The Willow Bunch Telegraph Office restoration project is an ambitious undertaking aiming to restore the building to the look it had in the early 1900s when it served as the telegraph office for the Willow Bunch area. When the project is done the exterior should look, like it does in the circa 1909 photos of the building. The interior will also be brought back, as much as possible and practical, to what it was like during the early years. However, that is more of a challenge since there is only one known photo of the interior, one of the kitchen. Fortunately evidence hidden behind more recent layers of wall and floor coverings provided some good insight to the early look of the interior.
This project is a major ground up restoration, parts of which are still in progress today. Project planning began in the summer of 2006 and the actual work on the building began immediately after the property was acquired in the fall of 2007.
When telegraph office was built things were quite primitive in comparison to today's standards. The original building had no electricity, no indoor plumbing, no basement, and the heating system was a coal fired heater and stove. However, as time went on modern day amenities like indoor plumbing, electrical wiring and lighting, and a centralized heating system were added. Actually, those systems were added and then later upgraded, often more then once, and by 2007 everything was in need of repair or replacement once again.
The building was left vacant and essentially abandoned in 1997, so by 2007 time and neglect had taken their toll on all aspects of the building. The heating and plumbing systems needed to be completely replaced, the electrical system was in a questionable state, and the basement was in very bad shape, just to name a few.
What follows is a summary of the restoration project, visit each of the "read more..." links to get more details and pictures for each activity. The various activities of the project are documented in what is hopefully an easy to follow linear progression. However, that is not how things really happened. In reality, many of the activities were interleaved as a result of working around various factors that could influence a project of this magnitude (the weather, waiting on supplies, waiting on other contractors, or inspections, etc).
There was a need to make the building liveable as soon as possible, so once the exterior was sealed up (i.e. roof complete, house wrap in place, and windows and doors installed) the focus switched to the interior.
The project began in the fall of 2007 with months of demolition work to expose the original building that was hidden behind layers of material and other modifications done during the building's 100 plus year history. The lean-to on the west side, an addition originally created around 1919 and expanded in the early 1950s, was removed because prolonged periods of water infiltration from a leaky roof had taken its toll. Besides, this addition took away from the original look of the property and that sought by the project. Several layers of siding were also removed to expose the original siding and window openings.
The interior was similarly stripped back to the original layer of lath and plaster. Later that too was removed along with all the electrical wiring, plumbing, and the heating system to essentially wipe the slate clean for the complete ground up restoration of the building.
The building was originally supported by wooden posts. Later a root cellar was dug under the house and a rubble stone foundation was installed around the perimeter to keep the elements out. Over the years the root cellar space under the house was dug out more and more to accommodate modern conveniences like a central heating system, indoor plumbing, and electrical wiring. This excavation weakened the rubble stone foundation so attempts were made to address this. In the early 1950s a cindercrete block wall was installed along the back of the basement. This was a good start but it did not go far enough. The eastern portion of the rubble stone foundation had completely failed by 2007 leading to numerous problems.
As such, from the outset of the project it was clear that it was not practical to repair the old foundation. The basement needed to be completed replaced with a modern one. This was the only way to ensure the building had a proper foundation to carry it long into the future.
A new basement was installed under the building after the bulk of the demolition work was complete.
Once the building was attached to the new basement it was time to get the exterior in shape. That work began with the reconstruction of the east lean-to. That was followed by repairs to the exterior frame.
The repair work on the exterior frame including things like restoring all the original window and door openings. Major enhancements were also made to the rafters and a new roof deck was installed. This was followed by the installation of a new cedar roof.
New windows and doors were installed once the structural integrity of the exterior was restored. The windows were special ordered to match the originals. They are single hung all wood (fir) windows like the originals, but with modern energy efficient weather stripping and dual pane glass. The doors are modern insulated doors with a look similar to that of the originals.
One of the final and most significant activities on the exterior was the installation of new siding. The siding used was custom milled fir siding made to match the original. This wood siding had to be painted and the colors chosen (white with dark green trim) were based on colors found during the demolition work.
The goal of the project was to restore the building interior, as much as possible and practical, to what it was like during the early years, while including modern amenities and building practices to essentially create a new home with an old look and feel.
The demolition work revealed things like the original floor plan of the building, shapes and sizes of window and door trim, baseboards, chair rails, and picture moldings, as well as flooring material and color schemes. The restoration work aims to preserve these attributes, and even some original material, as much as possible and practical.
The initial part of the interior reconstruction addressed a few structural issues like restoring load bearing walls on the main floor and repairing the second floor joists. Afterwards the 2x4 exterior walls were shimmed to obtain a 2x6 wall thickness which could accommodate R20 insulation like most modern homes.
Once these initial tasks were complete the rest of interior work was basically the same as one would find in any modern home. New electrical wiring, insulation, and plumbing were installed along with new heating and ventilation systems. That was followed by drywall and then the installation of things like the kitchen cabinets, modern appliances, plumbing fixtures, as well as flooring and trim.