LOWER TOWNSHIP — There are plenty of old houses in Cape May County, some dating to the 17th century, but commercial buildings from the early years are rare.
That’s why restoration carpenter Jamie Hand is excited about refurbishing the 1886 John Finely blacksmith shop at Historic Cold Spring Village. It’s known as an early example of a light industrial building.
“Cape May County has a real high percentage of historic buildings compared to the rest of the state because they didn’t get torn down,” Hand said.
But commercial buildings, such as the blacksmith shop, are even rarer. “I can’t tell you where another blacksmith shop is,” he said.
Meetinghouses, country stores, blacksmith shops and other old commercial buildings rarely survive because nobody lived in them. The village, a living history museum featuring 26 historic county buildings, has its share of old commercial structures, ranging from chicken coops to shoemaker shops, and when grant monies come through for restoration work the village usually calls Hand.
The village recently received a $6,600 matching grant from the 1772 Foundation, administered by New Jersey Historic Trust, to restore the blacksmith shop as well as the Ewing-Douglass house. The shop once operated in the Goshen section of Middle Township.
Village spokeswoman Kate Devaney said the 1772 Foundation has helped provide funding for several restorations here.
“They want to see you use the traditional materials and building methods,” Devaney said.
Hand said restorations have to be as authentic as possible, so they often involve a bit of detective work. In this case, he researched alongside architectural historian Joan Berkey.
“We studied every early house in Cape May County,” he said. “Between research, the reference library and hands-on experience studying lots and lots of buildings, we know how they did things.”
Village curator Samantha Bono said the restorations will be done in a way that preserves the historic integrity of the two buildings.
“The techniques and materials that will be used in this project, such as board and batten lap siding and cedar shake shingles, are period appropriate and were used in the original construction of the two buildings,” she said. “Historically accurate preservation work is integral to creating an authentic village experience for our guests.”
The siding for the blacksmith shop will be white cedar cut at a southern New Jersey sawmill. It’s currently curing. Hand said white pine would be cheaper, but the grant calls for historically accurate siding.
Hand will even use the machine-made square nails from the period, which he can still find. Interestingly, up until the 19th century most nails were individually made by the local blacksmith.
“In 1799, the first nail-making machines were invented but blacksmiths hand-forged every nail before that,” he said, adding that hand-made nails come to a point while machine-made nails have square bottoms.
The blacksmith shop is painted red, but Hand said it wasn’t until the 20th century that building exteriors were painted so it may have been added later.
“They were painted inside but old photos show bare wood on the outside,” he said. “In the Civil War era most buildings were weathered gray cedar.”
Barn red and whitewash are the common colors of the oldest buildings, although Hand found a butter-colored yellow paint under the barn red inside the village’s 1691 Coxe Hall Cottage. Old buildings sometimes contain big surprises.
Hand will put new cedar shake roofs on both buildings. In this case, going fully authentic with southern New Jersey cedar was not an option.
“I use western red cedar from the Pacific Northwest and Canada,” Hand said. “Once it weathers, all cedar turns gray.”
Another option for old buildings is getting original materials — everything from wood to iron strap hinges — from companies that recycle such materials. Hand sometimes travels to Lancaster County, Pa., to buy from companies that make a living dismantling old buildings.
Bono said the blacksmith shop was originally on Goshen Road and may have been constructed partially from wood taken from a barn. She said Hand also gave her a useful tip on having the new cedar roof last longer. Copper will be put on top and rainwater will bleed enough of the metal to prevent moss from growing on the shakes.
The Ewing-Douglass house, which now serves as the village ice cream parlor, was built as a farmhouse in 1850 on Town Bank Road. The 48-acre tract was owned by the Ewing family but Nathaniel Douglass lived in the house until 1906.
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