Introducing Historic Home Surveys Online

This month, I’m pleased to announce my first installment of what I hope is a long-term project of some significance: A new online archive of surveys of historic Connecticut homes — mostly 18th century, and mainly of my particular region of the state. As of this week, I have the archive itself in place, and have also published my first completed survey.

Image of the Oronoque saltbox (c.1740) of Stratford, Connecticut

The recently demolished Oronoque saltbox (c.1740) of Stratford, Connecticut, is the subject of my first completed historic home survey.

My particular style of historic home survey focuses on framing, architecture, and their interplay. Each survey consists of a precise model of the house frame rendered in Trimble SketchUp, a copy of my field notes, an image gallery of all photographs and video taken while surveying the home, and a detailed survey report.

The survey report is the primary end-product. It presents the model, describes the home’s manner of construction in detail, and also compares its findings with any earlier surveys (or other known house histories) that had previously accounted for the home.

Saltbox Frame in SketchUp

Oronoque saltbox frame in SketchUp.

The archive has a main landing page corresponding to the “Historic Home Surveys” entry in the main menu of A Preservationist’s Technical Notebook. It includes much commentary on my motivation and strategy for writing these surveys, their content and structure, how I see them evolving over time, and a list of links to the surveys themselves.

A summer beam modeled in SketchUp.

Oronoque saltbox summer beam in SketchUp.

Each historic home survey likewise has its own landing page, which can be navigated to via either the main menu drop-downs, or the links embedded in the main archive page. From there, one can readily select any of the content pages: field notes, image gallery, SketchUp model, or survey report.

Screen-capture showing navigation of the survey archive via the main menu.

Screen-capture showing navigation of the survey archive via the main menu.

Finally, I use self-hosted WordPress as a publishing platform, and tune my pages for online indexing and search (SEO). I also leverage geographic information wherever possible (via geocoding and geotagging), and in time, will attempt to integrate my survey models with Google Earth. I also proactively use social media (mainly Google+, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook) to build awareness of my surveys within their intended communities.

I’d like to invite any of you interested in this sort of work to please give both the main archive page and recently completed historic home survey a review, and please feel free to share your thoughts and impressions, positive or otherwise. Also include any suggestions you might have for improving this format, or otherwise making it more useful to its intended audiences.

Thank you!

About John Poole

My interests include historic homes, architectural preservation and restoration, improving the energy performance of old houses, and traditional timber frames.
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12 Responses to Introducing Historic Home Surveys Online

  1. Bill Smith says:

    John,
    I’m just getting to take an in depth look at this, I’m quite impressed by my initial pass.

    I have a sense of the time and effort involved and I hope others will appreciate that. This isn’t a quick “sit down and toss it off” exercise. You’re giving a considerable gift to your community.

    Elsewhere you mentioned that someone said how valuable this will be when the buildings are gone. I agree that that is a negative way to look at it. What this should be seen as is both an inspiration and an education for people who want to keep these building as valuable components of a community’s fabric. I think you’re on the right track for that.

    I hope you get a lot of positive feedback, it’s an ambitious undertaking and you should be commended for it.

    • John Poole says:

      Bill,

      Thanks so much for all the support and encouraging words. It really means a lot to me, and such a positive reception makes me feel the effort is worth it, because it’s appreciated.

      Regarding the comment, this individual’s heart truly was in the right place, and I understood how they meant it; that they certainly weren’t advocating the demolition of old homes themselves.

      But it is, in fact, an example of how there’s something of an ingrained, societal-level prejudice that “old is bad” (in general) and that very old homes are almost expected to either be destroyed or, at best, radically overhauled and transformed into something they’re currently not, if they are to continue to serve a purpose.

      That is a habit of thinking I’m trying to reverse, and I hope efforts like this one will slowly help bring that about, particularly within the building community itself, since there is much substantive detail here that building professionals fundamentally understand, and one would hope appreciate.

      Thanks again, Bill. I really appreciate your comments here, and especially appreciate your own contributions to the home building and home performance fields.

      ~John

  2. Daniel L. Bosques says:

    John,
    What you do for history and antiquity is inspirational. Thank you for the commitment to this passion, for through your hard work, others get to learn.

    Aside from your expertise, you make it very understandable for a guy like me to comprehrnd; the amount of time you commit to your research is evident in the clarity of the presentation. Bravo! I can’t wait to see more.

    Dan

    • John Poole says:

      Dan,

      Thanks very much for your positive feedback. As some one who’s greatly familiar with both the local history and these structures, your reactions are quite valuable to me, and I’m glad you’ve found them clearly written, and informative.

      Now, I might need some help completing some of the upcoming ones, so if you have any spare time…and don’t mind crawling around dusty old attics and damp old cellars (as I suspect you don’t)…maybe you wouldn’t mind getting your name on a few these?! ;-)

      Thanks again for the great commentary, Dan.

      ~ John

  3. Daniel L. Bosques says:

    John,
    My pleasure… And I think I’ll take you up on your offer. We can presumably begin tomorrow?? ;)

    Regards,
    Dan

  4. Scott Sidler says:

    Very cool project! I’m impressed.

    • John Poole says:

      Thanks very much, Scott!

      It’s launched, anyway; it’ll be interesting to see where all of this goes. And your feedback and opinions on this effort, Scott, are very highly valued. So hope you have chances to review my work and chime-in from time to time!

      - John

  5. Jay C. White Cloud says:

    John,

    What can I say…excellent work. It would have been great to have saved the house, but alas too much of the vintage fabric of this old treasure was altered, or past even good restoration possibilities. To those that feel that the builders are gone…well chronologically they are, but I can assure them that their legacy and craft more than lives on, and now, thanks to you, if anyone would ever want this building “historically” replicated there are among us individuals that can, with your documentation, do just that. These reports of your’s are vital to the record, and a tool of value for restoration/replication.

    Warm Regards,

    jay

    • John Poole says:

      Hi Jay C.,

      There’s nothing that would please me more than perhaps some day to collaborate with you on reconstructing one of these old historic frames, either in its entirety, or in terms of specific joinery.

      Regarding the old builders, I totally agree with you that their legacy lives on, and would go even a bit further in suggesting that many of us are at least their spiritual descendants, having somehow strangely been infused with their vision, and motivated to carry their work forward, in modern times.

      As far as that particular saltbox was concerned, my opinion is that its destruction came about largely as the result of a complex collection of factors, the primary of which had little to do with the state of its remaining fabric.

      Had the home been in relatively better shape, and say, you, me, and Don attempted an all-out effort to dismantle the home and deliver it to a buyer, I think we still would’ve been thwarted by the timing/schedule, and lack of advance warning in the first place. Such issues, of course, have nothing to do with timber framing and restoration, but are far broader in scope, and certainly far harder to deal with.

      Thanks so much for you comment, insights, and good words here, Jay. They are immensely valued, and will always be appreciated by me.

      ~ John

  6. Very impressive! Congratulations to you — this is important and timely work.

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