SUNDAY, JULY 31, 2005

Picture of the roofers II

I had to pull the picture of Melvin the roofer because I found out he was, in fact, Amish. (The “Miller Lite” t-shirt confused me.) Dawn took this faceless photo, which should be safe enough.

lantz roofers

Lantz roofers


Sprinklers resolved

7:50pm EasternΒ – Augh…the suspense is killing me! The appeals board meeting started 45 minutes ago, and I still haven’t heard from Dawn. What could be taking so long?? That’s obviously not a good sign. If they make us install sprinklers, that’s a $50,000 expense, so you can appreciate why I am on pins and needles here. πŸ™

I sent Dawn in with everything I could think of — pictures of the mansion; pictures of the mansion if they made us install all the fire code-related stuff; quotes for the sprinklers ranging from $35,000 to $95,000, not including ripping out all the ceilings and replacing them afterwards; letters of support from the state historic preservation office, Senator Arlen Specter, Representative Joseph Pitts, and State Senator Noah Wenger; and a write-up by another code official who thought sprinklers were ridiculous. The architect was going to be there as well. This should have been an open-and-shut case, ten minutes tops!

Dawn hates speaking in public, and has been a nervous wreck all day, but I’m sure she was fine once she got to the meeting. I suspect there were a lot of people there, given that this was the first appeal in the area. Ever. There’s only three people on the appeals board, but there are three “alternates” as well, and they were all going to be there. I had invited some county and state officials as well but they all declined, stating it was “a local matter.” πŸ™

Crossing my fingers…

8:05pm EasternΒ – Dawn just called. The good news: no sprinklers. Hallelujah.

The bad news: we still have to put in illuminated exit signs, emergency fire pulls, and emergency lighting. While ugly, at least we don’t have to destroy anything to install them. (And it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.)

So common sense won the day. We were cautiously optimistic that it would, but since there was no track record, we just couldn’t be sure. Dawn said she didn’t realize how stressed she had been, until after the meeting was over and the stress went away.

So here’s a big raspberry to the code inspector, as well as to our contractor who thought we would never succeed in this challenge. πŸ™‚ And here’s another gesture to the folks at the PA Dept of Labor & Industry, who used to be responsible for code enforcement but then dumped it on the local townships with no training, no guidance, and no support whatsoever…

MONDAY, JULY 25, 2005

Robert Coleman, Millionaire Ironmaster

While removing an old desk from the Paymaster’s Office, Brian and Bob found an 8-page essay entitled “Robert Coleman, Millionaire Ironmaster by Professor Frederic S. Klein.” It was hand-typed on legal paper, no doubt using one of the dozen or so manual typewriters we found in the mansion. It looks like a first draft, with a lot of rambling passages and its share of typos, but it is quite interesting, nevertheless.

Robert Coleman, while born in Castle Finn in County Donegal, was more English than Irish; his father had moved to Ireland at the request of Charles I. Robert had one brother and six step-sisters. I don’t know why Robert and his brother, William, emigrated; Professor Klein speculates that the family was just too big. William went to Canada and, in 1764, at the age of 16 and with only three guineas to his name, Robert went to Philadelphia.

Robert had only one skill, something that today we wouldn’t even consider a skill: Beautiful penmenship. He was soon recommended to the prothonotary in Reading, where he copied wills, legal records, deeds and agreements for two years. This familiarity with contracts would serve him well later in life.

When Curtis and Peter Grubb, of Cornwall Furnace in Lancaster County, needed a bookkeeper, they hired Robert Coleman. And when James Old, ironmaster of Speedwell Forge, needed a clerk, he stole Robert Coleman from the Grubbs. Robert even lived with James Old, moving between Speedwell Forge and Reading Furnace in Chester County.

In 1773, after three years of working and living with James Old, he did what any penniless-immigrant-turned-future-millionaire would do: he married the boss’ daughter, Ann Old. No doubt aided by his new father-in-law, Robert Coleman leased Salford Furnace, and was now his own ironmaster.

