FRIDAY, MARCH 31, 2006

B&B Convention

Dawn and I are meeting in Phoenix this weekend for a four-day B&B convention, with such titillating workshops as:

  • Selling to the Affluent
  • Yield Management for Inns
  • Master of Disaster: Planning for the Worst
  • The Art of Fruit
  • WalMart Budget, Tiffany Dreams
  • First, Do No Harm: Safety in the Kitchen
  • Granola…Much More Than Cereal
  • Internet Boot Camp Part I
  • One Wheat-Free-Vegan-South Beach Breakfast Coming Right Up

And my favorite…

  • Blogging for Business

The scary part is, I find all of this fascinating. Perhaps it’s just learning something new, or because it’s so different than my usual routine, but I want to go to “Capitalizing on Changing Guest Expectations” and “Profitable Green Trends.”

After the convention, we’ll return to Pennsylvania where I’ve already got a full schedule lined up:

  • File taxes
  • Visit a local winery
  • Review schedule, kitchen cabinets with the contractor
  • Visit the furniture
  • Hire a landscapist (is that a word?)
  • Meet with the Pennsylvania Dutch Convention and Visitor’s Bureau
  • Pick up a copy of the Lititz directory
  • Make final decisions on paint colors and lighting
  • And, of course…

  • Give a tour on April 8th at 10am

My cousin is also coming up from South Carolina to help with the design, furniture, and marketing. She’s terrified of airplanes and really wanted to make the 11-hour drive (or 12-hour train ride) but we somehow convinced her to take the 2-hour flight. Yesterday she told me she had a new pair of pajamas and a prescription for valium, and was all set. If nothing else, this trip won’t be dull.

And finally, we got our second reservation request today, but I don’t think it counts because it was from the same person who made the first reservation request! Of course, last August I told her we’d be open in May, so now I had to back-pedal and tell her mid-June.



I just loaded three months’ of receipts into Quicken, and it told me we’d spent $173,000.

I was upset, I was mortified, but I wasn’t surprised.

I was also wrong. Turned out I’d seriously screwed something up and the actual figure was under $100,000, but that’s not the point. The point is that when I saw the first figure, I never thought to myself, “that can’t be right.” I just accepted it.

I didn’t use to be that way. When Dawn and I bought our house in Los Angeles, my hands were shaking so badly I couldn’t sign the check for the down payment. When I found an expensive pair of binoculars I wanted on sale on the Internet, I still couldn’t bring myself to order them. (I tricked Dawn into doing it.) And when I decided to buy a laptop, I went on eBay and got a three-year-old system that weighs 20 pounds. (I’m using it right now and I have no feeling in my legs.)

But everything is relative, and when I see checks being written for $50,000 (thankfully I’m not writing them), I think, why am I denying myself? So last month I bought a new computer and gave my six-year-old system to my neighbor. Last week I bought a crystal globe that I thought was pretty. And yesterday I went and saw a show that I’d never heard of.

But you know what? It took me a month to decide on the best value components for the PC. I went to the store three times before I bought the crystal globe (which was on sale for $20). And I got a 15% discount on the show tickets.

So it’s still me, and I’ll always be careful with money. Which creates a paradox, because I would never stay at my own B&B.

It doesn’t matter that the room has a fireplace and a whirlpool bath and a kitchen and it’s a private cottage with a view of the creek and it’s almost 250 years old and there’s 120 acres and wolves and it’s on the National Register and I’m supporting something worthwhile — $200/night is just too much. I’d balk at $100/night.

That’s not to say I’m going to lower the price. There’s a lot of people out there with much healthier attitudes towards money than me who probably think it’s a bargain. Plus I have a major restoration to pay for, and I really would like to rebuild my retirement fund. So no, the price won’t change, but there’s a lot of pressure on me to make sure all of our guests feel they get a good value. And that scares me.

I’ve never cooked breakfast for twelve people. When I make a bed, it looks pre-slept in. My idea of cleaning up is to put everything in the sink and pray for divine intervention. These are not the skills of a great innkeeper.

But I do have two things going for me: pride and laziness. Pride is what makes me offer tours when I’m in town, which makes me open the doors and invite people in, which makes me advertise so more people come. Laziness is what makes me automate everything, keeping it simple so it all flows like clockwork. It’s already hard work; I don’t need to make it harder.

So armed with those “virtues,” I know that I will make this work. And I know that soon those $50,000 checks will stop, and we’ll crawl our way out of the red.

And maybe, just maybe, someday Dawn and I will take a vacation and I’ll spend $200/night to stay someplace really nice.



Dawn sends status…and pictures!

