Dryden Town Historical Society, Tompkins County, New York

Southworth Homestead

Southworth Homestead Tree Work – FALL 2017

Those of you living in the Dryden area probably noticed we had a tree contractor on site last summer working on the four largest/oldest trees at the Homestead.  We know many of our members share our concern for the trees on the Homestead property so we thought it appropriate to write about the tree work in this newsletter.

When the Historical Society moved into the Homestead in 2013 we noticed many of the larger, older trees were in decline.   The red oak on the north property line had lots of dead limbs, as did the giant cottonwood tree on the south property line.  In summer 2015 we noted several limbs in the sugar maple next to the barn didn’t leaf out. That summer we hired a tree contractor to prune out the dead limbs in the oak and maple.  Then, in mid- summer 2016 we noted the two sugar maples between the house and barn, including the tree mentioned above, appeared to drop their leave early.  This past spring more than half of the limbs on the sugar maple closest to the house failed to leaf out.

In May we met at the Homestead with an arborist from Cornell who cares for the trees on campus.   Our goals for the meeting were to try to understand what was happening to our trees and determine what we should do about it.


We learned there have been two weather-related factors that are especially hard on older trees.  During recent winters, we have had significant mid- and late-winter thaws that have “fooled” trees into beginning their spring growth cycle, only to have the growth halted by return of normal cold temperatures.  Alternating temperature cycles cause trees to expend extra energy to complete the spring growth cycle and some older, weaker trees lose limbs or worse. The second factor is the severe drought in the spring and summer of 2016.   The Cornell arborist noted trees such as sugar maples have shallow root systems and are particularly susceptible to damage from drought.

Then came the really bad news.  The arborist told us the giant cottonwood tree was mostly dead and represented a significant hazard.  He recommended we have it removed as soon as possible. He said over half the limbs on the sugar maple closest to the house were dead and the tree would continue to decline.  He said the sugar maple next to the barn and large red oak were in somewhat better condition but they, too, would continue to decline.  He said that, aside from watering if we have another severe drought like we had in 2016, there is little we can do.  After a lengthy discussion, the DTHS Trustees voted to remove the cottonwood and the one sugar maple, and prune the dead wood out of the oak and the other sugar maple. The work was done last July.

We will continue to monitor the oak and sugar maple and the other trees at the Homestead.  We will water during drought periods and continue to prune out dead limbs.   If there is a bright side to the topic of trees at the Homestead it is that we have appointed a landscape committee to recommend a plan for planting new trees.  Goals for the committee include replacing trees we have lost since moving to the homestead.  Nineteenth century farmhouse properties generally did not have much in the way of ornamental plantings.  Trees were planted for food production, windbreaks and shade.   Lilacs were planted next to the outhouse. The landscape committee will use these guidelines to create a plan to renew the Southworth tree population.  We will report on our progress in future newsletters.


Southworth Homestead Facility Update – Winter 2016

This installment of the Facility Update includes the recently completed stabilization of the historically significant wallpaper in the west parlor, a description of the upcoming rebuild of a built-in china cabinet that was disassembled in preparation for the east addition rebuild, site work that will accompany a Village of Dryden sidewalk project, and some photos and background for our next big exterior repair project.

The French Scenic Wallpaper in the west parlor is special. When the Historical Society sent images of it to the Smithsonian’s National Design Museum, they responded saying, “This is one of the lesser known scenic wallpapers, and especially if it is an early addition, is definitely worth having conserved”.  At the time the historical Society acquired the Southworth House in 2012, the wallpaper was in obvious need of conservation.  This historic wallpaper is still bright and covers all four walls, but age and changes in temperature and humidity have caused general deterioration. There were areas of paper hanging loose and pieces missing. Thanks to the continued support of a DTHS member, the conservation has begun.  Westlake Conservators have repaired the loose paper and reattached the saved pieces. Because the paper is old and fragile, the process is slow and costly.  The Historical Society Grants Committee is currently preparing a grant application to continue the work to repair and conserve the wallpaper. We estimate the process will take about 5 years, assuming a favorable response to grant applications.




