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Restoring History

Kemp's Ford School

Prior to disassembly


Architectural Analysis

    The mission of Virginia's Explore Park is to help each visitor rediscover the history of the land and the people of western Virginia through experiences that reveal the past and illuminate the future.

    At the heart of this mission is the identification of historic structures that are valuable to the community, the research that is completed about the structures, and the delicate process of dismantling a structure, and reassembling it on the grounds of Virginia's Explore Park.

    A perfect example of this process is the Kemp's Ford School. The donation of the Kemp's Ford School by the Franklin family provided a unique opportunity for Virginia's Explore Park to study and interpret the educational system of historical southwest Virginia.

    A substantial amount of original historic fabric of the Kemp's Ford schoolhouse was intact. There had been very little vandalism or renovation which allowed for easy reconstruction and conservation.

    The Kemp's Ford School had been in operation for approximately 75 years, from 1860 to 1935. The region was culturally isolated during the period following the Civil War and changed little during the time the schoolhouse was in greatest use. Reports from Kemp's Ford students of the 1920s closely mirror the experiences of 19th century students.

    The building had changed little over time. The roof had been replaced twice, the interior was painted, and a hole was cut in one wall for a woodstove vent pipe. Otherwise, it stood as it was first built with minor repairs over time. Building methods were simple and rustic with indigenous materials used whenever possible. The long life of the building testifies to the sturdiness of its construction and materials.

    All efforts were made to reuse original materials. Similar materials and methods were employed when new work was added and great care was taken to preserve the original appearance of the building.


Disassembly of Kemp's Ford School

    Dismantling of the Kemp's Ford School began on November 22, 1993. The crew consisted of Gary Winkler, historic resources specialist and Allen McGrady, assistant resource specialist. Two field workers assisted. The crew spent two days on the site for orientation and training before proceeding with the dismantling.

    A field note/inventory system was established as a framework for documentation. The system was maintained by Allen McGrady who served as project foreman.

    All elevations and interiors were accurately drawn and photographed prior to dismantling to record present conditions.

    Initial dismantling focused on the removal of the interior wall boards. Each elevation was carefully cleaned with sponges and mild soapy water in an attempt to remove only the most recent "non-historic" graffiti. Each interior wall was then re-photographed. As each tongue-and-groove board had been nailed through the face, great care had to be taken to avoid splitting the wood during removal. As each board was removed, a number corresponding to the item in the field drawings was applied to the back with a wax lumber pencil. Each elevation was segregated and placed on a pallet. All hardware was sampled and salvaged for future reuse.

    Window casings and trim were inventoried and removed.

    All exposed building framework was drawn, inventoried and photographed. Measurements were taken of all structural details.

    Interior ceiling boards were inventoried, photographed and removed. Hardware was sampled and salvaged for reuse and all material was carefully placed on a pallet.

    The extant corrugated metal roofing was removed to expose the sheathing boards. Both roof faces were drawn, inventoried and photographed. As each sheathing board was removed, the shingle nails (evidence of the building's original roof) were removed, sampled and segregated for possible reuse. All material was carefully placed on a pallet.

    With the building's roof truss structure exposed, each component was drawn, inventoried and photographed. The attic space revealed was also examined for artifact evidence.

    Interior ceiling boards were inventoried, photographed and removed. Hardware was sampled and salvaged for reuse and all material was carefully placed on a pallet.

    Roof rafters and stringers were removed, palletted and loaded onto truck for transportation to the Virginia's Explore Park site.

    Weatherboarding was inventoried and palletted according to elevation. All hardware was sampled and segregated for possible reuse.

    Exposed framing was examined, photographed and disassembled. All material was carefully placed on a pallet according to elevation.

    With sills and sleepers exposed, the area was examined by archaeologists. Construction details were drawn and all materials inventoried.

    Prior to the dismantling of the chimney, mortar samples were systematically taken from various locations. The chimney was carefully drawn and courses identified for inventory. The brick was numbered on the flue face as it was removed and placed on a pallet. The stone was also numbered, removed and palletted.

    After careful examination and documentation of the foundation and chimney pad by archaeologists, the remaining rock was gathered by loader.

    Dismantling of the Kemp's Ford School was completed on December 15, 1992. All materials were stored at Virginia's Explore Park for further evaluation.

Data Analysis

    A period of review concerning all data collected at the Kemp's Ford School site occurred between December 15, 1993, and January 15, 1994. All field notes and photographs of the structure were carefully examined. Field measurements were compared with the stored building components and drawings refined accordingly.

    This data was then passed along to Hill Studios, PC, project architects, for further revision and interpretation. Orientation of the building on its new site and the grade were also determined, with all necessary coordinates being fed to the project architects. On-site meetings were held with stonemason Ramsey Copper to evaluate the foundation and chimney elements.

    Project architects produced a foundation plan that would meet Roanoke County Building requirements and a Sediment Control Plan was developed by Richard Burrow, park engineer, and James Baldwin, Virginia's Explore Park's natural resource specialist. These documents were submitted to the county on January 12, 1994, as part of an application for a building permit.

Reassembly of Kemp's Ford School

    There is evidence of three distinct roofing applications: chestnut shake (1860-1890), standing seam metal (1890-1940), and corrugated metal (1940-1994). The dates reflect the expected lifetime of these materials. Of these three, the shake was preferred for reconstruction because it was the original. Replacement would also prove more cost effective than the alternative.

    The painting of the interior constituted the only other major alteration of the school building. Since this was done after the structure ceased to be used as a school, the paint is not considered historic and was removed in a manner consistent with proper conservation methodology.

    The overall construction of the building does not demonstrate great craftsmanship and in some cases there are obvious deficiencies. The top plate, which consisted of 1" milled stock, was green at the time of construction and proved insufficient to uniformly support the weight of the roof structure. In the reconstruction the plate was supplemented with additional material.