The County Farm

We were very sad today to wake to the news that one of Shenandoah County’s most recognizable historic farm structures had succumb to fire early this morning.  The County Farm and its historic Alms House were ravaged by fire, and we understand that it is a near total loss.  The Alms House began its mission of providing a home for those in need in 1798, and has continued that mission in various forms up until today.  Fire is well known to be one of the greatest threats that our historic structures have to continually face, from the days of roaring cooking fires and candles to the modern era of outdated electrical workings that can prove prohibitively expensive to upgrade and maintain. The Northern Virginia Daily did a piece last year about the farm with a shot of it’s past condition, and the Shenandoah County Historic Society has an article detailing the County Farm’s long history.  For those unfamiliar, I was able to find this uncredited rendering of the farm (and if anyone can tell me who to credit I will gladly add that information to this post!):


Our wonderfully talented cousin, Marty French, captured the loss of the Alms House this morning:



While we don’t yet know what caused the fire at the Alms House, here at Edge Hill we are still utilizing wiring installed in the 1940s, and not without a great deal of trepidation.  None of our outlets are grounded, and countless dinner preparations have been interrupted by a breaker switching when we use our microwave and hotplate at the same time.  The process for updating the electrical systems in these old brick and plaster homes, however, is labor intensive.  As our Little House was a total gut job from the beginning, we can show you in detail what this process entails.  First, you must remove the old wiring:


When we began working on the Little House, this rat’s nest was still live (this picture is post shut-off)!  We didn’t actually think it was active given its state, but of course we double-checked before messing with any wires and found that power was still going to the Little House.


This gem was one of the connections we found in the house.  Yes, it is a mess of exposed wires that was just taped over with black electrical tape, and was in close proximity to the shredded newspaper that inhabitants from the 1940s used as insulation.  To remove the wiring, we had to literally rip it from behind the paster in the walls.  Next, we had to come up with our replacement plan, noting the modern code requirements for spacing of electrical outlets.  Since we are keeping the same plaster-over-brick finish in a number of the original walls, this meant calling in the brick masons to bury the new outdoor-rated wiring in our walls:


The masons had to saw channels into the brick to run the wiring and install the receptacle boxes.  As you might imagine, this is an incredibly dusty and difficult task.



From there, the lines are cemented into place with mortar:



In our case, the ends of the electrical lines are then fed through the floors and routed to the new panel box in our utility closet:


Needless to say, this already tricky task would be greatly compounded if you weren’t also working with open floors and crawl spaces to run the wiring.  We cringe to think of how difficult this will be to accomplish in the main house were we have detailed woodworking and original hand-painted walls that are over one-foot thick and solid brick.

Historic structures require their owners to be constantly endeavoring to update and maintain (read: Spend money!).  This process isn’t cheap and, on balance, requires owners to place an intrinsic value on the experience of preservation and the opportunity to share in a space that has sheltered generations through life’s trials.  I can’t count how many times we’ve questioned the sheer scale and timeline of our project here at Edge Hill, and each time we come to the same conclusion.  We want to be part of the history of this place.  We want to care for it and steward it so that future generations can contemplate the experiences of those who have gone before, and so that they too can leave their mark.

In closing, we ask you to think of the mission of the County Farm and Alms House.  For over 200 years the farm gave shelter and sustenance to those in need.  Those passing through its walls were facing some of life’s toughest struggles, and they took refuge in knowing that our community was dedicated to ensuring a safe place for all.  While we have lost a wonderful structure, that mission remains in our community.  The only question is what we will do going forward.

Houston, We Have a Roof!

It’s been one heck of a year to have an extreme and extended winter season.  Of course it would be the year that our living situation could be considered glorified camping.  When we last posted, it was snowy, cold, and not much progress was being made.  Until last week, it was STILL SNOWY, COLD, AND NOT MUCH PROGRESS WAS BEING MADE.


Luckily, we have had a turn in the weather, and thus an upturn in the level of progress around Edge Hill.  Once the roof on the Little House was framed,


then we needed the expertise of our roofer.  The next step was to put on a layer of roofing boards and top it with a layer of spray foam insulation.  Our craftsman, Colon, had been communicating with the roofers, and we didn’t even realize that progress on the roof had been scheduled.  We came home to find a glorious sight:


After the foam was installed, we still had to remove that pesky power line that was running through the second story of the addition.


