Press for Howard Hall Farm Restoration Group
"Adopted by a Brownstone,"
"A River Town with Restoration in its Bones,"
"Old Rebuilding an Old Building,"
"An Extroadinary Excursion Along the Hudson River Valley,"
"Historic Green Restoration,"
Inside Clermont Manor
An interview with Edward Moynihan conducted by Reggie Young. Published in InsideOut magazine. July/August 2007
(Click images to enlarge and read article)
Historic Restoration and Green Technology in Athens
Dennis Heaphy, the tin man behind the restoration of statue of liberty and Ellis Island, coming to Howard Hall, a center for Historic Restoration and Green Technology in Athens.
By Ken Green. Published in the Hudson Valley Times, Autumn 2008.
The History of Mortar may sound like a heavy subject for a workshop, but Reggie Young at Howard Hall Farm finds the topic enlightening. For years Reggie and his partner Nora Johnson had been dreaming of finding a stone house that they could afford to buy and restore. Young, previously a New York City restaurateur, had been doing restoration in the Hudson Valley for six years. "I had thought about offering training on the lime/mortar issue," he says. "I had seen too many buildings screwed up by using the wrong mortar." Young had gone out of state, to Chicago, for his training, but it wasn't until he looked at a dilapidated house perched on a bluff overlooking the Hudson River that the idea of creating a training center crystallized in his mind. "It took five seconds," he says. "The building lent itself perfectly to the idea." Young and Johnson bought the house and have dedicated themselves not only to its restoration but to its development as a hands-on learning laboratory.
Young sees the Federal-style home's potential to be transformed into a modern, functioning dwelling that preserves the home's historic integrity and has a minimal impact on the natural environment. Three years after purchasing the property, Young and his team are deep into the renovation of the structure and are still tinkering with the training center's mission statement. Currently, the center's main purpose is to "investigate, restore, and revive every facet of the structure in a green manner, and provide a forum for other interested homeowners and craftspeople to learn to do the same." Part of this process of educating themselves and others involves bringing in preservation and restoration experts from all over the country. "With the help of these incredible individuals," says Young "we can all learn to bring an old home out of the cobwebs and into the green. We are in a global crisis, and conservation and restoration can be very green."
Young sees his responsible approach to renovation as one facet of solving many environmental problems. He advocates fixing up existing structures rather than building new, reusing as much as possible, locating local materials, and incorporating alternative energy practices into historic renovations. In at least one instance, Young found that being green and historically accurate go hand in hand. He located and used a type of sand from Saugerties for his mortar mix which brought him closer to replicating the mix originally used on the home.
Mortar is not the only mixing happening on the hill. Young's use of the Howard Hall website and blogs reflects his pride in working collaboratively. One site, howardhallfarm.wordpress.com is called the Faces of Howard Hall Farm. Its pages are an enthusiastic and affectionate introduction to the core group and their contributions to the project. The home site howardhallfarm.com is overflowing with before and after photos, short videos, archives, history, introductions to visiting experts, and an impressive list of workshops past and present.
The fall series of offerings ranges from the practical to the esoteric. Young's partner, Nora Johnson, will bring New York City artist Toby Nutall and collaborator Moira Kelley to teach a workshop entitled "Historic Paints and Finishes: Faux Wood Graining: Creating Fantasy Wood Finishes"; it takes place October 13th and 14th. For those in historic homes, there is the quintessential lime plaster workshop with famed plaster professional Roy Brennen. On the fascinatingly obscure end of the Howard Hall workshop spectrum is Lady Liberty's personal face lift professional (and fourth generation tinsmith) Dennis Heaphy—also known as the Tin Man. He will offer a lesson on working with Terne Tin, the material that keeps the Statue of Liberty clothed and smiling. In addition to the workshop, Heaphy will also be working on Howard Hall's tin ceiling and conducting a presentation for children on October 20th about the making of the Statue of Liberty.
Howard Hall Farm
A Unique Study in Restoration
By Greg Howell. Published in Northeast Antiques, October 2007.
The road to the sleepy village of Athens abounds with deep forests and pastoral landscapes buttressed by mountains. This cradle of land between the Catskill Mountains surrounding the nearby Hudson River winds privately beyond the willow and hemlock trees. The scene is breathtaking, and the river, concealed from the road, surprisingly, is scantly missed. These rolling hills drenched in dots of yellow sunshine are every New Yorker's ideal country getaway from the rush and push of the City.
