Saturday, November 9, 2013

Another piece of history discovered!

We're almost finished priming all of the walls of the upstairs.  Boy were they dirty!  It's been rewarding seeing the dingy, dirty walls transform into clean white space. 

Tom and I were having a "discussion" about a certain wall in the gallery area, which is along the side of the freight elevator.  It seems he doesn't like this wall - he feels it's ugly and it should be covered up.  I am against that idea.  I said it's old, it's part of the elevator and we should incorporate it into the gallery space.  He didn't think it was old - he thought it was some cheap wood they put up, maybe in the 70's.  I disagreed.  He agreed to let me prime and paint it before he made up his mind.  As I was getting ready to prime it, something caught my eye.  It was a little round metal tag about the size of a quarter nailed into the wood.  Whoever painted the last time painted right over it, but there it was, the lettering still plain as day.  Wildman Manufacturing Co.  Norristown, PA

Of course, I had to do some research on Wildman Mfg. Co. to find out what it was and how old this metal token or tag is.  Here's what I found:

Wildman Mfg. Co. was founded in 1898 and provided knitting machines to textile mills.  That means that this token would have most likely been put there when it was operating as Chipman Knitting Mills, which means that the wall in question was actually original to the building.  Score!

Here are some interesting tidbits I found:

This is from a Wildman Mfg. Co. catalog

This is their logo - the nail went right through it, but
you can see a little of it.

This is their manufacturing facility in Norristown in the late 1800's - impressive!

This is the wall where the tag is nailed.  You can see it in the bottom right corner.
The other nails were for a sign that's long gone, but when it got ripped down someone
left paper underneath each nail, and the person who painted previously just
painted right over the bits of paper.  When I pulled the old browned paper out
from under the nails, you can see that the original color of the wall was yellow. 
I believe ours will only be the 3rd coat of paint this place has had in 100 years!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Best (contr)actor in a supporting role...

Well, the first support beam has been reinforced and it seems to have been a success.  If the building comes crashing down on our heads then I guess we'll know it didn't work, but I don't think that's going to happen.  We trust our contractor.  Plus, we owe him money, so that's a little added insurance of our safety.

Here's the process:

Place extra supports around the existing support beam, then cut the beam off at the bottom.


Next, put a form around the bottom and fill it with concrete.

When it hardens take the form off, and viola, you have a new, stronger support for the beam!

We'll paint the concrete the same color as the beam so it all blends together. 

One down, six to go!

Friday, November 1, 2013

A history mystery solved!

For the past few months our contractor has been telling us that he believes our building may actually be older than the early 1900’s, which is when Chipman Knitting Mills would have built it because it was incorporated in 1907.  It was a mystery that needed to be solved, an itch that needed to be scratched.  So this week, we scratched that itch and found out.

First, a little history:  I researched the property deeds going back to the 1840’s.  History books indicated that this was part of the vast amount of land (huge tracts of it, if you will) owned by the Moravian Church in the area.  When the church found out that someone who was doing speculating for them lost them a fortune, they reluctantly decided to sell off parts of their land to raise some money.  Philip H. Goepp (for whom Goepp Street in Bethlehem is named) was put in charge of selling the land.  In 1852 he sold 32 acres (of which our property was a part of) to one Christian Friederich Hellener.
1874 map - yellow highlighted area shows Hellener's property.  Also, in the lower left-hand corner you'll see
property belonging to E.P. Wilbur, which is where our house currently stands.  E.P. Wilbur owned the
E.P. Wilbur Trust Co. downtown (the beautiful flatiron building that Wells Fargo occupies now).

Christian Hellener was an interesting man.  He was born in Germany to the prominent von Hellener family in 1797 and in 1817 decided to take a ship to the U.S. from Amsterdam where he was travelling with some friends. Things couldn’t have gone any worse.  He was swindled out of all of his money, the ship was plagued by storms and rough seas and was driven far off course, the captain died and it was 57 weeks before the ship reached port – in Portgual, where he was quarantined at port for 100 days. He finally reached New York in 1819 and set out for Philadelphia where he learned the baker’s trade.  He then moved to Bucks County, hearing that the swindler who stole his money was there.  It was not him, but he liked the area and eventually wound up in what is now known as Fountain Hill.  He left the baker’s trade and tried his hand at weaving carpets and bedspreads, and later would take up stone carving.

On the censuses from 1860, 1870, and 1880 he lists himself as a farmer, but interestingly, on the 1850 census, he lists himself as an artist.  He has been described as a gifted artist, a watercolorist, and found some success as a sculptor, but with a family to feed he abandoned the artist’s life for the more plebian but better paying work of a marble cutter and farmer.  The Bethlehem Public Library has a collection of some of his artwork, which we plan on trying to see and copy so we can hang in our studio.

1850 Census.  Hellener is in the middle of the page, line 30.

 We have also decided it would be fitting, since the property was owned for so long by someone who loved the arts, that it would be a cool connection to the past to name our gallery "The von Hellener Gallery” in honor of Christian Hellener.  

The street across from us is named for Christian Hellener.
He died in 1893, at 95 years old, with the distinction of being the oldest person in Lehigh County. 

Now, on to the age of our building.  I spoke to a local Fountain Hill historian, Ed Redding, and he told me the entire history of the building, including the fact that it was erected in 1912 for the Chipman Knitting Mills.  So that’s it.  Mystery solved.  He also told me that for a short time after Chipman owned it, it was used by the silk mills (there were 2 mills within a couple of blocks of the building), which we did not know.  It was then a fur factory (yuk!), but with the Depression going on that business didn’t do too well and the deed was kicked back to the bank (E.P. Wilbur Trust, ironically!)and the building sat empty for several years until it was re-opened as a grocery wholesale warehouse around 1940 until 1973, when it became Valley Graphics Printing.  Then in 2012, in its centennial year, we came to be part of its legacy. 


