Open Door

Open Door
Indianapolis, Indiana

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Townships, Sections, Quarter Sections, and All That

After the earlier blog posts giving the land transfer history of the house, I thought I would give everyone a brief overview on how Indiana’s land system works. It’s pretty arcane stuff, so be warned. Here comes…
--The Public Land Survey System--


The Land Ordinance of 1785 formally established the Public Land Survey System (PLSS). In 1787 the Northwest Territories (consisting of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and part of Minnesota) were formally designated by Congress, and land surveys were begun to start parceling off the land for sale to private landowners. The first surveys were performed in Ohio. Several different systems were tried out (which modern surveyors in Ohio now have to keep track of, much to their dismay) before settling on what is basically the current system.

The first surveys in Indiana began with the establishment of the Initial Point of Second Principal Meridian in 1805. The Meridian is a north-south line running all the way through the state. The Initial Point was established by running 12 miles due East from the southwest corner of the Vincennes tract, which was an earlier survey in the territory. The point landed about 7 miles south of Paoli, about ¼ mile west of what is now State Road 37. As the name suggests, this is the point of origin for all of the government surveys within most of Indiana and a part of eastern Illinois. Bit of trivia: the Meridian passes exactly through the center of the rotunda of the Boone County Courthouse. This was done by design (I guess a surveyor was on the board at that time, and was totally geeked out by the thought; I have to admit I am too.)

Above: The actual marker (a stone in the middle of the fenced area) in Orange County.

 How it All Works
The largest basis of measurement in the PLSS is the township. This is not the same township we normally think of in everyday life (as in Center, Warren, etc.), but a square of land 6 miles long on each side. To avoid confusion, surveyors refer to these as Congressional townships, while the government units are called civil townships. Beginning at the Initial Point, east-west lines were laid out every 6 miles north and south. Then north-south lines were laid out every 6 miles along the east-west line running through the Initial Point (called the baseline). Once this grid was laid out, the land inside each square was divided into 36 squares, each 1 mile on each side, and called a section.

In order to uniquely identify each section of land, the townships were designated by how far they were from the intial point. So for example, the first township north and east of the Initial Point was called Township 1 North, Range 1 East. The next one north would be Township 2 North, Range 1 East, and the one east of that one would be Township 2 North, Range 2 East, and so on, as shown below:

Each section of land would then be numbered 1 through 36, in the following pattern:

At first, the smallest unit of land sold was the section. Later, when prices starting going up, it became necessary to subdivide the sections into smaller pieces. The system of describing these smaller pieces is called the method of aliquot parts. This is much easier to describe with a picture, so here goes:

This method of subdividing can theoretically go on to infinity, but in practice the smallest area normally described would be 5 acres. So, a 5-acre tract in the northeast corner of the above section would be described as: The East ½ of the Northeast ¼ of the Northeast ¼ of the Northeast ¼ of Section 10, Township 1 North, Range 1 East, Orange County, Indiana.

Of course the vast majority of land parcels are far smaller than 5 acres, and this method can only define square or rectangular pieces. Next time, we will go into the ways that most people in metropolitan areas have their property described, either as a lot in a subdivision, or as a tract described by metes and bounds.

I know that this is pretty dry stuff, but I hope this has been informative and maybe even answered a few questions that you might have had.


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

End of November Update

We are working on our West Wing Stabalization blogs for days 2 & 3. There are too many technical items for me (Mary) to address & Eric/Amanda are working 16 hour days in our business. Once they get a chance to catch their breath, we'll make another stabilization post. In the meantime, I thought I'd catch you up on some of the unusual things that are happening now.

We have so much to be thankful for, the Horner House, family, friends and the overwhelming support & interest of people in our renovation project. The most recent interest came from The Indianapolis Star. As some of you know, Will Higgins did an article on the Horner House that was published in the Thanksgiving Day (11/24/2011) Indianapolis Star - There were more pictures in the print version but you'll get the point from the online version. Amanda posted some clarifications on our Facebook page.

Clarification for the 11/24/2011 Star article from our Facebook Page:

"This article ran on Thanksgiving Day. There are a couple of things that I would like to clarify. First the quote from Reggie Walton about the community wanting the house torn down, while technically correct, doesn't tell the whole story. There were some members of the community clamoring to tear the house down, but Christian Park Active Community was desperately trying to save it. Even going so far as applying to purchase the home for a community center.

