Heineman House Puzzle and Artistry on Columbia Square Trust Lot

The Frederick William Heineman House at 125-127 Habersham St. is no. 2 on this map of Columbia Ward

Southeast room fireplace, cooking crane

A cooking crane, an arm that would have held a pot, still hung in the basement fireplace of the brick  Heineman House in 1991. Victorian coal grates had been added to other fireplaces. A boot scraper was in the iron work of the front stairway. Chiseled Roman numerals on joists, typical from 1800 through 1860, marked the build-by-number wooden pieces as they had in the houses across Columbia Square.

Mills Lane IV and his mother, Anne, working with architect Harvie Jones and Turner Construction, had just finished the restoration of the c. 1810 wood frame Ball Houses on the southeast side of the square. They had more projects under way.

The brick house on the southwest trust lot was built for Frederick William Heineman in 1842 at 125-127 Habersham Street. He owned a store where he auctioned his wares, and he served as landlord of other properties. Heineman died in Savannah at age 54 in 1848.

Before restoration

Views showing two entry stairs  (northeast entry not original)

The Heineman House during restoration, 1991

Mills was still traveling in 1991 as he was finishing his Architecture of the Old South book series but would return to walk the streets of Savannah with Harvie, discuss details, and check progress on projects. Harvie put notes, drawings, instructions, photos, and letters in a signature 2-inch black binder. He said that he examined approximately 250 photographs of the Heineman house conditions and similar intact houses such as Remshart Row at 102-112 West Jones St. built in 1854.

William Remshart Row, 102-112 West Jones Street, 1854

Denticulated cornice

Mills wrote to Harvie who was based in Alabama: “The third story [of the Heineman House] does not appear in the 1871 bird’s eye [map] view. I would remove the third story and recreate the typical parapet wall with denticulated cornice seen on other Savannah houses of the period. As my mother has so wisely suggested, I would add a cast-iron balcony along the north side of the first (parlor) story, overlooking a small side garden. The house is utterly ordinary except for an unusual stair arrangement.”

Ultimately the third story stayed and the balcony scheme did not, although a page of traditional ironwork patterns from a Birmingham foundry is in the notebook as well as photos of houses with side balconies.

“We will tentatively plan the house as a basement apartment and a three-story apartment above that,” Mills wrote to Harvie. “We will delete the proposed side balcony and turn the existing door into a window. The original stoop will be retained, but a modern enclosure on the front, within brick piers, will be removed.”

The Heineman House had always been planned as more of a renovation rather than a true restoration.

Cove joints were carved into the stucco in an alternating ashlar pattern  (in this view they await their pencil stripes)

“I have discussed the project with Jim Turner,” Mills wrote to Harvie. “We want to take a somewhat different approach to this project than with the first two on Habersham Street, which deserved the absolutely purist approach. With the Heineman House we want to spare no expense with the new stucco, and penciling the joints (something that has never been done in modern times in Savannah), but with the interior I want to use stock materials where new materials are needed and would ask to try to keep costs down as much as possible, but keeping in mind the general standards of historical appearance I would wish.”

Harvie sent plans to Ralph Anderson who was working for Turner: “Attached are 4 copies of the ‘ashlar layout’ elevations. … I’ve laid them out so the ‘stones’ should be more or less equal in size.”

Harvie regularly made notes about what methods and materials would last and be helpful to craft workers in the future.

“The historical examples I’ve seen of this treatment (including the 136 Habersham ‘north house’) have a slight cove joint of about 1/4 inch wide by 1/8 inch deep, plus the ‘penciled’ paint stripe. I recommend we use the cove joints as well as the paint stripe so that when the stucco is repainted in 6 to 8 years, the joint pattern will remain to serve as a guide in the re-penciling work. If it doesn’t get re-penciled at some point, we’ll at least have the cove joints to relieve the big stucco surfaces.”

Harvie relied on Ralph to double check materials.

“I’m concerned about the proposal to nail galvanized lath to the existing wall, for it is inevitable that this lath will rust (and expand) at some point. Please ask your stucco sub to see if there is a system and material he has confidence in that does not involve metal lath. Today’s galvanizing is so thin that it is not much better than a coat of paint in delaying (not preventing) rust. If your sub does not know of such a non-lath system, I’d ask to see a metal-lath installation that is at least 20 years old. Mills should participate in this important technical decision.”

Harvie repeated the need for durability: “A copy of a simple leader-head [the device that catches the rain water from the gutters on top of the downspout] design is attached. It should be made of either copper or solid zinc. Galvanized metal will rust-out in 10 to 14 years and is a waste of time and money. The copper can be painted if you prefer, with proper preparation and paint.”

Stucco, old and new, was a big concern.“ Most modern stucco is done with a ‘sand-texture’ finish. Historically, this stucco should be as smooth as interior plaster. Get a sample for Mills to approve before you begin,” Harvie wrote to Ralph.

“If you end up with conventional (but smooth) stucco, it is critical that it be properly cured to minimize cracking, either with a curing agent or several days of damp-curing,” Harvie emphasized.

Gunite, a mixture of sand, cement, and water had likely been sprayed over the Savannah gray brick in the 1960s. “We will need to check with an experienced plasterer on the technical feasibility of placing a new layer of stucco over existing paint and old cement-plaster stucco,” Harvie wrote.

