The Historic Sites Division’s mission is preservation of important historic sites for the enjoyment and education of present and future generations. A number of major preservation projects that significantly improve the integrity and appearance of our historic structures have been completed. Information on a few of them is featured below.
Fort McKavett State Historic Site
Fort McKavett, established in 1852, today features 19 restored or reconstructed fort buildings including officers’ quarters, a hospital, dead house, sinks (latrines), a schoolhouse, and the post headquarters. The buildings are constructed of limestone blocks joined with soft lime mortar and usually finished with limewash inside and out. Larger and more prominent buildings, such as the hospital, were constructed with a somewhat higher lever of finish and detail. All doors and windows are of wood and all roofs are covered with wooden shingles. Long wooden porches provide protection from the harsh climate. This type of construction, while simple and robust in design, requires ongoing effort to preserve the historic features and character of the buildings.
As part of the THC’s effort to improve the condition of all 22 of its historic sites, Fort McKavett was the subject of a major door and window repair project in 2012-13. A detailed conditions survey conducted by the site staff revealed wood rot and paint failure on numerous doors and windows. Based on the severity of the conditions, seven buildings were selected to be included in the initial phase of the preservation project.
A highly experienced restoration contractor performed the repairs to the doors and windows in a temporary workshop established on site. The doors and windows were removed from the buildings so they could be disassembled as necessary and repaired in a controlled environment. A steam chamber was used to soften window glazing compound so that it could be removed without damage to the wood and glass. Epoxy consolidation in places as well as accurate replacement of severely deteriorated parts brought each door and window back to its original condition. All components were completely primed and painted prior to being reinstalled in their repaired frames. The masonry surrounding the window and door openings was repaired to provide a solid anchorage for the restored assemblies.
The hospital building, now used as the site Visitor Center, received special attention. The louvered cupolas—part of an advanced ventilation system that was thought to reduce the spread of disease within the patient ward—were carefully repaired, reinforced and repainted. The large and delicate windows were fully restored by the restoration contractor while the site maintenance staff repaired the large functional exterior shutters.
The project demonstrates an important advantage of the simple construction of these historic wood doors and windows. Unlike more complex modern assemblies, these historic features can be repaired and maintained almost indefinitely using simple tools and basic carpentry knowledge, making them inherently sustainable. The project has left these buildings once again in excellent condition, ready to withstand the elements for many years to come.
Sam Bell Maxey House State Historic Site
Built in 1868, the Sam Bell Maxey House in Paris was a proper and elegant home for the family of Sam Bell Maxey, a Confederate general and two-term U.S. senator
Since the last major preservation work approximately 30 years ago, the house had experienced a gradual decline. Wood rot, foundation movement, roof leaks, and paint deterioration and mildew growth threatened its integrity. In 2010-11, the THC launched a comprehensive exterior preservation project. Historic paint analysis was conducted to identify original exterior paint colors and the existing paint, which was plagued by microbial growth, was completely removed and the house was repainted. The foundation was stabilized by adjusting the existing wood piers and adding supplemental concrete piers not visible from the exterior. Wood siding, soffits, and trim were repaired. All windows, exterior doors, and exterior shutters were removed, rehabilitated, and reinstalled in their original locations. The cedar roof shingles were replaced and stained to match the historic finish.
The HVAC system was replaced to better protect the artifacts and to provide better filtration and humidity control. A “dry pipe” fire suppression system was carefully integrated into the historic interior. Collections, which were moved out of the house and placed in climate-controlled temporary storage during construction, have now been returned to the house where they can be enjoyed by visitors.
This project protected the historic resource for the future while enhancing the visitor experience.
Levi Jordan Plantation State Historic Site
The two-story Greek Revival plantation house constructed by Levi Jordan during the mid-1850s served his large plantation operation which produced sugar and cotton. When THC received the property in 2008, the house was in very poor condition. The heavy timber frame and oak piers had been compromised by water absorption and termite activity. Much of the wood siding and many of the decorative cornice brackets had rotted, and the original doors were missing. Two rear additions constructed in the early 1900s were in worse condition than the original house, and several generations of front porches had been demolished by hurricane winds emanating from the Gulf of Mexico.
Preservation efforts in 2011-12 focused on stabilizing the building and arresting the deterioration processes that threatened its survival. The process began with the insertion of a new set of concrete, sub-surface grade beams and concrete piers. This intervention provided a stable base for the house, yet resulted in minimal visual impact in the completed project. Once a stable foundation had been established, the wood siding was removed, the timber frame was repaired and reinforced, and new siding was installed. All of the original wood windows were removed, preserved and reinstalled. The roof structure was reinforced and received new cedar shakes. The project included work to meet contemporary codes, and adding reinforcing to give the building a much improved chance of surviving future storms. Wiring was installed to allow the later installation of a mechanical system and interior lighting. The overall development of the site is continuing, with an Interpretive Master Plan process scheduled for completion in Fall of 2013.
Blake House at Starr Family Home
The Starr Family Home State Historic Site in Marshall showcases three generations of Starr Family history through the preservation of seven historic buildings. In addition to the 1871 family home of Frank Starr, known as Maplecroft, the site includes the 1905 Queen Anne style Blake House, home to daughter Ruth Starr Blake.
During the 2011 preservation of Maplecroft, the Blake House received a less extensive but more visually dramatic upgrade. Because the exterior paint was in a severe state of deterioration, the THC retained a paint specialist to conduct a thorough historic paint analysis to identify the original paint colors. This original scheme was applied to the house following a lead paint abatement process, restoring its original colorful appearance. The house exterior was further preserved with the installation of a new roof and new gutters and downspouts. A wheelchair lift was installed adjacent to the front porch, providing much improved visitor access, and new sidewalks provide a route to new accessible restrooms in an adjacent building.