Historic Houses

Recent restorations at Historic Rittenhouse Town

by Fairmount Park Conservancy on March 20, 2023

Fairmount Park Conservancy’s Conservation Team has been busy at Historic Rittenhouse Town in Wissahickon Valley Park, tackling wood repair and window restoration at the centuries-old property where astronomer David Rittenhouse was born and the first paper mill in America once stood.

The work, which was funded by a Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission grant awarded to Historic Rittenhouse Town, has focused on the Homestead, the 1707 family home that served as the town’s focal point, and the Bake House, a 1725 building with a 16 ½ long foot hearth and a still-working beehive oven.

One of the Conservancy team’s projects involved restoring the Bake House’s heavy timber door jamb. The age of the door frame, which has a header inscribed with “1753” and the initials “M.A.,” is in question: Researchers once believed it had been salvaged from another building and brought here around 1900. But clues uncovered during a 1997 repair hinted the wood may be close to original.

The Conservancy team’s recent work uncovered evidence that further supported the belief that the door frame was an original or early piece of the structure. The team noted that the jamb’s white oak timbers are joined with traditional mortise and tenon joinery and held together with large wooden pegs. The exposed surfaces showed considerable wear, including deep fissures, chips and dents, that are clearly the result of many years of exposure and use.

After disassembling the jamb, conservators found evidence of the 1997 repair. They left clues of that work behind before using a traditional timber framer’s joint for its own fix. In that way, future workers will be able to trace the building’s history through repair.

Andrew Staples, Fairmount Park Conservancy’s Conservation Supervisor, deeply enjoys the discoveries and problem solving needed to preserve old buildings, “We are excited that our work forms another, physical layer in the history of this building and hopefully future tradespeople working on the site will be able to build on all of the research that came before.”