Friday, March 11, 2011

I'm Dreaming of Porches

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about the renovation of the front entry of our house.  As it is now, the porch isn't anywhere close to the homey, welcoming place I dream it could become. 

Here is what it looks like, as of this morning.

Temporary cedar posts and a seriously ugly, but code-compliant and safe, railing made from 2x4s and 36" grade stakes.

We rebuilt most of the porch in 2005, because most of the structure of the old porch was deteriorating. The roof itself was solid, as was the floor framing, but everything in between (the beams, roof joists, posts and flooring) was replaced. The columns and post brackets that were there were not appropriate to our Gothic Revival house. We replaced the posts with plain cedar 4x4s, to hold up the porch temporarily until we could decide on a new post, bracket, and railing design. 'Temporary' has lasted for almost six years so far.

I took this photo with my ancient digital camera in 2002, on our first visit to the house with our realtor.  The handyman hired to spruce up the property did a good job of using wood filler to hide the rot on the front posts.

Water had infiltrated the ceiling because there was no flashing where the roof met the brick structure.  Those 'lovely' brackets were styrofoam.

This is my favorite photo that I have taken of our house.  It is the view I saw one day in the sideview mirror of my Jeep.   I took this photo right before we started to rebuild the porch.

Notice how the porch posts are a little bit bow-legged from rot.

This morning, to celebrate the Inspiration Party at Modern Country Style, let's see what kind of ideas I have to finally finish our porch.

This is the oldest photo we have of our house.  We figure that it was taken sometime around 1940.  Notice how our house still wears its Gothic barge boards on the gables and the dormer (the dormer and the trim were removed in 1967.)  These are not the original porch posts or railing.  The ladder on the right was being used by painters (I have another photo of painters working on the front door), and I am guessing that the porch was new at this point.

In order to design new ornamentation for our porch, I am trying to look to similar houses in the area for inspiration.  The only other Gothic Revival house in our area is Idlewild, which was built about 12 miles from here in the 1860s.  It sat abandoned and deteriorating on a large tract of land slated for development. 

Photo from the Free Lance-Star newspaper in the 1990s.

Most of its ornamentation was still intact when I took these photos in 2002.

(Pretend you don't see that No Trespassing sign.)

Look at the level of detail in this porch!

I love the design of the balusters.

While The Husband and I were there photographing, we found a heap of ornaments that had been gathered into a pile.

I can't believe this stuff hadn't been stolen!

I came on this mission fully prepared with a Sharpie marker and some poster board.  We picked through this pile to find balusters and brackets in good condition, and we traced templates.

It's a good thing that we made this visit to Idlewild when we did, because this is what it looked like early one morning a few months later.

Photo taken by a firefighter and published in the Free Lance-Star.

I got a phone call from a friend of mine, telling me that Idlewild was on fire.  I immediately felt nauseous.  It was arson, and no one has yet been charged with the crime.

Photo published in the Free Lance-Star.

This beautiful building was now a charred shell.  Engineers determined that the walls were sound, and that the building was restorable.  Idlewild is owned by the City of Fredericksburg, who paid to remove the debris from the inside, sifting it to make sure that nothing important was lost, and to reinforce the remaining structure to keep it from further deterioration now that the roof and most of the floors are gone.

Photo from the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.

Some of the beautiful porch ormaments are still in place, and can be used by a future owner to replicate what is lost.

Through the tireless efforts of volunteer researchers, and the cooperation of the planning department of the City of Fredericksburg, Idlewild was recently listed on the Virginia Landmarks Registry and the National Register of Historic Places.  The city's goal is to sell the property to someone who will restore it.  Our current economic climate makes this very difficult.

My dream for Idlewild is that it will one day rise from the ashes,  and once again be the beautiful, graceful manor house that it was in the past.

For our porch, I plan to use my tracings and photographs of Idlewild as inspiration to create a graceful Gothic porch to crown the facade of our old house.


  1. Connie, I share this long term dream. My front entrance is simply a covered entrance and I've long thought of expanding it to make a nice sun-sheltered north-facing sun porch. Or to make a little conservatory extending out a side door on the west side of the house. Time and money are all that are required, right?

  2. How sad that place burned like that. Glad they can restore it. Your porch ideas sound wonderful.

  3. I like your many choices for re-making it. Very sad about the burning of Idlewood..I'll join your dream that it will be restored to it's rightful condition. Please show us what you decide to do with your front porch. Mine is an eyesore...can't seem to get that cozy feeling left clean with all these children around here, lol.

  4. I'm afraid I don't think I can accept your house at my linky's JUST TOO GORGEOUS!!!!

    Haha!! I love seeing photos of it and hearing your plans. I bet it'll look stunning when you've finished - not that it doesn't already!

