Re-Plastering The Jean [Jacob] Hasbrouck House
New Paltz, New York USA – August 2007
New Paltz was founded in 1678 by French Huguenots, and one of its earliest houses, the Jean [Jacob] Hasbrouck House built in 1721, remains in nearly original condition. Its restoration was a multi-year, cooperative effort between non-profit organizations from the US and France. Adventures in Preservation joined the effort in 2007 at the suggestion of Andy deGruchy, a historic masonry expert and one of AiP’s expert leaders. Having led AiP’s highly successful project at the Weisel Bridge in Quakertown, Pennsylvania, Andy believed our approach would be a great addition to the project.
Project and Results
The primary concern was a bulging wall on the north side of the house. Water had penetrated the wall, and decades of freezing and thawing led to separation of the stone from the interior structure. This problem was first noted in the 1890s! One hundred years later, the wall was completely disassembled and rebuilt using the original stones. The AiP crew took on the next task in the project: replastering the interior north wall with clay or mud plaster.
As with all AiP’s projects, the emphasis was on the use of traditional materials. Materials included local clay and straw, and lime imported from France that was very similar to what the colonists used.
Period materials required period techniques. Since the clay plaster was too heavy for modern tumbling, materials were placed in a mixing area on the lawn and volunteers mixed the plaster by stomping with their bare feet – just as workers had done 300 years before. Stomping was just the beginning of the fun, however. Applying mud plaster involved literally throwing it at the wall – and occasionally at each other. Andy claimed that this manner of application increased the bonding, for both plaster and participants.
The final task involved conserving the adjoining historic plaster. The team consolidated, stabilized and saved as much original mud/straw daubing and finish plaster as possible, using syringes and funnels to inject a lime/casein grout to re-establish a bond.
During two weeks of work with almost 400 hours of donated labor, the crew used three tons of clay plaster, applying two coats to the north wall of five rooms on two floors. Rooms were ready for the third layer, the topcoat, to be applied that fall. The Huguenot Historical Society reopened Hasbrouck House to the public in May 2008.
Hands-on and Beyond
Feet certainly played a role in this project! Its success was due to successful stomping on the part of all volunteers.
The Hasbrouck house was the first building purchased by Huguenot Historical Society, and it has been open to the public since 1899. This volunteer restoration project was a cooperative effort involving The Huguenot Historical Society, AiP, Preservation Volunteers of New York City, and the French organization REMPART.
Volunteers’ hard work – and it was hard work – paid off. Andy deGruchy, the project leader, had nothing but admiration for the work crew: “The work was difficult, since it required moving three tons of clay and straw daubing that we mixed with our feet and placed with our hands onto five walls in five rooms.”
The work was inspiring, too. Andy addressed the sense of wonder that comes with touching history: “I couldn’t help but think that the very pieces of mud and straw daubing I was holding in my hand were dated c. 1700 and placed by the actual hands of these people seeking out freedom and a new life.”