Last Updated: May 16th, 2014 - 12:32:22


Historic landmark gets new wood roof
By Caitlin Davis, Senior Staff Writer
Jul 31, 2013, 15:15

AMES PEACEMAKER JR./HOPEWELL NEWS/NEWS-PATRIOT Workers replace wood shakes on Appomattox Manor in May. The work is expected to continue through fall.

HOPEWELL — With more than 60,000 hand-cut shingles spanning across a 5,600 square feet, the roof at Appomattox Manor will soon look like it did back during the Civil War.

Construction on the historic landmark’s roof began in mid-April, but the process began months before that in the fall and winter of last year. Each shingle had to be hand cut to fit the specifications of the roof’s size and shape.

Appomattox Manor, which was once part of a plantation on City Point, was used in the Civil War as the Union headquarters during the Siege of Petersburg. It is now part of Petersburg National Battlefield.

David Beaver, the facility manager with the battlefield, said the old roof was in need of being replaced, as it had run its course over 25 years.

“The projected life of the new roof is 60 to 75 years,” Beaver said.

The National Park Service, along with the company working on the roof, Black Creek Workshop LLC based out of Courtland, has gone to great lengths to make the life span of the roof extend as long as possible, according to Beaver. The company is also repairing the dormer windows on the house.

Black Creek Workshop, a husband and wife duo comprised of Ben and Maeve Bristow, specializes in historic preservation and art conservation.

Since the last roof installation, Beaver said new products have come out which help to improve the life-span of roofs. One technology the Park Service is going to utilize is a rubber membrane. Beaver said this same material is used underneath roofs in the north to protect from water damage. Once water gets underneath the roof, it can rot the shingles, thus shortening the life-span of the roof and causing extensive damage.

Another technology being used is a mesh material that will allow for air to flow underneath the shingles. Beaver said this means that if water does get under the shingles, the air will dry out the water, which will also prevent rotting.

“We are very glad to have a new roof,” Beaver said. “It is hard to protect and take care of a leaky roof. We expect this new roof to outlast and be lower maintenance.”

From the wood used to make the shingles to the stain put on the shingles, every detail has been mapped out and planned for quite some time.

Jimmy Blankenship, historian with Petersburg National Battlefield, said the roof has seen many different lives. The roof that is currently being replaced is a wood shake, or shingle, roof made from cedar.

In 1953, the Eppes family, who owned the plantation for more than 200 years, had taken off the original wooden shake roof and replaced it with slate. However, Blankenship said this caused many problems for the manor.
CONTRIBUTED PHOTO This photo taken around the time of the Civil War shows what Appomattox Manor used to look like.

The slate remained on the house, which has been under ownership of the Park Service since 1978, from 1954 until the current cedar roof was put on in 1988. Over the course of 25 years, the slate had began to create many structural problems for the house. Blankenship said this was due to the extra weight of the slate, which he estimated was about five times too much.

If the slate had stayed on the house, Blankenship said the house would have eventually began to sink into the ground. It was soon after, when there were noticeable slants in the floors and window sills, that work began on replacing the roof.

Once the slate came off, the original wooden shake roof was put back, using cedar and resembling the look of the house during the 1860s. Blankenship said this was accomplished using photos taken of the house during that time period, in which he said the detail could still be seen even hundreds of years later.

Currently, the roof being put atop the manor is made from an old growth cypress tree, found in the swamps of the Atlantic states, from Florida to Virginia. A diary, kept by a member of the Eppes family, revealed the first roof was made of the very same type of tree, Blankenship said.

Maeve said some of the trees cut to make the shingles ranged in age from 200 up to 1,000 years old.

The process of replacing the roof started with sourcing and choosing the best quality trees, cutting them, shipping them to Virginia, monitoring the drying process, as some were recovered from rivers, and then eventually cutting them into each individual shingle that makes up the roof of the manor.

One of the most challenging aspects to replacing the roof at the manor has been cutting the shingles to fit the shape of the roof. She said the valleys of the roof, where two edges of the roof meet, take a very skilled roofer to complete.

Maeve said it is a long, intricate process. Each shingle is not only hand cut and hand stained, but nailed by hand, without the use of nail guns. This is due in part to not only preserve the integrity of the history of the home, but also based on specifications set forth by the Park Service.

The United States Department of the Interior, National Parks Service - Northeast Region, has released a 107-page contract document online detailing not only the construction process but also the specifications the company that completes the project must follow.

Blankenship said the Park Service has standards of historic preservation that must be followed and they have to go to the state historical preservation office, located in Richmond, to outline what work is needed to done.

He said, generally speaking, when restoring a historic structure it must be done in the way it was originally done.
JAMES PEACEMAKER JR./HOPEWELL NEWS/NEWS-PATRIOT Workers replace wood shakes on Appomattox Manor in May. The work is expected to continue through fall.

“That’s why when the Park Service restores historic structures it’s so expensive,” Blankenship said. “We do it the way it was originally done most of the time. ... One reason the Park Service exists is to serve as an example on historic preservation.”

The contract between Black Creek Workshop and Petersburg National Battlefield is in the amount of $300,000, according to Maeve.

Beaver said the contract was part of a competitive bid process. He explained that through this process, the parameters for what is to be done and qualifications of work experience is set before the bidding begins.

Beaver said the person awarded the contract may not have been the lowest bidder, but rather the most experienced bidder for the best possible price.

Much of the cost represented in the contract price goes into the materials for the project.

“You just can’t go buy these shakes off the street to fit what you want,” Blankenship said. He said that since the Park Service obtained the house in 1978, about $2 million worth of work has gone into restoring and rehabilitating the house.

The last roof replacement back in the 1980s took about 10 months to complete, Blankenship said. Now, the work currently being done will just about rival that with a timetable of completion being set for the fall months. Maeve said the company just applied for an extension to continue the work on the manor. She said this is due to not only a very wet, but a very hot summer.

“The heat has not prevented us from working but it has slowed down things,” Maeve said. She said during those hot and humid days the area has experienced over the past months, fans were placed on the roof to help keep the heat at bay for the workers.

Despite the hot temperatures, rainy weather, and time consuming work, those involved with the project and those overseeing the project are ready to see the new roof stand tall on the manor come fall.

“It’s a great project but it’s an undertaking,” Maeve said.

“I think it’s good. It needed the new roof,” Blankenship said.

“We’re very pleased with, the stain color is exactly what we were looking for,” Beaver said. “It’s also great craftsmanship. The only real glitches we’ve had is the crazy amount of rain we’ve had this summer.”

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