    I can't believe that people could be so callous as to set such a beautiful house on fire. I really hope that someone takes on the challenge of restoring it.


  5. Looks like you've got a project going on. I love your house. Looking forward to seeing the porch when you're finished.

  6. Hi Connie
    Funny how 'temporary' often turns into something semi-permanent! I've enjoyed seeing your ideas here. Poor Idlewild! I hope it has a new lease of life in the future.

  7. Your porch will be lovely when you decide on a style. Your attention to detail is just superb!
    So sad about Idlewild - has anyone thought of rebuilding it to be used as a museum?

  8. Very interesting post. I had not heard of Idlewild. What a tragedy.

    Also, the porch sounds like a great project. What a difference it will make.

    And, about temporary becoming permanent....we have a lot of that around here.

  9. I had to laugh at your 'temporary' fix for the porch! It's good to know we're not the only ones that have that 'temporary' problem!

    I was sick when I saw the photo of Idlewild sitting vacant. I was thinking that it was such a shame for a house like that to be empty with no life. THEN, I saw the photo of it on fire... devastating! I'm glad you were able to get the templates and photos when you did!

    Good luck with the porch. Sounds like a fun project. Can't wait to the see the results!

  10. I love your old rotted porch!! It looked so graceful on the front of the house.

    ....sad that such a beautiful house was torched.

  11. What a shame about Idlewild. I hope it can be restored, but I can only imagine what that may cost. Our house was built in the Arts and Crafts style, but somewhere in more recent history it was "colonialized" and stuccoed. Unfortunately we can not afford to bring it back to what it was.

  12. Connie, are you familiar with The Historic American Building Survey (HABS) website? It is part of The Library Of Congress website. It is a huge data base with measured drawings and photographs of American homes, interiors, outbuildings, barns, fences, etc. It has been a vital resource to me in building and renovating our reproduction saltbox home. Best of luck with the project! Regards, John

  13. johnnyboy, you have just given me a HUGE gift!! I completely forgot about HABS, and I have just spent the most wonderful half hour wandering around the country and through history looking at wonderful images. I have no doubt that this will be incredibly valuable for so many of the projects around our house.

    P.S. I'd love to see your saltbox, because it's one of my favorite styles ... after Gothic Revival, of course. :)

  14. Aw - how sad that such a beautiful house was lost :( When we demolished some old houses in town for a redevelopment project, I talked the contractor into saving the porch embellishments and a bunch of old wondows and doors for me. I have no idea what I'll do with them all, but somehow they'll be used again. Your porch will be gorgeous when it's done, I have no doubt!

  15. I too know all too well about "temporary" fixes. We have been working on our 1880 home for almost 30 years now. We are almost finished with our front porch and I am so glad to see the way your steps were constructed with the walls on either side. tat is how we rebuilt ours. I love our old home but never dreamed we would be working on it this long.

  16. Dear Connie, Your house is beautiful! I love all the detail. Our farmhouse was built by a poor farmer, so the ceilings are low, and the trim is very plain. But I love the history of it. Restoring it was a joy.I look forward to seeing your restored porch. P x

  17. Connie, I know how temporary turns into long term. You and Steve have done so much work to restore this beauty. I know whatever design you decide for the porch will be wonderful. I am looking forward to seeing all your roses in bloom.

  18. Idlewild, what a great porch to use for inspiration...I loved the detail as well...your older porch pictures were also lovely with the 2 posts on either side much like Idlewild....a combo of both will be perfect to reviving the porch all in due time...can't wait to see it...and your house is gorgeous...

  19. I love your house. Gothic Revival is such an extraordinary style. The ornamentation is fabulous. I am looking forward to one day seeing the results of your front porch.
    I join you in hoping someone lovingly restores Idlewild. It's so sad that it was allowed to deteriorate to that degree. Hopefully the restoration will happen sooner than later. It certainly was a gorgeous home.
    I have been so busy on a project and missed the rose auction...I can't believe it. I'm so sad about that. Hopefully you were able to get the roses you wanted.

  20. I was going to send you to HABS, also. I too have a 'porch' issue on my 1923 home, where people enclosed it to make a TV room, but the stupid part was they painted the brick. I have had a mason with historic preservation work to his credit try every chemical, water removal and manual removal technique known to man,to remove the paint from the highly textured and porous brick and have had no luck. But I have a nice replacement design at the ready. So sad for Idlewild.

  21. You have a beautiful blog. Hope to see you at My Dream Canvas:-)

  22. Your home is beautiful; it's a work of love to bring back an old house. We've been in process for 15 plus years and I've loved doing it.


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