The paper then draws some striking similarities to Henry William “Baron” Stiegel, who also began as a penniless immigrant, was hired as a bookkeeper by Jacob Huber, married his boss’ daughter Elizabeth, and then bought out his father-in-law, taking over Elizabeth Furnace. He then bought Charming Forge, founded Manheim, and started the Stiegel Glass Manufactory, amassing a staggering amount of debt along the way.

In 1773, the same year Robert Coleman was starting in the iron industry, Baron Stiegel was stripped of all his assets.

[Note that the sheriff who issues the order was Abraham Lincoln, great-grandfather to the future president!] Elizabeth Furnace was closed for three years, but in 1776 Robert Coleman leased the property. Of course, in 1776 the American Revolution started, and great amounts of cannon, shot, and iron chain links were needed. Baron Steigel became a clerk at his former ironworks, and Robert Coleman became quite wealthy. He and his family moved into the mansion at Elizabeth Furnace, now known as the Stiegel-Coleman house. Like Speedwell Forge, nothing is left of the iron works, but the mansion has been fully restored.

An original portrait of Ann Old, which belongs to Bill Coleman. Dawn's going to ask him for a copy as a wedding present. :-)

An original portrait of Ann Old, which belongs to Bill Coleman. Dawn’s going to ask him for a copy as a wedding present. πŸ™‚

The paper ends noting that iron workers were often exempted from military duty, and that Robert Coleman was also given prisoners of war to work at Elizabeth Furnace. I’m sure there was more to the paper — he didn’t even get into the story about Robert Coleman’s daughter and James Buchanan, future President, — but it is lost. Robert Coleman was also a delegate to the second Constitutional Convention, and a state politician. His family continued to dominate business in Lancaster and Lebanon counties for many generations.

I googled Mr. Klein and found two things:

Frederic Shriver Klein was a professor of history from Franklin and Marshall College and the author of over a dozen books on various aspects of Lancaster County history.
Frederic Shriver Klein, historian, musician, and flying enthusiast was born in 1904, the son of Harry Martin John Klein and Mary Winifred Shriver Klein. He joined the Department of History at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania in 1928, where he taught until he retired in 1970. In addition to the Lancaster Symphony Orchestra and the Lancaster chapter of the Civil Air Patrol, he founded the Union Mills Homestead Foundation. As he cleaned up after pigeons in 1954, he never dreamed that he would live to see Union Mills again grinding flour, but he did. He died in 1987, aged 82.

He wrote several books, including “Fighting the Battles: Lancaster’s Soldiers March off to War” in 1975, which is out-of-print but still availabe on Amazon. He apparenlty had his own historic property to save: check out

Addendum August 10: The Lancaster County Historical Society archives has a book entitled “Robert Coleman, Millionaire Ironmaster.” I guess I have part of an early draft.

SUNDAY, JULY 24, 2005

research associate

Lauren is a “research associate” (i.e. apprentice) at Olde York Homes, who got the unfortunate task of stripping all of the shutters. She came for the This Old House interview, and Dawn immediately put her to work.

The “This Old House” article on the top 10 historic restoration contractors in the country, which includes Gary Geiselman of Olde York Homes, will be in their October issue. The photos of Gary were taken at Speedwell Forge, and at Gary’s insistence the magazine agreed to include a small sidebar about us! Too cool.


Sprinklers Reloaded

First, good news: We got approval today on refinancing our house in Los Angeles, so we now have enough funds to cover us through…September. Maybe October.

Second, I opened Pandora’s box on the sprinkler appeal. When I was there over the July 4th weekend, we met with a consultant (read, building code enforcer for another county) to plan our appeal of the sprinklers. One of his suggestions was to see if we could get support from county and state officials. Now, in LA we have 9 county commissioners representing 13 million people, so I’m not exactly on a first-name basis with any of them. I sent letters to various officials and didn’t expect to hear a word back.

The front door as required by the building code.

The front door as required by the building code.