[My comments in brackets. -Gregg]
  • Two of the painters, Elmer Stoltzfus and Southern Long, started on Monday in the offices [third floor attic area] of the mansion. They should finish tomorrow and start moving down the stairs to Bill’s room, then the Boys’ room, then the hallway, then maybe to the game room. Jay Bowman started today and is working in Kathryn’s room, finishing what Matt started. The weather is fair but cold, just above 40, so Matt is prepping the exterior wood. Carl Stoltzfus is to start on the first floor in mid-April, if we need him.
  • The electricians will be back on April 3 to finish the rough-in in the Summer Kithchen, then come back to the Mansion for outlets and switches, and whatever else is ready at that time.
  • The alarm guy will be here next week to drill holes in the window sills. [After all the work Dawn did to the windows, drilling holes in them seems a shame, but it’s the only way to hide the alarm sensors.]
  • Brian and Henry have finished repointing the back of the house and have started on the west side, so now we have to install the stove vent so that it can be set while the scaffolding is up.
  • I have to take care of the driveway guy this week.
  • I will see the tile guy next Wednesday to sign a contract and order the tile for the bathrooms and surrounds for the whirlpools.
  • J Miller is checking on the generator. [We are buying a whole-house generator in case power goes out.]
  • Brian will start the drain and floor in the workshop next week, and then the plumbers will be back to finish the air conditioning units. [Funny story below. Well, not really funny.]
  • As soon as the electricians are done in the Summer Kitchen, the plumbers will finish their rough-in in the Summer Kitchen, then we have to do the downstairs floor. I will most likely get the flooring from Sylvan Brandt, in Lititz.
  • I have begun research on the kitchenettes and will let you know what I come up with very soon.
  • I am still working on colors, and hope to buy the paint next week.
  • The roof on the Summer Kitchen is done and the patches have been made to the Paymaster’s Office. The privy roof will be done by June, but we don’t know exactly when yet.
  • The trim on both third floors is done and Darin has completed the moldings on all mansion windows. He has taken measurements of all windows and is pricing interior storms for all three buildings. All sashes have been pulled from the Summer Kitchen and Paymaster’s Office and are over at Village Glass having the glass removed, then they will come back here for me to strip them.
  • I am sure there is more, but I can’t think of it right now. I should be done with the list you gave me by tomorrow and will scan and email it to you.
[* In the workshop, the first floor is below ground level, and there was a water line on the walls about a foot above the floor. However, after six months we did not notice any water seeping in, so Brian went ahead and started painting. No sooner had he finished then the rain started, and it didn’t stop for a week. When it was done, the first floor was flooded — right to the old water line — and all of the new paint peeled right off. Thank goodness we hadn’t installed the air conditioning units yet, as I don’t think the warranty covers standing in two feet of water…]
The Summer Kitchen, with its new slate roof, looks like a smaller version of the mansion.

The Summer Kitchen, with its new slate roof, looks like a smaller version of the mansion.

FRIDAY, MARCH 17, 2006

Awesome facts about the history and restoration of our B&B

If anyone is interested, here are some of our stories, and I will do everything I can to “feed the beast,” so to speak.

