Rebuilding The Homestead

Lancaster Natives Work On An Old-fashioned Tannery Raising

April 24, 1991|By Ellie Baublitz | Ellie Baublitz,Staff writer

UNION MILLS — History is being reborn this week at the Union Mills Homestead as a group of Lancaster, Pa., natives erect a new tannery building in the old-fashioned "barn-raising" style.

Last Oct. 25, arson destroyed the remaining portion of the original tannery, built in the early 1800s behind the main house.

But with a payment of $49,400 from insurance, the Homestead Foundation was able to arrange to rebuild the tannery, hopefully in time for the opening Flower and Plant Market and Antique Show on May 4-5.

"The new tannery is supposed to be up in time for the market," saidEsther Shriver, executive director of the homestead. "We always usedit to store the flowers and now we don't have anyplace to keep them."

Edward H. Nace Inc. of Broadbeck, Pa., a building contractor andrestoration specialist, was hired to do the project. Work on the tannery began the first of April, with the laying of a new foundation.

Last Friday, Riehl's Construction, of Leola, Pa., began actual workon the building itself. The Lancaster natives, who declined to be interviewed, were subcontracted by the Nace company, Shriver explained.

"The new tannery will be as original as possible, except it will be done out of new materials," Shriver said. "It will be an exact duplicate of the original tannery, as close as our pictures and measurements will allow, and on the same foundation.

"We're also taking itback to the original wooden shingle roof," she said. "The building that burned had a newer metal roof."

For the barn-raising method, barn timbers will be cut in a sawmill as they were in the 1800s and wooden pegs will be used in the framing, supplemented by nails.

The tannery was used for about a century to produce some of the finest leather in the area, Shriver noted.

"They tanned hides they importedfrom Texas and sold the leather," she said. "Apparently it was of the finest quality leather and won all kinds of awards at the Centennial celebration in Philadelphia in 1876."

Around 1910, all of the equipment in the tannery was sold and the building no longer was used, except for storage.

"They had a drying shed with great big bay doors, which was all that was left when it burned last October," Shriversaid. "The building withstood the Confederate soldiers during the Civil War trying to break in and steal the leather, but couldn't withstand the fire."

In addition to the building itself, artifacts and equipment that were being set up for new exhibits were also lost in the fire. Shriver added that many people have called with donations to replace the lost pieces and once the tannery is back up, those offerswill be screened for acceptance.

"We'll try not to take duplicates of what we still have," she said, noting any donations also must meet historical requirements for the Homestead.

Besides replacing lost artifacts, the Homestead also needs to raise an additional $10,000to $12,000 to cover the entire $60,000 cost of the new tannery.

Shriver hopes enough donations will come in to cover those costs.

Anyone wishing to donate to the tannery building may send contributions to the Union Mills Homestead, 3311 Littlestown Pike, Westminster, Md. 21157, or call Shriver at 848-2288.

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