The other two items I would like to clarify are the statement that reenacting is our current hobby and recorder playing. Eric and I did participate in the SCA for many years, but have not had the time since we opened our surveying company in 2007. We still have many very good friends in the group but are no longer active ourselves. As for the comments on our music, it is true that we occasionally play in public, but leaves out much information. Eric and I are two members of a music group called the Dragon Scale Consort. The group consists of nine members who play harp, recorders, cittern, and a myriad of percussion instruments. We have played for many different audiences including weddings and fund raisers, Ren Fairs in Indiana and Louisiana, the Biergarten at the Rathskeller, and with the Indiana Ballet Company before they dissolved. We do love music as much as we love things that are old.

We greatly appreciate Will Higgins, Matt Detrich, and the Indianapolis Star taking the time to write about the Horner House and also the controversial demolition issues in our city putting preservation in the spotlight. Hopefully by doing so other deserving houses can be saved. "

Just below the article on the Horner House was an article regarding saving the homes in Indianapolis that are slated for demolition - We realize that the Horner House is an unusual example when it comes to the abandoned homes in Indianapolis slated for demolition but it makes us sad to see any home demolished if it could be saved. We would like the process to slow down so that those homes on the list that could be saved will be, whether historical, archeticturally significant or just needing TLC. Some may, on the surface, look like there are no options left but demolition but that might not be true. When we first saw the west (back) wall of the Horner House, we were afraid that the entire structure might not be stable. It was only through the input of our structural engineer, Bob Ladish, that we determined that the Horner House was still stable enough to save.

Several days later, imagine our surprise when there was another item in the Star mentioning Amanda & Eric - And especially when it began with "Indianapolis needs more people like Amanda and Eric Browning -- many more of them." We do hope there are others in Indianapolis who share our passion for old houses and Indianapolis history. While we would like to see the demolitions stopped long enough to do some educated decision making, we didn't start down this road to be crusaders. We just couldn't stand the thought that the Horner House would be torn down and would fade into history as so many of our Indianapolis landmarks have in the past.

We really don't consider ourselves unusual. We appreciate old things, especially beautiful old houses. They can be awesome when restored. Perhaps the thing that sets us apart is past experience and having some wonderful contacts. One of our goals in starting this project was to not just save the Horner House but also inspire/assist others in moving forward if they had a dream of saving an old house. When we started this blog, it was partly to document our progress but mainly to share what we learn with others. If we influence anyone else to travel the road to save an old home, we'll feel we've accomplished something special. If our journey assists anyone else in saving an old/historic home, we will feel doubly blessed. Soon, we'll be adding information on some of the companies or people who have assisted us to date. We hope others will find their assistance valuable, too.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Middle of November Update

Thank you to everyone who has expressed their sympathy over the unexpected death of my brother & Amanda's uncle, Charlie. He was a graduate of Howe High School and quite excited about the purchase of the Horner House. He will be sorely missed.

Although we've had many stressers the past several weeks (the funeral, several illnesses, the death of a beloved dog, furnace issues), we've also had many blessings. The raising of the beam to support the back wall of the West Wing, being busy at work, a good report from the Ortho Dr regarding Eric's ankle and a wonderful article in the Eastside Voice are just a few positives.  As a friend recently said, we just need to setup a camera and do a reality TV show. People would think things are contrived and staged because no family could have so many things going on at once. The support we've received from the community is wonderful. It's what has kept us going the past few weeks.

We're trying to get back on track with the blog and plan to post more about the stabilization work shortly. We're also slowly gathering more information on the early abstract/owners of the house. Let's just say that after almost 3 months of calculations, planning and praying, Bob & Bill have pulled off a miracle and the beam is up. There is more to be done but the most critical steps have been successful. Although this was just a tiny step in the overall project, we just can't help feeling that we've reached our first major restoration milestone!

Beginning to clean up the items that were setting around in the way of working on the West Wing back wall.

More old foundations found in the rear of the West Wing. There are several so it's hard to tell what all was original and what all was added later.

The weeds/vines grew so big that the stumps they left were so large they could puncture a tire. We had to wrap in yellow tape to ensure no one drove over them during the stabilization work.

Is there a subject you'd like to post about? Do you have questions about what we're up to? Please feel free to give us feedback on the blog, either here or on Facebook.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Stabilizing the West Wing - Day 1

Leading up to the first day of stabilization, Bob & Bill had several calls, meetings and emails over several weeks. We even met at the house back in October to discuss exactly what we were going to do. The meeting lasted about 90 minutes and we went through multiple different ideas before finalizing the plan.

Bill's main concern was safety and not allowing anyone to cross the threshold because the roof might collapse. Another factor was cost and what could be accomplished within our limited budget. Then came the issue of bracing complications. Normally when bracing is put up, the boards outside get bolted through the wall. This requires someone to be inside to put the bolts on – this was not possible since no one can go inside.

