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“Preservation in Progress” by Trish Smith

Breaking News, Preservation, Uncategorized

Have you ever heard us discuss our preservation philosophy at Drayton Hall and wondered what “preservation” actually entails? On the face of it, it may seem as if our decision to preserve rather than restore our historic structures means that we take a totally “hands-off” approach, but quite the opposite is true. While we are not in the business of restoring Drayton Hall, we do stay very busy maintaining this amazing place that has been entrusted to our care.

As with any house, Drayton Hall is almost always in need of some repair or another, but items related to the safety of our guests and staff always take precedence. That’s why we’ve hired an engineering firm to assess the structural integrity of the main house and portico. The information generated by the study, which begins this fall, will help us understand how best to accommodate the 50,000 visitors we receive annually. Exercising what we hope to be an over-abundance of caution, we have closed the upper portico until the conclusion of this study.

Trish Smith uses a headlamp to vacuum debris in the attic.

Guests who toured the house in February may have pondered the existence of ghosts at Drayton Hall as they listened to the footsteps, rattles, and bangs emanating from the attic. Happily, these ominous sounds were not coming from beyond the grave, but rather, were the sounds of preservation in progress. In an effort to relieve some of the weight bearing on the structure, bucket-loads of debris were carried out of the attic down the spiral staircase; 45 five-gallon bucket-loads to be exact!

As the seasons changed we emerged from the attic for some special spring cleaning. Moss and fungus that dotted the bricks and stone at Drayton Hall were scrubbed away using a mild detergent approved for use on historic masonry along with natural bristle brushes and lots of elbow grease! This work is decidedly less glamorous and more labor-intensive than other preservation projects on site, but it is an important way that we protect our historic masonry from the damaging effects of biological growth.

Stone lintel before and after cleaning to remove harmful biological growth.

Another project we’ve been working on this year is the creation of an architectural fragment collection. Sometimes failing architectural elements have to be removed from the house, but they receive just as much care after their removal as if they were still in situ. We carefully document their original location, clean them up, assign a catalog number and then store them in an archival space. This allows us to study the fragments and possibly reattach them in the future. The architectural fragment collection is another way that we preserve our historic architecture, and it’s a great way to study our architectural resources.

As you can see, our preservation philosophy keeps us quite busy behind the scenes. Drayton Hall may have an air of intransience about it, but it’s really a very dynamic place that requires constant care and attention. As always, we are immensely grateful to the Friends of Drayton Hall who help make this important work possible, and we encourage you to be on the lookout for Preservation in Progress on your next visit.

Trish Smith is the House Manager and Preservation Technician at Drayton Hall, and is also a former Wood Family Fellow. She can be contacted via email at patricia_smith@draytonhall.org.