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TideWriters Tales
Preserve and protect, shore up and scaffold Menokin (1998)
By Janet Abbott Fast

     Placemats and pizza created the setting for restoration architects, a structural engineer and contractor to brainstorm saving Richmond County’s historical Menokin. Emergency stabilization, temporary supports, scaffolding and decks were drawn and re-drawn during a lunch break last Wednesday.

     The foundation selected Quinn Evans architects for the task. The team, charged with stabilization and restoration of Menokin, includes architects Baird Smith, Gordon Bingaman, structural engineer Denis McMullan and contractor Hank Handler. Northern Neck Electric donated a truck with a bucket and their employee David Thomas to elevate folks to heights above the Menokin rubble.

     Handler’s 15-year-old son, Skye, discovered a pair of vultures nesting on two eggs in the basement of the house. Foundation president Martin King noted the pair had nested in an old fireplace last spring.
Rubble, viewed from the bucket, was strewn on the first and second floors. The thousand pound roof was a source of concern. “I’m worried about the wind whipping the roof,” said a concerned team member.

     “We need to come up with a way to save it,” said Smith. “We need emergency stabilization,” pointing out a massive 12-inch by 16-inch wood beam nearly rotted and gone. “We have to find a way to temporarily support it so it doesn’t get worse.”

     Super heavy duty posts to shore the remains and an overhead roof were discussed. The existing partial roof doesn’t effectively keep water out. Handler video taped the first and second floors and dropped his plumb line to check the planes, all from the comfort of Northern Neck Electric’s bucket.

     Foundation board member Hugh Miller said, “It would be great if you didn’t have to disturb the debris.” King said he expects an archeological team come in also. 

     Team members viewed the video Handler taped earlier, and admired the instant replay mechanics of the camera, while waiting for pizza. McMullan pointed to a sketch on a placemat. He discussed a six-foot work platform, which could serve as a dual-purpose deck, an attempt to provide stabilization and access at the same time.

     “We need to think where we want to be ultimately,” said Miller. “And do no damage. Inevitably we’re going to have to move stuff—rubble,” added King. Handler suggested part of the specifications to the scaffolding contractor include staying off the rubble.

     Preserve and protect are the goals. Stabilize, access and a future cover are the priorities the group set at lunch. Recent rains which caused soil movement contributed to new cracks in the far corner of the back wall, which could be lost any day. McMullan noted another area where no soil is affected by the rains.

     A few minutes later priorities were set by phases. Primary is to retard collapse of the wall, which is different from stabilization, said Smith. “I can see the outside frame becoming an engineering structure. It takes time and we have to work with the archeologists. Think we can count on those chimneys,” Smith continued. “Put a harness on it?”

     Full of pizza the group returned to Menokin where Handler resumed taping, and the architects and engineer studied the back wall and discussed options. The pair of vultures watched carefully from branches of a nearby tree.

     Menokin, home of Frances Lightfoot Lee, signer of the Declaration of Independence, and Rebecca Tayloe, will be part of Richmond County Garden Week tour. 

© 1997 Janet Abbott Fast All Rights Reserved

Additional information about Menokin today is available at http://www.menokin.org/


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