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Portico Project Wraps Up, and Reveals New Discoveries

Preservation, Research

Posted by Carter C. Hudgins, Ph.D., Director of Preservation

With great excitement, we are happy to announce that the work on the portico, windows, and doors is nearly complete!  Preservation technicians from Richard Marks Restorations put their final touches on the portico this week and have now removed all of their supplies from Drayton Hall. 

The first components of this project addressed the windows and exterior doors of the main house.  These were first approached by removing failing paint and applying wood epoxies in areas where wood was degraded.  This was followed by replacing broken windows and re-glazing windows.  Next, the windows and doors were repainted.  Also treated were the iron railings on both the landfront and river front, as well as the gate leading into the basement.  Again, failing paint was removed and replaced with a fresh coat. 

Work on the portico began by removing failing paint found on the portico ceilings and cornices.  This work was followed by an investigation of the ceiling above the first floor of the portico to assess water infiltration.  (See our blog entry from October 7, 2009 for more information on what we found.) Information from this assessment will be used in subsequent months when we complete a structural assessment of the portico to address load limits, settling issues, water damage, and the impact of modern concrete used to repair the lower portions of the portico in the early 20th century. 

The portico ceilings and cornices were repainted following investigative work and then the focus turned to the portico columns.  To date, the lower portico columns have been treated to remove modern latex paint.  It was necessary to remove this modern material as it acts as a seal and unnaturally traps water against the historic limestone columns.  Over time this has contributed to the deterioration of the columns.  Once the latex paint was removed, limewash was applied to the columns.  This historical method of treatment gives the columns a white appearance, yet allows the columns to absorb and release moisture naturally with changing weather conditions. 

A final step of the portico and windows project will be to repaint the columns on the second floor of the portico.  This differing treatment is necessary for several reasons. First, it is needed in the short term to give the columns an appearance equal to the first floor columns.  Second, the method to remove the latex paint requires the usage of water.  Until we can seal the floor of the second floor of the portico, any applied water compromises the integrity of the structure.  Following the structural assessment, the second floor will be sealed and the second floor columns will be stripped and treated with limewash to ensure their long-term preservation. 

The image on the right shows the column with new limewash applied. A small square was left untreated to show the graffiti (shown in the detail on the left) that was discovered when the latex paint was removed.

Of note is graffiti that was found on the first floor columns.  Because of the careful methods employed to remove the latex paint, a series of mathematical equations written with with a graphite pencil were discovered.  These can be found on the inward side of the second column from the left if you are facing the portico.  To protect this writing and enable interpretation, a six inch square of the column was not treated with limewash. 

Upon examination, you will see the natural appearance of the column as well as some faint writing.  It is fairly difficult to discern the writing, but it does appear to be two mathematical equations.  While more research needs to be conducted, this writing may be the only surviving handwriting from Drayton Hall’s craftsmen.  Given the fact that the columns were altered by Charles Drayton in the early 19th century, this writing may relate to this repair campaign.  For now this is only a theory, but stay tuned as further research is carried out.

Support for this project was provided by the South Carolina Competitive Community Grants program, the Historic Sites Fund of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the Friends of Drayton Hall.