HPMEC Rehab Project

Thursday, July 26, 2018
The HPMEC porch project was about half finished last week, as local carpenter/woodworker Richard Forrest replaces the deck boards on the historic home. He also renovated the balcony, columns and railings as part of the project.
TD photo/Tim Blair

Time has taken its toll on the Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum in Piggott, as the renovation of the popular historical attraction has now been completed for two full decades. Over the course of the past several weeks, local master woodworker and carpenter Richard Forrest has been rehabilitating both the front porch and the balcony above it to their original state. And, although the care and attention to detail may be lost on the average museum visitor, those with an appreciation for the past—like Forrest, should appreciate the effort associated with the project.

“The porch project is part of the ongoing upkeep of the Pfeiffer house,” Museum Director Adam Long noted of the effort. “Historic structures need regular attention. In this case, the wood on the porch is in need of replacement due to wear from rain and humidity.”

Despite the recent hot spell, Forrest has already completed work on the balcony of the iconic local home and moved on to the deck of the main porch.

“All of the railings and spindles on the balcony were removed and some of them were replaced,” Forrest said of the project. “Some new bases were used, and everything was primed and painted before it was put back together. Even the areas that will never be seen got a good coat of primer and paint.”

He indicated the work on the first phase of the project took about two weeks to complete, before he moved on to the main porch work. This phase of work also required special preparation, as the tongue and groove boards are not the usual ones found in local construction. Instead, the specifications used in the original construction of the home were closely followed.

“These are two-inch thick tongue and groove boards and nobody offers them in that size, so we had to have the knives specially made to cut them,” he explained. “We had that participate done at a business in Dudley, Mo.”

But, before the process of preparing the boards could begin Forrest had to find an adequate supply of material that met the museum's, and his, strict specifications.

“I started at Cox Lumber Company and went through all of their two-inch stock. I needed quite a few that were 12 feet long, more that were 10 feet and some which are eight feet long,” he explained. “But, we were looking for the highest grade so I spent a lot of time going through bundle after bundle of boards.”

Finding only a handful of boards in each bundle worthy of such a project, Forrest spent days gathering the needed ones before the milling could begin. Next, he had to rip the boards to the correct width.

“Based on the width we could get several from each board, so I got some help and ripped them all down to the correct size before taking them to the mill,” he added. “They cut the tongue and groove and I brought them back here.”

Next, he carefully removed the affected railings and columns and replaced any wood which had deteriorated over the years. Then came the process of removing the floor boards and replacing them.

With deliberate care and patience, each of the existing boards was removed from the deck and replaced with a new one. As he did on the other parts of the project, Forrest primed and painted each of the boards beforehand.

“This will help slow down the future wear from water,” Long noted. “The restoration also included replacement of some of the wooden spindles and handrails, and those were pre-treated as well.”

Once completed, visitors will not be able to notice much difference—which is exactly how Forrest wants it.

“I love museum work like this. I love this state, this county, this town and this museum and I love history—it's an honor to have the chance to do this,” Forrest surmised.

And, although few may notice the improvements the restoration brings to the local museum, Long is quick to note the quality of the renovation. “This detail work is meticulous, and we appreciate Richard's care—as do our visitors,” he concluded.

HPMEC is an Arkansas State University Heritage Site at 1021 West Cherry Street in Piggott. Tours are on the hour from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday and 1 to 3 p.m. Saturdays. Those wanting additional information may call them at 870 598-3487.

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