912-1924

•  Front canopy eaves: 1997-98

The is the plan for the north elevation.  We’re all happy with it.


Working on the inside: The Carpentry

Like so many projects do, we began Phase 1 – Stabilization in September.  Structural carpentry work was badly needed in key locations like the roof structure and other connections above the stone walls.  I also wanted to reinforce the floor so that it would take more loads than it was originally built to take in 1886.  From our research, we know that the house’s first owner had no more than 2 people living in the house at a time.  Two people with basic belongings and furniture requires no more than 40#/SF.  The floor of the main room was feeling a little too bouncy for me – we should be able to have a house full of books and people without anyone feeling queasy because of the floor deflection or sagging!

Some cracks through the stone walls are due to the roof loads bearing down directly on a point but a few of the other cracks are at the floor and can be tracked to the crawlspace.  Repairs such as these will need both “ties” and repointing.


Our carpenter is very efficient and has good suggestions on how to better address some of the problems.  Mark Perlotto came as a referral from the Conservation Society.  I’d say we’re getting great value working with someone who is so experienced with historic structures.

M and framer NEW FLR JSTS

The crawlspace is very open and clean which I love! What few gas pipes were installed during the early 20th century below the floor, all have been removed.  This part of the house, which is the original stone house, has never had plumbing which means that water related activities were most likely located in a separate outbuilding near the stone house: this includes kitchen, bath and toilet.  What might seems like an occupant’s hardship is actually a rehabber’s dream – no mucky, collapsed sewer lines and no compromised structure due to bad plumbing installations.  We’ve been told that there’s a water well on the property and the Sanborn maps show that by 1904, a wood frame structure had been built onto the west wing and most likely served these functional needs.

sanborn 1904

The 3′-0″ tall crawlspace is as dry as can be even after the heavy rains in August + September.  Moisture infiltrating into the crawlspace is clearly not a problem with this house, and Mark has confirmed that while he was inspecting the new floor joists!


Mark and I have also found that contracting the project ourselves has been the best way to keep the work responsive to the structure’s actual needs as we discover underlying conditions.  The only thing that would be an improvement over the way we’re currently working would be to pitch a tent and live on the site daily to be more involved in the work.  I’ll just have to say, that’s not going to happen . . . .  . .  yet.