Eisenhardt Mills sets the bar with historic restoration of Philadelphia landmarks

April 10, 2018
Amanda Zimmerman
Eisenhardt Mills sets the bar with historic restoration of Philadelphia landmarks

The art and science of historic restoration is built on precision, expertise and the commitment to honor the dwellings, habitats, establishments and landmarks that have shaped our experiences and identities. For Americans, this holds especially true for those rooms where, almost 250 years ago, 56 revolutionaries signed a declaration that gave birth to a nation dedicated to freedom and equality.

The restoration of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, PA was entrusted to Eisenhardt Mills, Inc. which completed the landmark project in the 1960s and 1970s. Long considered the benchmark for excellence in historic restoration, Eisenhardt Mills directed its meticulous detailed attention toward two principle areas of Independence Hall: The Assembly Room and the West Gable Clock.

Eisenhardt Mills sets the bar with historic restoration of Philadelphia landmarksEisenhardt Mills was entrusted with the restoration of Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, restoring the historic landmark to the exact specifications of the 1776 original.

The Assembly Room

The Assembly Room is revered as the birthplace of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. In the early 1960s Eisenhardt Mills began its painstaking work, restoring this national landmark to its 1776 original condition, down to the smallest detail.

Historic restoration begins with an accounting for every feature and specification of every piece of material in the soon-to-be-restored structure. For the Assembly Room, this meant completely dismantling the existing interior, some of which was original woodwork and some of which had been remodeled. Every piece of the interior—each plank of wood, each peg, each nail—was labeled and catalogued for precision in recreating the space.

The Assembly Room was restored in exacting detail to match the original millwork fashioned in 1776.  The Eisenhardt Mills craftsmen worked from exquisite drawings researched and created by Lee Nelson, architect and chief of the Preservation Assistance Division of the National Park Service.

Sizing each component to the precise dimensions of the original room, Eisenhardt Mills craftsmen incorporated new exterior windows, fireplace mantel surrounds, paneled doors with frames and trims, decorative carvings, railings, cornices, a chair rail, and a base. The mortise and tenon wall paneling was pegged for stability and accuracy to historical detail, and each moulding was profiled to land in the exact center of the pencil lines on Nelson’s architectural drawings.

Eisenhardt Mills sets the bar with historic restoration of Philadelphia landmarksEisenhardt Mills’ craftsmen position the historically accurate pegged mortise and tenon wall paneling in Independence Hall’s Assembly Room.

The Assembly Room originally featured old growth Pennsylvania pine, a cut of lumber no longer available at the time of restoration. Eisenhardt Mills’ artisans chose instead to use Northeastern white pine, cut from a very specific stand of trees in New England. Known as Kings Arrow Pine, this wood was originally earmarked for use by the English Royal Navy in building masts for British ships.  It has found its purpose instead, in the restoration of the room in which independence from Great Britain was declared.

Eisenhardt Mills sets the bar with historic restoration of Philadelphia landmarksIndependence Hall’s Assembly Room, restored by Eisenhardt Mills to precisely depict every detail of the original room that gave rise to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.

The West Gable Clock

In 1975 Eisenhardt Mills returned to the Philadelphia landmark to restore the iconic clock gracing Independence Hall’s West Gable. Eisenhardt craftsmen rebuilt the entire timepiece to perfectly match the original: a wooden clock set atop a tall stone base.

Restoration of the clock involved building out all of the interior framing, the mouldings, the decorative wood base with hand-carved brackets, the pediment head, and the intricately carved decorative elements on the face and sides of the clock. Artisans were careful to preserve historic accuracy, utilizing the original technique of mortise and tenon joints for the wood framing atop the stone base.

Particular care needed to be taken with the clock’s exposed exterior. It was fabricated in Eisenhardt Mills’ shop, built in five pre-fit and pre-assembled segments, then shipped to Philadelphia. Once on site, the five sections were pieced together on the ground, then hoisted by crane into position atop the framing for final attachment.

Faced with the challenge of preserving the intricacy of detail in the wood’s carved elements, while at the same time creating a restored piece that would stand the test of time, Eisenhardt Mills’ craftsmen manufactured the clock out of durable Honduras Mahogany. Wherever possible, they carved an original piece in wood, then cast multiple copies in resin that increase resiliency without losing the fine details of the carvings.

A Continuing Legacy of Historic Restoration

Eisenhardt Mills would later return to Philadelphia for additional historical restoration projects in Old City, including:

  • Exterior millwork for the restoration of the Betsy Ross House, where the first American flag was sewn.
  • The cupola on the Merchants’ Exchange building, a structure that showcased America’s first national architectural style-Greek Revival, popular for its reference to ancient Greek ideals of democracy.
  • The exterior of the Graff House, where Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence.
  • All of the exterior and interior woodwork, including windows and doors for the City Tavern—a local pub frequented by America’s founding fathers and still popular today with locals and tourists.

Each of these buildings is a thread in the fabric of American culture and history. Returning these buildings back to their original grandeur, and preserving them for future generations, was both a monumental task and privilege. Eisenhardt Mills is proud to have been entrusted with the restoration of our nation’s most venerable landmarks, and looks forward to continuing to set the standard for historical restoration.

Photo Gallery

Eisenhardt Mills sets the bar with historic restoration of Philadelphia landmarksIn restoring the Assembly Room, Eisenhardt Mills’ craftsmen needed to find a replacement for the original old growth Pennsylvania pine, no longer available in the 1960s. They chose Kings Arrow Pine, originally earmarked for use by the English Royal Navy in building masts for British ships.

Eisenhardt Mills sets the bar with historic restoration of Philadelphia landmarksPainstaking attention to detail resulted in a masterful restoration based on architectural drawings by Lee Nelson, architect and chief of the Preservation Assistance Division of the National Park Service.