Oooops… Call 911!

As our crew dug a hole to transplant a tree out front, I was showing my friend Elizabeth the new kitchen. Jennifer headed to her car to make some phone calls. One of the guys came in to tell me that the backhoe had severed the gas line. Oooops.

I asked, “Do we need to evacuate?”

He replied, “yeah.”

“Do I need to call 911?”


As we walked to the front of the house, we heard an enormous gushing sound…like water spraying out of large hose. Elizabeth and I hustled out of there, and I called 911. Within two minutes, the fire trucks arrived and the first responders began to evacuate the neighbors and block off the street.

The leak was so powerful, you could see the branches and leaves blowing 25 feet in the air!

The gas company arrived quickly, and within 30 minutes, the line was repaired. The sub-contractor was fined for not calling 811 to mark the gas/water/power lines. Remember, always call 811 before you dig. Never assume you know where all the lines run.

Goodbye Colclough, Hello Bryan

If you enjoy researching family history, we think you’ll love this story.

This week, we’re applying for the Preservation Durham Historic Plaque for our house on Mangum Street. To qualify, we need to submit a very detailed application including the book and page numbers of the deeds for every owner along with specific information about those owners.

When we purchased the property, we named it the Colclough House because our quick internet search led us to the Durham Open web site that stated that William Colclough moved here in 1911. The Durham County tax website shows that the house was built in 1910.

After hours and hours of research, we determined that in 1900 the property of 833 N. Mangum was part of 831 N. Mangum. We believe that there were two structures on this land including a house on the 831 portion and grocery on the 833 portion. William Colclough definitely ran the grocery, but he did not live here.

In 1916, Byrd sold half the lot (which is now 833) to his business partner and brother-in-law Kenneth U. Bryan. The 1917 Durham Directory is the first record of 833 as a home.


We believe that the homes at 831 and 833 N. Mangum Street were built in 1916 or 1917 by the Byrds and Bryans respectively. The Bryan family lived here for 22 years.

We also believe that what is our new kitchen now may have been the original grocery. That area of the house was definitely built differently with no plaster and different materials. If you inspect the crawl space, you see a distinct joist division between the two structures.

Byrd and Bryan were business partners in the retail industry for many years. They started what is now Stone Bros and Byrd, a landscape company currently at the corner of Washington and Geer.

In 1931, Bryan joined the funeral-home business at Howerton-Bryan on Main Street.

Lastly, in 1939, a man by the name of Colton Wells and his family moved into the house. He lived here for 33 years! He was a building contractor that worked on dozens of Durham’s homes. We found his expense ledger with detailed notes including street names, property owners’ last names, suppliers, and his building costs. Check it out!


We cannot wait for you to see the restored Bryan House ca. 1917.


Opening a Can of Worms

Back before we used plastic, bait shops sold worms in metal cans. Leaving the lid open could create a big problem, letting those wiggling worms escape. We use this metaphor when we try to solve a problem but worry that the solution may create an even bigger one.

As we looked at the ugly peak above the front porch of our house, we decided it needed a makeover. We ordered naturally-stained, cedar shingles to add beauty and texture. To do this right, we knew we needed to remove the deteriorating plywood panels. Our fear was that we were opening a can of worms…we had no idea what other repairs we’d find behind those panels.


Luckily, we were pleasantly surprised! We uncovered original details, with no problems to correct.


It’s hard to see at this angle, but this peak features beautiful wood detail. And, it’s sloped correctly to avoid water accumulation. No need to add shingles. And, no worms!!


The Art of Plaster

The biggest project in our restoration is repairing the plaster walls.

If you don’t know, plaster is pretty much cement, sometimes held together with horse hair, and laid in layers on top of wood lathes (horizontal strips between the studs). It’s a meticulous and time-consuming process. The end result is a smooth, beautiful, and extremely strong wall.

Repairing plaster is so tedious and expensive, most renovators decide to demolish all the plaster and start new with sheetrock. We were against this decision for three reasons:

  1. Removing the plaster is not a restoration…it’s not preserving the original material of the house.
  2. Plaster is a great solution for making walls even. If we removed the plaster in every room, we’d have a huge challenge making sheetrock straight on old, uneven studs. Remember, this house was built in 1910.
  3. Like I said before, plaster is cement. It’s heavy and dusty, and hundreds and hundreds of pounds would end up in the landfill. What a waste for this house and the environment.

When we purchased the house, several rooms had cracks in the plaster in varying degrees. The approach to repair the plaster is determined by the size of the crack. A structural crack would require tying areas together for a new solid wall. Superficial cracks involve a significantly less amount of material and time.

Following are a few examples of the wall damage.

Hallway that suffered the most damage from water-pipe break.
Front room with a structural crack above the fireplace.
Family room on other side of the hallway.

Some walls were entirely compromised. The hallway downstairs suffered from tremendous water damage due to a pipe break in the bathroom above. The plaster crumbled, so we removed those two walls and replaced them with sheetrock.

Walls in the hallway after the repair.

The biggest pain-in-the-ass for Jennifer and me was removing wallpaper from many of the plaster walls. This had to be done to ensure quality in the plaster repairs. Because plaster layers have moisture, we couldn’t take a chance that the moisture from the plaster would seep under the wallpaper and compromise the integrity of the wall.

Following are some photos of the plaster process.

Plaster professional Fred Baldwin Sr. “tying” two walls together.
Putting on the first coat after the walls are tied together.
Fred Sr. and Fred Jr. perch on wood connecting their two benches.
Early plaster layer connects two old plaster walls. An exterior door used to be here.

This week is our last week of plaster repair. Many things await finished wall repair. Trim carpentry, floor finishing, painting. Because our plaster professionals take over every room with scaffolding and bags of material, no one else can work.

Even though this was the costliest and most time-consuming element of this restoration, it’s the most detailed and impactful. The new homeowners will have the strongest, highest-quality, and period-relevant walls.

Historic Hardware

Jennifer and I have spent the last couple of weeks collecting historic hardware for use on the doors throughout the Colclough house.

First, we took a door inventory to ensure that we have all the doors we need. Fortunately, with the exception of the back door, we have enough original doors to cover all entryways inside the home.

Next, we removed all existing hardware from those doors. ┬áHistoric hardware is different than modern-day hardware. The interior mechanism is a mortise lock, which makes installing the doors more challenging. We’re also using 12-point glass knobs, which are beautiful! We made three purchases from eBay to complete our collection.

Here’s a look at what we have so far. Check out the mortise locks on the bottom left.


Many of the items are coated with multiple layers of paint. In small batches, we place the items in the crock pot with water and baking soda. After a few hours, we’re able to easily scrape and pull off the paint and crud.

Finally, we use polish to make the brass shine.

clean hardware 2

These small details make a huge impact in this authentic restoration.

A Small Set-Back

Early last week we were robbed. These idiot turds weaseled their way into an open window and pulled apart our electrical wires throughout the house. ┬áThousands of dollars of damage for a few hundred bucks in copper. Luckily, (we believe) our paint crew came upon them and they ran away. Otherwise, it could’ve been a lot worse.

But, we’re not going to dwell on the negative. We’ve now learned that construction sites are prime targets for theft, no matter the location. With ear-piercing alarms, cameras, and flood lights, we’ll catch those buttholes if they try it again. Plus, the Durham police are keeping an eye on our place. We see them patrolling throughout the day, everyday.

Despite the theft, we accomplished so much last week. We’ll share a couple of photos today of the house’s exterior. Stay tuned for more photos! Lots more to share soon.