September 14, 2009
Keeping eight historic houses shipshape involves behind-the-scenes logistics that rival a military operation and a to-do list that rolls out to the length of a Dead Sea Scroll.
Keeping a single house clean can be a full-time job for most of us. But maintaining eight houses - eight historic houses - in working order and sparkling enough for an unexpected visitor to drop by for a tour, well, that's another matter entirely.
Such is the tall order handed down to the well-oiled machine that is Longyear's Historic House Committee, a team that has learned to swing at the variety of pitches thrown their way each week.
With a to-do list that rolls out to the length of a Dead Sea scroll, here's a sampler of some recent and future tasks: (1) help landscape the Concord house; (2) invite Longyear staffers to a "painting party" to turn Swampscott's fences white (see photo); (3) hire contractors to install new chimney liners at Rumney, Stoughton, Amesbury, and Swampscott; (4) clean basements at Rumney, Concord, Amesbury, and Stoughton to prevent tiny Galapagos Islands from forming; (5) clean attic at Concord house and make sure bat has not returned; (6) cut back overgrown brush to prevent Amesbury, North Groton, and Rumney houses from becoming possible set locations for TV program Lost; (7) install new solar-powered house signs; (8) spruce up all house gardens.
Each Longyear property has its own weekly, monthly, and seasonal list of items that yelp like puppies for attention, and it's this committee's job to hear and respond, either by doing the work themselves or delegating the job to the resident overseer or an outside contractor.
Some houses which, like Amesbury, don't have a resident overseer, require checking every week and, when needed, the vacuum drawn from its holster. For the houses that do have resident overseers, the committee keeps in close contact to make sure everything is in good working order.
The house team is also in the process of creating a detailed computer log - the Longyear Historic House Maintenance Database - which will contain the maintenance and repair history of every house. Not exactly a summer "beach read," but this database is designed to inform the committee of what needs to be done throughout the year. For instance, in late autumn, it will prompt: "Remember all those lovely orange and yellow leaves you saw up on the trees? Well, they've fallen and they're now in your gutters. It's time to get out the ladder and clean!" In winter, for instance, it will announce the opening of the Olympic sport of "roof raking" - a timed event in which you have to rake off thousands of pounds of snow from a housetop before it turns into an ice dam.
A house-by-house breakdown of recent "to do" items shows what keeps this team and their many Longyear helpers chasing around New England in the Longyear van:
Stoughton - Garage roof replaced. Old, rotting screen house torn down and removed. New gas water heater and furnace installed. Resident overseer apartment painted, new bathroom sink and countertop installed. Basement cleaned out.
Amesbury - Basement water problem solved with vapor barriers. Temperature and humidity monitoring sensors installed. Interior assessment by conservation consultant. Dehumidifiers installed (added also to other houses that needed them).
Chestnut Hill - Emergency repairs to Carriage House roof and one chimney on main house. Reinforced balcony piers on main house. Removed invasive trees and shrubs surrounding main house.
Lynn - After purchasing this house in 2006, committee oversaw major research and investigation by preservation consultants to determine what the house looked like when Mrs. Eddy lived there. Exterior restoration being planned for 2010.
Swampscott - One chimney capped and new liner installed in the other chimney. Sewer pipe connection to the house repaired. Front porch railings rebuilt. Repainting fence and minor touch-ups to house.
Concord - After completion of a major house exterior restoration, the committee took the work into a second phase. Storm windows and door purchased and installed. Working with the resident overseer, the yard was landscaped, perennial gardens planted, and grass planted where the construction dumpster had been. Fencing and trellises added to dissuade people from walking through the yard.
North Groton - As with some of the other houses, this one gets a thorough cleaning at the beginning of each season. Windows being rebuilt. Installed moisture monitoring sensors to help solve condensation problem. Once that is determined, this house that sits on a river will get an interior restoration. Committee is beginning an archeological investigation of the historic sawmill on this property.
Rumney - Barn and basement cleaned out. New liner added to chimney. Location of septic system discovered and mapped. Roof repair is on docket for this autumn.
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