Well, so far I received a personal call from State Representative Roy Baldwin and been contacted by the staff of Senator Arlen Specter, Representative Joe Pitts, State Senator Noah Wenger, State Representative Tom Creighton, and County Commissioner Pete Schaub. Commissioner Schaub was particularly interested and put several county resources on task for “resolving” the issue as soon as possible. That’s wonderful, except…our hearing is next Thursday. So in the unlikely event that we can get the state historic preservation office, the county planning commission, the building inspector, the township, and the Dept of Labor & Industry together in one room before next Thursday, we might avoid the appeal altogether.

However, in the likely event that we can’t get everyone together, then we’ll probably just end up annoying everyone, and Dawn will have to deal with a hostile appeals board on Thursday.

Needless to say, Dawn has forbidden me from any further participation in this project.

TUESDAY, JULY 19, 2005

Amish roofers

If you recall, we had already signed with another roofer when After Eight B&B recommended an Amish roofer, Lantz Roofing. His bid was less than everyone else and his references were impeccable, but the real reason we decided to go with him is that he had Peach Bottom slate.

Peach Bottom is in the southern end of York County, right next to Maryland, and the blue slate quarried there is very high quality. In fact, the last “real” roof on the mansion was Peach Bottom slate. Unfortunately, the people that maintained the roof didn’t know what they were doing and so they ended up destroying a lot of it, and then they patched it with cheap slate, so it was quite the mess. (Did I mention all the water damage in the house?)

The Peach Bottom quarries closed years ago and most slate today comes from Vermont. While we have nothing against Vermont, the idea of having Pennsylvania slate is really cool, although I can’t explain why. But if the quarries were closed, then how is it that the Lantz Roofing had Peach Bottom slate? Because they’d just stripped it off a barn! It is about 80 years old, which is barely broken in; a good slate roof can last 300 years if properly maintained. So assuming all goes well, we’ll never have to replace the roof again in our lifetime.

Quick aside: In 1760, the roof would have been hand-split cedar shakes. In 1795, it might have been slate, but probably not Peach Bottom — that was still too far to transport by horse. Surprisingly, the historical folks were okay with slate. They were even okay with fake slate — which is really formed rubber — but that’s so new we weren’t sure what it would look like in 20 years. And in any case the materials cost was small compared to labor, so fake slate wouldn’t have saved us much.

Even though they gave us permission, generally speaking Amish do not like having their photograph taken. There are various theories — some say a photo is vain (deadly sin), some say it is a graven image (ten commandments), still others say they’re just tired of tourists shoving cameras in their face (golden rule).


Lancaster Farming

Now, another article, this one from 1960 when Speedwell Forge turned 200. It has a good picture of Dawn’s father and grandfather. (The other two photos — cows in the circle, the mansion with some 1950’s cars — I published earlier from the original photos.) Sadly, the article references Steven Darlington III, who was killed some years later when an automobile struck his bicycle. Reese Darlington is now a successful record producer in Los Angeles. And as scary as this thought is, I’m going to be the “country gentleman of historic old Speedwell Forge.”

TUESDAY, JULY 12, 2005

Appeal scheduled

We submitted our appeal almost a month ago, and they were supposed to set a hearing date within 30 days. Well, we hadn’t heard anything so Dawn called this morning, and found out the appeal was scheduled for July 14th (two days from now) AND THEY FORGOT TO NOTIFY US.

In their defense, this is the first appeal they’ve handled. Ever. They were quite apologetic and offered to continue it. Dawn called the architect and the local township and the only date that would work was July 28, which means we have to wait another two weeks.

paymaster basement

If anybody knows why there would be a brick-filled pit in front of a chimney base in the basement, please call me. (Heck, if anyone knows the proper term for a chimney base, please call .)

I reminded Dawn that it’s not just the sprinklers but all the other variance requests that have to get approved — if they spare us the sprinklers but want us to replace the grand staircase instead, we haven’t accomplished anything. Dawn reminded me that she’s not an idiot, and if I wanted to make myself useful I should get my butt on a plane. We left it at that.

