Historic Finishes at the Dr. Daems-Corbett House

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Virginia City, Montana, USA – July 2007

Historic Preservation volunteers tour Virginia City, Montana Adventures in PreservaitonAiP volunteers traveled to Virginia City National Historic Landmark District to work with Jeff MacDonald, head of the Virginia City Institute for Preservation Research and Technology. Virginia City grew quickly during the 19th century gold rush and has outstanding examples of high style finishes rarely seen among the hastily built structures of western mining towns.

Our motivated group – from various parts of the US and from Cyprus – was willing to give up cell phone access to have access to a series of strictly-maintained historic buildings that serve as a laboratory for researching the properties of interior and exterior finishes.

Instruction began after a tour of this still-living ghost town. Building elements on display included sod roofs, log siding, plank siding, rock structures, bricks and even siding of flattened oil cans.

virginia city montana historic preservation volunteers whitewash Adventures in PreservationThe group examined a variety of finishes including lime-based coatings, paints, varnishes and decorative treatments. Jeff explained how they were prepared and the best use of each. The team used their newly acquired skills at the c.1875 Dr. Daems-Corbett House. They renewed the faux finish on four doors in the house, making the grain resemble a more exotic wood than the pine found in Montana, just as the original builders had done.

They then turned to cottage’s exterior, applying multiple thin layers of white wash to portions of the wood siding and painting other areas with a linseed oil paint made from a mix of oil and sienna earth pigment. The tally for all this finish work was 280 hours of volunteer labor.

Jeff and the group toured Nevada City, located just a mile and a half from Virginia City. Nevada City contains approximately 50 historic buildings, but in contrast to Virginia City, a great many of them have been moved in from other locations around the state.

historic preservationvolunteer vacation Virginia City Montana Adventures in PreservationOn their final day, the group was awakened by loud mooing – coming from a cattle drive right down the main street of town. There were hundreds of cattle walking side by side down the road as far as you could see. About an hour later they disappeared over a distant hill into new pasture. Talk about experiencing your destination!

As the week ended, Angela Sapp, a retired art teacher, stated:

The workshop was unforgettable, but in addition to it I’ll always remember viewing the exquisite mountain scenery, panning for gold and garnets, watching theatrical and vaudeville-style shows, and enjoying some great food!

Jeff MacDonald gave high praise to AiP staff:

You really do go the extra mile to bring opportunities like this within reach of those who would have quite a time making it happen otherwise.

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