Historic Preservation

Posted February 13, 2015
  • [From left] Paul Mardikian, Claudia Chemello, Renee Erb, Alix Kress, and Jeff Sykes at Western Clay

Matt Morgan (MSHP’14) blogs about life post-graduation from PennDesign

Reflections on current preservation projects, which began at Penn.

Winter is upon us here in Montana, signaling the end of the recent fieldwork season. This summer/fall saw a great deal of progress on the Western Clay Manufacturing Kiln Complex at the Archie Bray Foundation in Helena, Montana. The continued partnership with the Archie Bray Foundation, the University of Pennsylvania, and the Montana Preservation Alliance (MPA) pushed the progress on the historic kiln complex surrounding Kiln #7 and #8 much closer to completion. 

The Western Clay Manufacturing Company, founded in the mid-1880s, served as an important producer of brick and hollow-clay tile in the west until the mid-20th century. The large complex contains a great deal of machinery and structures related to the manufacturing process of brick, providing rich material for study. We are so fortunate to have such an amazing resource right in our backyard!

After graduating from Penn in May, I worked with MPA for the month of June and the first part of July, continuing on with masonry work on Kiln #7 started several years ago by Frank Matero and his Penn conservation students. During this time, I repaired and stabilized several wall sections using a lime-based mortar, and prepared one-third of the parapet surrounding the kiln dome for a membrane roofing system. This work required removal of deteriorated brick, vegetation, and debris prior to resetting stable brick around the perimeter in a new bed of mortar. The final step required installing a mix of mortar and sand to create a gutter, which will provide a stable base for installation of the new membrane roof, important for keeping water from entering the kiln walls through the parapet. The new membrane roof will be installed in the spring or early summer of 2015.

I was the course assistant for the 2014 Heritage Conservation Summer Praxis, which involved log cabin restoration work at the Bar B C dude ranch in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, and repointing of brickwork of a farmhouse near Mancos, Colorado. We had a great group of enthusiastic Penn conservation students, and guest lecturers participating, making it a wonderful experience for everyone. 

August was also an exciting time around the Kiln complex back in Helena, as Paul Mardikian and Claudia Chemello from Terra Mare Conservation LLC returned to assess the metal testing they began the previous summer. The metal bands were continuing to corrode and deteriorate, but with mechanical scrubbing, cleaning, and treatment, the metal work looks nearly new again. Although I was away for the Praxis course, Paul and Claudia, with help from MPA staff and many volunteers, completed the work on the metal bands over a two-week period.  All reports say that this was a fun and exciting time!

This fall, I have been working with a structural engineer and historic architect to design and fabricate details and brackets to stabilize the shed walls and roof surrounding Kiln #7. It’s been fantastic to have direct input and collaboration with the engineer and architect on an actual project. Beginning in September, I installed the brackets, and started to replace the missing or damaged wooden columns and boards. Introducing the minimally invasive brackets and fasteners provides much needed structural stability to the sheds, both in terms of public safety, as well as for protecting them from further deterioration. As always, I continued clearing debris and vegetation to help with drainage and expose the original brick pavers surrounding the sheds.

Several sections of the corrugated metal shed roof are missing or damaged, and need stabilization and replacement.  The rough-sawn Douglas fir I ordered from a local saw mill is drying out now and will be installed in the spring or early summer. It’s an exciting time at MPA and at the Western Clay site as we bring the completion of Kiln #7 and its sheds into sight. We look forward to our continued partnership with the Archie Bray Foundation and the many volunteers who are so important in making this possible.

Matt Morgan (MSHP’14) is currently the Restoration Director at the Montana Preservation Alliance in Helena, Montana.  Matt has a master’s degree in Architecture from Iowa State University and a master’s degree in Historic Preservation from the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Design.

The 2015 Conservation Praxis will be heading to the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming once again this summer to give students hands-on experience in the field.