Kris Hartzell is the Director of Facilities and Visitor Services, as well as our resident architectural historian.

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Dawes House East Terrace and Conservatory before they were altered in the 1950s

Many Evanstonians who passed by the Evanston History Center during the past year noticed an increased level of activity surrounding the Dawes House, from fencing and scaffolding to trucks and heavy digging equipment. The concern expressed by the community was reassuring, as it demonstrated the value the buildings and grounds hold for us all.

The Dawes House is a National Historic Landmark, the highest recognition awarded by the Department of the Interior for historic and architectural significance. As the home of the Evanston History Center, this building not only provides a venue for exhibits and programming, but it also houses our extensive archives and historic artifacts. The house is the largest, most complex, and most valuable artifact of our collection.  It is also operational; a functioning and interactive exhibit that enables us all to see beyond the boundaries of the here and now.

As the stewards of this irreplaceable asset of our cultural landscape, we made a commitment to maintain and support the building following responsible best practices. Therefore, we initiated a comprehensive assessment of the existing structure and systems, to ensure the viability of the building, while protecting its extraordinary workmanship, now and into the future.

The first step was to engage an architectural firm with experience in historic structures and materials, the nature of which can be unique and specialized in ways that are often different from modern methods.  After an extensive search process, we determined that the firm of Altusworks, Inc. was the best qualified to facilitate the project. Altusworks is based in Chicago, but our lead architect, Scott Utter, is an Evanston resident and member of the Evanston Preservation Commission. Working with the architects, the preservation professionals on our staff and board of trustees, then assembled a team of team of experts in the fields of masonry, structure and mechanical engineering to assess the structures and recommend a phased plan for restoration and sustainability.

The first objective was to find and prevent any active water infiltration to the house. We discovered several areas of penetration including the old conservatory foundation and open mortar joints in the brick exterior walls and stone foundation. Historic mortar was composed of natural materials that absorb and transmit moisture, thereby safeguarding the masonry structure. We matched the composition of the original mortar, and also discovered that the original color related visually to the red sandstone on the house. Much of that intricately carved sandstone ornamentation was removed in the 1950s, along with the huge porte cochere over the driveway.

One major project in the effort to stop active water damage was restoring the foundation and floor of the former conservatory. The iron and glass roof of the conservatory had long allowed water to penetrate the structure and damage the stone. The conservatory had been demolished in 1952, and the broken floor had exposed the interior foundation so that moisture and the incumbent mold were affecting the basement archives. Working with the original 1894 blueprints for the house, we were able to replicate the missing conservatory floor. Someday, perhaps, we will be able to replace the rest of the conservatory, and once again visitors to the house will be able to experience a winter garden.

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Posing in the conservatory, a member of the Sheppard family, plays upon the family name by dressing as a shepherdess, circa 1900.  Early signs of water damage to the conservatory pillars can be seen by her feet. The Sheppards built the house in 1894, Dawes purchased it in 1909.

Other components of the first phase of work included replacing a rusted steel lintel over the soaring dining room windows and adding support to structural beams in the coach house. Once the conservatory floor was in place, Neal Vogel of Restoric, Inc. fashioned new exterior access doors that open from the library and look as though they had always been there.

May Day, 1911. The assembled revelers get ready to begin the festivities along the back driveway; Mrs. Dawes can be seen at the far right in the long dress.  But lurking above are the telltale signs of water damage, white salts leaching through the brick above the tall dining room windows on the parapet wall.

May Day, 1911. The assembled revelers get ready to begin the festivities along the back driveway; Mrs. Dawes can be seen at the far right in the long dress.  But lurking above are the telltale signs of water damage, white salts leaching through the brick above the tall dining room windows on the parapet wall.

Over one hundred years later, the wall is rebuilt and the lintel above the windows, its reinforcing iron bar, now a pile of layered rust, is removed and replaced.

Over one hundred years later, the wall is rebuilt and the lintel above the windows, its reinforcing iron bar, now a pile of layered rust, is removed and replaced.