  • One of the walls we removed was made with hand-split lath and hand-forged nails, dating it to c. 1795. We have some of the nails. and pictures of the lath. You can clearly see the difference between the hand-split lath and the machine-cut lath they used when they raised the ceiling, probably during the Victorian period. (Not sure if it was because people were taller, or they were just converting the attic from storage to living space.)
  • All of my wife’s grandparents’ furniture was still there, even after being vacant for 20 years, including a victorian art glass chandelier that had been converted from gas to electricity, an Eastlake bedroom set, an antique dresser, a german shrunk, a rope bed (c. 1880), and a crystal chandelier. It was in perfect condition until 2004, when a hole in the roof let in so much rain and moisture that some of the wood buckled. It is all getting restored as we speak.
  • The Paymaster’s Office still has the window where forge employees would collect their salary, and the floor is reinforced with stone where we believe the safe was kept. In the basement we found a cornerstone carved “Henry B. Grubb 1746,” but we have no idea why it was there because it doesn’t belong to our place. We’ll probably donate it to a local heritage museum.
  • In a desk we found a portion of an early draft (c. 1960) of a book about the original owners, James Old and Robert Coleman, written by a local professor who published several books on the history of Lancaster.
  • When indoor plumbing was added in 1941, the plumbers “notched” one of the main structural beams, leaving about one inch of wood in a six-inch-thick beam, then poured four inches of concrete over it for the tile floor, and two bathtubs on either side. The beam spanned the downstairs hallway and we still have no idea how it stayed up.
  • Dawn’s grandparents converted the third floor hallway into a large walk-in cedar closet to protect her furs. However, the only fur we found was a double-headed weasel stoll that was in a cedar chest downstairs.
  • Almost every room has a full-length corner cupboard, but an architectural historian discovered that only two were original; the rest were reproductions built around the Victorian period.
  • A mason pointed out that one of the stone buildings was probably used for training journeymen, as many of the features (including keystones, straight lines, complex cuts, and other stonebuilding techniques) were completely unnecessary and out of place.
  • The windows were replaced in the Victorian period, and the contractor initially wanted to pull them out (all 52 of them) and build new Colonial-style windows. We decided that after 100 years, the windows deserved to be restored. It took Dawn about a day to strip each window, and the whole process took over six months.
  • The floors were also replaced, but in the attic we found the original wide floorboards (some 13″ across!) under the Victorian narrow-strip flooring. On some of the boards you can still see where they were hand-planed, dating them back to the 18th century.
  • We know that half of the house was built in 1760 and half c. 1795, but nobody is really sure which is which. The architecture indicates the east side was built later, but the west side shows no sign of ever having a front door. Some of the stone pointing also indicates the west side was the add-on. There is an exterior stone wall running through the middle of the house, but along the back there is an inexplicable “jog” where the two halves were joined.
  • There is a massive stone column under the staircase which Dawn’s father, in his youth, decided was hiding treasure, so he took a sledgehammer to it. Fortunately he had only knocked out about half a dozen large stones before his father stopped him. The stones were never replaced, and still lay in the basement next to the column.
  • We’ve seen the original 1784 document transferring the property from James Old to Robert Coleman.
  • In the fields we found about 50 years of refuse, including an old boat still on its trailer, with a tree growing through it. Dawn burned what she could, but the metal debris alone filled seven twenty-yard dumpsters.
  • The large, Victorian radiators are all stamped “1874” and are still in perfect operating condition. Again the contractor wanted to remove them to restore the original Colonial feel, but we decided to keep them because they were so cool.
  • We found an Amish roofer to replace the slate roof. They did an amazing job, and the only electric tool they used was a small motor to shuttle the tiles up to the roof.
  • My mother-in-law has an original signature stamp (c. 1800) from Robert Coleman, plus an old glass butter churn and a toy ship that was left by the previous owner (a direct descendant of Robert Coleman) in 1941.
  • After the forge shut down, the Colemans raised standardbred horses, and their pride was one of the sons of Rysdyk’s Hambletonian Ten, from which all standardbreds trace their line. He was buried at the center of the half-mile racing circle (now overgrown) on the property, and a copper marker placed on his grave. Unfortunately Dawn’s grandfather loaned the marker to the local historic society for a newspaper article, and it was lost. (50 years later I contacted the newspaper, but unfortunately they couldn’t locate it.)
  • Finally, we have an 18th-century stone privy (outhouse) which is pretty rare–most were made from wood and were not meant to last, for obvious reasons. We’ve had several people offer to excavate it for us, but so far I haven’t been able to stomach the idea.
amish summer kitchen

The standing-seam roof on the Summer Kitchen was too far gone to save, so our Amish friends are redoing it in slate.


From Barb Raid of Historic York, Inc.

Hi, Dawn & Gregg — Congratulations, the Pennsylvania Historic Preservation Board approved the Speedwell Forge Homestead nomination yesterday with no difficulty. Two of the board members (June Evans, who you met at the site visit, and Scott Standish of the Lancaster County Planning Commission) had nice things to say about your property. The main questions from other board members involved why the property was not nominated for its industrial significance (i.e., the forge operations). But it was explained that those resources are long gone and their underground locations are presently unknown. The nomination will now go to the National Park Service, which will give final approval in approximately 45 days (usually longer). I’ll let you know as soon as I hear. Barb

SUNDAY, MARCH 05, 2006

Update on Dawn’s tasks

On October 15, I published Dawn’s new to-do list. Let’s see what she’s accomplished in the last five months:


  • Repoint east side, spot point as needed (Hollenbeck) — repointed entire building!
  • Finish east gable, downspouts, front porch — east gable and front porch finished
  • Insulate between all floors (blown-in blanket) — done!
  • Paint all windows and sashes; hang windows — done!
  • Move basement door — done!
  • Paint front porch — stripped
  • Install whirlpool bath; put air pump in kneewall above (AH Moyer) — done!
  • Install humidistats in all bathrooms — done!
  • Run electric to all fireplaces (need 220V for kitchen stove?) — done!
  • Run electric to cedar closet (need 220V for electric dryer?) — done!
  • Install illuminated exit signs, emergency lighting (Joel Miller Electric) — wired!
  • Install window and door contacts (for burglar alarm) — wired!
  • Install pulls and horns around mansion (for fire alarm) — wired!
  • Run line sets from workshop for air conditioning — done!
  • Finish air conditioning ducts; install remote temperature sensors in return ducts — done!
  • Run new black iron pipe to all radiators — done!
  • Install 75 gal propane water heater and recirculating pump — done!
  • Buy and bury two 1,000 gal propane tanks — done!
  • Strip and re-paint all radiators — done!
  • Run radiant flooring under kitchen, bathrooms (except boys’ room) — done!
  • Tie waste lines to septic system — done!
  • Install chimney caps — east side done!
  • Restore iron firebacks — done!
  • Buy four electric fireplace inserts, one stand-alone fireplace — done!
  • Repair lath and plaster — done!

