James Madison's Montpelier: Restoration Celebration

Posted on: September 18th, 2008 by Matt Ringelstetter

 

"If you're looking for Madison's memorial, look around. Look around at a free country, governed by the rule of law." With these words, Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts presided over the opening of the newly restored physical memorial to the life of our nation's fourth president.

In addition to being the home of the Madison family for nearly 80 years, and the building where, in the mid-1780's, James Madison crafted the Virginia Plan--a major influence at the Constitutional Convention of 1787--Montpelier can now lay claim to be what National Trust for Historic Preservation President Richard Moe calls, "the biggest, most complex, most ambitious research and restoration project in the history of the National Trust and probably in the history of the nation." On Wednesday, September 17 (Constitution Day) with several thousand in attendance, the ribbon was cut, signaling the completion of Montpelier's five year architectural restoration.

Built around 1764 by James Madison's father, the house went through several additions by the family before

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.

the President's death in 1836 and the selling of the estate by his wife Dolley in 1844. The history of the estate does not end there, as later families who called Montpelier home added their own unique touches to the property. Most notable amongst these was the duPont family whose purchase in 1901 by Delaware native William was soon followed by the eventual transformation of Montpelier into a luxurious country home. The duPonts expanded the house from 26 rooms to a total of 55. The family also added a second story to each of the Madison-era wings and rooms to the rear of the building--additions that doubled the square-footage of the home.

In 1928, William duPont’s daughter Marion duPont Scott inherited the estate and continued to add her own personal flavor to Montpelier. Known around the world for her equestrian interests, the duPont heiress added a race track and other facilities on the grounds. Her exquisite Art Deco “Red Room” displayed trophies and the photos of winning thoroughbreds. Marion, however, was also interested in history, and understood the significance of the home in the context of the American nation. This led to her wish to have Montpelier restored to its Madison-era appearance in her will.... Read More →

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Notes from New Orleans: News Update — Mayor to Rescind Executive Order

Posted on: September 18th, 2008 by Walter Gallas

 

Still standing: A demolition permit was issued for this craftsman-style house at 1716 S. Gayoso in New Orleans' Broadmoor neighborhood this week, even though it is not in imminent danger of collapse nor was it cited as an imminent health threat.

Still standing: A demolition permit was issued for this craftsman-style house on S. Gayoso in New Orleans' Broadmoor neighborhood this week, even though it is not in imminent danger of collapse nor was it cited as an imminent health threat.

Mayor Nagin announced before the City Council's recovery committee yesterday afternoon that he will lift the executive order which suspends the functions of the Neighborhood Conservation District Committee on Friday at 5 pm. This is a committee charged with the review of demolition applications in National Register and other older neighborhood districts not within one of the local historic districts. His executive order sought to speed the process of demolishing buildings that were in imminent danger of collapse -- a power he already had without any order.

We think the executive order was a misguided effort, opening the door to more mischief among the sanitation department, code enforcement officials, demolition contractors, and property owners eager to clear properties throughout the city. Why the executive order couldn't be lifted sooner is not clear. We are going to try to determine -- of the properties for which demolition permits have been written since the executive order--how many of them were improperly issued because they did not in fact pose a threat of collapse, but rather had been swept up in the net as properties the city had cited as imminent health threats.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Flood Waters Have Receded at World-Famous Farnsworth House

Posted on: September 16th, 2008 by Barbara Campagna 2 Comments

 

After two days, staff and volunteers at Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois can finally reach it without a boat, albeit waders!

View into the Farnsworth House through the front door after the waters receded.

View into the Farnsworth House through the front door after the waters receded.

The flood waters started to recede yesterday morning, and unlike the flood of 1996 when the waters rose over 4’ into the house, it appears it was about 18” above the floor level this time. Our very ingenious low-tech way of raising the furniture on plastic milk crates worked and not one of them was displaced.

With that said, we are trying to evaluate the impact to the building and it will be some time before the full impact to the historic site and landscape can be fully understood. The existing primavera wood wardrobe does have water damage along the bottom which will be evaluated by a conservator, as do the other fixed-in-place wood panels. The famous primavera wood panels in the living room were demounted and safely stored on top of the “core”.

No glass was broken and the travertine floors on the interior seem only mildly dirty. We still don’t know the full impact to the mechanical and electrical systems but are hopeful since most of the equipment is located more than 18” above the floor. Several very large trees were literally uprooted and getting an arborist in to determine the safety of some of the other trees is a priority.

Because there is massive disaster recovery occurring all over the country right now, getting the insurance

The Farnsworth House as the waters recede.

