Autumn update: All of the pieces are falling into place (even some we didn’t know we had)

FORT WARD, BAINBRIDGE ISLAND – End of summer 2019 finds us closer to final restoration of the historic Fort Ward bakery. Since our last report:

  • Top-quality new wood windows from Pella installed
  • Cupola, eaves and porch newly painted by Moran Painting
  • Interior framing, sheetrock, plumbing, wiring, in-wall insulation and subfloor complete, inside painting beginning soon, sidewalk forms under construction

Three new tales from restoration of the soon-to-be Fort Ward Community Hall:

FINDING AN ORIGINAL SANDSTONE SILL – EITHER SHAKESPEARE WROTE SHAKESPEARE, OR SOMEBODY ELSE NAMED SHAKESPEARE WROTE SHAKESPEARE: You’d think that with four centuries of scholarship behind it, authorship of the single greatest body of drama and verse the English language has produced would be pretty well settled.

Yet as with heliocentrism, a spherical planet and the safety of modern vaccines, cranks and opportunists lurk in the margins and fringe views persist. The peerless Bard of Avon’s works have been variously attributed to Sir Francis Bacon, Sir Francis Drake, the poet Marlowe, a cabal of Jesuits or Rosicrucian mystics, John Donne, the 1st Earl of Salisbury, 2nd Earl of Essex, 6th Earl of Derby, 17th Earl of Oxford … among scores of other alleged authors. The Atlantic magazine recently posited the quill that scratched out Hamlet, Macbeth and King Lear was held by a woman. At this moment, somewhere in academia, there’s probably a DVM candidate pounding out a dissertation proving the Bard was a beagle.

When really, the evidence of unique, original authorship is overwhelming. As our old(e) English professor was fond of saying: “Either Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare, or somebody else named Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare.”

The question of historical provenance came to mind recently, when what surely will be the final piece of the Fort Ward bakery puzzle came tumbling out of the past and thudded squarely at our feet: an original sandstone sill.

Regular readers of these accounts know these lovely sills are a pretty big deal, a defining architectural feature of masonry buildings at every fort from the period. When it was built in 1910, our bakery had 11 of them. Two, we’ve replaced because they were badly damaged. A third vanished into the mists of time, and we just wrote it off. That is, until we wrote about writing it off, and history wrote back.

“We may have one of the old sills,” our neighbor Elizabeth emailed, after reading our last project newsletter. “It’s too heavy for me to bring it up to the bakery, but if someone wants to pick it up, it’s on the patio under the east window. Hand truck needed, and two strong people.”

We’ve been at this scavenger hunt we call a restoration long enough that we’re not surprised by anything anymore. Century-old doors, windows and beams turning up, it’s getting routine. But now a big hunk of sandstone? Lost for decades, yet sitting in plain sight a few houses away, almost under our noses? Forget chance. This was stretching reason itself.

We grabbed a tape measure and went around to the fort’s old stables building, which Elizabeth and Sam have so beautifully restored as their home. There sat the stone, instantly recognizable, its dimensions precise: 46 inches long, 7 inches deep, 5 inches high, sloping back to front with a radiused trough.

Holy … er, smoke.

The Parks team had a big front-loader onsite that week, so Casey motored over to pick up the sill and haul it to the bakery. In trade, we took back one of the damaged stones we’d just replaced – shorter than the one Elizabeth and Sam were giving up, but nicely cleaned up by the stonecutter who crafted our newly harvested sills and used it as a model.

That is: Our old sill was their new bench, and their old bench was our new sill. Crazy.

Okay, but what about provenance? How did they come by it in the first place? Here was their story: Twenty years ago, probably more, before the shock of new development jolted our sleepy little fort, they salvaged the stone from the field between the bakery and the old guardhouse on the corner. A creative type with an eye for the aesthetic, Sam set it on cement blocks outside their back door and the sill became a bench. It’s been there ever since.

“This one makes me laugh,” wrote Nicholas Vann, WA State Historical Architect, when we shared our latest find. “When you look at it as a bench, you think… hmm that’s a nice bench, but I wonder why it slopes. Then you see that it’s clearly the window sill! I wouldn’t be surprised if you keep finding salvaged artifacts the more you work on this project. Every time someone from the community comes forward with something is pretty special. Keep up the good work!”

We called in our restoration masons, and the sill was soon ensconced in the window on the south side of the bakery – and this time, it’s there to stay. But is it really *our* sill? After so much time, so many changes, can we say for sure it came out of the bakery, not some other building? Maybe we’re just overeager, getting ourselves all looped on some heady preservationist-fantasy cocktail – two shots of inference with a dash of wishful thinking. For the record: We can’t be really, truly, absolutely, positively, 100 percent certain. But let’s consider the evidence.

