Georgian Farm House
A Moving Story
Images by Powers and Crewe
When DC-based builder Tom Glass was a young man he frequently visited his grandparents who lived on a farm in the rural confines of Morgan County, Ohio. “I remember seeing the ruins of what used to be grand houses. The invention of the combustion engine, tractors and the industrial age basically made a lot of small family farms obsolete,” he says.
The vision of an abandoned farmhouse haunted Glass through the years and eventually launched a quest. “I bought a piece of land in Rappahannock County, Virginia on the slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains and started looking for an old house to move,” he says.
Glass is not a house mover by trade but he is a skilled craftsman and artist whose firm, Glass Construction, specializes in renovating historic homes. Building a replica of an old house is certainly within his skill set but was never really an option. “I was so captivated by the romance of the idea of buying an existing house I was blind to those kinds of thoughts,” he says. To find the right property, Glass rode the nearby hills on horseback talking to landowners about what he was searching for.
Design and Construction by Glass Construction
A tip from the owner of an architectural salvage company sent Glass on a scouting mission to Appomattox County, Virginia. A four hour drive by car in the fading light of a September evening found him standing in front of “Woodlawn” a house built in 1797 by an officer in the Revolutionary War named Robert Kelso. The home sat abandoned since 1930. “It was incredible,” says Glass, “it was sitting in this meadow with every piece of woodwork still intact, a real find.”
Glass located the owner, bought the house and talked to experts about how to take it apart, move it and reassemble it. He hired a local architect to do CAD drawings of the building, and drove forklifts up the dirt road to the structure. The crew began by removing the roof, labeling all the salvageable materials while shooting video and hundreds of still images as they went.
Taking the house apart took two weeks. All the parts and pieces were labeled using a number and lettering system which added seven months to the process. The disassembled house was then loaded onto two, eighteen wheel, tractor-trailers. All the interior pieces went into a covered box trailer outfitted with racks and tables to safely hold the windows and doors. The timbers went onto a flat-bed and the house rolled 150 miles to the new location. The mortar on the home’s original chimney was so hard it defied deconstruction and it still stands in the meadow.
Glass built a new foundation for the home in it’s new location and the long, painfully slow, process of a 21 month rebuild got underway as the realities of the modern world starting bearing down. “I had a construction loan predicated on finishing the house within a certain time period,” says Glass, “so that made things more challenging.”
The Woodlawn home is built as a vernacular hybrid with elements of Federal and Georgian architecture. It’s large rooms were designated as “parlors” and connected by a side hall and standard-sized doorways. There were at least two locations for the home’s original kitchen – the first one was outside in case of fire and then a later one was built in the basement, which sure enough, showed signs of a fire. Glass kept the original floor plan mostly intact, but brought the kitchen upstairs.
Door openings were widened, a decision that caused consternation amongst the design team. The post and beam construction created another challenge by making it difficult to run plumbing, HVAC ducts and electricity without hacking through load bearing support beams. Glass solved the problem by designing a false wall on one side the house to hide ducts and plumbing. He positioned air handlers in the attic and basement.
Original wainscoting and trim pieces were meticulously put back where they belonged and coated with a water-based sealer to preserve the original paint and finishes. Glass had seen the technique used at Drayton Hall, a preserved plantation house in South Carolina.
“We didn’t repaint any of the original woodwork and just tried match new pieces to the original colors,” says Glass. When it came time to pick out fixtures, Glass moved towards the modern while keeping things traditional. “I didn’t want to live in a museum but we tried to use all hand-made materials,” he says.
Undermount sinks and plumbing fixtures came from Sigma and Toto, with a mix of hand-honed travertine and Jerusalem limestone tiles. New cabinetry was built in a shaker-style maple by HomeCraft Cabinetry in Forestville, Maryland, and constructed to match the design of the house. The hardwood floors are made from salvaged, old growth, long leaf, yellow pine. The roof sheathing is cedar shingles in keeping with the original structure with flashings fashioned from copper as is the roof on the back porch.
The house is a mix of what came before combined with modern updates seamlessly blended in. It contains a living room dining room, kitchen, master suite, and a space that doubles as a guest room or office. A new fifty foot tall, double brick chimney was constructed using drawings of the original as a guide. The walls were insulated with blown-in foam insulation but the exterior clapboard siding is held in place with wrought iron, rose-headed nails.
The result is a jaw dropping labor of love that works as a weekend retreat for Glass and his family. He’s relishing the time he spends there while also enjoying the journey that brought him. “I saved the old house and that’s what I wanted to do. But the adventure of the whole thing – that was the best part,” he says.
For more Georgian content that is not about a
Georgian farm house.
This feature originally appeared in
Chesapeake Home Magazine.