Summer Kitchen

  • Clean chimney — done!
  • Replace roof and gutters — done!
  • Buy and install new front door — found one on the property; not installed yet
  • Reinforce flooring upstairs; fix “bump” — done!
  • Install air handler — done!
  • Install electric panel — done!
  • Re-plaster brick wall; repair walls — done!
  • Buy and install stand-alone gas fireplace downstairs — done!
  • Run water and propane from mansion — done!
  • Run electric/telephone/cable/LAN/fire/burglar cables from mansion — done!
  • Run line sets from workshop for heat pump — done!
  • Install propane line to fireplace, hot water heater — done!

Paymaster’s Office

  • Finish cleaning — done!
  • Remove linoleum floor, brick “wallpaper” — done!
  • Clean chimney (flue okay for gas fireplace?) — done!
  • Move cabinet doors; create new wall — done!
  • Install electric panel — done!
  • Install propane line to fireplace, hot water heater — done!
  • Buy gas logs for fireplace — done!
  • Remove electric meter — done!
  • Run water from mansion — done!
  • Run electric/telephone/cable/LAN/fire/burglar cables from mansion — done!


  • Drill well — done!
  • Install well pump — done!
  • (November)Install new roof and gutters on workshop — done!
  • Install new drain along driveway — done!
  • Finish septic system — done!
  • Insulate old well house — done!
  • Build retaining wall on east slope — done!
  • Run telephone line under road into basement — done!
  • Restore bookshelf in basement — done!

In addition, Brian took out the stairs to the workshop, which apparently were not built correctly and ready to collapse. But that also means we have to replace them.

That’s quite a bit of work for five months, but there’s still so much left. Now that the plaster is finished, paint is Dawn’s next priority — and with so much trim and ornamentation, that’s a huge job by itself. Olde York Homes will be looking to finish the cottages, and also build the kitchen island. Village Glass has more than enough windows and storms to stay busy for four months, Henry Hollenbech still has the summer kitchen to repoint, and Brian, poor Brian, gets everything nobody else wants.

SUNDAY, MARCH 04, 2006

As I’ve mentioned before, plastering is a lost art. And to the people who used to do it for a living, I’m sure they said “good riddance.”

plaster ceiling

Jerry Lieb Plasterers in Bill’s room

First, you had to put up lath, which originally was thin strips of bark or leftover wood, whatever you had available. This was nailed to the frame and a “brown coat” of plaster — a mixture of lime, sand, and water, mixed to the consistency of toothpaste — was applied. Some of the plaster (the “key”) squeezed through the lath and dried, which is what held the whole thing up. Next came a “scratch” coat of plaster — same ingredients but different ratios — which was a little finer than the brown coat. This was sanded down and a final coat was applied, which was also sanded to create the final smooth surface, ready for painting.

The good thing about plaster was that the materials were cheap, and as long as it didn’t get wet it would last forever. The bad thing was that it required a lot of time and labor, was horribly messy, and the walls were never, ever straight.

So imagine everyone’s delight at the turn of the last century, when drywall was introduced — it was cheap, it was flat, it was easy to install, and it didn’t make a mess. Unfortunately, it wasn’t appropriate for a 1760 mansion, so we couldn’t use it.

But we could cheat a little. Rather than install lath and a browncoat, we used “blueboard,” which is really just drywall that is moisture-resistant so you can apply wet plaster over it. That saved about half of the labor costs, but didn’t save the mess as they sanded the two coats of plaster. I imagine we’ll be blowing plaster dust out of every nook and cranny for the rest of our lives.

We also cheated on the ceilings. Rather than patch all the cracks and the holes made by the insulators, we just put up blueboard and a coat of plaster. That saved a lot of labor at the expense of the crown molding in some of the rooms. But since the blueboard was only a quarter-inch thick, it seemed a reasonable compromise.


The retaining wall

I mentioned our first fight was over the bathroom fan switches. I may have mentioned our second argument was over the retaining wall.

retaining wall

Henry Hollenbech and Brian Schaeffer keeping the forces of nature at bay

The east slope had slid into the house, and the dirt was two feet higher than it should have been, so we knew we had to do something. My thought was to terrace the slope, with large flat areas to absorb the rain and low walls to prevent runoff. However, that would have meant removing about half a dozen small trees.

Dawn wanted to keep the trees, which meant keeping the slope and building a tall retaining wall at the bottom of the hill, right next to the mansion. It also meant building a “swale” through the slope to direct the water around the house. I did not like this arrangement at all, and said so.

You can see how much they listen to me.