The second phase of work, begun in August 2013 and finished in December, focused on mechanical systems: the electricity, the heating, and the addition of air-conditioning. These were complicated and comprehensive projects that affected every nook and cranny of the house. Bulley & Andrews Construction Management skillfully supervised the multi-faceted undertaking, with Phil Robertson, another Evanstonian, as Senior Project Manager and Phil Kay as Superintendent. We were also fortunate to work with Mark Nussbaum of Architectural Consulting Engineers, an engineer specializing in planning and implementing geothermal installations for historic landmark buildings. He designed and engineered the mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems that constitute our geothermal installation.

Integrating modern technology into historic structures is a delicate process whose impact must be carefully measured and controlled.  Air-conditioning and humidification will stabilize the internal environment, protect our collection and aid in the comfort of our guests. The new electrical wiring will ensure we operate safely and well.

The two ends of the looped pipe protrude from one of the 16 geothermal “wells”, actually narrow bores that are drilled rather than dug.

The two ends of the looped pipe protrude from one of the 16 geothermal “wells”, actually narrow bores that are drilled rather than dug.

The drilling is facilitated by watered drilling mud, which is later dried, collected and removed. Right: Drilling rig on the lawn.

The drilling is facilitated by watered drilling mud, which is later dried, collected and removed. Right: Drilling rig on the lawn.

With the help of a grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, we were able to utilize geothermal technology for our heating and cooling. Using a closed, ground loop system, sixteen vertical wells were bored three hundred feet deep in our east lawn. They were then connected together and brought under the new conservatory foundation and into the house. Inside, seven heat pumps transfer the mean temperature the earth has imparted to the glycol solution circulating through the system into either heat or cooling.  We also retained the original radiant heating system, replacing the behemoth 60-year-old boiler with a new, more compact high-efficiency boiler. This redundancy serves to support the geothermal, and as an emergency back-up should either system fail.  New insulation was introduced through the attic and on all existing and new piping. We are happy to report that this new equipment has functioned admirably and well throughout the past winter’s extreme weather.  We look forward to the summer and experiencing air-conditioning for the first time in the house’s 120-year history.

A thing of beauty: our new boiler and mechanical room. Once almost entirely consumed by the boiler, it is now spacious and bright.

A thing of beauty: our new boiler and mechanical room. Once almost entirely consumed by the boiler, it is now spacious and bright.

Geothermal piping, insulation and new conduit in interstitial spaces.

Geothermal piping, insulation and new conduit in interstitial spaces.

All the new equipment was installed in or from the attic or the basement, through previously unexplored crawl-spaces and behind walls, so as not to disturb the primary historic interiors. This also enabled us to stay open for tours and events. We appreciated the understanding of researchers when our basement archives had to be closed for several months to allow for the vast network of ductwork, piping, electrical wiring and conduit to be put into place. It was an invigorating experience for staff as we moved, cleaned and put back into place every artifact in our collection, as wave after wave of workmen swarmed the premises. We are grateful for the expertise and appreciation that every one of our new friends showed as they contributed their share toward helping sustain this beautiful building and all it contains.

The dust has settled now, for the most part. We are happy to note that we came in on time and under budget.  In the near future, we will begin planning for the third phase of work, which will focus on masonry restoration of the exterior.  

Each step of the project has revealed hidden treasures, from the 1893 calling card found behind a baseboard to locating the long-buried concrete moat where Dana Dawes used to row his boat. We look forward to learning more about the past as we continue to plan for the future.

The Dawes’ son takes a safe ride in his boat on the “moat”, a small concrete stream fed by a waterfall from the terrace.  The waterfall is still visible, but the moat has been buried for many years, making it an exciting archaeological discovery by the drilling team. We still do not know the scope of the moat, but we hope to be able to explore it further this summer.

The Dawes’ son takes a safe ride in his boat on the “moat”, a small concrete stream fed by a waterfall from the terrace.  The waterfall is still visible, but the moat has been buried for many years, making it an exciting archaeological discovery by the drilling team. We still do not know the scope of the moat, but we hope to be able to explore it further this summer.

If you would like to support our ongoing restoration of the Dawes House, please contact Eden Juron Pearlman at ejpearlman@evanstonhistorycenter.org, 847-475-3410