After much discussion, it was determined that taking the roof off or attempting a controlled demolition were not options. Renting a lift would be expensive and it would be difficult to control any type of demolition. (My mom always talks about the "painted nail". This is the one nail that holds the entire house together. So you could say we were afraid of finding the painted nail in the Horner House.)  The question became what can they do to give the roof some support. They discussed using a front-end loader, pulling it up to the building & extending the arm inside until the roof beams rested on it. Again, this was not a cheap solution because the loader would need to sit there for several days. And we didn’t know how stable the cellar walls were; there was a chance that the shift in weight could damage the cellar walls. The idea of using the loader was discarded as too costly.

Then, Bob suggested using an epoxy adhesive instead of bolts, so no one needed to be inside. This will damage the bricks that the bolt holes are drilled through, since the epoxy will be stronger than the brick. This was an "out of the box" idea, it's not standardly used in buildings but is more often used in road construction. We all decided that the loss of 15 or 20 bricks was better than someone getting hurt or losing the entire wing.

After that, they discussed simply jacking the beam up into place without something to support the roof.  The biggest concern at that point wasn't that the walls would fall inwards, but the pressure and roof would force them outward.

Finally, a plan began to form for bracing the north & south walls and the 2 pieces of the west wall that were still standing. Then they would jack up a beam into the opening (the collapsed area) to make a new lintel. The posts would remain permanently, and the space between would be framed in like a modern house. The beam would be "cheated", or set slightly inside of instead of being centered over the foundation, to allow one course of brick to be erected so that from the outside it will match the rest of the brick exterior.

At that point, Bob asked for an elevation or vertical survey (a map of the walls) before finalizing the plan. Fast forward - as discussed in previous blogs, the ivy had to be removed to do the survey and the removal of the ivy led to Eric’s accident and subsequent delays. To add to the worries, during the time when Eric was out of commission, Eric & Amanda noticed that the west face of the West Wing’s mansard roof was buckling inward.

This picture shows the rotation of the back roof as well as some of the debris that was removed prior to work.

A few weeks ago, Bob & Bill met Amanda & Eric on site again. After looking things over, they determined that the roof was not really buckling. The north portion of the west wall was leaned out significantly enough that it caused the northwest window on the back wall to twist. The southwest line of the wall was still in place giving the optical illusion that the roof was buckled. The decision was made to move forward with the plan with one exception. A specialty lift called a "Lull" was to be rented and used to straighten the roof. It would be used to pull the bottom edge of the southwest lower portion of the Mansard outward to match the leaned out roof line on the northwest edge of the west wall. This added more complications. When they started to move the roofline, everything could collapse or worse, there might not be enough good wood for the beam to catch on.

We spent the next few days moving forward with this final plan. While it was still the best plan, the risk was higher that the roof would collapse before the structure was complete. We finished the ivy removal & gave ILB the survey. Bob provided Bill with the necessary specs for the beam & other items that needed to be purchased.

On November 10th, we were finally ready to get started. The first day on site, Bill & his crew cleared all debris lying outside the west wall. While this may sound simple, it took half the day. They salvaged about half of the old bricks and filled in an old well with the damaged ones. The well was in the construction area and had been a safety concern.

Some of the original brick that was salvaged. Hopefully, it will all be usable.

They finally dug 4 of the holes for the foundations for the posts. It may not sound like a lot but it was a pretty full day's worth of work. Next, Stabilization of the West Wing – Day 2.

Two of the holes, filled with concrete & "nails". These will be used with the supports.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Stabilizing the West Wing

After last winter, the entire West Wing of the Horner House became very unstable. During one of the ice storms, the area between the 2 back doors collapsed. The interior ground floor fell into the cellar and then the 2nd floor followed it. This left the roof without support and it, too, became unstable. As we waited for the closing on the house during the spring & summer, we've watched the structure slowly become more and more unstable. We knew we were going to have to work quickly after the closing if we were going to be able to save anything of the West Wing.

Back of West Wing, March 2011. The upper windows are still pretty much straight and the middle of the roof hasn't begun to sag.

We began working with Bob Ladisich of Design Services before we even closed on the house. Bob is the structural engineer who evaluated the stability of the house for us prior to purchase. He let us know we would need to move quickly on the West Wing in order to save it. As soon as we closed, Bob began working on the plans for the West Wing stabalization.

We needed to do an elevation survey in order for Bob to finish his plans. When we tried to remove the ivy that had covered the West Wing, Eric broke his ankle and the process got stalled. Once Eric was on the mend, Amanda & Ron finished the field work & Eric completed the drawings for the elevation survey.

