Restoration and Construction Guidelines

Written by AGHS Web Meister on . Posted in volunteering

Restoration and Construction Guidelines Involving Historic Buildings within Asbury Grove
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Asbury Grove, founded in 1859, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2009 and designated as Historic District. All of the common buildings and 125 of the 153 cottages were part of this designation. Each building has its own unique design and features, but together they create a wonderful storybook Victorian village with an outstanding history founded in the American Camp Meeting movement. Therefore, it seems appropriate to have some Guideline for the restoration of these historic buildings so that future generations can embrace and understand the importance of what took place in our community.

These guidelines have been recommended by the Asbury Grove Historical Society for use by cottages owners, hired contractors and the Grounds Committee of the Asbury Camp Meeting Corporation. All Grounds Committee and Town of Hamilton regulations and permits should be adhered to and obtained as part of the restoration or construction process.

The Restoration of Existing Structures

General Information:

Almost all of the structures in Asbury Grove were built prior to 1900 and therefore should be restored and repaired with that in mind. The Guidelines for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings printed by the Secretary of the Interior should be adhered to as much as possible particularly paying attention to the statements suggesting that historic features be repaired or REPLACED IN KIND.

Foundation (underpinnings):

Originally cedar posts were used to support the cottages. Each post was placed on a large rock a few feet in the ground to form the foundation of the cottage. Some cottages still have remnants of these posts over a 100 years later. Today, however, they have been or should be replaced with either appropriately sized sonotubes or concrete (8 “x 16”) blocks doubled and crisscrossed with the holes filled with concrete to above the surface of the ground. Clearance from ground to any untreated wood should be a minimum of 8”. The depth of the sonotubes or blocks should be at least 4 feet in the ground (below the frost line) required by today's building code. The spacing between the posts should not exceed 8 feet (less if the code requires it). If a new two story addition is being considered a wide base footing should be installed under each sonotube or post to give added support. These bases should be at least 2' x2' x12” deep.

Supporting First Floor Framing and Floor Construction:

When repairing the base floor of the cottage all old rotted wood should be removed and replaced using pressure treated lumber. The floor joists and supporting beams should be sized to code. Usually 2”x8”, 2”x10”, or 2”x12” lumber is required for the floor joists depending upon the length of the span and spacing. The distance between floor joists is the standard 16” on center for new construction. Supporting cross beams are generally 4”x4”, 4”x6” or greater in size. The old floor boards should be left in place when possible. If they need to be replaced, matching tongue and groove pine flooring boards (6”, 8”, 10” or12” width) would be recommended. Ship lap (although it is not usually thought of as a flooring material) or hardwood flooring may be used as an alternative. Plywood should not be used unless it is covered.

Second Floor Framing and Floor Construction:

The upstairs floors in many cottages have spring in them due to wide floor joist spacing and/or undersized joists. This can be corrected by either adding sister joists alongside the existing joists or new floor joists between the existing ones. The size of the new floor joists would depend upon the width of the floor. Usually 2”x6” or 2”x8” lumber would be appropriate. Even though some cottages have 2”x4” joists in place new 2”x4” joists would not be appropriate. The use of 2”x6” or 2”x8” would be recommended. If floor boards need to be replaced, tongue and groove pine boards should be used in appropriate widths. Ship lap (again not usually used for this purpose) or hardwood flooring may be used as an alternative. Plywood should not be used because it can be seen from downstairs as well as upstairs. The downstairs ceiling should be left open if possible, but if covering is necessary then bead board or just pine boards would be appropriate.

Wall Construction:

The original walls of most cottages were constructed using a kind of barn construction, (post and beam), with wide spaces between the vertical uprights and horizontal cross pieces at the floor levels as well as one or two horizontal cross piece between the floors. The outside was covered with vertical old pine tongue and groove boards (much stronger and longer lasting than today) that provided both structure and strength to the building. These exterior walls are often only 3/4”to 1” thick. This kind of construction does not fit today's codes and the kinds of pine available today are not equal to the strength of the older boards. However the same look can be accomplished by adjusting the construction slightly. When replacing the outside boards one should use the old boards when possible or purchase new tongue and groove boards preferably bead board to match the original wood. Butt edge tongue and groove siding is also available and some cottages have that. Bead board can be found in either 6” or 8” widths and looks quite authentic. If new construction is needed, then standard 2”x 4” studs 16” on center can be used with horizontal cross pieces inserted between the vertical studs to allow for nailing the vertical boards. This approach meets the code but gives the look of authentic vertical boards.

Some cottages have horizontal siding such as clapboards. In that case the siding should be matched as closely as possible to the original siding on the building. Also other cottages have vertical board and batten construction that is easy to replicate and offers more rigidity via the batten. These battens have a number of profiles from half round, to hex-round to triangular to square.

The inside walls should be left open where possible. However, if the walls are too unsightly due to years of adjusting wall coverings, products such as bead board or ship lap can be used to give an authentic appearance.

