Tag Archives: old house

a circa 1900 Culture of Health

The original gymnasium at Rhodes Hall

The original gymnasium at Rhodes Hall

It’s always been a bit of mystery, why this room on the 3rd floor of Rhodes Hall is called the “Gymnasium.” It resembles nothing of a gym today and even so, wouldn’t heavy exercise equipment be more suited to a basement? One of our volunteer tour guides even speculated on the regular that he believed it was a reference to the German “Gymnasium”—an academic grammer school. This theory that it was used as a school room could be justified by the fact that the Rhodes grandkids (Rhodes and Wilmotine Perdue) lived here for a time and visited frequently when their mother (Louanna Rhodes Perdue) remarried.
In previous attempts to research the matter I’ve come up empty-handed but recently I’ve visited both the Biltmore Estate and the Carnegie Mansion in New York and the realization that both of these grand homes for retired wealthy gentlemen at the turn of the century had private gyms encouraged me to delve back into the matter.

CULTURE OF HEALTH
The notion that we take responsibility for our own health—by eating right, breathing fresh air, and getting enough sleep and exercise—has been around for much of human history, since Hippocrates published books on regimen and the Greeks started the Olympics (from “Excercise is Medicine: a Historical Perspective”. The emphasis on exercise and health has fluctuated in importance, resurfacing it seems, during eras of prosperity, when humans had time to step back from basic survival and develop more philosophical pursuits and high individualistic ideals, such as during the Renaissance.

1866 London Gymnasium, in the German model

The Industrial Age in Europe and America brought about more economic prosperity and further advancement in medicine, which at that time was mostly focused on preventative health. In Germany, Friedrich Ludwig Jahn, “the father of modern physical education as we know it today” was “a fervent German nationalist, and believed that the best kind of society was one that had established standards of physical strength and abilities. The first Turnplatz, or open-air gymnasium, was opened by Jahn in Berlin in 1811, and the Turnverein (gymnastics association) movement spread rapidly.”(<a href="http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Physical_education">New World Encyclopedia)

In America, the importance of physical education seems to have gained significant ground in the late 1800s. By the 1880s, the "physical education" movement led to the formation of a professional group, the American Association for the Advancement of Physical Education, signifying renewed attention on the importance of maintaining personal physical health in the field of medicine.

With the social movement of physical education, it should come as no surprise that the well-read and wealthy philanthropists of the Gilded Age would have taken an ardent interest in their own health as well. The ideals of social reform for these leaders were not limited to the masses, they maintained high expectations of themselves and their family members as well. Responsibility for one’s own health fit perfectly with the individualistic ideals these men and women set for themselves and society at large.

The earliest evidence of a private gym in America might be the gym at the c.1870s Hegeler Carus Mansion in LaSalle, Illinois (I’d never heard of it either). One self-described fan of 19th century physical culture described it:

The mansion was built during the 1870s and the gym was part of the original plans. It’s a large space, 35.5′ x 17′ and the ceilings are roughly 25′ in height. Along with a collection of 35 wooden dumbbells and 4 large Indian clubs hanging from racks on the walls, it also houses the remnants of a Victorian rope-and-pulley weightlifting system, two large gymnastics ladders and support platforms, a horizontal bar of adjustable height, a set of parallel bars, “flying rings” hanging from the ceiling, a c1920 electric exercycle and miscellaneous bits of sports equipment (wooden stilts and skis, etc.) (ArtofManliness.com)

Biltmore gymThe gym at George Vanderbilt’s Biltmore Mansion (c.1895) is also located in the basement next to the indoor swimming pool. Swimming pools at this time were also strictly for health and sport, not the leisure and play we mostly associate with pools today.

