Documenting the Gilbert Brewery House

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Virginia City, Montana, USA – July 2006

historic preservation documentation volunteer project Virginia City Montana Adventures in PreservationAiP joined forces with the Virginia City Institute of Preservation Research and Technology to help advance their preservation education program. The goal of this program is to research and preserve the buildings of Virginia City, Montana, built during its booming gold rush days. Little did we know when we selected the Gilbert Brewery House as the focus of the project that a descendent of the brewery founders would join our team for the week of documentation work.

Virginia City Montana historic preservation documentation project, Adventures in PreservationChristian Richter, and his partner Henry Gilbert started their brewery business in Virginia City around 1865, building a large stone brewery and a home nearby. The objective of our team was to completely document the Gilbert House and investigate the condition of its materials. The brewery was built over a natural spring, which kept the beer cool but also caused major moisture damage in the group of buildings surrounding it. With serious deterioration coupled with mold, documentation was at times a daunting task done carefully.

Paul R. Wylie, an author and avid historian, is the grandson of Christian Richter. He shares his account of the week and the impact it made on him and on his wife, Arlene.

When my wife Arlene read that the Virginia City Institute for Preservation Research & Technology group was evaluating the Richter house in a week-long workshop, we couldn’t wait to sign up. To know the intimate details of the old, long vacant, stone house on the road leading to the brewery had always been one of my dreams. …

What Arlene and I didn’t know was that we were headed into one of the most enriching weeks we have ever had. Right from the start, when we walked into Jeff McDonald’s office, in the old territorial offices building…, we were treated to a brilliant seminar that dealt with not only the preservation of my grandfather’s house, but also the art of preservation.

historic building Virginia City Montana volunteer documentation project Adventures in Preservation experiential travelJeff and his crew carefully explained every detail of the process and as we started to evaluate the old house and its surroundings, we definitely got into hands-on experience that continued throughout the week. …

In the end though, it was not the added knowledge of Richter that carried the day. It was the understanding we gained into historic preservation technique so graciously passed on by Jeff McDonald and his crew.

At the end of their week, the three team members had contributed 105 hours of volunteer labor and finished the assessment and documentation of the house.

Jeff MacDonald, project leader and preservation specialist, emailed the AiP staff shortly after the project week ended:

Just wanted to let you know that we had a great workshop last week. I could not have been more pleased with the level of enthusiasm and the willingness of the group to tackle such a potentially scary scene.

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