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Victorian Italianate Homestead Phase 1: Exterior Restoration

The exterior restoration of this decaying 1874 farmhouse began in 2006 with the repointing of the brick with historically-correct lime mortars.

Improper repairs had damaged the original soft brick. Before repointing, it’s important to conduct some preliminary research and analysis on unweathered portions of the historic mortar and brick. Excessively strong or vapor-impermeable mixes, such as Portland cement, are inappropriate for historic applications and will cause damage to the building. You can see this with any historic structure that has been repaired with Portland: not only does the cement look out of place with the original lime mortars, it will inevitably cause spalling and cracking of the bricks. You can find more information about lime mortars and historic brick structures at U.S. Heritage.

The New Prairie crew and Marion Restoration, Inc. (from Chicago) spent several days enjoying the beautiful weather and getting trained in historic mortaring techniques by U.S. Heritage. Marion, Inc. completed the repointing, as well as repairing some of the keystones over the windows. Pankau Masonry of Champaign rebuilt the chimneys.

During our training, a stray cat realized we were all generous with our lunch meat and attention, and he (Little Bear) eventually adopted our project manager and went home with him.

Before work began, we tore off the existing porch, which had been added on in the 1980s. The new porch features a beautiful curving roof. Each column has 52 separate pieces of trim that had to be fabricated, assembled, painted, and installed. While the porch is larger than the original structure, the columns and trimwork (Victorian “gingerbread”) were recreated from old photographs.

Much of the original trim on the outside of the house was missing or in bad repair. All of the shutters, corbels, scrollwork, and occuli (little round windows in the attic) had to come off for reproduction or refurbishment. New Prairie restored as much of the original trim as it could; the rest we fabricated to match the old.

The windows were replaced with custom-made energy efficient arched Marvin windows. The remaining shutters were scraped, oiled, repaired, and painted, and the remaining shutterdogs (hardware) were cleaned. New shutters and hardware were made to replace missing ones. 

The original cupola was destroyed in a fire in 1927. The new one was built on the ground and lifted to the top of the house with a crane, and a new lightening rod was installed. Pairs of arched windows grace the north and south sides of the cupola; the east and west faces each have one window and a doorway that leads out on to a small balcony. Scroll down to see a video of the cupola raising!

The eaves had at some time been cut back to allow for a gutter system, and the corbels stuck out beyond the abbreviated eaves. We restored the eaves to their original width before reinstalling the corbels. A standing seam copper roof replaced the old roof.

As the last bit of exterior work was being finished, work on the additions to the property were taking place. To see the new solarium and master bedroom suites, visit our Additions page. If you would like to see the porch restoration in more detail, see our Restored Victorian Porch page.

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