However, it is Andrew Carnegie’s gymnasium that most resembles the gymnasium at Rhodes Hall. Andrew Carnegie, like Amos Rhodes was a self-made businessman. Both men built their respective “mansions” late in life, a retreat on the northern reaches of their respective cities from which they could still conduct business in their retirement (though Carnegie did raise a daughter here, she wasn’t born until he was in his 60s). Their mansions are extremely modest in comparison to the Biltmore which was built for hosting guests, partying and raising a young family. Perhaps for this reason, the addition of a swimming pool was just too extravagant, and their gymnasiums were located in the privacy of the 3rd floor.

from the Cooper Hewitt Museum at the Carnegie Mansion, New York City

from the Cooper Hewitt Museum at the Carnegie Mansion, New York City

Of course, the 3rd floor at Rhodes Hall was also home to Mr. Rhodes’ billiard table and a smoking room, it seems the household amenities of the wealthy over a hundred years ago are not far from those of today.


the Great Window Debate

Since M started the blasphemous discussion of tear-downs and window replacement in my house the other night I have been lying awake thinking about it. I can see that double-paned glass is more energy efficient than single-paned, I know you can feel the difference. I know energy efficiency is environmentally friendly, in fact I hope that environmental friendliness will save the world, but I also know the enormous environmental costs of demo and new materials, that any salesman will inflate energy loss/efficiency numbers to their advantage, and I have seen how very restorable older windows are vs. the short life span of replacement windows.

I know Preservationists’ biggest argument is often about “the historic character” of something but we have to acknowledge that many people just don’t give a damn, and that’s, well, that’s fine.

While preservationists protested, a few other people were doing their homework and refuting window replacement with valid arguments. The following articles cite findings that the time it would actually take to save $$ on this big investment (replacement windows) was consistently around 30 years, more than twice as long as the time it would take to recoup the investment in repairing and restoring existing windows. Read these (non-pres) articles on the pros and cons:
The Great Window Debate
Update Historic Windows

Energy efficiency, the environment and historic preservation are all important to me, and in my world they go hand in hand. In light of that, I’ve done my best here to be a good journalist. I’ve been honing my argument and this time I won’t even mention the aesthetic appeal:

  • Yes, double-pane glass is more efficient—it was a pretty great invention in fact.
    • Before double-pane glass came around people used storm windows to achieve that insulating layer of air. Storm windows (I prefer exterior and operable for use with double-hung windows) are still a brilliant retrofit option.
    • double-pane glass has gases between it that help filter UV and provide insulation, unluckily these can and almost always will eventually leak, leaving you with permanent condensation in the middle – yuck!
  • New windows require less maintenance
    • But the material is significantly lesser quality and unless you pay for custom built, high-quality wooden windows (an option many homeowners do, one at a time, when an old window really DOES get beyond repair), you will be replacing those windows wholesale in 20-30 years. Oh nevermind, leave that to the next homeowner.
  • Exterior storm windows also offer protection from the elements.
Operable metal storm windows at our house have been in place, I'm guessing, since at least the early '90s and though the wood windows are in need of paint at this point, they are far from deteriorating despite having not been touched in at LEAST 25 years.

Operable metal storm windows at our house have been in place, I’m guessing, since at least the early ’90s and though the wood windows are in need of paint at this point, they are far from deteriorating despite having not been touched in at LEAST 25 years. This winter, the wind rattled the windows but a little piece of cardboard fixed that and the storms kept the drafts at bay.

  • Most of the heat loss in your home is through the ceiling and walls, followed by the floor, windows and doors. Percentages range from 25-42% energy loss through the ceiling, 24-35% lost through uninsulated walls and 5-15% through windows. Hence, replacing your windows might feel warmer at the window but make little difference in the room’s ability to retain warm or cool air if the ceiling, walls, and floor are not properly insulated.
  • Speaking of which, old wooden windows SHOULD NOT be drafty! if you are feeling a draft around your window, it’s not because it has single-pane glass, it’s because it’s not sealed well which is infinitely fixable! Panes may need re-glazing (the putty that holds the glass in from the exterior), weather-stripping updated and/or caulk may be needed around the frame where it fits into the wall. Weather-stripping is the easiest of DIY fixes.
  • The replacement window industry wants us to buy new windows (duh), they’ve concocted all sorts of statistics and claims to make it seem like a no brainer. But even though their best claims were exaggerated, the damage was done, much of the general public was convinced that replacement windows would solve all their problems, and also:
    • Driven by consumer demand, the Real Estate industry lapped it up and preached the replacement window gospel.
    • Contractors will probably encourage you to get new windows too whether they believe in them or not because it SO easy to demo the old and install new and less time-consuming than restoring old windows.
  • Additionally, sending all your old windows to the landfill in favor of all new material that will go to the landfill in another 20-30 years (because they can’t be restored thanks to the low quality) wins some major negative environmental points.