Howard Hall Farm is perched on one of these rolling hills, softly hidden behind embankments of trees. This is a different world, indeed, where hens lay pastel blue eggs and sheep cut the lawn. A Great Pyrenees named Lambchop keeps the coyotes at bay while a team of carpenters, interns, conservationists, and restorers piece together the history of a 220-year-old Federal Style house.
When Reggie Young and Nora Johnson first gazed toward the Howard Hall home, the weed tree overgrowth consumed the three-story manor; certainly, the most casual passerby could miss it completely. After all, one hardly notices the radio towers or the foreboding, looming PG&E Plant. The Energy Group and thousands of citizens mistook the ruins for a loss, failing to comprehend the age and historical importance of the 18th century estate. Despite the years of neglect witnessed by Reggie and Nora that fateful day in 2005, the ghosts of the Federal staircases and Dutch hallways seem to whisper, "you're going to buy this house Reggie." And with the promise of ten years hard work, Reggie and Nora formed a partnership and purchased immediately. According to Reggie, on that day "in 2005, Nora and I became part of the history of this house."
The home is unassuming from the front. The modest entrance leads into the wide Dutch hallway, used in the period to conduct business meetings. In 2005, the ramshackle walls and modernized windowpanes were an odd juxtaposition. The home's piece de resistance, the upstairs New England style piazza facing beautiful sunny meadows, dense trees, and big skies was dilapidated. The floors and fireplaces were crumbling, the tin roof was a corroded, rusty wreck, and the masonry was disintegrating. Much of the period architecture and fixtures were hidden behind decades of botched remodeling and decayed walls. To make matters worse, an early 20th century owner had built an outer door through the southern load-bearing wall. It has since cracked the home's foundation. The masonry had barely survived its hundred year gravitational struggle to stand. As Young also noted, the transfer of the home into the Woodburne Boarding House in the late 19th century had left the home even farther removed from it original splendor.
Despite the overwhelming task at hand, Reggie and Nora began their complicated process of restoration and conservation in March of 2006. This first, slow, daunting phase brought stability to the foundation, floors, and fireplaces. As carpenters peeled away the layers, surprises abounded. Reggie and Nora were amazed to find the original fireplace mantel behind layers of concrete and a Victorian mantel. While working on the roof, Reggie and gang uncovered their favorite discovery. He says, "The soffits that we just discovered were made from a huge slag of a tree, with a crown molding carved into the front, which became what one sees, and the top hollowed out which became the gutter. We all went crazy over that wonderful find."
In the fall, once the structure was safe, Young moved in to the bare bones building and proceeded to create a semblance of a home. This is when the farm animals arrived, just as soon as the gargantuan weed trees were bulldozed to re-open the view toward the river. As Reggie relocated into his newly christened "home depot" upstairs apartment, he opened shop. According to Reggie, "[they] had grown up in stone house renovations in eastern Pennsylvania, and well remember our pre-teenage years of climbing the ladder to go to bed as the stair restoration was happening. So we knew what the deal was."
Between the daily rituals of gathering eggs from the Araucana hens and feeding the chickens, dogs, and other assortment of animals, Young began to think seriously about the bigger picture. The task of finding carpenters, plasterers, and other skilled laborers experienced with historic homes had been daunting. This was a private venture, after all, and much of the assistance available to non-profit historic sites was unavailable to him. As the icy winter winds gushed over the mountains that winter, Reggie knew he had to develop a business plan. How was he going to restore this home with historical accuracy and on a limited budget?
As the brutal winter winds swashed throughout the house, and amid the noise of machinery, hammering, and sawing, Reggie recalled an old adage, "Let chaos and squalor reign for with order there is tyranny." Despite the merciless winter chill, he decided to avoid the pitfalls of the quick fix solution most often used for restoring private homes. He resolved himself to patience. In the midst of chaos, he would find a solution to utilize adequately trained craftsmen and carpenters while maintaining a home in a skeleton of a house.
In an usual twist for a business model, Reggie and Nora designed a private, for-profit company based on non-profit, 501c3 organizations. They would be methodical and cautious. He began documenting every detail on each project. Nora meticulously researched the homes history, and they compiled a list of expert contacts. Photographs were taken everyday of the progress of work, and for special projects, video cameras rolled, documenting subjects ranging from the basement fireplace to sheep sheering. A regularly posted weblog, howardhallfarm.com, provides a detailed diary for the entire restoration effort, including announcements, videos, photographs, history, and research. On the flip side, his business model allows him to avoid the red tape and the strict policy of non-profit organizations.
