History off of the paper

History off of the paper

History in the physical and visual

In an earlier post, I talked about my interview with a client about why old homes are worth saving, and he took me on a tour to share the history while pointing out details. In our interview, our client highlighted the importance of restoring old buildings because “[they] are tangible elements of history,” and emphasized that seeing history in the physical and visual is much more enjoyable than reading it on paper. 

He was absolutely right. During the tour of their home that was first built in 1822, I found myself getting more and more excited about history, especially of historic buildings. Seeing history in-person instead of just reading text connected me to the stories much more than I had before. 

All that said, it is ironic that I’m writing about how seeing history in physical form connected me to it much more than reading about the history. To combat the irony just a bit, below are photos with tidbits from our interview and tour.


Photo details of our client’s house


After the Revolutionary War, some Hessian mercenaries (recruited from Germany to fill the British ranks) were left on the continent. They brought some German design elements/heritage with them which blended over time with emerging American preferences. You can see this in the hand carvings and style of the mantles (6 were fireplaces in the house, some restored now).

Downstairs by the kitchen there’s a china cabinet that the current owners painted dark green in keeping with the old color scheme. But if you look inside, you can see the old paint which is a brighter green – more of a lime green. This color was popular among German settlers, including Mennonites, Lutherans, and others who included that color as they moved down into the Shenandoah area from Central Pennsylvania.

Remnants of the lime-green paint are also on this door.

Round brick columns, typical to the time period.

Throughout the years, larger rooms were sectioned off into smaller ones, like the Great Room. They can tell where the Great Room was because the boards are perfectly aligned between a couple existing rooms. Uniform board lengths with no cuts was a symbol of status, which would have been put in the Great Room.

The milk paint on the detailing in this room is mulberry colored. This seems to be a popular color of milk paint for the time.

There isn’t written history of this, but it’s been passed down orally that a cannonball broke this upstairs window.

Builders numbered the attic timber beams with carved roman numerals so they would know the order to put them in when they hauled them to the house. 

Wooden pegs in the attic to secure the beams together.

A hanging stepped flue in the attic – a very unique element.

Just for fun. As a photographer, I always love when furry friends come to say hello in my shoots.

Finally, here are a few more pictures from my photoshoot of our client’s porch after the historical porch renovation.

Why should we save old buildings?

Why should we save old buildings?

In the fall, I had the pleasure of meeting with a client for an interview about why we should save old buildings

We first met our client when he brought us an old picture of their home, first built in 1822. Over the years, pieces had been added on, torn down, and altered, so the existing house no longer had the same porch shown in the picture. Our presented challenge then was to recreate a combination of the existing and the old porch from the photograph. I knew that our client had a passion for historic buildings, so I visited to learn more about his thoughts on old homes and restoration. 

During the interview, I was welcomed inside the home to receive a tour of the historic details. I was fascinated. I came into the interview with a mild appreciation for history and left with interest in more of a tangible and emotional way. The passion for restoration and details was infectious. 

I learned a great deal about the history of the home and details throughout the house – too many to put in short blog form. However, our client’s response to “Why should we save old buildings?” is poignant and does a beautiful job of summing up our conversation.

Why should we save old buildings?

“An old house torn down is lost forever. Old houses are tangible elements of history. Not many people enjoy history on paper in library archives or summarized in sterilized textbooks. But old homes are tangible and intimate evidence of hardship, war, farming, community, and visibly seeing artistic and pragmatic elements of pioneering families. It is the difference between a replica quilt or the old original, stitched by hand in candlelight, seeing careful but irregular stitching, and one’s imagination can connect with past generations. One would not think much about Hessian mercenaries fighting for Britain during the war of 1812, but upon losing the war, the mercenaries were left to fend for themselves in the new land, and some took up wood carving, and our carved fireplaces are memorials to that small bit of overlooked history. Old houses preserve intimate details of children’s scribbles, of successive changes over time as needs changed. Old houses are like museum outposts scattered in our neighborhoods.” 

