The last few weeks have felt slow at the cottage. It’s rained nearly every day since my last post, and I’ve been traveling quite a bit for work (I’m writing this from Washington, Pennsylvania). I was hoping to finish the interior clean-out, but I need a better respirator and goggles for the attic. When the metal roof was installed, something like 10 layers of shingles were removed, and it feels like all of it was left in the attic. The sellers also ripped out the stairs before clearing out the attic, so a lot of this stuff is trapped up there. Cleaning out one small corner filled three large trash bags and the dust was intense. After about an hour, I’d had enough. The pictures below are not a “before” and “after” like the other shots I’ve posted. They were taken from the same spot facing opposite directions, showing what still needs to be done.
We had a mason come look at the house. Every inch of the brick needs repointing. His crew is going to come grind out the bits of patchwork that have been done over the years and give us a handsome, unified mortar job. We may decide to rebuild the front wall above the door as well. The first wythe of brick was pulled outward slightly by the collapsing front porch years ago. Our building inspector assured us it had not affected the structural integrity of this wall, since it’s three wythes thick and the interior wall is plumb, but it does affect the aesthetic, and I don’t want a problem down the line.
Dan and I decided to go with a basic gray mortar so that future maintenance (especially if it’s owned by someone else down the line) will be fairly easy and consistent in color. Mortar is a tricky thing. Most mortar today contains portland cement, which can be incredibly damaging to softer historic bricks, but is often required by modern building standards. Brick and mortar work as a system, where the softer mortar allows any moisture absorbed by the brick to wick away. Portland cement does not absorb moisture like this and results in the old brick literally exploding when the water inside can’t escape and then freezes and expands repeatedly during winter:
A lime-based mortar would be ideal (and I have a 5-gallon bucket of lime in my garage), but a natural cement will be easier for the masons to get and mix. Our mason friend is going to do the house in sections between his larger jobs over the next two summers to spread the cost out for us, which is pretty great news.
In-between storms, we’ve been able to get some yard work done. If there’s a nice thing about all of this rain, it’s that everything is suddenly in bloom. I spent one relatively dry day raking out the beds near the back of the house that Dan and our roommates had already cleared of leaves.
If you don’t already know, I’m an archaeologist. It’s what I do for a living. The lawn behind the house is absolutely chock-full of little items from the cottage’s nearly 150-year history; broken glass and ceramics, bits of metal, polished rocks, furniture hardware, clasps and buttons and other detritus. So far, Dan has done most of the yard cleanup, and with good reason. My progress ground to a snail’s pace outside. I just can’t help but to stop and pick things up, and my pockets were immediately bursting with what is essentially dead people’s garbage.
The wood pipe and 1882 penny actually came out of the basement. I found the pipe stuffed in a wall behind a door frame and it still had tobacco in it! The penny was in that 5’x5′ area of bare dirt floor and popped out while I was sweeping it. The buttons are great. I find a new one almost daily. So far I have glass, shell, bone, metal, and plastic (a lot of people don’t know that plastic has been in use commercially for almost 100 years now). I also found a clay marble, which is pretty neat.
Dan and our roommate Grig began cutting trees in the most insane way possible. We don’t have a chainsaw yet, but they wanted to get started, so Grig shinnied up the long-dead tree in the ell of the house one day without a ladder and began cutting branches with the circular saw, to my horror and Dan’s delight. Lacking a rope, Dan went and got an extension cord (unplugged I hope), to pull the branches down once they were cut. This technique was less “guide them down” and more “yank and run.” The first one hit him in the back and exploded into a million pieces as he was running away. He couldn’t stop laughing long enough to tell me if he was alright or not (he was). I’m not sure if it’s more or less disturbing that both of them were completely sober when they decided this was a great idea. The tree is almost down now, except for one large branch on the left overhanging the roof that was too thick for the saw. I have new gray hairs.
Dan also started taking down the old chain link fence in the front yard (this time with proper tools). The fence was already old in a 1980 picture of the house that I have. We need a saw to finish the job, since the tree trunks have absorbed the fencing in places, but it should be completely down and out in the next week or so.
One other thing happened recently, and that was my 31st birthday. My parents sent an awesome purple leather tool belt and a reciprocating saw, while Dan’s parents gave me a great framing hammer and work gloves, as well as a Home Depot gift card. I’m officially outfitted! Thanks everybody!