In short, replacing your old windows is not a pat answer to the problem of heating and cooling efficiency in homes, and it is certainly NOT the first thing you should do to improve efficiency. Although houses will be different, air leaks should be sealed (windows and doors as well as outlets, baseboards, can lights and other problem areas) and insulation added before anything else is done.

Industry jargon needs to be analyzed, whether it’s from a Realtor, the Window Industry, OR a Preservationist.

If I’m trying to improve my comfort and save $$, I would restore my wood windows hands down, seal drafts and make sure I have sufficient insulation in the attic and floor which will have a greater effect on the comfort level of the whole room. I might even install storm windows if I wanted to spend a little more money and really reap the efficiency benefits. If a window was so far gone it had to be replaced, I would certainly take advantage of double-paned glass, but get a good quality wood window custom built to match the others so that I wouldn’t need to replace all the windows in my house for aesthetic reasons.

What about metal window frames??
I don’t know much about restoring metal windows in mid-century homes, although it can be done. I do know the frame gets quite cold. So I’m not surprised that you’d feel a huge difference once the metal windows in a ranch house were replaced with new ones. In this instance replacement seems reasonable, though I’d still be sure to choose quality windows without plastic bits that break.


the vintage bathroom

and interpretation at Callanwolde

I LOVE 1920s bathrooms. Those built-in closets, subway tile walls, hex tile floors, the way the sunlight filters across them, those heavy pedestal sinks with their original fixtures and matching round-edged 6-foot bathtubs… sitzbathBut I’d never seen a fixture like this until stepping into one of the original upstairs bathrooms (no longer used) at Callanwolde. Tour guides are not allowed to say it (it would seem that we are not supposed to know that members of a certain elite Atlanta family had ailments like anyone else) but it is a s-i-t-z bath, which basically explains it, it’s a bath for your sits. Also known as a “hip bath” it allows you to soak up to your hips whether you’ve just given birth, have hemorrhoids or other, [unspeakable?] ailments. Personally I think it sounds nice, at least, if you’re not ailing.

Actually, more research reveals that in the 1920s, this high tech bathroom was something of a status symbol. According to an article in Old House Journal:

“before 1910, bathrooms in and of themselves were often status symbols. In an era when houses with running water and waste piping were new and modern, a single bathroom with lavatory, flushing toilet, and fixed tub was a sign of progressive thinking and an essential step in the march toward better hygiene. What’s more, the bathrooms of the wealthy were not so much places of daily cleanup and dressing, but therapeutic laboratories akin to personal spas. The shower we now associate with a daily spritz was frequently a stand-alone cage of multiple sprays designed for skin or kidney stimulation [also at Callanwolde], while tubs were dispersed around the room for soaking one or more parts of the body.”

1914KOHLER2
So, the Candlers’ bathroom was just an extension of the 1920-high-tech systems found throughout the house including central heating, a whole-house vacuuming system (have yet to figure that one out), and a speaker system in multiple rooms connected to the Aeolian organ (wiki).

So I say get over it! Instead of leaving guests to wonder, conjecture, and come up with potentially rude comments, let’s take the mystery out of this fixture and teach people something new! This bathroom was personal therapeutic spa, we should be jealous.

Go soak your hips.

Exciting images of the upstairs bathrooms at Callanwolde, featuring a corner tub, built-in cabinets, a rib-cage shower, a tiny separate shaving sink and screens which cover the central heat system.

Exciting images of the upstairs bathrooms at Callanwolde, featuring a corner tub, built-in cabinets, a rib-cage shower, a tiny separate shaving sink and screens which cover the central heat system.


green trials: lighting

After yesterday, I feel like I should put in a positive word for this green rehab project at RH. saving energy through lighting.

According to internet sources, lighting can consume 20% of your total energy use, and incandescent bulbs convert only 10% of the energy used into light! the rest is emitted as heat which makes them both super inefficient and dangerous as well if left on (if you’re the worried type). Switching to CFLs or LEDs is an easy and significant change, but I’m preaching to choir here right? Here at RH we replaced every bulb in the building with LED lights, (except for the bulbs dotting the reception room ceiling, which are relatively little used, low wattage, and we were hard-pressed to find an appropriate-looking replacement).