Remember the DIGGING Chad did to create a trench for this step?


 The weather held, and the line was buried just in time to keep the roofing project on schedule.  It was one of those tasks that I thought might never happen – I thought we might just have a thick, black power line humming through our closet, which might not have been the safest idea.  The house looks much better without it!


With that last obstacle removed, and with amazing weather (in reality, I think it was only 50 degrees and overcast, but it was dry and above freezing – it’s all relative), the metal roof was finally put in place.




One of the truck drivers even commented that it was starting to look like a building again.

Once the roof was on, Colon got busy installing our salvaged windows.  First, he framed for the windows and cut holes in the exterior plywood according to our grand design.


(The two holes on the top are the last traces of the power line’s old route).  Next, Colon created new window frames.  Many of the original frames were either missing or too rotten to be saved.


One by one, Colon is now installing the windows into their respective holes.  Here you can see the top two windows have been installed – minus the lower pane in the left window:

IMG_0020This is a close up of the new upper right window set in place:


And here is the view from inside!


We still need to restore each of these windows with new paint and putty, but just getting them into place is a great feeling.

Today, we got more good news.  The building inspector was on site and he approved the framing!  We’ve heard building inspectors are usually wary of saw mill lumber because it does not come certified, but in our case, the engineer’s plans were more than enough to carry the day.

In addition to the house updates, a lot of our readers said they loved hearing about our chickens, and you’re in luck, because that saga has continued.  One of the truck company employees enlightened us about the chickens’ origins; evidently, they were deported!  One of the truck company’s livestock trucks returned to the farm empty and ready to be cleaned out.  When the driver opened the trailer to spray it down, out marched THREE chickens!  As you have probably surmised, Chad and I never laid eyes on Chicken #3 . . . (cue “The Circle of Life”).

The bad news is that, shortly after the last post, Chicken #2 vanished into thin air, as well.  This caused a noticeable change in Blizzard’s morale, and we were resolved to find him some friends before the depression really set in.  We purchased four hens over the phone, and then realized they would probably suffer the same fate as Chicken #2 and #3 if we didn’t build them a coop (as if we didn’t have enough to do).  Chad immediately seized an opportunity to develop a new Google Sketchup masterpiece.

Two weekends ago, we had a surprise visit from some law school friends and we enlisted the cheap labor for the first half of the construction project.  Thanks, Becky and Mark!




IMG_0025We built a floor that slides out so we can clean the coop more easily:



(New respect for our roofers – cutting these angles is no easy work!)


  We ultimately moved the whole structure using the skidloader and placed it around the side of the house near our garden and water spigot.  We had a close call unloading it, but all’s well that ends well:


We obviously still need to paint it, and we had an – ahem – temporary roof of black vapor barrier on just to get started.  Our girls arrived before our roofers did!  When the roofers came to put the big roof on the Little House, they also put a little roof on our chicken coop (apologies for the goofiness of the following candid):

IMG_0009The coop has two side doors – one for refilling water and one for refilling food.


The coop also has two perches and eight nesting boxes where the hens lay their eggs (of course all five of them use only one of the eight boxes):

IMG_0021 The nesting boxes are on a slight angle so that a) the hens don’t get too comfortable in there, and b) so the eggs will roll to be back of the boxes for retrieval and avoid being pecked by the hens.  There are also doors on the backs of the nesting boxes so we can snatch the eggs more easily:


We came home with four black copper French marans (black with red crests), which lay dark brown eggs that are supposedly great for cooking (they taste great to us!).  The chicken man also threw in a mixed breed brown leghorn (pronounced “leggern” if you want to sound like you know what you’re talking about) for free, who is our spunky girl.  She escaped within the first twenty-four hours and Chad had to seal crawl under the screened-in porch to rescue her.  Good thing we found her in time – it turns out the crawl space under the screened-in porch is like the Elephant Graveyard in the Lion King . . . lots of bones down there . . .

Status update: Blizzard has made a full recovery and is loving his harem.