Lord Mayor's project a lesson for volunteers

NEIGHBORS

October 07, 2002|By Sue du Pont | Sue du Pont,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

SQUINTING INTO the sun with arms raised overhead, Jack Hirrlinger and Ed Kettler carefully measured and fit a hand-split white oak clapboard into place by trial and error. The first of the boards was a little too thick, but the second fit perfectly once they trimmed a few inches off the length. They put it into place while housewright Russell Steele selected and shaped the next piece in the clapboard puzzle.

Hirrlinger, a Davidsonville resident, and Kettler, who lives in Annapolis, are volunteers helping to reconstruct the Lord Mayor's Tenement at Historic London Town and Gardens in Edgewater. They are learning about and using Colonial-style building materials, tools and techniques through hands-on "lessons" from Steele.

The original Lord Mayor's Tenement was built in London Town about 1700 on a lot owned by David McElfresh. McElfresh was the largest landowner in London Town and referred to himself as its lord mayor. McElfresh rented out the 20-foot-by- 20-foot, post-in-the-ground dwelling or used it to house laborers he employed.

The reconstruction of Lord Mayor's Tenement is the culmination of eight years of archaeological investigation and historical research led by Al Luckenbach, county archaeologist and director of Anne Arundel's Lost Towns Project. It is the first phase of a plan to re-create the appearance of the early Colonial Maryland commercial town of London, with everything appropriate to 1700.

Hirrlinger, a member of the Annapolis Woodworkers' Guild, and Kettler have woodworking experience but have never been involved in a project like this. In truth, few people have. This type of building is rare, with only three having been reconstructed in Maryland. The other two are in Historic St. Mary's City in Southern Maryland.

According to Historic London Town's executive director, Gregory A. Stiverson, "Ninety-five percent of Colonial Marylanders lived in little post-in-the-ground dwellings like the Lord Mayor's Tenement, but not a single one of these `vernacular' houses survives intact to visit and study today. Just 5 percent of Colonial Marylanders lived in substantial brick, stone and frame buildings, but they account for 100 percent of the dwellings that have survived."

The volunteers are learning colonial building techniques from Steele, of Moyock, N.C., who is building the earthfast structure. Steele has recently worked on projects at Colonial Williamsburg and the National Colonial Farm in Accokeek, and is a master with early woodworking tools. "He's an artist with an ax," says Hirrlinger. "He makes it look sanded when he's done."

Another volunteer, Ward Brockett, said, "After working for a few weeks ... making paling fences and preparing support posts for the Lord Mayor's Tenement, I find that I look at trees differently. I no longer see a nice shade tree, but rather find myself thinking about how straight the grain might be and what I could make out of it."

Stiverson has a hard time staying behind his desk when Steele and the volunteers are working. He enjoys watching Steele work with the tools, which are limited in number and seemingly crude. "Watching someone who knows how to use them is exciting," he says. "These guys are getting good, too."

Steele prepared most of the clapboards, posts and other materials over the winter using an ax and a froe - a metal wedge on a short wooden handle with which one pries apart large pieces of wood. Hirrlinger, who learned about the project through a presentation by Stiverson to the Annapolis Woodworkers' Guild, is learning a lot.

"It's quite different," he says. "I am usually working with precision tools on little gadgets and toys. I'm not used to working with an ax."

Kettler, who is recently retired, has not done as much woodworking as he would have liked. His wife, Marilyn, the 2002 Volunteer of the Year at Historic London Town and Garden, persuaded him to help out on this project. He thought this would be a fun job to start out on, now that he has a little extra time on his hands.

"They are really great," Steele says of the volunteers. "They've been around the block and know what they are doing. I can depend on them. They've been here faithfully."

More than half of the $200,000 budget for the Lord Mayor's Tenement reconstruction was contributed by private donors, including Donna Valley Russell of Frederick, Bernard and Victoria Lerch of Lothian, and Alice Murray of Harwood. The Maryland Heritage Areas Authority contributed a $100,000 matching grant to the project.

To learn more about Historic London Town and Garden and the reconstruction of the lost town of London or to volunteer for this and other projects, visit www.historiclondontown.com or call 410-222-1919. For information about the Annapolis Woodworkers' Guild, go to www.david illig.com/awg.

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