DSCN0268
We even found decent LED “candle” bulbs!

note: these too are MOST efficient if you don’t turn them on though.


going green: climate control

To some, energy efficiency and older buildings do not go together, but here at Rhodes Hall we are trying to prove you wrong. We have teamed up with Southface (or they with us rather) to create guidelines and a point system for LEED-like certification of the energy efficient rehab of historic buildings. The starting point of that being the inherent greenness of reusing an existing building to begin with.

Demolishing one building to build new and “more energy efficient” is like flaunting your choice of compostable paper plates and then throwing them away. YOU’VE MISSED 3/4 OF THE POINT!!

So, RH is serving as a pilot project to this green-rehab initiative. As we make necessary repairs to our building this year we are also making energy efficient upgrades, the biggest issue of course being climate control in the building.

While RH was formerly heated fairly efficiently by radiators (gas boiler in basement), the AC in the summer was another matter. Window units chugged noisily in all the downstairs and 2nd floor rooms while on the 3rd floor a central HVAC system kept us mostly cool but also cooled the uninsulated attic through leaks in the ducts. After much research and debate on the part of the Southface and The Georgia Trust and more debate before approval by the Board, we installed a central HVAC system (heat inverter?) downstairs zoned so that C’s office and the kitchen can be blocked off and controlled separately from the rest of the main floor which is often not “in use.” This was ideal for the museum/events space of our building, the least visible system we could install, but there is nowhere for ducts to run on the 2nd floor so up there, where most of our offices are, we installed top of the line split system electric units which are minimally invasive (least damage to the building itself and most removable), very efficient, and don’t block windows.

The basement ceiling and the attic were insulated with spray foam which has made the attic remarkably temperate year-round.

So how is it all working out?

Well, this is still a big building with high ceilings (for hot air to rise) and opulently expansive single-paned windows. On the first floor, the central heating does an excellent job of warming the entire area*, but on the 2nd and, subsequently the 3rd floors where we put in our 9-5, we are sorely missing the radiators. Here’s what seems to be the problem:

  • the individual room units are operated on a room by room basis, meaning the entire floor (notably the center hall and large bedroom opening onto that) are rarely heated. These large spaces of cold air make it harder to heat up our offices and, even if we close the door, we must pass through these unconditioned spaces to get to the bathroom, the copier, or any other room.
  • speaking of the bathroom, they did not receive any climate control at all and, since the 1st and 2nd floor bathrooms open onto unoccupied (and thus unconditioned) rooms, they are even colder, not an ideal place to pull your pants down. We got space heaters which take the edge off but the heat unfortunately is also rising into that 12 foot ceiling space!
  • there is no heat from the 2nd floor to rise up and warm the 3rd floor as there once was, so that by midday it is colder upstairs than ever (if the central air up here was actually warming that might help but i can’t say that it is)
  • we won’t even go into the aesthetics of the things.

center upstairs hall electric split system hvac

We have miles to go before our work here is done. Work on the windows for instance—fixing drafts, adding storm windows—may help heat retention throughout the building but we still have to turn on the heat and I don’t expect to come to love these Mitsubishi split system units.

I say, if you’ve got radiators then by all means maintain them and if at all possible find a way to install central air on all levels for the summer months. save the split system hvac units for hotel rooms or other closed off and smaller spaces. Despite the selling points of the Mitsubishi units (they ARE quiet and good air conditioners and efficient) I’m not sure they were ideal for us here, then again, anything is efficient if you don’t turn it on.

honestly, this is how energy efficiency looks at RH these days

honestly, this is how energy efficiency looks at RH these days

—-
ARGUMENT UPDATE:
I just ran across something on ZONE CONTROL on the US Dept of Energy website that better says I was trying to say about heating the whole house vs. just the rooms you are sitting in and something in between.

