Restoration of Mud Meeting House requires lot of work

September 08, 2003|EMILY TOADVINE

Bill Faulconer has been playing in the mud for a couple of years. Two of his co-workers also know how dirt daubers must feel. Joe Hutchison and Lee Baker have joined their boss in the repacking of mud in an attempt to restore Old Mud Meeting House on Dry Branch Road in Mercer County.

"This would be easier barefoot," Faulconer claims as he uses rubber work boots to mix together clay-like mud and straw.

Once the mud reaches the right consistency, he will pitchfork it into 5-gallon buckets and carry it to the scaffolding where Hutchison and Baker coax it into place between the timber framing of the historic church. Repacking mud in one area of paneling takes about three days.

"That's with somebody to hand off and a third person mixing and bringing them buckets," says Faulconer.

This may sound like a lot of work, but it seems like the light at the end of the tunnel for the men, who have been part of a top-to-bottom overhaul of the church.


Faulconer, who owns a heating and air conditioning business, Faulconer Mechanical Service, is devoting his time and some of his crew members to the long-term project because he is interested in preserving the old church. It is owned by the Harrodsburg Historical Society. The church, built in 1800 by the Dutch Reformed Church, impresses Faulconer, a member of the Timber Framers Guild, as an example of early timber framing.

"This was all put up by muscle power. They didn't have cranes. We admire the old ways."

Faulconer, who has started his own company, Chaplin Hills Timberwrights, was disturbed by the damage the church had suffered over the last 30 years.

"It was covered in clapboard siding, which was taken off in the '70s and started this downward spiral," he says of the clapboard. Records show the clapboard first was used in 1849.

While the mud exterior and timberframe is a sight to behold, Faulconer says it has to be covered to protect the building. He thinks it probably was covered from the beginning, although no records exist to support his theory.

"What tells me that is wasn't meant to be exposed is the straw is sticking out and acts as a wick and takes water into the walls, which invites insects," he says, noting the way the mud walls that have not been repaired have a honeycomb pattern caused by insects.

When Faulconer heard the historical society had received a grant to restore the church, he wanted to be part of the effort to preserve the building

"I was going to make sure this got done in the correct way."

That commitment has not been easy. The initial grant of $20,000 in 1999 didn't go very far toward the project. Faulconer and his men already have invested $60,000 in labor into the building and have received two other donations from Ralph Anderson, a Mercer County native and retired Cincinnati businessman who has contributed to several projects in the county.

Faulconer, who plans to wrap the newly mudded walls in plastic, says much work remains.

"We're hoping that somebody who can afford to help us takes an interest," he says, estimating that about another $70,000 and a year of work is needed to complete the work.

"But anybody is welcome to jump in and change that anytime," he says.

Despite the financial needs that remain, the initial grant did result in a lengthy report by Anthony Crosby, a conservation architect for a Colorado firm. Faulconer learned a lot from Crosby.

"He asked questions that made me think, 'How was this done?'"

Crosby removed nails from timbers that showed the various phases of construction. He pointed out chisel marks of Roman numerals on the timbers, called marriage marks, that show how the wood was put together on the ground before being raised.

In addition to the damage to the mud between the timber, the church also suffered damage that was not so apparent. Replacing the decayed sill plates, or the lowest horizontal wooden timbers, was the first part of the construction. Specialists from Ithaca, N.Y., arrived to help with this phase of the project. Lath and infill were removed to make openings in the wall to insert eight steel beams. Hydraulic jacks were used to raise the beams and 34- by 46-foot, 80-ton building off the foundation.

A group of timber framers from Grafton, Ill., came to help with replacing the sill plates.

Major repairs also were made in the top of the building. While the building was raised, it became apparent that the condition of the dry-laid stone foundation was too poor to lower the building back onto it. The Dry Stone Conservancy of Lexington rebuilt the foundation at a cost of $22,000.

The Chaplin Hills crew removed the remaining flooring to expose the log floor joists. One joist had to be copied and replaced. Concrete pads were poured under each joist. Steel rods were installed from sill plate to sill plate.

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