As a result of working on the various old houses and buildings we’ve made into living and work spaces, we became involved in historic preservation. In some cases, this was in the interests of our own preservation; One of our homes and studios was in an old gristmill complex on a quiet road, that had a historic iron pony truss bridge across the creek.

This bridge was closed because it h
ad been deliberately broken in order to get funding to replace it with a modern one that would allow heavy traffic.  Shortly after we bought the property and were restoring the house and making our studio, we were served condemnation papers by the Township, which was going to demolish the bridge, widen the road, tear down one of our buildings we were making into a model shop, and our house and studio would then be on opposite sides of a busy road.  We called a lawyer who specialized in preservation issues, and he told us we could fight the condemnation on some technical grounds, but “there would be a new bridge” one way or the other. We decided to fight.

We took the tack of getting the whole property listed on the National Register as a historic district.  This required a nerve-wracking year of phone calls and meetings with preservation groups, our lawyer, The PA Historic and Museum Commission, conservancies, experts on historic mills, and “HAER” the Historic American Engineering Record, part of the Library of Congress. It turned out that the whole complex was very important as an 18h and 19th c. milling operation and the bridge was one of a kind, made by a foundry in nearby Bethlehem. Eric DeLony, the Chief Engineer of HAER sent a letter from the Parks Department to the County explaining to them that on a National scale of 1-10, this bridge was a “10+”. That stopped the condemnation, and killed the bridge replacement project.

The bridge wound up as a double-page spread in Eric’s book Landmark American Bridges (shown below) along with the Brooklyn Bridge, Golden Gate, Verrazano, and many others.
We wound up getting married on the bridge, and it has been preserved as a pedestrian bridge ever since. It has been the venue for several other weddings. We were recently invited (26 years later) by the Township officials to speak at a dedication of a restoration of the bridge.

We’ve done a number of preservation related things related to what we do as designers, including large format documentary photography and technical drawings.

below: excerpts from a paper about Pennsylvania German building construction and materials written for the Vernacular Architectural Forum and published by Penn State. Scholarly papers of this type are often not well illustrated, so we attempted to make it more illustrative and communicative.

Pennsylvania German architecture is especially interesting because: (1) there is (was) a language difference. (2) there was an architectural creole - German immigrants often built ”English” houses using German methods and grammar.

200 feet from our studio, Amish carpenters are building a house. They speak “Pennsylvanische Deitsch”, and think about what they are doing in a particular way. It’s extremely interesting. Culture is pervasive.

One instance where good communication skills has been particularly effective is the production of guidelines for historic districts. We have done these for several municipalities in Pennsylvania and Maryland and won State and National preservation awards. I credit these awards to our ability to translate rules and regulations into something understandable;

Historic district regulations have a tendency to be intimidating to people applying for a permit, who are not sure what the rules are, have been misinformed by contractors, and the review boards are not always helpful, so we tried to make them as user friendly and communicative as possible, with a lot of pictures, which has proven to be very effective.

above:  Large format photos of Bieber’s mill, Oley, PA  drawing of chimney stack in Johannes Lesher house,Oley, PA

below: isometric floor plans of Johannes Lesher house, one of a series, an isometric projection of a liegender dachstuhl truss, and a historic  map of the Oley, PA valley (Hope LeVan). These drawings have been included in several books,

Below is a gallery of images of preservation work we have done

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above: summer kitchen restoration, Kintnersville, Bucks County PA

left: raised hearth kitchen in Johannes Lesher house

right: “beehive” bake oven. This was built on the site of an 18th century one according to measured drawings done in the immediate locale. The opening in the front was widened slightly to allow pizzas, not an item baked in the 18th century. We cooked many things in this oven.

above:  walnut marble-topped pastry table and pergola at 1916 Colonial Revival house.

above: kachelofen (tile stove) restoration in 1750 Johannes Lesher house based on research in Alsace and Germany, entirely made by hand with local clay and traditional glazes, using 18th c. tile making technology. The core is made from modern refractory materials  and the stove can be fired to above 1,200˚ F

above: 1750 period interiors from Johannes Lesher house.  The woodwork in the room to the left is unpainted

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