Friday, January 28, 2011

Preservation Work at Historic New England

Despite cold and snowy weather, several important preservation projects move forward at Historic New England’s Sayward-Wheeler House in York Harbor and the Sarah Orne Jewett House in South Berwick.
Walkers who frequent York’s Fishermen’s Walk may have noticed a good deal of activity at the Sayward-Wheeler House in recent months. The historic house museum, located adjacent to the new Route 103 bridge, is one of thirty-six properties owned and operated by Historic New England that are open for public tours in the summer months. Aided by a grant from the Institute of Library and Museum Services, work has been ongoing in the basement of the historic house, where insulation and a radiant heat concrete floor were installed as part of a new climate control system. Upcoming improvements to the Sayward-Wheeler House’s gutters and the installation of a dehumidification unit will also be part of the system. When complete, the different elements of the climate control system will work together to efficiently move excess humidity away from the house, helping to preserve the fabric of the structure as well as stabilizing the interior climate for the benefit of the museum collections. In early January, six windows were removed from the riverside elevation of the Sayward-Wheeler House. The windows will undergo a complete sash restoration by the Historic New England carpentry team, including the removal and re-glazing of all panes. The windows will be re-installed in the freshly painted facade of the house in time for the museum’s opening in June.
At Historic New England’s Sarah Orne Jewett House, located in downtown South Berwick, a new roof is being installed. In keeping with the organization’s preservation philosophy, the existing Jewett House shingles are being replaced in-kind with new eighteen-inch cedar shingles that match the coursing of the current roof and replicate the existing ridge details. Cedar was chosen for its natural resistance to mildew and rot and its durability relative to other wood species. The roof project, partially funded by a grant from the Davis Family Foundation, also includes sheathing repair and new copper flashing and drip edges. The roof improvements will protect the Jewett House from weather for another twenty to thirty years.
Preservation projects at both houses, and ongoing projects at numerous other Historic New England properties, have been made possible by the organization’s Preservation Maintenance Fund. The Fund was established in 2009 through the largest private grant ever received by the organization, totaling $3 million over three years. The Fund was specifically established to support projects that contribute to the long-term sustainability of Historic New England’s properties and finances. Examples include reducing costs by installing efficient heating systems, replacing roofs with materials that will be good for twenty or more years, and resolving water penetration issues. The grant stipulates that Historic New England raise $1.8 million in matching funds by the end of 2011. For more information about the Preservation Maintenance Fund or to make a donation in support of it, please visit the Historic New England website ( or call the organization’s development office at 617-994-5951.
Besides preserving wonderful historic structures, Historic New England is committed to sharing the knowledge gained from its Preservation Maintenance Fund work in the form of “white papers,” or best practice documents. It is the organization’s hope that the white papers will assist other preservation organizations, museums, and historic homeowners in tackling their own preservation projects. A growing collection of white papers are available for study on the Historic New England website. For more information about preservation work in South Berwick or York, is encouraged to contact site manager Peggy Wishart at 207-384-2454.
Photo caption: Roof replacement is underway at the Sarah Orne Jewett House in South Berwick. (Photos courtesy of Historic New England)