The above photo, taken in May 2013, shows a china cabinet on the west wall of the addition.  The cabinet was carefully disassembled in preparation for the 2013 rebuild of the addition.  Work include replacement of the floor, joists and sill under the cabinet and replacement of the corner post behind the right side of the cabinet.   Historical Society staff saved the cabinet pieces in anticipation of reassembling the cabinet when funding became available. Enabled by gifts from our Society members, Historical Society staff have hired master cabinetmaker Chris Lowe, CCSN Woodworking, from Freeville to do the work.  Chris recently rebuilt the balustrade at the grand staircase and he also made the windows for the 2014 basement wall project.  The cabinet work is scheduled for this spring.

As many of you know, we’ve had a tenant renting an apartment at the Southworth House since last June. With last spring’s completion of the apartment, work on the addition at the Southworth House is essentially complete.  However, stabilization and repair work on the main brick part of the house and the barn is just beginning.   The last Facility Update included a prioritized listing of projects totaling over $300K, most of which is to fund repairs on the brick part of the Southworth House.  Our highest priority is to begin repairs to the mortar joints in the brick itself.  Failure of the mortar joints is a particularly serious matter because, unlike newer brick construction techniques, the brick at the Homestead is structural.  The brick supports interior beams which carry the floor joists.  It also supports the upper plates that carry the roof rafters.  The photo on the right shows failed mortar underneath a window. The photo on the left shows the poor condition of the mortar, not to mention the shutters, over a larger area of the building.  The joint between the window frames and the brick has failed in many locations letting water into the wall.   While there are about a dozen locations where missing mortar allows water into the interior of the brick wall, a close inspection of the brick clearly indicates that the entire building needs to have the loose grout removed and replaced, a process known as repointing.

Our overall plan for the building exterior is to repoint the deteriorated areas of the building as funding allows.  Then we plan to replace the shutters and paint the window exteriors.  In total there are 39 shutters on the building.  While not all are as deteriorated as the one in the photo, all have rotted wood and peeling paint. While the shutters are original to the building, the hardware is not.  Historical Society staff believe the original hardware, consisting of hinges and holdbacks, was removed and replaced with steel brackets when the storm windows were installed.   We cannot find any of the original hardware.  We plan to replace the shutters with solid wood replicas as funding permits.

Deteriorating Brick

ShuttersSite work at the Homestead over the past three years included filling the low area and planting of the east lawn, addition of two parking areas with interconnecting drive and walkways, outdoor lighting, and lots of work on trees and shrubs. Historical Society staff are currently working with the Village of Dryden on a Village project to install a sidewalk along North Street in front of the Homestead.  Scheduled for late this year or early next, we anticipate the project will include the relocation and rebuild of the four brick columns that define the entrances to the Homestead.  Concurrent with the sidewalk project, we are planning to shift the north entrance to align with Elm Street, and widen the south entrance to allow two-way traffic flow to the large parking area.  Much of the site work is done by volunteers.  The rest is funded by ongoing gifts from one of our Society members.

Our budget cost estimate to repoint the building is $60K.  The shutter replacement and painting work is budgeted at $25K.  The Southworth Capital Renewal fund is nearly exhausted and we are actively seeking donors/project sponsors so that we can begin work on the brick repairs.

The Dryden Town Historical Society is a volunteer-based organization.  We have no paid staff and we do not hire fundraisers.    Consequently 100% of your gifts go to enabling the mission of the Society and the maintenance and operation of the Homestead.    If you are interested in helping fund our work, please call.  We would be happy to meet with you to provide additional details.  Contributions are tax deductible.  And for those who have already donated your time and/or money we extend to you a grateful THANK YOU!