Thursday, October 24, 2013

Shut the front door!

So the work has been continuing, but very slowly.  The biggest news is the front door.  Our contractor finished the trim around the outside of it to give a clean, finished look. 

To contrast that polished look, we decided that we are going to keep the brickwork around the inside of the front door just the way it is.  It has several different paints, some of it peeling, as well as plain brick that was repair work done by our brick mason, Keith.  We feel that it gives it a hip, urban look.

The priming of the walls and ceiling continues, our contractor is doing some plumbing work downstairs and is just about ready to repair the support beams (replacing the wooden bottom with concrete), and Keith is getting ready to repoint the stone walls in the basement.  Slow and steady wins the race, right?

Sunday, September 29, 2013

A very boring blog post

I know things have been quiet here, and that's because there's really nothing new to report.  Our brick/stone mason is busy chiseling out the old mortar between the stones in the basement, and we're still busy priming the upstairs walls.  Very boring! 

Last weekend we went to the Riverside Festival of the Arts in Easton and talked to a few really talented artists that seemed interested in teaching, so we're still busy on that end of things. 

The stones getting ready to be repointed

Oh yeah, Tom painted the loading dock door, too.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A little light in the darkness

After months and months of searching, and almost giving up, we finally found some darkroom equipment we needed!  Score!  Yesterday we purchased a revolving darkroom door and a film drying cabinet from Easton Area High School.  Sadly, their darkroom has closed because the teacher retired and they are not replacing him, so they are selling off the equipment. 

We were getting ready to bid on a revolving door on eBay and
take a 4 hour drive to Maryland to pick it up, when we
saw Easton H.S. advertise this one on Craigslist. 
It's the perfect size and in fantastic condition.

We had almost bought the identical film cabinet from a guy in
upstate New York and were going to drive up there to pick it up,
but it had some problems so we passed on it. 
This one is in MINT condition!

We also purchased a like-new safe light from the high school.  Our darkroom is just about complete!

The awning of a new day...

Our new awning arrived this morning!  We finally have:

* a cover from the elements
* a number on the front of our building
* class

Okay, it may take more than a new awning to give us that last one, but you must admit, it does class the joint up a bit.

Not to belabor the point, but remember what the place looked like just a year ago?:

Well, here it is today!:

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Can we get some support?

Our contractor began taking up the concrete around one of the support beams.  The beam had been encased in a concrete covering, and now we know why.  It was extremely rotted.  He also doesn't think the concrete floor was original, even though it's fairly old.  

No, it wasn't beavers that did this.  Water damage over
a century rotted away the wood.  Note how the beam
is resting on a steel plate underneath it.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Checking things off the list!

Tom was on vacation for the last two weeks and feels like we got a lot accomplished:

* Front of building painted
* Landscaping and painting done on side of building
* Other half of floor prepped for sanding, and some edging done
* Priming of ceiling and walls begun


* Slab roller for the pottery studio purchased

* Outside of ductwork being cleaned
30 or 40 years of dirt and nicotine stains coming of with Windex, Magic
Erasers and LOTS of elbow grease

* Support beams in basement are prepped to be repaired/replaced

Our contractor cut around the beam and is going to lift
the concrete out and check what's under the slab.  He
has a feeling it's water.  Bottom of water-damaged beam will
be cut and replaced with a concrete mold.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

How to overcome acrophobia in 3 easy steps!

1.  Buy a building with really high ceilings that are in bad shape.
2.  Be on such a tight budget that you don't want to/can't pay a painter to paint them.
3.  Get up on a ladder and do it yourself.

Tom and I both suffer from acrophobia (a fear of heights).  That's why these pictures will be so surprising.  They still are shocking to us.  This week, we are doing "high up" work which simply needs to get done.  So we did it.  High up.  No nets!

Tom was over in the corner sitting on top of the darkroom priming
the ceiling, while I was busy cleaning the top of the ductwork.
Top of the ductwork.  Gross.

How high up I was.

How high up I felt.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

A little history

Occasionally I Google Chipman Knitting Mills, South Bethlehem and I recently found this excerpt from a book titled "Moodys Manual of Railroads and Corporation Securities, Volume 1."  We already knew that our building was built as a satellite location for the larger Chipman Knitting Mills in Easton, but this tells us what was in our building.  According to this, it housed 188 knitting machines, 73 loopers and 19 sewing machines. 

Looks like the Chipmans were doing pretty well for themselves...those are some mighty large numbers on their balance sheet for 1920 and 21. 

This is a photo of a London hosiery mill c. 1914-17.  It's interesting because
it's around the same time Chipman was in operation and they're using
circular knitting machines which were used to make socks and stockings. 
I can only guess that these may be similar to the machines used in our building.
Note the support beams which are so similar to ours.   

This is a photo of a looper.  A looper attaches a toe portion to a sock, in case
you didn't know (I didn't!).  In this photo, eleven year old Nannie Colson can
be seen working as a looper at the Crescent Hosiery Mill
in Scotland Neck, North Carolina, 1914. 

Here's a photo, c. 1918, of one of the workers and a pile of the heavy wool
socks made for the government at Chipman Knitting Mills, Easton. 
I would assume these socks were issued to soldiers serving in WWI.

Saturday, August 24, 2013


Since the front of the building was getting painted, we decided to do a little sprucing up on the side of the building by the parking lot.  It's amazing what a little paint will do, not to mention 15 bags of mulch.

A little bit of paint makes it look like we spent big bucks
on new brick work (hopefully!).  Fauxtastic!
I was a little sorry to have to paint over this graffiti, since it made me chuckle.  Apparently, rock does not rule anymore, but hip hop does.  "Holla!"