Sam and Elizabeth say they found the stone closer to the guardhouse than the bakery … but that’s a matter of mere yards; it could mean anything or nothing. The guardhouse appears to have some reproduction sills, so maybe this stone was replaced and discarded … but it also turned up before that building was restored, so they recall. And why would they find only one? In a field?

What we do know is, the sill is clearly original to the fort and the bakery did lose one along the way. It was found next door, and it’s exactly the right size. Maybe that’s a preponderance of evidence, proof enough.

Maybe it doesn’t even matter; like the professor said, maybe somebody else named Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare. In which case a sill from any other historic Fort Ward building would still be – yes – just as sweet.

NEW TRANSOM WINDOWS – SHAPING THE PERFECT OGEE: A few years ago as we were researching other NW forts for inspiration, a ranger down at Fort Stevens, Ore., sent us some photos of their 1910 guardhouse.

It’s a wonderful building, an elongated version of the guardhouse here at Fort Ward. A little down-at-heels on the outside, perhaps, but a time-capsule inside and with the “brig” cell block still intact in the basement. (Key message, soldiers: Don’t come back from that weekend pass still drunk.) There was a wealth of detail to glean from the photos, elements to consider as we plotted restoration of the Fort Ward bakery. One image stuck out: an office with arched masonry doorways, with transom windows over the doors.

Well, we thought: We have a couple of doorways just like that at the bakery. We should do transom windows too. The idea was consigned to the “Wouldn’t It Be Great If” file until a few months ago, when we were finally far enough along in the restoration to start piecing together the bakery’s interior spaces. Doors – check. Lights – check. Fixtures – check.…. Oh yeah, the transoms!

But who could build them? And how soon? And cost ….? We were already spending A LOT on custom wood windows from a commercial vendor – outstanding quality, true, but we were entering that stage of the project where stretching the donor dollar would take on new urgency. Then we heard the BARN woodshop team might be looking for a park-related community service project. Email a fellow named Wayne Chang. Okay.

While they’d never actually built any reproduction windows, Wayne said, he and his team were intrigued enough to look at what we needed. Which was: six transom windows in three different sizes, all reasonably period correct in detail, four interior and two exterior, one of which had to duplicate an original 1910 fanlight, curved at the top, that we had for reference. Easy, right?

We met out at the BARN shop in May. They pored over our original window, promised (grudgingly) not to take it apart to see how it all fit together, and finally concluded that yes, they could probably pull this off.

Wayne: When would you need them?

FFW: Couple of months…?

Wayne: Um, you guys have a budget?

FFW: We’ll provide the materials, if you’ll provide the skill.

Now, for an object that’s defined mostly by what’s not there, a window requires serious woodworking chops: cutting, shaping, precision joinery, skill with the router. This last detail was key: ideally, the inside of the frame and delicate muntins (or are they mullions … can’t keep those straight) between the panes would show just the right ogee, the subtle “double S” profile of the original.

With some research, Wayne determined that the correct router bits would be Amana Tools numbers 55340 and 55341, “Carbide Tipped Reversible Ogee Window Sash & Rail,” both 1/8-inch radius and with diameters of 1-3/8 and 1-9/64, respectively. They didn’t have them, so we tracked down a set and dropped them off at the shop.

Early test cuts with fir were fraught; the wood proved tough and the router gouged and chewed. So the team called up Bob Spangler, a master woodworker (and seasoned window builder) in West Blakely, who said the smart choice would be a softer wood. So then it was off to Edensaw, the Port Townsend outlet renowned far and wide for its furniture-quality woods, for 53 board feet of clear Western pine.

Wayne’s team – which over the course of the project included Mike Gearheard, David Kaplan, Jeanne Huber, Dick Culp and Michael Gunderson – made a site visit to the bakery in mid-July to take precise measurements and talk through final details.

We didn’t hear anything for a few weeks, and then out of the blue a photo of the first four windows, completely finished, appeared in our inbox. “I didn’t want to call you in until we were past our technical challenges,” Wayne wrote, rather modestly given the results. “Somehow, we worked everything out this morning and started building as we had the shop to ourselves.”

After a vacation break, the fifth and sixth windows came together in mid-August. Wayne’s team saved the tough one for last, with its top curved to fit one of the bakery’s arched exterior doorways.

What can we say but … magnificent.

Their sage agrees: “Those windows are beautiful and make me want to actually start making windows again,” Spangler wrote. “I always loved making windows since the material was good, the smells good and the joinery was fun to do. They are a piece of art in my opinion. That is a level of woodworking that not very many people can do or even appreciate.”

We sure appreciate them — and the estimated 100 volunteer hours the BARN woodworkers put into crafting them — and we think anyone who uses the Fort Ward Community Hall will too.