They write that “one way to save energy.. is to retrofit systems to provide separate control for different areas of large homes (RH). Zone control is most effective when large areas of the home are not used often or are used on a different schedule than other parts of the home.”—At RH this would definitely be the main floor/event space, and possibly the central areas of the 2nd floor, although… “Zone control works best in homes designed to operate in different heating zones, with each zone insulated from the others. In homes not designed for zone control (RH), leaving one section at a lower temperature could cause comfort problems in adjacent rooms because they will lose heat to the cooler parts of the home (unconditioned spaces).”

It goes on to say that you can of course enforce zone control/”insulation” by closing doors which we reluctantly do at RH right now though it shuts us off from each other. However, social/work interaction aside this is also not an entirely effective solution as everyone’s office opens onto the cooler central space and thus there is a lot of opening and closing doors. It would probably be advantageous to heat the central spaces daily in conjunction with our offices, thus providing a more reasonable level of comfort all around. let’s put these energy efficient units to work! sigh.

—-
* update in January: The HVAC system downstairs is failing miserable due to several likely factors: the basement now has NO heat where it was once quite toasty thanks to the boiler, this makes it harder for the heat inverter system to warm up and provide properly warm air to the 1st floor, it also means there is a major updraft from the basement door (we use the basement which is partially finished but unconditioned), even though, yes, there is insulation in the floor joists below the 1st floor.


H-M house revisited

You remember the H-M house? Less than 2 years ago this property was for sale, 7+ acres with a house set well back from the road. A long lawn, a creek through the woods, and an old sorghum mill to boot. Not to mention the perfect-sized house with it’s few outbuildings and a trailer which K tried very hard to sell on craigslist but we ultimately had to pay to get removed from the property. (No one has a mother-in-law THAT bad.)

H-M exterior1 2-23-12 H-M interior 2-23-12
before

Besides it being in the Ga Trust’s Revolving Fund, I was absorbed with H-M house at school as well, where the Historic Structure Report done by a GSU class a few years previous was my guide for the Valley View HSR my class was currently working on. I wanted to live there. I wrote then that if I had me a farmer I would move there right away, hell, I could BE that farmer if I wanted but I’d be out of money by the time I stepped foot in the house (and Mom would wonder had I abandoned Sunshine?). In the end, an awesome couple from Decatur stepped up to fulfill all our dreams for this perfect little piece of property.

They came to the Trust in 2012 with plans above and beyond what we normally see or expect from our purchasers. Not only did they have a rehab plan to stabilize the house, they were going to put in french drains, a wood shingle roof (not required we cautioned but totally awesomely historically accurate), and leave the wide bare boards on the interior untouched. But perhaps most to their advantage they brought colorful drawings to dazzle our eyes. Designers of all ilks know this is a sure way to almost anyone’s heart, heck, it’s how I got though school, by laying out every project down to a simple term paper, to perfection (the term paper’s probably didn’t need the attention but i wasn’t going to use size 12 Times), and these guys, one of em being a landscape designer, knew how to please in the same way.

front porchTurns out those landscape plans and drawings and dreams they drew for us in words and maps were true! They moved in earlier this spring and by my visit at mid-summer, even the formal garden with a central fountain has been laid out and is just awaiting plantings. They have chickens in a cute little coop, plans to turn the corncrib/outbuilding into an open air dining pavilion, a relaxing open front porch that was once enclosed, and oh! the interior! As one of their daughters put so perfectly, “it looks like the furniture is just growing out of the walls.” those beautiful wide boards give way to plain style antique wardrobes, dressers and beds. Ladderback chairs appropriate to the home’s farm history are scattered throughout and yet it’s comfortable. Of COURSE it’s comfortable. The 1200 sq ft home is easily cooled and heated now that it’s insulated.

Newly painted and repaired, one hardly recognizes the blue-tarped H-M house of old (it was probably never painted but the Trust does encourage painting wood siding despite historical inaccuracy for some properties because it protects the material). The H-M house has been reincarnated in all the glory it deserves, chickens in the yard, happy dogs, a garden and cocktails, with and without parties. And it has even retained one of its most unique “character defining features”—it still leans! the house is stable but all those angled interior doors and walls still list to one side—I guess there is hope for Sunshine too!

(They even have a BLOG)

ta dah!

