Ben Franklin bears all!

The houses and print shop owned by Ben Franklin still exist on Market Street in Philadelphia.

The houses and print shop owned by Ben Franklin still exist on Market Street in Philadelphia.

Originally owned by Benjamin Franklin, the former tenant house at 318 Market Street is a unique museum that reveals more than Benjamin Franklin’s history. Unlike most house museums, 318 Market does not represent a specific moment in history or one family’s experience within the house and the City. Walls of the Franklin house have been “stripped bare”  to reveal the changes made from the time it was built in 1787 to the present. The history of the house is documented by scars on the walls that show where the partitions once stood and where architectural elements, like fireplaces, were once located.   Physical details that are still visible represent the entire history of the house and all of its owners from the eighteenth through the twentieth centuries.  Dennis Kowal, AIA worked with the National Park Service to explain this history and develop a Museum about Ben Franklin’s involvement in the construction of the his houses. Franklin loved to watch construction and called it “an old man’s amusement” (the name of the Museum as well).

The tools used to build houses like these and the methods employed are the features of the museum.  This original display window still contains the “bulls eye” glass that was hand blown for this purpose.   A “bulls eye” is a round thickened bulge in the glass where the glass blower removed his pontil  (blow pipe).   During the 18th and early 19th century, molten glass was blown into a “crown” (globe shape) and then spun and flattened into a large glass disk using centrifugal force.  The best window  glass was the thin and clear glass away from the center, while the thicker inner circle glass was cut for less important windows.  Machine rolled glass wasn’t developed in America until 1888 and “wire glass” (security glazing) came along in 1898.

Dennis Kowal originally designed and field tested a projection system of how the interiors could be recreated from the wall fragments.  The photos below show how the black soot reveals where the chimney flue rose against the wall (red line) and locates the fireplace between two built-in china closets with small shelves and a central cupboard (beige line).   All that remains of the closets are plaster backs which denote where the wood shelves and construction once stood.

Ben Franklin’s wall have been “stripped bare” of furring and layers of finishes to reveal the original bearing wall which provides a fascinating look into the original finishes, millwork and structural modifications.  From these fragments and knowledge about the period, the entire interior can be mentally recreated as it once was.

Museum in Independence Park

Featured in Award Winning Book

A book about the Handley Regional Library of Winchester Virginia, including the recent historic renovation by Dennis Kowal Architects,  won in the Best-Non Fiction category of the Independent Publishers Award (also known as the “IPPYS”).  The book details the history of the Library and how the most significant Beaux Arts Style building in the State of Virginia ended up in beautiful, but rural, Winchester. 

At the time when Dennis Kowal Architects (DKA) was hired, a previous study had concluded that the nearly 100 year old structure was beyond repair and should be demolished. DKA saved the building by determining a feasible approach and cost to the historic renovation and proved the facility could be sensitively altered to be barrier free, technologically proficient, and large enough to meet the needs of the community as a public library.  The building is now celebrating it’s centennial and functions beautifully as a state-of-the-art library within the historic structure. Library Director, Trish Ridgeway, reports that book circulation and attendance have both doubled as a result of the renovation and because “Dennis Kowal Architects listened to what we wanted”.

The building is on the National Register of Historic Places and required a strict adherence to preservation guidelines.  Technically a “rehabilitation” because while most building elements were restored to their original construction, some parts of the library were creatively altered to adapt to the current needs of an operating library. For example, the five tiered, glass floored, iron stack assembly was repaired, cleaned and restored but now as three tiers to better align with the other floors of the building.

Restoration involved almost every trade and material from the stained glass dome to the “bottle glass” cast-iron floor gratings.  When discarded components were found in the attic, they were re-purposed in the renovation such as using the old wood-shuttered toilet stall doors for the restored telephone booth.

The book highlights the involvement of Dennis Kowal Architects in the massive renovation.

The book highlights the involvement of Dennis Kowal Architects in the massive renovation.

The completed facility features frosted glass floors that were once painted, restored tiger oak millwork, furniture duplicated to match the original library desks and chairs, replacement limestone tooled to match the original, restored terrazzo, refurbished lighting fixtures,  restored and duplicated ornamental copper work, and the original circulation desk now converted into a bench and sculpture.   The 100 year old glass floors were creatively back-lit to give the new Young Adult Room a modern flare.


Many of the original materials of the structure were badly decomposed or missing.  DKA painstakingly reproduced copper scrolls, original light fixtures, and restored as much of the original fabric as possible including the massive tiger oak entry doors and the entire limestone exterior.


The Library suffered from maintenance neglect, settling foundation walls, bird and air pollution staining, and some structural failures.   Thanks to the caring renovation and the completion of details on the original drawings but never executed, the  Library now looks better than the day it was first built.


Dennis Kowal Architects saves energy, resources,
and history by recycling the past.

Bone Collector: I see dead things

The restoration of the 1777 Atchley Farmstead by DENNIS KOWAL ARCHITECTS yielded an abundance of buried artifacts including some old bones.

The restoration of the 1777 Atchley Farmstead by DENNIS KOWAL ARCHITECTS yielded an abundance of buried artifacts including some old bones.

It is likely the construction materials for the center section (and oldest part of the Hendrickson/ Atchely Farmhouse) were hand made on site.  A Flemish bond brick was used for the center core and the uneven sizes and shapes indicate a hand-made brick.   Excavations at the site during construction revealed some oyster shells; often used in the making of lime for mortar in the 18th and 19th century.  Also, discovered were a variety of medicine, shoe polish, spice and other bottles as well as an old shoe from the early 1900’s.

Helping DKA with the archaeological dig was veteran bone collector, Victor Garcia, of Cuautitian Izcalli Edo De Mexico (literally a town so small it is named “the house between the trees”).  Although there are two actual graves on the site of this farm, the bone fragments discovered were identified by Victor as animal bones which were probably dressed on site for soup and then discarded.  Victor discovered many human bones while digging in Mexico.  Sometimes the bones were the remains of bodies (buried  in the fetal position) in clay vessels.


Over 70 artifacts were recovered from the ground during the historic restoration of this house which was once part of a 134 acre working farmstead.   Some of these items can be seen on the table in front of the fireplace.  The preservation of this exterior of the house followed the Secretary of the Interior Preservation Guidelines for Restoration to a period.  Therefore, all twentieth century additions to the house were removed to restore the house to its appearance in the late 1800’s.

The condition of the property was poor when Dennis Kowal Architects began.   Many structural members were replaced, the toppling brick chimneys were replaced with the original brick, missing windows were fabricated to the exact profiles of the original, and a new metal roof, copper gutters and wood eaves were crafted.

The restoration was provided by Lewis-Graham Inc. under the supervision of and Dennis Kowal Architects for the Opus Development Corporation.  All of the artifacts and a detailed field report will be presented by pre-arrangement to the Archaeological Department of the New Jersey State Museum.

DENNIS KOWAL ARCHITECTS preserves the past with dignity and passion.