Hello again, preservation enthusiasts and friends!  It’s been almost two years since this blog was updated last, but we’re back and ready to share our research, documentation, and planning adventures with the world!

There’s been a lot of changes and exciting news over the past year in our department.  We graduated our second class of MA-HP students in May 2013, and just got a new group of first years, our lovely and talented Class of 2015!

We moved back to our home on the third floor of Alison Hall, which has been renovated and is absolutely beautiful.  We’re all very thrilled to have windows and such a nice workspace!

Project-wise, we’ve been extremely busy! Over the past two years, we have…

  • Continued work on the White Clay Creek Dams project in Fall 2012’s Research Methods class, researching and presenting on several of the historic dams
  • Progressed in our efforts at preserving and organizing the Delaware Board of Agriculture’s Hammond Collection through creating an organized reference database and rephotographing some of the images using a large format camera
  • Conducted research and documentation at New Castle’s Penn Farm as the Class of 2013’s capstone project
  • Carried out two separate projects in Delaware City:  interviewing residents as part of an oral history project, and researching and documenting the Eastern Lock of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal
  • Researched and produced measured drawings of historic properties such as Poplar Hall, the Jester-Day House, and the J.A. Bidderman Estate, throughout New Castle County through a partnership with MAHBS
  • Surveyed diverse intrinsic quality sites throughout the state to assist DelDOT in developing a potential new Scenic and Historic Byway as part of their Delaware Byways program

That was just to catch you all up, but stay tuned for another post this week about what we’ve got in store this year!

By: Kevin Barni

On Saturday the November 12th members of the art conservation club came to help CHAD pack our object collection. I don’t know if you’ve heard yet, but we’re moving, and there is still much left to be packed, but thanks to the efforts of the club a large part of the more bulky and awkwardly shaped objects were packed.

Since then we have continued to pack and are down to our final twenty objects. Next up research files in the archive!

All of CHAD would like to say thanks for the help and we could always use a few extra hands!


This past Friday the newest configuration of CHAD’s MAHBS crew went back to the Cannon-Maston house in Seaford, Delaware. The crew went to continue demolition worked conducted previously, and worked with people from the Sussex County land trust, and from the preservation department of Sussex County.

The CHADster’s removed lathe and plaster in four vital corners on the first floor to understand the periodization, removed part of the ceiling in the first floor period one and two rooms, as well as the plaster covering the fireplace in the period two room. During the process of demolition the team made two discoveries. First, the original 1727 mantel had been disassembled and was being used as nailers for the ceiling lathe and plaster! Secondly, we found intact wallpaper in the period two room behind the 1850s layer of lathe and plaster! After Friday we have a better understanding of what the Cannon-Maston house looked liked prior to 1850s.

It was a great day for learning, plus we got to hit stuff!

CHAD has finalized our summer field school plans! We are taking a group of seven students  (by van!) from Newark, Delaware to Virginia City, Montana. We will be gone August 16th to August 28th! Check back with us for all of our exciting adventures along the way.


View into Virginia City

Today the students from CHAD went on walking tours around the city. The Metro was our means of transport to our neighborhoods but once we arrived we experienced the walkability of the neighborhoods and the spatial relationships between residential and commercial.  Jim and I started our morning in the Capitol Hill neighborhood around Eastern Market. We saw houses, churches, and the recently restored Eastern Market (post fire).  The houses varied from row houses built in multiple periods to large single family houses designed by well known architects.  A mixture of architectural styles was visible on every block showing the evolution and infill of the neighborhood.  The majority of the houses we toured had been recently renovated or restored. We greatly appreciated the hospitality of all of the homeowners that welcomed us to tour, examine and photograph their houses.  We ended our time on Capitol Hill looking at the alley dwellings on Gessford Court  and would have liked to learned more about the segregation (or integration) of families between the street and alley.