(I feel like, at the end of this I should say Come find your dream home in The Georgia Trust’s Revolving Fund and start making your dreams come true today!)


DAR/Craigie House

Well, it’s officially been released now so I can jump on the story of the recent sale of the DAR/Craigie House. The Craigie House on Piedmont Ave in Atlanta has been the home of the Georgia chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution for a century or more. In recent years it has fallen into pretty serious disrepair though, by the sound of things the DAR has NEVER had the money to properly finish it to begin with! So it goes. Anyway, it’s in a right state now as you can see, and after a run-in or two with the wrong kind of developers, the house was still on the market for a “preservation-minded” buyer. When folks noticed the SOLD sign in the yard on Monday spirits were high and the lines were buzzing as various news outlets including us, tried to uncover the scoop.

The scoop.

DAR Craigie House

Now, as I searched for information regarding the historic preservation protections on the building (none, alas, it’s not even on the NR except as a contributing property in the Ansley Park NR district, also not protected), I uncovered the real history of the building which is pretty interesting. **

“Craigie House,” it turns out, is actually sort of a misnomer. That’s the real name of the house on Piedmont Ave, but to its namesake—the home of Longfellow and first headquarters of George Washington in the War for American Independence—it bears no resemblance. The resemblance is all in the story:

The original Craigie House, built in 1759, was used by General George Washington as his headquarters in 1775-76 and was the home of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow from 1837-82. In 1895, the State of Massachusetts erected an exact replica of this historic home for its building at the Cotton States Exposition in Atlanta on land that is now part of Piedmont Park. *

The Atlanta Chapter of the DAR had been founded only 4 years earlier, in 1891, shortly following the founding of the National organization and the Chicago chapter which was the first. The Georgia Magazine article goes on to say that,

Of course, the members of the four-year-old Atlanta Chapter DAR played an important part in the social affairs of the Exposition. Many brilliant receptions were given and according to a history of the chapter appearing in 1921, “These social affairs given by the Atlanta Chapter have never been surpassed by any entertainments of the Atlanta Daughters.” *

Massachusetts then, trying to decide how to dispose of their temporary home at the Atlanta World’s Fair, decided that that the donation of the Massachusetts exposition building would be “a fitting and proper recognition of the courteous and untiring efforts of the ladies of Atlanta for the hospitable welcome accorded to the people of Massachusetts.” The house, however, was still in Piedmont Park, and though near, it was not an easy transition to the lot on Piedmont Ave which the DAR would soon acquire through another donation.

Plan of the 1895 Cotton States Exposition/World's Fair in what is now Piedmont Park. pink highlights location of Massachusetts Craigie House replica and the lot on Piedmont that the DAR sought to have their meeting house.

Plan of the 1895 Cotton States Exposition/World’s Fair in what is now Piedmont Park. pink highlights location of Massachusetts Craigie House replica and the lot on Piedmont that the DAR sought to have their meeting house.

The fundraising began but the building fund did not grow fast enough. In 1909, the Craigie House in Piedmont Park was sold for $400, and demolished (the city had recently condemned many of the remaining exposition buildings). However, the DAR salvaged windows, doors, “and some bricks and boards,” which were moved to the lot on Piedmont Ave. It is possible that some of these materials were used in the construction of the new chapter house which would bear the same historic name.

Ultimately, the idea of reconstructing the Craigie House by the same floorplan was abandoned as well due to it’s unsuitability as a meeting place (also, i don’t think it would’ve fit on their 30 ft frontage lot). Thomas Morgan, a noted Atlanta architect whose wife served as the DAR Regent from 1906-07, likely designed the current building, a very classical American design. On June 14, 1911, the two-story red brick Chapter House with four white columns supporting a full-height portico “was thrown open to the public.”

There you have it, “How the Craigie House got its name.” Finally, I should say that all this about the DAR is particularly timely and relevant to me as I JUST mailed off my notarized signature form to complete my application to the DAR (Dancing Rabbit Chapter)! (my ancestor apparently sold bacon to the troops)

* from Georgia Magazine, “Diamond Jubilee Inspires Gifts for Historic Craigie House, Home of Atlanta Chapter DAR,” February-March 1966.

** My primary source was an excellent post by tomitronics.