Certainly, Reggie and Nora will remember 2007 as the year they hit their stride. Recently, they implemented the use of Green technology in the restoration process. While not always historically accurate, implementing the use of environment-friendly materials and recycled products outweighs the need to adhere to uncompromising, traditional restoration and conservation techniques. In terms of preservation, however, using eco-friendly, stable materials will assist in the long-term preservation of the house.
Also this year, an impressive string of workshops and lectures has been presented, educating the staff, crew, and the community. Reggie insists, "This house was the platform for a school of restoration that I had fantasized about." Howard Hall Farm's educational programs are generally timed for the beginning of a new project. The Lime Plaster workshop coincided with the restoration of the walls. The Historic Paints and Finishes workshop precedes the restoration of the home's finishes. And that old, rusty tin roof... naturally, it will coincide with the upcoming workshop and lecture by Dennis Heaphy, the Terne tin expert involved in the recent restoration of the Statue of Liberty. If that seems impressive, look at the list of previous workshops this year. Rory Brennan of Preservation Plastering and This Old House offered on-site consulting and training. Michael Black of Liberty Paints headed a recent series, as well as Margaret Saliske, fresh from clocking in 400 hours conserving the Court Hall stencils at Olana, the famous home of Hudson River painter Frederick Church.
Ask Reggie how long it will take to complete the restoration and conservation of Howard Hall Farm and he will answer, "oh, the rest of my life." And he almost means it. This is not just a project, but also a lifestyle. "We sometimes struggle with the amount of work, living among the dirt and workers, chaos and squalor," Young exclaims, "but imagine someday we will too be past this phase with a beautiful restoration to show for it, and another slice of important Hudson river history preserved for posterity."
Already he is exploring potential television shows, podcasts, and online broadcasts. He contemplates the expansion of the educational programs and continues outreach to the community. He intends to broaden the Internship Program, and he and Nora relentlessly research and gather historical materials for the Howard Hall Farm archives. Speaking of the process, Reggie emotes a still calm as he expresses his vision for this home, and it is easy to understand his perception that this is a life long project. Sitting on the veranda with the indefatigable Reggie and hearing him calmly speak of his love of this project, the anarchy seems to subside and the chilling thought of the cold, winter winds blasting over the mountaintops seem to fade; briefly, the glorious, peaceful summer landscape surrounding this enchanting home returns to focus. Only moments pass, however, and Reggie is called away to another task, as he manically rejoins his world of organized chaos.
Age of Restoration
Tinsmith Dennis Heaphy is turning a 19th-century house into a workshop
By Tom Keyser. Published in the Times Union, Sunday, November 18, 2007.
Dennis Heaphy doesn't require affirmation of what he does as often as most workers do. But every now and then, even for Heaphy, affirmation is nice.
"I was having a glass of wine last night, and the bartender asks, 'How was your day?' " Heaphy says. "I said, 'Well, you know, I'm really enjoying this. I'm laying on the roof, and I'm intent on what I'm doing; I'm scraping off the existing tar on the metal to prep it to be soldered. And then I realize that it's a beautiful day, and I'm looking out on the Hudson from the highest point.' "
From his rooftop perch at Howard Hall Farm, Heaphy can watch the Hudson River hug the bank as it pushes past the village of Athens, near Hudson. A fourth-generation tinsmith, he is restoring the roof of the 1870s house.
A beefy man with flowing hair and a bushy mustache, Heaphy usually divides his time between New York City, where he is resident tinsmith at the Statue of Liberty, and Syracuse, where his great-grandfather opened a metal shop 115 years ago. But for several weeks over the next several months, he will be in the Hudson River Valley helping restore the old Federal-style house and giving lessons in tinsmithing.
Platform for school
Heaphy's participation exemplifies how Howard Hall Farm is a laboratory for "sustainable, environmentally conscious restoration techniques," as its owner Reggie Young puts it. He and his partner, Nora Johnson, bought the house in 2005 as "the platform for a school of restoration that I had fantasized about," Young says.
It was in rough shape -- perfect for what Young had in mind. He's a former restaurateur in New York City and Connecticut who grew up on a farm in eastern Pennsylvania. His parents did restoration work, and he did, too, even while owning restaurants. But he wanted to do more.
At Howard Hall Farm, he and Johnson started by ripping out the electrical system, plumbing, ceilings, floors, walls and siding as well as tearing down all additions.
"We gutted it back to everything that was original," Young says.
That took about six months. Then reconstruction began. Young and his partner are bringing in preservation and restoration experts from around the country to oversee the work and give seminars in, for example, masonry and historic paints and finishes.