When we moved from our tour of Capitol Hill to our tour of the U Street Corridor we were struck by an undefinable shift in the atmosphere of neighborhoods.  Both neighborhoods were well established and obviously have residents that care for their community.  We wondered if the different feeling was due to width of streets, number of trees, street setback of houses, or just the overall neighborhood character.  The U Street Corridor is home to many architectural and cultural landmarks for the African American community. Some of the first buildings in the city designed by African American Architects are in this neighborhood.  We saw the landmarks of the Lincoln Theater and Bens Chili Bowl but some of the highlights of our tour were the 12th St. YMCA/Thurgood Marshall Center and the Howard Theater.  The 1500 seat Howard Theater was active as an African American entertainment destination until the 1970s when it was shut down. It has remained vacant since and shows this neglect through widespread deterioration.  Currently there is a Howard Theater investment group that is awaiting building permits to start the restoration of this 1910 theater.  While we were in the theater a local resident came in to look at the plans for the restoration and ask if and when the theater will reopen after 40 years of neglect.  Once he saw the restoration plans he left to go get some of his neighbors to come back and see the plans for themselves.  The interest and excitement for this historic and culturally significant structure was a testament to long-time resident investment in retaining and regaining the character of their community.  The volunteers at the theater told us that all afternoon neighborhood residents had been coming and expressing their interest and joy at the prospect of the theater rejoining as an active location for the the U Street Cultural Corridor.

Other students from CHAD went on walking tours of the Dupont and Logan Circle neighborhoods (there is just no escaping that Dupont presence – even when you leave Delaware) and the urban renewal projects from the 1950s-1970s in Southwest, DC.  We all gathered at the end of our busy day of walking and photographing at the VAF reception in the National Gallery Sculpture Garden as the sun was setting.

-Elizabeth and Jim

Today Vernacular Architecture Forum conference attendees had the opportunity to choose one of two bus tours that explored a variety of neighborhoods, from modest public housing complexes in northeast DC, to modernist avant-garde homes in Virginia.

On bus tour option 1, Langston Terrace in northeast DC was notable as the city’s first public housing project, as well as an application of the Bauhaus style in America. Designed and built by African-Americans in the 1930s, the row houses and walk-up apartments are still in high demand. VAFers were struck by how well the buildings blended with the landscape, but we were also acutely aware of the racial and class differences that kept us from real dialogue with residents. Greenbelt, MD provided another example of a Depression-era planned community. Sidewalks and pedestrian underpasses connected homes to a vibrant community center, houses of worship, and a shopping center. Residents frequently praised the livability of the area, and we were inclined to agree. Three more Maryland neighborhoods provided examples of post-World War II modernist homes in wooded areas. Hammond Wood, designed by Charles Goodman in the 1950s, featured small but spacious-feeling houses. We were impressed by walls of windows that provided sunlight and views of nature. Rock Creek Woods was another Goodman development. These homes demonstrated how later homeowners wanted more space and greater design flexibility. Finally, New Mark Commons showed how modernist trends continued in the 1960s and 70s. Notable neighborhood features were a man-made lake, a central community center, and master bedroom suites far larger than those in previous homes.

For bus tour option 2, the modern ranches and split levels of Hollin Hills in Alexandria, VA were a real treat. It was fascinating how well Charles Goodman designed the homes in harmony with the rolling, wooded landscape, and how seamlessly owners expanded the homes to accommodate contemporary needs. Similarly, we were able to see how the owners of condos of Fairlington in Arlington, VA adapted and combined units. All of the homeowners were incredibly welcoming and were eager to explain the various changes to the units. Later in the afternoon, the Mayor and former Mayor of North Brentwood, MD gave us a short tour of their community, the oldest incorporated African American Municipality in Prince George’s County. It was great to hear how much character the community has retained, both architecturally and culturally. We concluded our day of tours at the Clara Barton National Historic Site, which the National Park Service describes as a “Gothic steamboat revival” house. It was moving to see the house where Clara Barton did such great work and to learn about her interactions with nearby Glen Echo Park.

Both tours came together for a lovely dinner at the Art Deco amusement park at Glen Echo. The highlight of the evening was a ride on the meticulously restored 1921 Dentzel Carousel. VAFers relaxed and socialized under the glow of neon lights on colorful amusement park buildings, just like previous generations of Washingtonians.

From May 19th to the 22nd, 12 students and 3 faculty from the University of Delaware will be attending the annual meeting of the Vernacular Architecture Forum in Washington, DC.  Stay tuned and follow our adventures through several centuries of housing in the DC area!

Join the faculty and students at the Center for Historic Architecture and Design on our travels!