Wood Craftsman Builds Place For Himself In History

Marriottsville Man Restores Relics For The Park Service

September 29, 1991|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Staff writer

MARRIOTTSVILLE — His customers range from the National Park Service, with its historic sites in need of restoration, to new homeowners with wish lists of home entertainment centers and custom-designed cabinets.

Whether the building is old or new, Peter J. Reeves, 38, can apply his woodworking skills to restore, renew or enhance it. For the past nine years,he has been his own boss at Reeves Design Workshop Ltd.

A career as a wood craftsman started 15 years ago, soon after he earned a degree in sociology at Towson State University.

"Several anthropology courses in college gave me a strong interest in restoration," he said. "Woodworking allows me to get my hands into history."

His skills qualified him to bid on work at National Historic Sites. In 1983, the National Park Service, which manages the sites, awarded him a woodworking contract at Appomattox Manor in Hopewell, Va., where Gen. Ulysses S. Grant stayed during the Petersburg campaign of the Civil War.

Using the service's guidelines, he immersed himself in the Civil War-era architecture and woodwork, before re-creating 15 dormer windows and the exterior trim on the home. Work could not begin until he made on-site studies of materials in much the same manner as an archaeologist.

"Taking a house back to its Civil War look requires time and patience," he said.

The preparations, involving scaled drawings, samples and precise measurements, took nearly as long as the actual work, he said.

Intent on authenticity, he even used custom-made knives, patterned after antique models, to replicate exact shapes. He also avoided glue, using pegs as joiners. The windows were fitted with mouth-blown glass, imported from a Germany company that still manufactures the panes in an age-old manner.

The lessons learned at Appomattox came in handy when the service awarded him another project: the servants' quarters at Hampton Mansion in Baltimore County.

Using old photos of the two stone buildings as a guide, he spent the summers of 1985 and 1986 restoring and replacing the exterior millwork. Now, the service has new photos in its files, detailing Reeves' work.

"We had to save as much of the original fabric of thebuildings as possible," he said. "One hearth had three layers, whichhad to be taken apart while we made diagrams of each layer."

Although his strongest interest lies in traditional woodwork, he said he enjoys designing and creating wood pieces for today's homeowners.

He likes to get in on the ground floor, often before a new home is completed, and design kitchen cabinets or wall units to a customer's needs and tastes.

"I have made some nice niches for myself in this area," he said.

A 19th-century rambling red barn on his two-acre property here houses 20th-century tools and serves as his workshop. Converting the building from a drive-through corn crib to a wood shop was his first order of business after moving here nine years ago.

After enclosing the barn, tightening the siding and adding a wood floorand heat, he now has a comfortable shop, where he often spends 60 hours a week.

While earning a living at his trade, he also has sandwiched in work on the farmhouse where he lives with his wife, Lisa, and two young sons.

Built in 1890, the two-story farmhouse was "remuddled" with no attention to its history. The couple has taken down and rebuilt about half of the home, including the roof and porch.

Lisa recently resigned her job with Easter Seals to help promote her husband's business.

"The only trouble is, our projects come last," said Lisa, pointing to an unfinished armoire in the foyer. "I am willing to wait, though, since I am one of his greatest admirers."

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