Editor’s Note: In March, Remodeling conducted its first Products Scavenger Hunt in which visitors to Remodeling Online were challenged to locate product write-ups hidden around the site. Each week, the first visitor to complete the challenge won the opportunity to have their company featured on Remodeling Online. Michael Dolan of Pine Street Carpenters was our Week 1 winner. Congratulations, Michael!
How do you rebuild a 165-year-old house? One piece of 20-inch-thick stone at a time.View All 29 Photos >
The American Revolution was fought and won by men set on securing freedom and stability for themselves and their families. It’s only fitting then, that a house built on a battle site from that war has itself exhibited strength and stability over the 165 years since it was built. The striking design of Edgewood house also showcases the freedom of its successive owners to renovate, improve, and rebuild it many times over the last century-and-a-half.
A Brief History of Edgewater
The most recent renovation was also the most elaborate, painstaking, and most transformative in Edgewater’s 165-year history. Built in 1845 on Birmingham Hill by Charles Sharpless, the residence combines Gothic Revival architecture and Quaker influences. The home was built using local serpentine stone, giving it a unique green hue. Sharpless eventually sold Edgewood to Philadelphian Henry Pepper, whose widow later sold it to the well-known and historic Biddle family. The Biddles added a tower to the residence in 1889. Between the late 1890s and mid 1970s, little is known about Edgewood and how or to whom it changed hands, though recent work on the house showed that many interior renovations were made over the years. In 1973 the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In December 2007, Pine Street Carpenters was awarded the opportunity to work with the home’s newest owners, John and Doris Rudibaugh.
“We had worked with the Rudibaughs before on two of their previous homes, and on some business work as well,” says Michael Dolan, marketing manager, Pine Street Carpenters, West Chester, Pa. “We had a good relationship, and they had always had dreams of being able to renovate an old home, and they were specifically intrigued by Edgewood.” When the property happened to go on the market the Rudibaughs found themselves at the point of being empty nesters with time and resources available. “It was fortuitous timing,” Dolan says. The couple snapped it up.
Dolan says Pine Street Carpenters has done a number of projects on older, historic homes, but that Edgewood house featured more detail than other jobs. “This wasn’t a historic preservation in the strictest sense, because the homeowners really made the house their own,” he says. “But it was in pretty poor shape. We really wanted to bring it back to its original condition and keep as much detail as we could, but we were mixing tastes and adding modern amenities as well.” Inside the heavy stone walls, previous owners had made countless changes to the home to fit their own needs, Dolan says. Thankfully, many original details remained. “It’s amazing how many of the home’s original features were still intact,” he says. “Windows were reconditioned and replaced, hardware was restored, woodwork was refinished and reinstalled.”
But with so many elements that require repair and replacement, where does a renovation begin? For Edgewood it meant disassembling much of the house one piece at a time.
“Because it’s such a massive, unique home, we basically had to take everything out of it, and start from the ground up,” Dolan says. “We started with a complete survey with drawings of the home so we knew what we were dealing with. That was the first string of getting decisions made and the design as closed to finalized as we could early on. Having those drawings meant we knew what walls were coming down, or where we were moving a bathroom. Once that initial layout was done, we were able to proceed with demolition and working in all the new mechanicals and electric.”
The house was wired for all new electrical, all of the plumbing was replaced, and a new heating and air system was installed. “The first third of the project was demolition,” he says. “But we did our best to salvage everything we could.”
As mentioned, a great number of Edgewood’s original features were retained for the remodel. This included refinishing and reinstalling all the hardwood floors and door hardware, and removing and repairing plaster moldings. All of the home’s original windows were reconditioned, and six of the home’s seven fireplaces were restored to working order.
But besides the restored finishes, the most impressive and visible changes to Edgewood involved the home’s masonry. Originally built of 20-inch-thich serpentine stone, masonry repairs were made throughout the home. Additionally, while the thick stone walls hold cool air longer in the summertime, 1845 construction with stone walls and lath and plaster don’t make for a well-insulated home. During the renovation, crews added insulation wherever plaster walls were demolished. Four stone window bays were also disassembled and restored to their original sizes. Cornerstones hidden behind the original walls where the tower was added in 1889 were milled to the proper size for the bays, and some are highlighted in the home’s interior spaces.
“Edgewood is a massive structure – approximately 8,500 square feet – so that’s a lot of stone,” Dolan says, noting that some serpentine stone was able to be slavaged from other parts of the home, with the remainder sourced at a local quarry that had long since shut down. “We were grateful to get permission to go back to that quarry and acquire more of the serpentine stone. There were some areas of the basement where we had to pour a whole new concrete foundation for the sunporch, and we were able to salvage some of the stone from there to replace and fix some stone window bays on the exterior.”
But stone isn’t just underfoot and on the walls at Edgewood. One challenge on the site turned into a highlight of the project. “We discovered that the tower of the house had to have been taller at some point,” Dolan says. “Half-way through the foruth floor, the stonework was patched, and we found that the top half of the floor had been lopped off int eh 1970s.” After doing some research with the local historical society, information about the original height of the tower was discovered, and with the homeowner’s okay, the team restored the tower to it’s full height of 50 feet. The tower now boasts a mansard style that fits the 1840s and 1890s architecture, and offers protection of the serpentine walls below.
As with any major renovation, Dolan says the Edgewood project relied on organization and communication to stay on track and successful. “There were so many decisions to make and so many players involved to keep on schedule,” Dolan says. “In the beginning, we had weeklymeetings with the homeowners and as more major decisions were out of the way, the meetings became less frequent – monthly instead of weekly.”
Naturally, between those meetings Dolan notes there were voicemails, e-mails, and countless other messages to steer the project. “There’s a ton to coordinate, and communication is critical,” he says. For Pine Street Carpenter’s part, Dolan says lead project manager Tom O’Neill “lived at the house for 18 months,” and design manager Bill Dolan, and production manager Sean Dolan were integral to the success of the renovation. The trio worked alongside dozens of partners across every imaginable trade. “Edgewood was truly a massive project that needed everything from structural engineering to all new mechanicals and restoration – it all adds up,” Dolan says. “Between our crews and the subcontractors, there were plenty of days where you couldn’t find a place to park on the property. Our crew varied from half-a-dozen to 20 people, and those are just the carpenters.”
Indeed, Dolan says the company saw Edgewood as “a carpenter’s project” in the sense that nothing about it was typical. “We were in constant problem-solving mode, and really using the skills and knowledge that a craftsman has. You can do that on any project, but when it’s a dream project like this, you’re using every facet of your skills.”