The Farnsworth House as the waters recede.

adjusters to the house may take a week or more. In the mean time, our dedicated Director, Whitney French, and her staff and volunteers will be working with engineers, restoration recovery companies and conservators to make the most informed restoration decisions. As a result, the site is closed for tours for the remainder of 2008. While we understand that people who have planned trips in advance and purchased tickets are very disappointed that their tours have been cancelled, please understand that this is necessary, not only to facilitate the physical recovery of the building and landscape, but to ensure the life safety of our staff and visitors. Any questions, please feel free to email me at Barbara_campagna@nthp.org .

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Barbara Campagna

Barbara A. Campagna, FAIA, LEED AP BD+C was formerly the Graham Gund Architect of the National Trust in the Stewardship of Historic Sites office. She is currently a sustainability consultant to the National Trust and can be reached at bcampagna@bcampagna.com.

 

Twenty Most Sustainable Cities: Ethisphere looks at 20 "Global Sustainability Centers," weighing factors such as economies, populations, cultural activities, universities, international recognition, and most importantly "they also needed to have a plan in place that will shift their bulky, mega-hub selves onto an environmentally sustainable path so that by 2020 (the future, if you will), they will be sustainability role models." [Ethisphere]

Modernism in Greensboro: The "Gate City" has developed a reputation as a center of Modernism in the southeast. [Greensboro's Treasured Places]

Interpreting Slavery at Historic Sites: With the inclusion of "history from below" into many historic sites and museums, topics such as slavery need to be interpreted alongside more traditional areas. Max Van Balgooy details the strategies for interpreting these unique histories laid out at a recent meeting of the America Association for State and Local History, held in Rochester, NY. [National Trust Historic Sites]

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

 

Rainfall from the remnants of Hurricane Ike floods the Farnsworth House

Rainfall from the remnants of Hurricane Ike floods the Farnsworth House, September 2008.

Unfortunately, Texas is not the only state impacted by Ike and the other tropical storms. Our National Trust Historic Site and National Historic Landmark, Farnsworth House , designed by Mies van der Rohe and opened in 1951 is under water. Tropical Storm Lowell and now Ike are behind the rains that are still pummeling the Midwest.  The flood waters continue to rise. It has been raining with flood waters rising since Friday night. Unlike the story many of you have heard about the flood last August at the house, the rains/floods have not stopped 6” below the entrance and the house now has at least 1 foot of water in it.

Water from the Fox River entering the Farnsworth House

Water from the Fox River entering the Farnsworth House, September 2008.

Our director, Whitney French, and a host of volunteers from Landmarks Illinois , our partner and manager of the site, worked tirelessly last night to secure the house before it got dark. There is really little that can be done beyond lifting all the furniture on plastic milk crates (a system we devised last August when confronted with similar flooding) and turning the electricity off. The house was built in a hundred year flood plain, but if you read my previous posting on disaster planning – climate change has significantly impacted so many of our regions, including Plano Illinois. In the 60 years since the house was built, there have been 60 floods and now 7 hundred-year floods.

Securing the furniture in the Farnsworth House - a photo from last August.

Securing the furniture in the Farnsworth House - a photo from last August.

There is about 1 foot of water INSIDE the house. All the furniture was raised but there is nothing further that can be done, and in fact the house is pretty close to being unreachable, as the entire community is underwater and it is a very dire situation. Three bridges between the town and the house are now out. Whitney is now fearful for her house and is working to protect her house and family. The rain is still coming down and is not showing any signs of letting up. We will get the insurance ball rolling tomorrow morning, but in the mean time we can just hope and pray that the rains stop and that the community and its citizens are safe. And send good wishes and karma to Whitney and her family.

The house and tours are closed for the foreseeable future. Access to the house currently is only by boat, and this is not safe. The ironic thing of course, is that with the house sitting on 5 foot stilts, it is incredibly evocative as this photo at the top of this posting shows - taken last year when the floods did stop before entering the house. We will keep everyone apprised and ask you to give Whitney and the staff of Landmarks Illinois the space and time they will need to recover.

Below is a video on YouTube that one of our intrepid volunteers, Denny Frantzen, took last night, before the floodwaters entered the house.

Updated to include newly-received photos from today's flooding.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Barbara Campagna

Barbara A. Campagna, FAIA, LEED AP BD+C was formerly the Graham Gund Architect of the National Trust in the Stewardship of Historic Sites office. She is currently a sustainability consultant to the National Trust and can be reached at bcampagna@bcampagna.com.