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Greek Revival

A conscientious Building Team executes a sensitive restoration of an antebellum mansion-turned-museum in Georgia's old capital.

October 01, 2005 |

Old Governor's Mansion, in Milledgeville, Ga., served as headquarters for General William Sherman as he marched his Union troops to the sea in the Civil War. Eight Georgia governors lived in and governed from this stately, 1830s abode, one of the finest examples of High Greek Revival architecture in the country.

Located on the campus of Georgia College & State University and designated a National Historic Landmark, the mansion recently completed an $8.5 million restoration that placed stringent demands on a construction management joint venture between The Christman Company, Lansing, Mich., and Garbutt Construction, Dublin, Ga. Lord Aeck Sargent, Atlanta, served as architect.

Extensive historic and archeological research, design and construction of a new M/E infrastructure, and detailed artisanship in replicating carpeting, flooring, paint color, and light fixtures highlighted this 24,000-sf project.

Starting with the foundation, the team at first assumed that the original construction consisted of brick pavers on a sand bed. Once construction got started and the subgrade was uncovered, however, it became evident that the lower level was originally wood framed. This unexpected discovery required a major redesign and new construction, but still the team managed to stay on schedule and within budget.

When it came to housing new M/E/P systems, the only viable option appeared to be the mansion's attic, but installing the equipment inside the oddly shaped space would be like building a ship inside a bottle, said Jeff Arlington, senior project manager with Christman. To support the load, a large framework of structural steel beams had to be constructed. Because the structural members spanned the attic's load-bearing walls, installation had to be executed with extreme caution to avoid cutting into a joist or rafter.

"They did a great job concealing M/E/P upgrades, as new mechanical systems aren't hitting you in the face," said awards judge Robert Loversidge, Jr., FAIA.

By chipping away layers of paint, the team revealed the original layer of stucco to be lime colored with Georgia clay, lending a bright pink tone to the mansion. After sending the material to a consultant for analysis, they were able to accurately reproduce the color.

In replicating the flooring, the team hoped to locate genuine heart of pine wood flooring from the mid-1800s. Fortunately, structural timbers from an 1850s warehouse that was undergoing demolition were recovered, and the timbers milled into tongue and groove wood flooring. When they ran short, the team once again got lucky, locating another source of 19th-century heart of pine that perfectly matched the color and grain of the first batch.

The team lucked out in finding an original piece of the rare painted, patterned floor cloth that once covered two areas of the mansion. Artisans were able to replicate the pattern. Elsewhere, loomed carpet from England was installed.

Also tucked away safely in the mansion's attic were the original windows, which had been removed and saved during a previous renovation, making the reglazing relatively simple.

When it came to the original light fixtures, the team had to enlist the aid of a historical expert, who matched pictures found in books from the mid-1800s against the spaces left by the original fixtures in order to make the most accurate guess as to what the originals looked like.

Although construction took place while the university was in session, the Building Team finished on time and so much under budget that they returned $500,000 to the institution.

Visitors can now experience a slice of antebellum Georgia in all its glory.

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