Some products that should never be used on either inside or outside walls are VINYL SIDING, WALL BOARD or INSULATION. These products not only detract from the historic look of the cottage but also encourage the growth of mold in the cottage. PLYWOOD should only be used for structural purposes and always be covered with real wood products that encourage the historic appearance. The striated plywood that is often sold for exterior use, sometimes called Texture 111 or T-111, ages badly and never looks genuine should also be avoided or covered.

Roof Construction:

Most of the cottage roofs are very steep and poorly supported, but since they have stood for over 100 years they have something going for them. The fact that they are so steep does not allow the winter snow to stay on them and, therefore, sustain less weight than a traditional roof. Since most cottage roofs can be seen from the inside, any rafter concerns can be addressed easily and immediately. When rafter concerns such as rot or stress are being addressed, the use of sister beams or new rafters between the existing rafters should be considered. Again 2”x6” or larger lumber should be used even if the existing rafters are 2”x4”s. The roof itself is usually made of 1” boards, sometimes with spaces between the boards. Because these boards are original and help give the ceiling that cottage look they should be retained as much as possible. When repairs are needed new 1” boards should be purchased and used. Most lumber yards have 1” rough lumber available.

When these cottages were built the only roofing materials available were slate and cedar shakes. Since slate was extremely heavy and expensive cedar shakes were the material of choice. In the 1900s asphalt shingles came into existence and replaced the cedar shakes. The fire hazard connected with cedar shakes was always a concern so the development of asphalt shingles was a welcome improvement in cottage safety. Today asphalt shingles come in many desirable shapes such as textured shingle that are designed to look like cedar shakes or scalloped shingles that fit in with the Victorian look. Use of these products is encouraged. Metal or corrugated roofs may be tempting to install but should be avoided in Asbury Grove for historical reasons.


Porches were very important to the social life of Asbury Grove in the early days. They were built proportionally to the smaller size of the cottages and at street level to encourage socialization with neighbors and friends as they strolled past. In the beginning they were open, but as time passed, railings with ginger bread balusters were added and then roofs and screens. These porches, where they still exist, should be repaired in a way that they retain their original appearance where possible. By today's codes, a porch that is 30” or less above grade does not actually require a railing. When the distance is less than 30” much more variation on design is possible, form lower height railings built to accommodate visiting or sitting is possible. When a railing is required by code, it must be 3' high and have no holes that a 4” ball can go through. The railings and balusters should be replaced if they are broken using material similar in design and style. Pressure treated yellow pine, cedar or a hardwood such as poplar are good products to use to make new balusters. Every cottage should have at least one porch. A front porch and /or a side porch are desirable for sociability and authenticity.

The building of new porches should take in consideration a form that matches the cottage using original designs, where possible. The floor should be made of pressure treated lumber placed on sonotubes 4 feet in the ground. The floor joists should be sized to code ( 2”x6”, 2”x8”, 2”x10”, or 2”x12” ) with standard 16” on center spacing and the floor boards should be of 5/4” x 6” pressure treated pine. On screened in porches, it would be advisable to lay down screening between the floor joists and the floor boards to keep out insects. The post can be very simple 4”x4” pine or ornate turned posts matching the detail of the cottage. The roof rafters should again follow the code using 2”6”, 2”x8”, 2”x10”, or 2”x12” lumber spaced 16” on center. While it is tempting to use plywood instead of 1” pine for the roof boards, the finished look will not be authentic. If plywood is used, then it should be covered so that it does not show. Asphalt shingles or roll roofing are acceptable for the finish. Screening is certainly acceptable to keep out insects although open front porches do add an attractive Victorian look to the cottage. It is also common to find decorative brackets connecting the posts to the roof framing. This is a good way to cross brace and distribute the structural load of the roof at the same time. Often a design patterns for balusters, brackets, lintels and barge boards (gable end trim) are designed to complement each other.

Additions (a general statement):

All additions, although they are new construction, should be planned in a way that they blend with the original appearance of the cottage. Original parts of the cottage should be highlighted and altered as little as possible. For example new roof lines should be dropped below or raised above the old roof line so as to exemplify the original features of the main box of the cottage. Matching ginger bread, corner boards, balusters, etc. add to the overall authentic look of the cottage. Real wood, rather than products like plywood or some of the new synthetic material, add to the overall appearance, even small features, such as cut nails, can make a difference. Small, well thought out adjustments during the construction phase of new additions can make a big difference in the overall appearance of a historic building.


It has been said that the windows in a historic buildings are the eyes and the soul of the building, meaning that nothing can destroy the authentic appearance of the building faster than using uncomplimentary windows during the restoration process. With that in mind, the original wooden windows should be repaired whenever possible. Often new glazing and paint are all that is needed to bring them back to life. Remember that these old cottage windows have been in place for over a 100 years. What do you think the new vinyl windows of today will look like in a 100 years? If the windows are stuck or move up and down poorly, all that is really needed is to loosen the inside sliding strip or repair any window weights that may have broken loose. Broken glass can be replaced with regular single pane glass and putty purchased at the local hardware store. For a little more money, old style glass can be purchased as well. If the sashes themselves are worn or broken there are many old sashes around the Grove that are available. Finding the right size is, of course, a challenge but it can be done. Also, there are still people out there that are capable of repairing old windows, but this can be expensive.