One company recommended sandblasting to remove the old paint and to roughen the old stucco, then to wash off the stucco dust. Harvie compared costs and specifications on two companies’ products for their “smooth texture (not ‘sand’ texture) stucco which contains a curing and elastic mix which they report can be applied as thin as 1/4 – 1/8 inch over the old stucco.”

The artistry was the next step. “The ‘penciling’ must be done neatly and straight. A small artist’s brush (a ‘pencil’) is used, with a guide-dowel to slide the brush along in a mechanically straight line. Mills has had someone do this in his entry hall, and he may be able to give you some craftsmen’s names,” Harvie wrote to Ralph. “I doubt that a regular commercial painter would have the temperament for this sort of painting, but you could give them a try.”

Mills wanted the pencil joints to be striking, “perhaps painting the stucco a dark peach or eggplant color, or a dark gray, with cream joints.”

Discussion of the parapet and third floor also absorbed pages and time.

“When Ralph uncovered the top of the exterior wall, the evidence is clear that the Heineman House never had a parapet,” Harvie wrote. But Mills decided he liked the typical parapet example of Remshart Row even if it wasn’t original to the Heineman House.

Harvie scribbled in his notes: “Esthetics over historic accuracy.”

Mills based many decisions on Ralph’s investigative work.

“Ralph has found no evidence that the stucco had projecting lintels [support above windows and doors], so we are planning to repair the stucco without them; we are also increasing the height of the roof parapet by about three brick courses.” Mills wrote to Harvie.

Sketches and photos provided details for discussion. Ralph traced a plaster crown moulding remnant in the entry hall, an interior window stop, an original mullion, and a mortise.

There is foot-wide heart pine flooring on the third level, sash-saw marks on joist and deck boards, jack-planed plank walls on the fourth floor, and an original lock.

Extra wide heart pine flooring

Lock with trademark seal

Harvie wrote to Ball and Ball of Exton, Penn., to track down the brass trademark seal on the rimlocks: “The seal reads ‘Pendulum Latch’ on top and a name that may be ‘J.Young, Patentee’ on the bottom. A circular coat of arms with adjoining floral/animal figures (not clear) is in the center.

Lock with trademark seal

“We would greatly appreciate it if you could shed any light on this lock-maker. Do you have a reproduction lock that is similar to this? We will be needing about 15. Ball & Ball is currently furnishing hardware for three c. 1810 houses on Habersham Street nearby.”

The window under the northeast stoop has no jack-work above, pointing out it was cut in later. Broken brick ends indicate a door was once a window. Paint showed the basement floor had been lowered.

Annotated letters flew back and forth. Harvie and Mills didn’t always agree. Ralph noted that they removed plaster on level three despite Harvie’s recommendation to try to save the old plaster.

“On the enclosed plan,” Mills wrote, “I have marked my current ideas for interior planning and would appreciate your redrawing these so that I can present them to my mother by September 9th. The red markings are my latest thoughts – ignore the others. We will raise the level of the basement floor as you suggest.”

Harvie thought there would be a moisture problem if they didn’t raise the floor back to its original level, but they would still retain a basement ceiling height of 7 feet.

Copies of pages from Savannah’s building code are copied in the notebook. The code required stair rails to be 36 inches high. The ones in the house were 35 inches. Harvie asked Ralph to check for a variance.

3rd floor stair hall before restoration

Stairwell before restoration

Stair after restoration

Basements and attics produced clues for the renovations.

“Ralph found what appears to be an original 6 X 6 back-porch column in the basement similar to the one found under the Habersham Street houses,” Harvie wrote to Mills. “I’ve asked him to use it as a model since it is similar in design (and therefore cost) to the one I’ve detailed.”

A mid 1960s renovation enclosed the whole rear balcony, shown here in extreme disrepair

Back porches after the restoration

Mills wrote back: “Though it may be against Classical precedent, do you think we could have only one column in the middle of the back porch, instead of paired columns – a single one works better with the windows and actually makes a better spatial proportion?”

Shutters were also a question. “The sash-blinds Ralph found in the attic have mortise, tenon and peg joints, but narrow rails and stiles,” Harvie wrote to Mills. “My guess is they are Victorian, from the second set of blinds on the house. Unless you decide otherwise, I’d use heavier proportions more like the 1840’s blinds I’ve typically seen.”

Shutter durability has been an issue throughout the historic district. “The redwood ‘stock’ blind dimensions Ralph describes sound tolerable,” Harvie wrote. “I wish that the rails were wider and that they had through-mortise and tenon joints. Ralph will reinforce the concealed side with metal ell-brackets to try to keep them from falling apart.”

The Historic Foundation selected the Heineman House for a 1992 Preservation Award.

Southwest 3rd floor bedroom before restoration

First floor kitchen before restoration

Fire evidence in 4th floor bedroom

Parlor after restoration

Southwest bedroom after restoration

Heineman House after restoration

Southern side view after restoration

Today foliage covers more than half of the house that was so carefully renovated. Shutters are falling in pieces off the exterior. It is a sad state of affairs for a stately house on a trust lot of one of Savannah’s most famous squares.

State of the house in 2018  (photo from Google Earth)

Dilapidated and missing shutters  (photo from Google Earth)

Vines encroaching  (photo from Google Earth)

Rexanna Keller Lester is working on a book about Mills Bee Lane IV and his preservation legacy.

For more on architecture and the history of the South, click on the “Books” tab at the top of the page.

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