Early Model

The first concrete home in the United States is getting a facelift.

The Milton House, in Milton, Wis., was constructed out of lime mortar, an early form of concrete, in 1844 by Joseph Goodrich. It is the first recorded home with above--grade concrete walls in the country.

Now, as part of a massive restoration project, the Milton Historical Society is working to undo years of decay and misguided repair attempts.

“We’re basically dealing with two problems,” says David McKay, executive director of the society. “This building is 160 years old, so we have obvious wear and damage to deal with.

“The other problem is that over the years there have been a lot of well--intentioned repair attempts that have caused more problems.”

In the 1980s, repairs were made to the lime mortar using portland cement. The harder portland is slowly grinding the softer lime mortar to dust as the building shifts during the harsh freeze--thaw cycles of Wisconsin’s winters.

The building was also repainted with latex paint instead of whitewash. The latex paint traps moisture in the walls, causing them to dissolve (see inset).

The project has three phases that will be completed depending on fund-raising efforts. The project bids came in at $2.4 million, much higher than the budget of $1.9 million because of delays in starting the project and last year’s rapid increases in construction material costs.

Phase one of the project, which started last summer, calls for stripping the latex paint off the walls and replacing the portland cement patches with lime mortar, as well as other stabilization efforts. The lime mortar is being mixed with gravel from the same pit Goodrich used when he built the Milton House. Because of the special characteristics of lime mortar, the masons working on the project had to undergo a special two--day training course with historic construction experts. Future phases will involve construction of other buildings that were once part of the Milton House block and were either destroyed or torn down over the years.

For more information, visit www.miltonhouse.org.

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