The dangers of replacing too much historical material

By The Old House Web

Deteriorated, still significant. NPS Photos.

The historic character...

This two-story frame house built around1870 is severely deteriorated--the lap siding has been covered with stucco; a later frontporch, non-significant front and rear additions, and an exterior metal staircase leadingto the second floor have all been removed.

But, in spite of the degree of exterior lossand change, the essential form and detailing of the house is sufficiently intact to conveyits historical significance within the district before rehab.

...and how it was lost in the rehabilitation.

First, thenonhistoric stucco was removed. The owner felt the historic lap siding was deterioratedbeyond repair due to moisture and termites, and, as a result, removed all of it as well asthe sheathing underneath. At the same time, other historic wood features were removed andreplaced, including all roofing, all windows, shutters, and wood trim.

In addition to thesheer amount of new material introduced, some of the replacement features wereinappropriate, such as the thick wood-shingle roofing. The cumulative effect of therehabilitation was to create an all new house with some Colonial style details that wouldnever exist on an 1870s house. Because of the wholesale replacement of materials andfeatures, and lack of documentation for the new work, the rehabilitation did not meetStandards 2 and 6. Further, the building was no longer considered "historic,"and was removed from the National Register of Historic Places.

What should you know?

Rehabilitation work may reasonably involverepair or even total replacement in kind of some particularly deteriorated historicmaterials, such as roofing, exterior wood cladding, wood window frames and sash, orinterior plaster. But historic features that can be repaired and preserved shouldnot be removed and replaced with new material. Physical or pictorial documentation shouldalways precede replacement of missing historic features.

Replaced shutters,
roofing, windows, trim...

Side view. Just an all new house with Colonial details.

Suggestions from the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation:


Standard 2: The historic character of a property shall beretained and preserved. The removal of historic materials or alteration of features andspaces that characterize a property shall be avoided.

Standard 6: Deteriorated historic features shall be repairedrather than replaced. Where the severity of deterioration requires replacement of adistinctive feature, the new feature shall match the old in design, color, texture, andother visual qualities and, where possible, materials. Replacement of missing historicfeatures shall be substantiated by documentary, physical, or pictorial evidence.

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