One clue to matching the era of a cottage is the width and style of the muntin bars, if any. Many cottages had windows that were simply one over one without divided lites at all. Some of the very small cottages have very narrow windows, which are often to scale with the cottage. This is one way that the cottages look “just right” no matter how small. Modern building codes may require a second floor room egress window that is too large for the scale of the cottage. The historic designation may make it possible to get a variance on this, or such a window could be installed on the back face of the cottage. The current Massachusetts code states that an egress window with clear area of 20”x 24” is required (either direction). A sliding window might solve this problem.

If new windows are to be used in the construction or restoration process, then finding a window that matches the style of the cottage would be appropriate. There are still wood window manufacturers out there although fewer and fewer of them. Often the trim around the windows can improve the overall look of the cottage. Trim replacement is usually relatively easy but can make all the difference.


Wooden shutters were very popular in the early days in Asbury Grove. They were sized to each individual window making them both decorative and functional at the same time. Some cottages still have these old shutters on them today. They are found most often in pairs, but sometimes singles, but wide and they are part of the off season protection system. Hardware for operable shutters is still available and they can also be latched or barred with a 2x4 on the inside for the off season. Old shutters can still be found in antique or second hand stores and are relatively in expensive. Sizing them to the windows and painting them can be a little challenging but well worth the effort. New wooden shutters are also available but more expensive. Plastic shutters should never be used because they look out of place and actually detract from the historical appearance of the cottage.

Doors and Doorways:

Many of the cottages still have their original doors and doorway. These should be preserved as long as possible. Keeping them painted and repaired will help them last many more years. However, if a new door is needed, finding and adapting a used wooden door is preferred. Where this is not possible there are several options that can be considered. One great option in a cottage where space is available is the installation of new wooden double French doors. These can be found at many lumber stores and come in a variety of sizes and price ranges depending upon where they are to be used. Inside door sets are relatively inexpensive whereas doors that are open to the outside cost considerably more. The entire door set in its frame can be purchased all ready for installation. Proper care should be taken during the installation to size the opening appropriately and to level the door so that it functions without difficulty. Sliding glass doors are never appropriate in a Victorian cottage and should be replaced where they exist and never be installed during restoration or construction. Single door sets ready to install are also available. Wooden doors do have some disadvantages not found in metal or fiber glass doors particularly the fact that they sometimes swell. Given that disadvantage they still look so much better, it is worth having to make adjustments if necessary.

Another option particularly for inside doors to bedrooms, bathrooms or closets is to make your own door. First frame the door way with 1” pine boards (good quality) and then make the door out of tongue and groove bead board. To hold the boards in place make a Z frame on the back side and use 1/38 inch wood screws to hold everything in place. This type of door looks authentic and can be made to fit any opening.

Also remember to choose hardware that fits the Victorian period or even better find old hardware. Doors and doorways, as with windows, make a huge impact on the overall original appearance of the cottage.

Stairs and stairways:

One of the most attractive features in some of our cottages is the tiny turned stairways that lead to the second floor. While it is tempting to remove these stairs and replace them with new wider, more spacious stairways it would be a great loss to the historical integrity of the cottage. The biggest complaint that is made regarding these stairways is that they don't allow for easy access to the second floor when beds and other furnishing need to be moved in or out of the second floor. Usually there is at least one second story window that can temporarily be removed allowing access during the moving process. If a new stairway is being installed, it is important to make it blend in with the overall look of the cottage by using a banister or balustrade that fit the simple design of the building.

Paints and Painting:

The colors and color combinations for these Victorian Period cottages are very important. Every paint manufacturer has a color chart that represents colors for that period and one may want to check these charts for authenticity, but certainly other newer colors tastefully chosen would work just as well. The important thing is to choose a good quality paint and to use a good primer to assure that there will be many years between paint jobs.

Cottage Grounds:

Since the grounds around our cottages are not owned by the cottage owner, but rather shared with the community, it is important not only to keep them neat and tidy, but to make them blend in with the natural surroundings of the Grove. The founders of Asbury Grove chose this particular spot because of the trees and its natural beauty, therefore we are charged with keeping it that way. Certainly flowering plants, ground covers and bushes that can prosper in a forest setting are appropriate and encouraged, but other factors should also be taken into consideration as well. Unnatural products such as CRUSHED STONE, PEA STONE, COLORED MULCH and BLACK TOP (except for the roads) should be avoided because they do not blend in with the natural beauty of the Grove. The Grounds Committee of the Corporation must be consulted before any changes to the natural environment within Asbury Grove is adjusted.

Written by,
William Zoldak
AGHS President




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