Restorer rescues historic log house Preservation: A Frederick County man undertook the task of moving the county's largest log house -- piece by piece.

April 13, 1997|By Robert A. Erlandson | Robert A. Erlandson,SUN STAFF

WOODSBORO -- One by one, a tall red crane plucked the heavy hand-hewn logs from where builders set them in the 1770s, and lowered them gently onto the bed of a waiting truck.

Despite the discomfort of a persistent rain that arrived at midmorning yesterday, the hired crew and volunteers worked steadily. Wolf's Delight, the largest log house in Frederick County, was rapidly reduced to a mere memory in the middle of a gravel quarry.

A row of white narcissus marked where the front porch once stood.

Once the home of businessman-farmer Jacob Wolfe, a longtime friend of Francis Scott Key's family, Wolf's Delight began as a log cabin in the 1770s. Wolfe bought the property in 1787 and later added several second-floor rooms and a two-story stone kitchen wing with a large fireplace.

Douglas Claytor, 41, a professional building restorer from Frederick, bought the historic house in 1992 and yesterday met his five-year deadline to move it from the quarry's advancing blue mountains of crushed limestone.

But this was a rescue, not like the demolition in Baltimore County last year of the 1767 Samuel Owings House. Owings Mills is named for Owings. Ignoring preservationists' pleas, a developer had the house bulldozed to make way for an office building.

Joseph Lubozynski, a construction superintendent and former president of the Frederick County Historical Trust, said Wolf's Delight is the largest such project undertaken there by an individual.

18th-century recycling

After a hard-earned holiday, Claytor said he will start reconstructing Wolf's Delight -- down to its original plaster and nails. The chosen site is several miles from the quarry, next to a wheat field and between the Monocacy River and Fishing Creek. Among the things Claytor discovered during the disassembly was that the earliest part of Wolf's Delight was itself the product of 18th-century recycling.

When he began to expose the chestnut, white oak and poplar logs, some 32 feet long, that formed the cabin walls, he found marks showing they had been used before.

As he removed more interior plaster and exterior siding, he determined that the logs were from at least two earlier buildings. Some logs were notched in the German style, very sharp and precise, and others had sloping English-style cuts.

"They had to recycle in those days because of the work involved in hewing the logs. That's very labor intensive," Claytor said.

Claytor and Judy Candela, his companion who has worked beside him from the beginning of the project in 1992, have made videotape, photographic and computerized records of every part the house.

Each log has a numbered brass tag, marking its place in the reconstruction according to the meticulous diagrams of each section. Other parts, such as decorative woodwork, have detailed labels and are numbered.

"If you give me the number of a single floorboard, I can refer to the diagram and tell you exactly where it goes in which room," said Candela, an accountant and software specialist. "It's been a lot of hard work, but it's been fun, too."

To preserve the original interior, they filled more than 800 five-gallon plastic containers with the plaster (lime mixed with horsehair and straw) from the walls, and the "lime putty" (lime and sand) chinking from between the logs.

Claytor found that he can reconstitute the plaster and chinking and use it again. Each pail is numbered to show its contents' location in the house.

He removed the plaster in each room one layer at a time. In the base layer of an old replastering job in the parlor, he found a large American eagle, as on the Great Seal of the United States, that had been drawn in the wet plaster. He made a latex mold to reproduce it in the reconstruction.

He also has filled scores of coffee cans with nails, handmade 18th-century fasteners and machine-cut 19th-century nails. "The 18th-century woodwork had few nails because they were hand-cut, but as soon as machine-made fasteners became available their use increased five-fold," Claytor said.

Uncovering artifacts

Disassembly also turned up hundreds of artifacts, including fragments of tableware and pottery, and coins from the late 18th and early 19th centuries. A small, circular wooden box and an 1859 Pocket New Testament fell out when the siding was removed; they apparently had been lost after slipping between the logs.

After the Wolfe family sold the house in 1848, the only significant change occurred in 1870 when the pitch of the roof was altered, and the front porch and new clapboard were installed. The date 1870 was found scrawled on a shingle and carved in a roof-beam that was changed in the alteration.

Jacob Wolfe's kitchen wing was disassembled first, and the stones -- with the corner stones numbered -- are piled at the new site; the stones from each side are piled separately. Bricks from the fireplaces and chimneys are wrapped in plastic and stacked according to their location.

Reconstruction is a daunting task, "bigger than one person can handle," Claytor acknowledged. He said he hopes to attract young people who are interested in historic preservation to join him as apprentices to assist in the reconstruction.

"I have a lot to teach them," said Claytor, who has restored many buildings, including two 1859 houses he owns in Frederick's Historic District. "My grandmother instilled in me the ideals of old houses."

Pub Date: 4/13/97

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