The real thing
Young recruited Heaphy this summer after reading about him in an article in a New York newspaper. The article was headlined "The Tin Man."
"He told me the house was built in 1780. That was the hook," Heaphy says. "The opportunities don't come up that often to come in and try to salvage old work.
"This is not theoretical. This is the real thing. You watch some television show, and you can muse about it. But actually to get your hands in it ... "
And Heaphy's hands are full with this project. Standing on the roof, he says: "You're looking at a map of people's mistakes over 200 years."
He has the expertise to correct them. He learned to work with metal from the old men in his family's shop in Syracuse that supported the family's hardware store and heating and roofing companies. What turned out to be a fortunate happenstance started as a nuisance.
"I inadvertently learned a trade that very few people have anymore," says Heaphy, 48. "I really only do work that I find interesting, like this. Having this talent has given me the freedom to do that. But when I was 11 years old I didn't want to be a tinsmith."
He wanted to be with friends. Instead, he worked after school, Saturdays and summers learning to solder, bend metal, corrugate pipe, lay out a job and envision how it would look when finished. By the time he was 15 or 16, he says, he was master of the shop.
"I learned to appreciate the craft," he says, "to love working with metal."
To the statue
He also loves performing, and that led him to the Statue of Liberty. His mother was a singer, and Heaphy, while running the shop, did summer stock and regional theater. Through people he'd met acting, he got a job transforming a room of the Ellis Island museum in New York City into a theater. Then he befriended workers in the Ellis Island maintenance department, the same workers who oversee the Statue of Liberty. He told them about his family business.
"I said, 'So what do I have to do to become the resident tinsmith for the statue?' " Heaphy says. "I'm positive the guy's going to laugh in my face. And instead he goes, 'I don't know. We can probably find you something.' And inside, as a tinsmith, I'm thinking, 'What did he say? Did he really say that?' "
They found him a job repairing the brass windows in the statue's crown. Then he repaired the brass grating in the lobby.
"They kept on giving me different projects," Heaphy says, "and I became the go-to guy."
He also got a job performing, five times a day at the base of the statue, a dramatic re-enactment of how the statue was built. He puts the show aside when there's work to do on the statue.
Bringing it back
He's been the statue tinsmith for eight years, working from April to October and then going home to Syracuse for the winter. Until it snows, he says, he'll continue working on and off on the Howard Hall Farm roof. He's planning on finishing in the spring.
"The tin roof is still intact," Heaphy says. "But over the years people have dropped things on it and punctured it, and they put nails in it to hold it down, or they put tar on it, or they put caulk on it, and when they ripped out fireplaces and chimneys they put aluminum over it."
He is removing as much tar with a chisel as he can, and then he'll have helpers remove the rest with paint thinner. They'll wash it with soap and water, and he'll use a brush to get it as smooth as possible. It will eventually be painted red.
Heaphy will solder the holes and remove any exposed nails. A tin roof like this, he says, should be bent and folded to create waterproof seams. He'll peel the roof back so the soffits can be replaced, and he'll create drains. He'll replace the tin around the new chimneys.
In the process, he'll teach contractors and others about the art of tinsmithing.
"What Reggie's trying to do here is give people a window to the past and the opportunity to get their hands into these processes, to appreciate the original process," Heaphy says. "Happily, these old roofs do exist, and there are people out there trying to keep them."
Tom Keyser can be reached at 454-5448 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Classes for restorers
For more information about lessons with Dennis Heaphy or Howard Hall Farm renovation and seminars, call Reggie Young at 945-1945. (or 945-1253)
Dec. 1-2: Rory Brennan (plasterer from "This Old House"): Lime washes and finishes.
Dec. 2: Brigit Binns, spokesperson for Williams-Sonoma and author of cookbooks: Green-friendly cooking.
Dec. 8 (tentative): Shannon Hayes, author of "The Grassfed Gourmet," "The Farmer and the Grill" and "The Carnivore Chronicles": Cooking class.
Dec. 15: Mercy Ingraham, author of "Open Hearth Cook": Hearth cooking from the Federal era.
Next year's seminars begin in April. Topics include kiln building, Dutch-barn building, historic sash restoration and historic doors.
A green-technology conference, exploring options and costs for restoration, is scheduled May 17-19. Heaphy will give seminars in tinsmithing June 21-22.
All Times Union materials copyright 1996-2007, Capital Newspapers Division of The Hearst Corporation, Albany, N.Y.