Old House Fair helps history live on in that old home

She only wanted to know about the wavy lines in the plaster of her 1726 farmhouse. Instead, Barb Seely may have walked away from the Old House Fair connecting with a long lost relative.

Seely went in the Old House Fair, held on Saturday at the Germantown Friends School, for a 15-minute consultation with Emily Cooperman, an expert on history and style. The two started talking about history, that became a comparison of ancestors and they realized they may be related.

Though Seely didn’t get an answer about the wavy lines, she was excited to learn more about the past, just like when she discovered her house was part of the Underground Railroad, she said.

Discovering what’s old again

The house fair, which is hosted by the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia, is geared toward those who own or want to own an old or historic home, said Patrick J. Hauck, director of neighborhood preservation programs for the alliance.

“Yes, they still do make that. Yes, they still do that,” he said about the resources available at the fair to owners of old houses. “We’re not about the spas and the hot tubs.”

The show began in the late ‘80s and went on for about 15 years. It was then restarted five years ago and has been going on since.

With about 70 vendors spread out in two buildings, attendees had variety to choose from.

But the fair wasn’t just about providing information to people, it was also about honoring 13 homeowners who made changes to their historic without ruining the history – they renovated in a way that respected what already existed, Hauck said.

Frederick and Patricia Donnelly, who were honored, removed aluminum siding that hid details of their Victorian home.

Keeping the old alive in new fixes

Vendors like Emily Selvin, owner of Selvin Glass in Ardmore, tried to show how their products and services met that kind of historical threshold as well.

“It’s not to compete but to complement” she said. “My work is very quiet and peaceful.”

It was her first time attending the fair, and she used a computer monitor to show some of the steps she took in putting the windows together.

Several how-to demonstrations were held throughout the fair. Ray Tschoepe, director of conservation for Fairmount Park Historic Preservation Trust ran a demonstration on historic window repairs and weatherization.

He explained to the crowd how old growth wood, particularly before 1925, tended to be stronger than today’s wood, which is grown as quickly as possible, he said.

Tschoepe also mentioned a magazine that questioned whether old windows should be saved, but he said that for the most part, these windows could be rehabbed.

At his booth, Steve Long, president of PC-Products, showed how his products can be used to repair rotten wood in windows.

He applied a wood consolidant liquid that looks like milk to harden the soft, rotted areas. Then he filled the hollowed parts of the window with a hardening epoxy that dries within 24 hours so it can be sanded and painted to look new again.

While he explained how it worked, Anne Cook came up to tell him that she was satisfied with his products, which she used on rotting window sills at her home.

Cook usually attends the house fair, and she always finds something that she and her husband can use in the following year on their house, which is permanently under renovation, she said. Last year, she spent the entire day at the fair with her husband.

Last Saturday she was there by herself however, looking for information on plaster. The fair usually helps her find solutions to old house problems other than just taking things apart and buying new, she said.

“It was easier than replacing,” Cook said about using PC-Products’ window repair techniques. “We try to reuse as much as we can.”


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