After interning at Stratford Hall this past summer, I returned to the University of Vermont in the fall to finish up my masters degree in Historic Preservation. Since graduating, I’ve been on the job hunt and was asked to come back to Stratford for another internship this winter. Working again with Preservation Director Phil Mark, I have experienced a different side of the preservation world during this internship (not to mention more snow than I ever thought possible in the South!). Last time around, my tasks were mainly focused on the hands-on restoration of the estate, providing me with skills in window restoration, painting, plastering, repointing, and investigation of architectural features, among other things. This winter, my efforts have been focused on helping to compile research for the Historic Structures Report which is being created for the Great House by the firm of Mesick, Cohen, Wilson and Baker. Through archival research and physical investigation, the goal of the report is to tell the story of the house and how it has changed, architecturally, over time.
To help facilitate the process of creating this comprehensive report, I have been working in the archives to digitize resources which will be of most help to the firm. I began digitization with the correspondence of preservation architect Fiske Kimball, who worked on the restoration of Stratford Hall in the 1930s. In reading through all of his letters to various members of the board, contractors, and others, I have been able to understand more about the people who undertook the restoration. In those days, historic preservation standards did not exist like they do today; the National Historic Preservation Act was not even on the books until 1966. Consequently, those involved in the restoration tried to do what they thought was right for Stratford, yet had no standard by which to judge their actions. As a student of historic preservation, it has certainly been interesting to see the correspondence regarding certain preservation issues and the process by which certain decisions about the house were made. Though I have only just begun to really delve deep into these boxes and boxes of letters, I feel as though I have learned a great deal about the man behind the restoration of Stratford Hall.
In addition to digitizing the Kimball correspondence, I have assembled a collection of previous reports, paint analyses, drawings, sketches, photographs, etc. for the architectural investigation team so that they can be well-informed about what has already been reported about the Great House. Mark Wenger, of Mesick, Cohen, Wilson and Baker, recently visited to begin researching Stratford Hall. Along with archival research, he looked for places in the house where it would be advantageous for the team to set up probes to determine architectural history of certain rooms in question. The probes consist of removing plaster or trim work in order to see what is occurring in the wall underneath. Ghost marks, which are remnants of past architectural or structural features, can tell a lot about the history of the house. Wenger and the investigation team will be looking for these and other clues to help determine the chronology of the changes made within the house.
Through working with the team from Mesick, Cohen, Wilson, Baker, I anticipate learning a lot more about architectural investigation and the clues that tell important details about a house. The valuable knowledge I gain through this internship will certainly help me as an emerging preservation professional after I leave Stratford Hall and venture forth into the “real world.” Until then, it’s back to learning all that I can while I’m here and, of course, sending out all those resumes and cover letters.
Please note: the photo of Fiske Kimball comes from the following source: https://www2.lib.virginia.edu/finearts/exhibits/fiske/bio/index.html