Southworth Homestead Facility Update – Fall 2015

This installment of the Facility Update includes a list of ongoing repair and maintenance projects at the Southworth Homestead.  But first, a quick review of work completed shows how far we have come since starting work in spring of 2013.  Two years ago the Trustees approved a proposal to repair and add to the east wing and to conduct critical repairs in the main brick building.  Goals for the work included preserving the historic fabric of the building with the sometimes conflicting goal of minimizing long term operating and maintenance costs.   Our first project was to prepare the east wing to become the home of the Historical Society.  We replaced rotted structural timbers, duplicating the post-and-beam materials and methods of the original building.  Then we supported the building on steel beams while we replaced the crumbling foundation with a full basement for archive storage.  We repaired the windows and replaced the siding and trim using materials consistent with the original building.  A new 500sf addition provided much needed office and meeting space.  We replaced the heating, plumbing and electrical systems throughout the entire building.  The Historical Society moved from the History House into the Southworth House in spring of 2014.

Last summer we turned our attention to the second floor of the east wing and also the badly deteriorated foundation and basement windows in the brick part of the house.  Foundation/window repairs are complete and the apartment was occupied June 1, providing much needed funding for the operation of the Society. Work on the site has been ongoing and included filling the low area east of the barn and installation of parking and circulation. We’re planting grass this spring and will soon have a full lawn.

Ongoing Southworth Homestead Capital Renewal Projects are shown in the following table.  The project at the top of the list, shutter replacement, is our top priority for the exterior of the House.   The project will repair/replace the badly deteriorated shutters.  Perhaps more important, while the shutters are removed we will correct a problem in which water seeping into the joint between the window frames and brick is damaging the brick and the windows.  We will paint the window frames and caulk the perimeter of the frames.  We will also repair damaged brick under some of the windows.

Stabilization of the west parlor wallpaper is the highest priority interior project.  The wallpaper, imported from Europe by John Southworth, has further deteriorated even in the relatively short time we have occupied the Homestead.  We currently have a grant to evaluate the wallpaper and establish a program to stabilize and possibly restore it.

The Southworth Capital Renewal fund is nearly exhausted.  We are actively seeking donors/project sponsors so that we can begin work on the Shutter and Wallpaper Projects and other work.  If you are interested in helping fund our work please call.  We would be happy to meet with you to provide additional details.  Contributions are tax deductible.  And for those who have already donated your time and/or money we extend to you a grateful Thank You!


Southworth Project Update Spring 15

Samuel Jansen Miller Information

DTHS has two S. Jansen Miller violins in the historical collection.  In 2009, DTHS presented a program, “Jansen Miller and His Violins”.  Since then there has been exchanges of correspondence sharing information on more than 20 violins.  This summer two emails shed light on Miller’s construction methods.  There is a growing file, but still many unanswered questions.  DTHS has presented public programs since 1981 which have focused on people, events and places in the town of Dryden.  All programs have been intended to not only inform, but spark additional information on the subject.  To add information on Jansen Miller, contact program committee or Gina Prentiss, 844-4691.


Please download the Pledge Form below, and become a part of this history making endeavor!  Please see the June 2013 newsletter for floor plan details.

Southworth Homestead Project Pledge Form


Work on Southworth Homestead-Spring 2015

Work on Southworth Homestead-Spring 2015


Pruning Workshop March 2015

Cleaning the house

Cleaning the house

Southworth House tours



Yong helper sprucing up the Homestead

Yong helper sprucing up the Homestead


Dryden Beautification Brigade

Dryden Beautification Brigade























































On February 3, 2012, the Southworth Homestead passed from the estate of Rebecca Southworth Simpson to the Dryden Town Historical Society. A small group of DTHS trustees, Betsey and Peter Van Sickle, and Mike Lane gathered around the desk of John Southworth while Betsy Cleveland, DTHS president signed the official papers.

The Homestead is beautiful and has been well cared for, however some areas of the building are in need of rehabilitation.   DTHS has commissioned preservation architects, Crawford and Stearnes to complete a conditions assessment report to determine what needs attention first.   A student intern is documenting the grounds and will make landscape recommendations later in the spring.  Our committee is doing a basic inventory of the contents, recording the history of the house and its occupants, and exploring funding sources and fund – raising plans. Meanwhile the History House will be open for exhibits, collection storage and local history research. With great appreciation and high hopes, we look forward to the coming year when we can open wide the doors of the Southworth Homestead.


Article describing Stabilization and Preservation Needs of the Southworth Homestead:

Southworth Homestead Stablilization and Preservation Needs