The complexity of history

Though the house and stories are beautiful, our client also pointed out the complexity of history and reasons why buildings exist. Part of the history of this home in particular is that in ~ 1740, a man bought the land near a couple of forts and fortified his home. This man’s view about the Native Americans of the area was extreme, and he wanted them killed. Part of the story is that much of the land of Virginia was inhabited by people who were forcibly displaced and killed. All of this history is woven into the origin story of buildings too, and it’s important that it is noted.

In this relatively short history of the U.S., it was unique to be able to hear stories passed down through writings and oral traditions of this area. I’m grateful for clients willing to share their passions and to let us be a part of what they dream up.

On the Road Collaborative at the Depot

On the Road Collaborative at the Depot

On The Road Collaborative students with Asha and Charles

The Gaines Group has had a long-standing partnership with On The Road Collaborative and we could not be more excited to be a part of it again this year! On the Road Collaborative (OTRC) is an organization that gives middle and high-school students educational and hands-on opportunities outside of school, and their commitment to the youth and community, both in the future and in the here and now, is inspiring.

Throughout the years, we have participated in many opportunities with students, including a class on architecture as a career option to Skyline middle-schoolers that was led by Deborah and Charles in 2016 and a sustainable farm house tour in partnership with Eric Beck with Beck Builders. This year, Deborah is teaching another class about architecture called Design Hive to middle-schoolers from Skyline Middle School.

In this class, they’ll be learning about what architecture is and how it affects our communities and day to day lives. They’ll also learn the process of becoming an architect and what an architect does by going through the design process and understanding the thoughts and decisions that go into designing a building.

This week, we hosted these students at the Depot, our office building. Here Charles gave a tour to talk about the rich history of the building that used to be a railroad station. He showed them the many items, sketches, and photos that we have preserved here, as well as details of structural preservation: sections of floor that are different colors, charred doorframes, and old windows without panes. The students enjoyed interacting with the window especially, as you can see below.

Looking through the old pane-less window.

Touring the structure outside.

When asked what made her want to teach this class, Deborah said that “it’s fun to share about what I do with a group of students that are interested in learning about architecture.” Passing on excitement for design and giving opportunities for exposure to architecture for younger students is something that is very important to us.

Deborah is also structuring the class so that in the second half of the session, students will get a taste of what a college architecture studio class might be like. Students will work to create a neighborhood of houses designed by them. This neighborhood project is based on a similar project that her studio worked on during her time at Virginia Tech. They’ll draw out plans of their houses and then make cardboard models to see the neighborhood in 3D. We can’t wait to see what they create!

Design is everywhere, and whether or not each participating student decides to go into an architectural or design field, we hope that the experience enriches their understanding of how design impacts their daily lives. Awareness of this can be applicable to any field, and we’re grateful to OTRC for giving us this opportunity to meet these bright students from the community and pass on some of this knowledge. Check out their website to see how you can get more involved with OTRC!

Deering Hall: Restoring and Celebrating a Historic Landmark

Deering Hall: Restoring and Celebrating a Historic Landmark

Design can build a better future. We believe this holds true for both ground-up projects and the preservation of historical landmarks such as Deering Hall in Broadway, Virginia. Still standing from the 1890’s, Deering Hall is a local building housing over a century of history within its walls. It has adapted over the years and ushered in the changes of the decades by functioning as a town hall, school, opera house, and storefront for various local businesses. Our team jumped on the opportunity to partner with Anthony Slater in achieving his dream of seeing Deering Hall added to the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places.

New life and another century of history are ahead of this special building as Slater plans to use part of it to house his local business A-Able plumbing, while the other half will preserve and celebrate its history by functioning as a community meeting space. The restoration of this building will gain increased visibility as the Shenandoah Rail Trail is slated to run behind the property.

The front façade of Deering Hall on Main St, in Broadway.

