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|Samuel Y. Harris|
The Right Angle Club was recently visited by two sprightly young ladies who run a historical building reconstruction firm. Sam Harris once ran the firm and built it into the pre-eminent example of its type, with the quirk that he surrounded himself with women. So, after Sam's unfortunate early death, two of the ladies decided to carry on the business. It was a little hard to picture these two young ladies in blue jeans, climbing all over the rafters of old buildings, but they showed plenty of slides of their work, which in the background showed the ladies doing just that.
Historical old St. Peter's Church at 2nd and Pine called the ladies in to consult on why the beautiful old church built in 1764 would develop a dip in its roof, and were soon told that a rafter had rotted underneath the dip. Further investigations showed that all of the rafters were rotted at the point where they joined the top of the walls and had to be replaced or reinforced. It eventually developed that a two-million dollar campaign had to be undertaken to finance the restoration. The details of the problem were the rafters had been made of gumwood, which is now unobtainable, and substitute wood of the same quality had to be identified, located, and transported. The original builder named Smith had also built Carpenter's Hall, so he knew what he was doing; it was just hard to find the same materials. The original construction might have lasted another couple hundred years, except there was a time when the upscale Society Hill neighborhood had largely been abandoned to fruit and vegetable distribution, and the congregation dwindled. To save money, the attic had been insulated to save heating costs. It did that, all right, but unfortunately, it caused moisture to form, and rot to ensue. Bob Linck, a roofing contractor who was sitting near me, commented that it just went to prove an old adage. Eventually, the economy of excellence would emerge and demonstrate its value. If reduced cost is what you want, just build things right, and leave them alone.
Originally published: Saturday, October 11, 2014; most-recently modified: Tuesday, September 14, 2021