No matter your approach to restoring a historic house, whether you take a do-it-yourself, or a contract-it-out, time-versus-money decision, you are going to end up on a ladder. Just accept it, ladders are in your future. Yes, there are exceptions. All of us have some sort of limitation, whether imagined or real, that we have to live with. If it involves our livelihood or an important mission, we’ve got to find a way to overcome it. And often it involves climbing a ladder.
A professor at the preservation school I attended had a deathly fear of heights – and he was a trained architect. If his lab involved going up a ladder he’d just come out and tell us he needed a volunteer because of his phobia. That’a how I ended up in a courthouse bell towner one day. He’d agreed to conduct a historic structures report for a nearby county courthouse, but there was no way he was going to go up there. I would have hoped that he picked me for my skill at recognizing deterioration in architectural elements, but it was more likely he recognized a sucker when saw one. I chose to believe that it was the former, at least that’s what I kept telling myself as I worked my way through a maze of old long forgotten doors marked ‘private’ and through all those little out of the way rooms and passages that even the most important elected county official didn’t know existed. I found it hard to not linger at piles of old plats, ledgers, and what any museum would consider artifacts, but I had a mission to accomplish. Out the roof hatch and up the ladder, and even more ladders, into the domain of the pigeons, where soot, standing water, and more soot obscuring the outer skylight protecting the art glass skylight below. I got my pictures, wrote my notes and down I went the ladders.
You may not end up a ladder in a tower, but it’s more likely you’ll end up on a six footer inside where you find you’re going to be scraping or painting. Oh, you’re going to be on a ladder. And more likely than not it’s going to be inside where you’ll have the luxury of lighting, some sort of climate control, isolation from the elements, and all the bugs and burning sun, and most importantly, control of the flow of visitors. And if you fall, it’s only about three or four feet to hopefully a sound floor below.
But what you’re going to lose out on is the adventure that bigger ladders give you outside. My children and I have watched fireworks from a rooftop that was staged with scaffolding to restore a chimney, and my crew and I had the honor of learning the fine points of chimney restoration from a septuagenarian mason – forty foot up – courtesy a laddar.
I fondly remember the many conversations I’ve had with passers-by as I was hanging off a ladder working on some detail that required all my concentration. There were too many to recount, but typically it went something like this – I’d be so focused that it was usually the second or third time that I’d hear, “Hey, whatcha doing up there?” Yes, I admit, it’s hard for me to mentally switch gears from being lost in my work to being a pleasant conversationalist, but somehow I’d find the grace to converse from 35 foot up, or if it was time to regroup, I was hungry, or the conversation was getting too long then I’d come down and connect.
The more folks would stop by the more I realized that people do have a fascination with history and old structures. They may not recognize it as such, but when you’re doing something out of the ordinary you get noticed – especially if you’re up on a laddar. How many people do you think want to know about asphalt roofing? Do you see a group of people asking questions about replacement vinyl widows – even at a trade show, I think not many? But people are curious to see history revealed; confused why someone would strip aluminum siding, then old blackened wood siding to expose a log house, only to take the time to repair damaged logs, re-chink the logs, restore the termite damaged vertical strapping, repair and reproduce missing hand-beaded weatherboard siding, and reapply it, and repaint it; but in the end were grateful for the explanation.
I’m not sure if it was the process of restoring a hand-built log house from 1822 or the charming worker who one neighbor described as having a screw loose, but either way, it gives you a different perspective from a ladder.
Forgive my writing errors and check back often as we share more information on the area’s history and restoration information.
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