By Arthur H. Gunther
It seems that at age 67, you can still learn new tricks, lots of them. About windows, for example. Old windows.
Since last summer, I have been privileged to be on a volunteer crew restoring 1800s windows at the Old Stone Church. The 1813 former Methodist Episcopal church, now community property rescued to save and showcase history, naturally requires maintenance and restoration, given its age. The crew, also including Win Perry, Joe Diamond and Vince Morgan, has been focusing on double-hung window sash almost untouched in more than a century.
Win, the Upper Nyack historian, first ordered old-style replacement storm windows, which were carefully fitted, primed and painted and then set in the six downstairs and two upstairs primed and painted frames. Then we took out the sash that were in place when Win’s long-ago relatives passed by on horseback and when so many great-great-great-grandparents of present-day Rocklanders stared through the wavy glass panels while attending church.
Next, we set up a ladder on sawhorses, dropped the sash on it and began the laborious task of removing old paint with caustic chemical stripper, a very messy process. I have done some of this in my time, but never the way Win masters it, with great attention to detail, making sure not to scar the old wood, delicately scraping off the layers of paint, some applied 120 or so years ago. Paint removal alone took several weeks to accomplish.
Then there was priming with spar varnish to enable new putty to stick, replacing broken sash (and reusing parts of the invaluable old material for smaller panes), puttying, applying two coats of finish paint and then a varnish stain to the inside part of the sash. Last week, we finally reinstalled the double-hung windows.
The restoration is the first such major effort on the sash, one that may never be duplicated, or if so, not for 80-100 years.
There is great satisfaction in all this since, as someone interested in history, I am part of it, and because the Old Stone Church is in my son’s village. His own son Sam could some day, as an old fellow, walk past the very windows his ancient grandfather helped refurbish. Perhaps he will be part of the 2100 crew.
Though none of the skills involved are new to me, the methods of doing so under Win Perry’s exact direction are. I have learned to be more particular, to have patience, and, most of all, to take exceptional pride in the outcome. So, an old dog learning new tricks.
Arthur H. Gunther, a retired Rockland County newspaperman, writes weekly at thecolumnrule.com.