Creswell, Here to Help

Old Creswell school gives up some secrets

Editor’s note: On behalf of National Historic Preservation Month, The Chronicle will publish articles each week relating to historical preservation on the editorial page. This week, Cal Lewis, general contractor for the Old Schoolhouse, was invited by Creswell Heritage Foundation President Verlean McCoy to write his take on the importance of historical preservation.

I work on old buildings. My business card states that I am a historic preservation specialist which means, as I like to say – I get to play with sharp tools.
From lighthouses on the coast to barns in eastern Oregon; log lodges in the Cascades to a water-powered flour mill in the Willamette Valley, I have been fortunate enough to work on a large variety of historic buildings all over the state.
The first thing I do when faced with a new project on a historic building is to conduct an investigation. I discover how old it is, how it was built, and who built it. I look for any unique features, the materials it was built with and the tools that were used. All this information is used as a guide during the restoration process.
While looking at the Old Creswell Schoolhouse – or library, as some people know it – I noticed it was erected using a style called balloon framing. This simply means that the wall studs go from the foundation all the way up to the roof structure that, originally, on this building, was two stories high. The entire frame works as one complete unit.
This method of balloon framing became popular replacing earlier timber framing methods. Timber frames required large timbers and very skilled carpenters to complete the intricate joinery. The large timbers – usually shaped square by hand (hewn) – were extremely heavy, complicating the assembly process.
When saw mills came to the area, it became possible to construct buildings with a large quantity of smaller sawn-wood frame member. Building was quicker due to the ease of handling the wood, so the use of balloon framing became widespread.
Today’s buildings are built using platform framing. Each floor has a complete frame with a deck or platform on it. This method is even faster than balloon framing. Unlike balloon frames, each floor works independent of the other floors.
During this current stage of the restoration process, the Old Creswell Schoolhouse is getting a new concrete foundation and some repairs to the frame.
The school’s 1874 balloon frame sits on a foundation of heavy wood beams, which previously sat on stacks of large rocks. It looked a little precarious the way it sat on those rocks, of which many of those rocks were cracked and crumbling.
The wooden foundation beam on the south side of the building was very rotten, causing the wall to sink and bow to the outside about two inches. During repairs to this wall, I discovered that the foundation beam-work closely resembled how a timber frame was constructed.
It appears that the building is a bit of a link between the two building methods. The studs in the walls were notched into the foundation beam and the corners of the four beams had a mortise and tenon joint which interlocked. This corner joint was fastened with a hand-carved wooden peg. This is a method found throughout timber frame buildings.
With the balloon frame of the Old Schoolhouse sitting on this heavy timbered foundation, it was possible to place the building on the intermittent stacks of rocks. This method made a continuous brick or stone foundation unnecessary.
I was able to salvage part of one of these wood beam joints from the southwest corner of the school. The Creswell Heritage Foundation will save this salvaged artifact with a few other items that have been found.
If you look closely at the salvaged joint, you can see many of the original tool marks. As I look at the chisel marks, I wonder who it was that did this work and imagine what it would have been like for those craftsmen who constructed the school. It gives me a familiar feeling of connection with the carpenters who worked on the building before me.
The Old Creswell Schoolhouse has many stories to tell. These stories – whether about how it was built or about the people who have worked or spent time in the building – provide a connection to the past.
When the next three phases of the restoration are completed and the building is once more in service, new stories will be created adding to the building’s significance for members of the community of Creswell.



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