Preservation Projects Underway

West Façade Restoration and Repairs

Work has begun on the restoration and repair of the west façade of the Old State House. The entire west façade, which faces Court Street, is scheduled for cut out and repointing of all mortar joints. This work will include resetting all loose bricks and replacing isolated deteriorated bricks. The windows on the west façade will also all be repaired and restored. These repairs will ensure that the current water leak issues are resolved and the Old State House and its collections will be preserved for future generations. Scaffolding will be up throughout the fall of 2014.

Unicorn and Lion Restoration

The east façade of the Old State House is surmounted by a gilded lion and silvered unicorn, artifacts of the buildings' role as the seat of royal authority during the colonial era. The symbols hold international significance of their own, as the Lion is the symbol of England and the Unicorn the symbol of Scotland. On July 18, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was read to the citizens of Boston for the first time, from the balcony of the Old State House. Afterward, jubilant colonists pulled down the lion and unicorn and burned them in a bonfire, along with other symbols of the crown. They were not replaced until the building was saved from demolition, in the early 1880s. The northeast winds that blow off of Boston Harbor, especially during the winter months when they drive rain and snow, are focused to gale force by downtown skyscrapers and buffet the northeast corner of the Old State House with particular intensity. Today, the aluminum leaf on the unicorn and the gilding on the lion have nearly vanished, exposing the green sizing beneath. This fall (2014) both the unicorn and lion will be removed from the building and taken to a conservator's studio for several weeks before being returned to the top of the Old State House.

East Balcony Preservation

On July 18, 1776 the Declaration of Independence was read for the first time from the east balcony of the Old State House. This iconic balcony is in dire need of repairs and restoration. Due to their exposure to the periodic severe weather conditions in Boston's historic center, wood and masonry throughout the building have deteriorated significantly over the years. The decay of wood elements in the easy balcony is typical of preservation struggles faced by historic sites that also function as museums, as they must maintain stable interior environments for their artifacts, as well as for visitors and staff members. Dramatic differences between interior and exterior levels of temperature and humidity create stressful conditions in the areas like the easy balcony where the two environments meet. An engineering study of the balcony conducted in 2011 concluded that the balcony remains structurally sound, but that its wooden and metal elements require major restoration and refurbishment, particularly where they join the building's masonry. The work currently being done includes:

  • Replacement of the decayed wooden corner posts and rails;
  • Resurfacing of the copper deck;
  • Repair of the doors and surrounds;
  • Re-flashing and sealing of areas connecting the masonry and wood;
  • Repainting of all woodwork.

 

Preservation Projects - Ongoing

Window and Carpentry Repairs

The Old State House has a total of 80 sash windows on the three main stories. These sash windows have a total of 1,544 individual panes of glass and require significant ongoing maintenance. We are in the process of working with the preservation carpentry program at North Bennet Street School to repair some of these windows and also complete a few other carpentry projects at the Old State House.

 

Completed Preservation Projects

Repair and Enhancement of HVAC System (completed 2013)

The Old State House was climate-controlled for the first time in 1992. The HVAC system installed then is still in use today, and until 2007 ran on a 1992 DOS computer. During the spring of 2008, the control system and the chiller were replaced.

In the fall of 2013 the Society upgraded and repaired the HVAC's four air-handlers, all valves, as well as the steam humidification system. This work, along with a regular maintenance plan, will help to ensure that temperature and humidity are continually held to appropriate levels, not only for visitors, but also for the priceless artifacts displayed within the building.

Restoration of the Tower (completed 2008)

During the 18th century, the Old State House tower was one of the highest spots in town and an excellent place to watch the ships come and go in Boston Harbor. In recent years it was an excellent place to get wet during a north-easter. Much of the tower’s wood siding had become so rotted that water streamed inside during bad storms and then seeped down to the lower floors of the building. The damage also threatened the workings of the still-functioning 1831 Simon Willard clock, the face of which is located in between the lion and unicorn on the east façade.

Tower restoration took place from April to July 2008, and included replacement of wood siding on all four faces, repair and reglazing of the tower windows, installation of new flat-seam copper roofing, and selective repair or replacement of wood balusters and other deteriorated architectural features.

Over the course of the project, Facilities Manager Matt Ottinger was up on the scaffolding every day, coordinating the work with the preservation crew and investigating the tower’s history. The architectural elements that make up the tower do not all date to the same time period; some are as old as 1748 and others are as new as 1990. Dating these elements and determining how they fit together was an important part of the project. The crew made some interesting discoveries, including: an intricate system of angled beams, dating to 1748, which serve as framing for the dome; what are likely to be 18th-century boards, held in place with hand-wrought nails, underneath the tower's copper flashing; and charred wood from the building's last major fire, in 1921.

To find out what else we discovered and learn more about the tower project, visit Ottinger's blog at http://oldstatehousetower.blogspot.com/.

 

Additional Exterior Restoration

Photo courtesy of Judy Selwyn

In conjunction with the 2008 tower project, miscellaneous minor repairs took place to complete the stabilization of the Old State House exterior. They included replacement of copper roofing and counter-flashing over the south entrance, restoration of masonry on the west and south facades, roof slate replacement and repair, as well as window restoration and repair.

 

Restoration of Masonry at Northeast Corner


(Completed 2006)
Photo courtesy of Judy Selwyn

The Old State House’s bricks are the oldest part of the building. This aging masonry has long been subject to water penetration, particularly at the northeast corner, where surrounding office towers focus and magnify the effects of rain and wind off the harbor. This problem escalated in the fall of 2005, when the remains of Hurricane Wilma passed through Boston and brought the water-penetration problem to crisis proportions. Water poured through the walls to the interior, damaging plaster and wainscoting, and threatening the building’s structural integrity as well as the priceless collection of historical artifacts housed inside. Click to view photos of the damage.

During the summer of 2006, The Bostonian Society spearheaded a three-month project to investigate the causes of persistent water damage to the northeast corner, to restore masonry on the east and north façades of the building, and to create a permanent solution to ongoing water penetration. The Society raised nearly $2 million for this and the ensuing phase of the project—more than its entire annual operating budget—within a mere six months.

This project won a national award from the American Association for State and Local History and is featured in an episode of the History Channel’s Save Our History series.