Restoration work on one of Joplin’s antique mansions is slow but sure as construction workers accomplish intricate repairs intended to give the Romansque landmark new life as a living history museum.
At nearly 130 years old, the rehabilitation that started 18 months ago is more than cosmetic. It involves inch-by-inch work that is currently focused on keeping the 1890 house standing another 130 years.
“We are very concerned about the structural components,” said Brad Belk, museum director and curator. “Safety is our No. 1 priority. And in the end, money could not be spent more wisely in the sense that we are going to have these beautifully restored structures for future generations to enjoy.”
The project is the creation of TAMKO Building Products CEO David Humphreys and his wife, Debra, through a trust they formed called Joplin Historical Neighborhoods Museum Inc.
In addition to the Schifferdecker castle-like structure at 422 S. Sergeant Ave., the museum project will take in the next-door home of Schifferdecker’s friend and business partner, Edward Zelleken, at 406 S. Sergeant Ave., as well as the nearby home of A.H. Rogers, 621 W. Fourth St.
For now, the lion’s share of the work is concentrated on the Schifferdecker house.
Though Belk can’t say what costs are so far, a city building permit issued for the entire three-house project last year listed the cost at $1 million.
“A lot of progress has been made, and a lot of it is inside,” that cannot be seen by viewers from the street, Belk said. The major projects have been to clean and stabilize the exterior brick and install bond beams in the walls to support the structure and a new truss system to hold up what will be a slate-covered roof.
“We thank the former owners for keeping them at least in the shape they are in so that we could address the issues. We really want to make a statement here, and I think they will,” Belk said of the houses.
The walls of the house were built with three layers of brick. Repairs had to be made to all the layers, including removing brick that had softened over time and become unstable or was falling out.
A large project involved the removal of the back wall of the house.
“This entire brick wall and all the (window and door) arches had to be replaced,” Belk said, pointing out the wall. “And why was that? Well, it all stems back to that horrific 1991 fire of Gertrude and Bill Freeman, when they lost their lives here at the house. The entire wall was compromised, and we had a situation where the brick was so deteriorated it was easy to just be pulled out.”
That meant replacing all 1,500 bricks.
“The other thing with a 130-year-old structure is finding materials that match,” Belk said. “Trying to find brick that identically matches this was a challenge.”
“We went to a St. Louis salvage yard — St. Louis is the brick capital of the world — and though we don’t know where it came from, we did find a brick that is a very, very suitable match,” Belk said.
In addition to the brick, another issue with both the main house and the carriage house is structural problems that were causing walls to pull apart.
To fix that issue, bond beams consisting of five layers of wood glued and bolted together had to be installed in the walls of the house and the carriage house to support the masonry.
A bond beam is a horizontal structural beam installed near the top of a masonry wall. It provides horizontal strength to a wall that cannot be braced by the floor or roof structure.
Each 8-foot length of a beam weighs 60 pounds. It takes three men to install a beam, which is done by drilling a hole through the beams and installing a long bolt, which attaches to holes drilled in the brick.
“When it’s done, it will anchor or secure the walls,” Belk said.
In the carriage house, part of the wood securing the doors rotted and had to be replaced along with the installation of bond beams around the interior perimeter.
“It’s just part of restoration and preservation, but we want these buildings to last a tremendously long time. We want future generations to enjoy this. And let me point out: We could not have a better group of craftsmen. We have wood craftsmen, mason craftsmen and slate craftsmen. They are integrated and work very well with each other, and it has been an amazing process to see. It is slow. It is tedious. But it is the only route we are going to go,” Belk said.
Another project is the restoration of the Carthage limestone courses that form the base of the house. The old mortar holding the large, thick blocks together is being chiseled out and new applied.
While Carthage limestone was once quarried nearby at the now defunct Carthage Marble and White Lime Co., it is closed, so finding replacement limestone has been a challenge.
That is where providence played a role.
Recently, the Knights of Columbus council of St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church had its former meeting hall at 727 Byers Ave. demolished. Steve Duncan, the grand knight, said the hall was dilapidated and the organization did not have the funds to fix the building.
“We decided it would be better to do away with it and tear it down,” he said.
The Rev. J. Friedel, pastor, said he thought the stones should be kept because the church is built of the same material and may need repairs of its own someday.
Ultimately, the Joplin Historic Preservation Commission learned of the demolition and stone, and the parish was contacted by a representative of the historic houses project, wanting to use part of it.
“I’m glad they can use it,” Duncan said. “It’s really nice to contribute to those historical houses.”
There are several places where the limestone used in the Knights of Columbus building will be used to fill in the Schifferdecker foundation. One is at the back wall.
Another place is on the southwest corner of the house, where the former Hulbert-Glover Mortuary, which owned the house in the late 1940s and early 1950s, took out limestone to install a doorway to move caskets inside.
“Hopefully you won’t even notice that happened (when it is repaired). It will be an amazing transformation,” Belk said. “These are the kinds of things we have been dealing with. It’s slow. It’s tedious. But we have to be very thorough because we are making a statement to future generations,” by returning the house to its original condition as much as possible.
Another project yet to be done is some restoration work to the terra cotta trim in the exterior walls and on the front porch.
It is hard to tell when the Schifferdecker work will be done, Belk said, adding: “The timeline is fluid because of the additional work needed for the restoration. When we uncover these issues, we have to deal with them.”
Belk commended the work of project architect and director Michael Griffin and the contractor, Mid-Continent Restoration.
“We just always come up with the solution,” Belk said. “At some points of time, I wonder how we got there, but there is a solution to all our problems. So I can’t brag enough about the team. They are part of this story, this incredible restoration effort.
“We’re putting preservation and restoration on the map in Joplin, Missouri,” he added. “This will be a model for others to work from, to admire and to learn.”
Mike Engstrom, foreman for the contractor, Mid-Continent Restoration, said: “This is an awesome job because we are doing everything 100%. If there’s a brick that needs to be replaced, if its cracked, we’re replacing it. We’re rebuilding the (window) arches that are bad,” along with taking out and replacing all of the tuckpoint in the brick and the Carthage limestone.
There are round-corner bricks edging the window openings. Engstrom used rotozip and Dremel tools with masonry bits to round off the corners of the bricks by hand.
The company’s work also involved removing the original butter joints, or mortar, between all of the bricks and putting in new mortar.
“That posed a challenge because we have to cut those (mortar joints) without damaging the original brick, so we do a lot of that by hand. This house was a challenge to get (the brick walls) clean because it had some atmospheric stains,” which are caused by weather or previous work on the house. Also, the brick had been covered with a lime wash at one time, which is a process of painting on a limestone-based paint that dries to a chalky finish to give an aged appearance.
Also, the house at one time was painted and the mortar joints as well as the brick covered in a deep red. That makes today’s new, white tuckpointing done as close as possible to the original color stand out against the brick, giving the house a new look.
“So this house was a challenge to get clean,” Engstrom said of the exterior.