On the bright side, the phone company came by today and they were quite accomodating — they will let us run the phone lines where we want, and they will even get rid of the old telephone pole, all at no charge to us. Contrast that with the electric company, who is extorting $1,100 from us not to erect a new pole in our yard. Amazing.

Oh, and This Old House will be here on Friday. As we were told pointedly, they are interviewing our contractor, not us. Nevertheless, I told Dawn to walk around with a sandwich-board that had our name and web site, and some catchy phrase like “The end is near” or “Two night minimum on weekends.”

MONDAY, JULY 11, 2005

Bath fixtures

While I harbor no illusions that anyone is interested in our fixtures list, we’ve spent so much time on it that it would be a shame not to include it. Dawn asked me not to include prices, but I can say it will be about $30,000 total, not including the kitchen. Ouch.

Addendum: After posting this, our plumber contacted Sanijet to get pricing, and they said they not only knew about Speedwell Forge, but had even gotten referrals from this journal! I’m not sure how that is possible, but in any case it didn’t translate to any discount for us, so I’m not going to worry about it.

I will mention (for free) that we’re using Sanijet because they don’t have any pipes, so when you empty and clean the bath, it’s really empty and really clean. If you want to see something disgusting, order their promotional video, which shows what’s in the pipes of a conventional whirlpool tub. Let’s just say I’ll never be using one of those again…

Unfortunately, they don’t make a clawfoot model, which we really wanted for Kathryn’s bath, so we’re getting an “air tub” instead. That also doesn’t have pipes, but it does have a loud air blower, which we’re going to put upstairs in the attic area. During my last visit we taped off Kathryn’s bath, and with a 6′ x 3.5′ clawfoot whirlpool tub, it’s going to be nice.


July visit

I just got back from a brief five-day visit. In addition to seeing the 1784 transfer agreement:

  • We gave two tours that were a lot of fun. On my next trip in September, I’m going to contact some of the local historic societies and see if they are interested. After September, they’ll be closing up the walls, so it will be the last opportunity to see the “guts” of the building.
  • We met with PP&L and they agreed (for $1,100) to give us a transformer on the ground rather than put a pole outside the mansion.
  • We spent three hours with the general contractor, who is concerned that Dawn is doing so much work, she is taking away his profit margin. πŸ™‚ He showed us pictures of his house before he restored it and we realized (again) how lucky we are that the mansion is in such good condition.
  • We met with a former building inspector, who agreed that sprinklers in the mansion were ridiculous, and he’s going to give us some suggestions for our appeal. We should have a date for the appeal within two weeks.
  • Brian and Bob put stone in the basement of the Paymaster’s Office, getting ready to pour cement. There’s a strange pit down there in front of the chimney, about five feet square, filled with bricks, and topped with a thin layer of mortar. We have no idea what it was for or why it is there. (And no, it’s not a grave.) But, as always, we’re trying to be sensitive and not destroy anything, so Brian is trying to figure out how to pour the cement around around this.
  • With the rough framing of the bathrooms complete, we laid out our fixtures and realized that nothing was going to work! We’re regrouping and I’ll post new plans when they’re ready.

We also reviewed the schedule with the general contractor, and things are about to get very interesting:

  • Mike continues framing the mansion for the next 4-6 weeks
  • The arborist comes in mid-July
  • – The roofers start by the end of July.
  • – Adam Moyer (who is doing plumbing, heating, and cooling) runs pipes and ductwork starting mid-July
  • Joel Miller (electrician) runs his cables after Adam, starting mid-August
  • While the subcontractors are in the mansion, Mike starts working on the cottages
  • PP&L installs their new equipment in August
  • The mason re-points the walls in September
  • The septic field is built in September
  • Mike comes back to the mansion in mid-September to do finish carpentry
  • Jerry starts plastering by end of September. The plan is to go room-by-room, Mike first with carpentry, then Jerry with plaster, then Dawn with paint. This will go through next March.
  • The driveway is resurfaced next March
  • We get our occupancy permit, I move to PA, and we open the B&B. Woo-hoo!
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