In the meantime, we had began working with Bill Zeller of W. C. Zeller Renovations, LLC. Bill is a contractor with experience in working with historic houses. Bob and Bill have been working together over the past several weeks trying to pull off a miracle. Unfortunately, the mansard roof over the West Wing, especially over the rear wall, has continued to deteriorate rather rapidly. We've been approaching a milestone - either finish stabilizing the West Wing or participate in controlled demolition.

The windows have begun to rotate as the roof between them has began to collapse inward. Without a miracle, we will be doing controlled demolition rather than stabilization of this wing of the house.

If anyone can save this wing of the house, we have full confidence that Bob & Bill can do it. They have made no guarentees, however, it's obvious they are doing their best to save what they can. Tomorrow, they will be putting in the beam to stabilize the area below the windows. We're hoping they can finish the stabilization next week since it's critical to be finished prior to the first snow fall. Amanda & Eric will be doing some more technical blogs on exactly what the plan is and how it is being executed for those of you who are interested. In the meantime, say a prayer that our experts can pull off this miracle for us.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Brief Update - November 6th

This coming week will be one of great joy and sorrow for our family. Assuming the weather is decent we will be raising the beam at the end of the the week. This will be the joy. We also will be attending the funeral of a member of our family. Amanda's uncle and Mary's brother Charles Hebble passed away Saturday night.

This week we will not be posting on the blog or the facebook page. We want to take our time and give you all good postings and information since you have taken the time to follow us. We will return to you all in a week with heavier hearts, but ready to engage in and enjoy the restoration of this house.


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

We Have a New Front Door

We intended to post Abstract & Title Part 3 next, however, we now have an awesome new front door that we just have to share.

Since we began visiting the Horner House in March 2011, access to the interior of the house has been difficult at best. The front door had been boarded over to prevent break-ins. Many of the windows were also boarded over due to broken glass. Climbing a ladder to a second story window was our first access. This was not a good solution for me since I have a fear of falling.

Then, we tried removing the plywood from one of the ground floor windows to enter. At one point, Amanda and Eric even fashioned a "door" on one of the windows so they didn't have to keep risking damaging woodwork every time they needed access. Whoever had been breaking in quickly found this new "door" and damaged it while entering the house.

Even with the front door boarded over, people continued to try to kick the front door in. They kept at it even after we moved a claw foot tub behind the door as a brace. Eventually, they finally succeeded in breaking in the front door and badly damaging the door frame. Luckily they were only able to dislodge the sides of the door frame; the tub and the framework of the stairs at the top of the opening prevented the plywood and frame from being pushed completely through, which would have allowed intruders to simply walk into the house. If it weren't for that, it's likely that the interior would have been totally trashed by the vandals, perhaps to the point of not making the restoration feasible.

Boarded over front door. Unfortunately, we never got a picture of the door as it was hung, it had been kicked down before we had a chance.

Amanda needed a front door to feel that she had a house. And we needed a door to use for workers to gain entry. The only question was - do we put in a "new" period door and pray the activity at the house would prevent further break-ins, or do we put in a security door now and a historic door in the future. Since we can't afford further setbacks, a security door was the logical choice. (Remember, it's going to look worse before it gets better.)

Front doorway. Imagine how spectacular this would be to look through a door that was half glass. You can see the back of the staircase that winds up across the transom and the newel post. It must have been very impressive to knock on the door and get a peek at the interior of the house.

Several weekends ago, Amanda, Eric, and Ron began to reclaim the boarded up front doorway, remove the demolished front door and install the security door. There were a number of hurdles to over come. The old door was broken likely beyond repair. The entire door frame was rotten. The current lack of gutters causes that area of the house to stay wet. The wood nailing blocks (originally mortared into the brick) that the old front door were attached to had become rotten and unusable. Just adding more wooden blocks did not resolve the issue because they needed to be reattached to the brick structure and the bricks and mortar are so crumbly. When they tried to re-install the door frame, it could just be lifted out of the hole because there wasn't anything to really attach it to.

Ron moving original frame because there is nothing to attach it to. They had to add new blocks and wood framing around the door opening in order to have something to attach the frame.

A steel entry door has now been secured with a regular door knob and dead bolt. Amanda added the door knob by herself - woohoo! this is a first for her. The fill-in for the old transom will occur in the next few days. Unfortunately, we don't believe the door just removed is in condition to be restored. Amanda and Eric will negotiate the final front door configuration with Indiana Landmarks, to address both security and historical accuracy, later in the project.

Our new door! A new portal into a fabulous old home.

Currently, we're just happy we can provide access to the various teams who need to be able to enter to help with restoration and also keep the property safe from break-ins. And as Amanda said, "It's just awesome to have a real front door on my house."