Until recently, there were no houses or buildings in Broadway on the national registry of historical buildings. The town itself had not been deemed “historical” until Anthony sought to preserve and share the history housed within the walls of Deering Hall. History is truly written on the walls inside as there are signatures and sketches carefully preserved from the 1890’s in the upstairs walls. Thanks to a book found at the local municipal building, meeting notes from 1896-1914 were uncovered and Deering Hall was specifically named as Broadway’s first town hall. This critical piece of information cemented the history of this building and the town. This discovery led to the approval of Deering Hall to be added to the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Landmarks Registrar.

Signatures circa 1898 displayed on the walls.
An original painted medallion preserved from the 19th century.

The Gaines Group partnered with Anthony to successfully complete the National Registry applications as well as code research and renovation permit drawings. Similar to our partnership in the historic Minor-Nelson project, it has been a rewarding experience to see a time-worn building be restored for new life ahead.

Historic Minor-Nelson House

Historic Minor-Nelson House

Our team recently had the opportunity to help preserve a slice of history in Charlottesville, Virginia. The Minor-Nelson house is a historic home dating back to the early 1800s and we were tasked with recreating a historic façade that appropriately honors the Georgian form it was originally built to reflect. The façade needed to include a front porch, steps, and other pediment and architectural detailing to make it appear “original” to its early 19th century roots. Before beginning the design process, we first investigated the home at UVA’s archives and Charlottesville’s Historical Society to uncover more information. Named after the original owner Martha Minor, the home was built between 1827-1840 and served multiple uses in its lifetime. It was originally built as a private residence but during the Civil War, the house functioned as a branch of Charlottesville General Hospital. It continued to serve as a medical practice after the war and changed hands to Dr. Hugh Nelson.

Although there was limited information specific to the front porch detailing, we uncovered the photograph below and took clues from the original construction. We based the design around the indications noted from this early photograph as well as the details found in the current door surround. The side veranda was also used as a guide to influence the design of the front porch as it displays many original architectural details.

The carpenter gothic porch and front gable detailing were added to the house in the early 1900’s. This photograph shows the house in the 1960’s.
Around 1971, the front covered porch was removed and replaced with brick and stone double curved stairs. The door surround was used as a guide to rebuild to covered porch.

Referencing the early photos and Georgian style, we planned for the removal of the existing porch and double stairs. We designed a gothic gable and porch using both tapered half-square and “Temple of the Winds” columns. Additional architectural elements utilized in the design were the additions of cornice, entablature, dental mould, and frieze board. Although still under construction, the following photographs show the porch near completion.

Current (2022) photograph of the Minor-Nelson House porch.

After presenting our design to the Charlottesville Board of Architecture Review, the design was approved in record time! We enjoyed working on this historical project and serving as a resource in restoring a historical landmark in Charlottesville.

Tinky Bryan’s Bench at The Depot

Tinky Bryan’s Bench at The Depot

With First Friday fast approaching, we are taking time to highlight the rich history of our gallery space. Before The Depot was “The Depot” it was The Chesapeake Western Railroad Depot and was constructed in 1913 to rival other railroad companies in a location that blocked off possible expansions. It’s no surprise that a building constructed out of spite would house some of the hardest working railwaymen in Virginia. This summer we had the privilege of hosting a bench dedication for Walter P. “Tinky” Bryan and took time to honor his legacy with his family.

We invited several members of the community to come and speak about the history of the building and the similarity between the strength of the building itself and the railway workers that made it what it is. Our very own Charles Hendricks discussed the power of the Depot in the Harrisonburg community and how it functions as a symbol of resilience, history, and restoration.

Walter P. “Tinky” Bryan, was a man dedicated to his work, and his family, making sure to reserve Sunday mornings for taking his family to church. His goal in life was to go out with his boots on and sure enough, his wish was granted. We are incredibly honored to share The Depot with Tinky’s family and share the historic relics that live here. We are even more thrilled that Tinky has his very own bench at his favorite place for friends and family to enjoy and remember his strength, resiliency, and passion for his work.