This is how the bakery restoration seems to be working out. We might not even have thought of transom windows as a detail, but for this one photo we happened to get from Fort Stevens back in 2016 and filed away for “maybe someday.” Someday came, and then suddenly … wow.  It’s doubly meaningful that these beautiful windows were crafted on island, by our own skilled woodworkers, our friends and neighbors.

Wayne asked if we wanted the special ogee router bits back, but c’mon. You guys keep them for some future project, your next masterpiece. With our gratitude, and more than a little awe.

WHEN IN DOUBT, VISIT ANOTHER FORT (HOW WE GOT WINDOW 11 RIGHT): Fort Ward wasn’t built in a vacuum. The Endicott era of fort construction – so named for Secretary of War William Endicott’s 1886 report to Congress on the sorry state of US coast defenses, and how to fix it – produced a wave of new coastal forts at the turn of the last century.

While layouts were tweaked to suit local scales and topographies, fort designs followed the same general template: massive concrete shore batteries built into the backs of hillsides, their rows of rifled, breach-load guns and mortars commanding harbor entrances against the threat of foreign navies.

In Puget Sound, the period gave us forts Worden, Casey and Flager (the “triangle of fire”) at Admiralty Inlet, our own Fort Ward, and tiny Fort Whitman on Goat Island near Deception Pass. Further south, forts Canby, Stevens and Columbia (“the cape forts”) at Cape Disappointment at the mouth of the Columbia River. Six forts guarding San Francisco Bay alone. Many more up and down the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.

Supporting buildings like barracks, officer and NCO quarters, guardhouses, post exchanges, storehouses – even bakeries – were built to a broad but standardized menu of plans drawn up by the Quartermaster Corps. Many buildings from the period remain, some remarkably well preserved, others still waiting their turn at restoration. So whenever we’ve had a question about the bakery restoration – what a particular fixture might look like, what colors were in play – there’s usually an answer at hand: Ask someone at one of the sister forts, or just go to one and look around.

Over the winter, our quest took us to Delaware and Fort DuPont, where resides the one contemporaneous Army bakery we’ve found identical to our own. (The Fort Caswell, N.C. bakery was also built to the same plan, but the defining cupola is gone from the roof. Plus the current owners painted it white with blue trim, sigh.)

With its roots in the Civil War, Fort DuPont served through World War II before eventually becoming a state park. It’s apparent from its surviving buildings that the State of Delaware lacked the resources or inclination to maintain it properly. The fort is now under a redevelopment authority, which is restoring the historic buildings one by one while adding historic-leaning neighborhoods and districts elsewhere on the 350-acre grounds – a big effort in adaptive reuse.

It was pretty neat visiting the Fort DuPont bakery, stepping into a mirror universe where everything was the same and yet a little bit off. Half the building had been turned into a walk-in deep freeze at some point, the old compressor equipment still evident. But other elements, including the fanlight windows (and the cupola) were familiar indeed.

Time has not been kind to the ornamental soffits or the masonry grout; awful tack-on porches beg to be torn down, and the back half of the building was overwhelmed by trees. It’s going to be a big project, way bigger than our own. But even its careworn state, the Fort DuPont bakery still shows the architectural detail, great bones and frankly the dignity that make it (like its Fort Ward twin) such a gem.

So too the rest of the fort. Peggy Thomas, the site manager and marketer, was kind enough to show us their post exchange and other buildings slated for restoration. Their beautiful theatre is a twin of the one at Fort Worden. Interpretive signage showed all to good advantage for visitors, as the fort slowly comes back to life through music festivals and other public events.

Swampy conditions prevented a foray to the old gun batteries. And as our visit came at the tail end of a business trip, we had to scoot back to Philadelphia International a few hours later. But we’ll be back! Hopefully to find the Fort DuPont bakery fully restored like our own.

A good trip, and good networking. When it came time to order custom wood windows for our Fort Ward bakery, the question came up as to correct light pattern (i.e. how many panes) for “window 11” on the north side, facing the street. The tiny thumbnail drawing provided by the vendor showed a grid of 3-over-3 …. we had to stare at it a while, but those panes seemed like they’d be awfully small when realized. That couldn’t be right.

So on the eve of placing our order, we emailed Peggy. She graciously walked across the Fort DuPont grounds, snapped a quick photo of the corresponding window at their bakery and emailed it back: 2-over-2. The vendor changed the order set to work. The windows were installed in early August.

Window 11 was probably a small detail in the scheme of things, but as we say every time it comes time to write a big, scary check: we’re only doing this once, might as well get it right. Our friends at the other forts sure help.

GRATITUDE WHERE IT’S DUE: Special thanks from Friends of Fort Ward to recent contributions from Colonial Dames of America in the State of Washington and  Kitsap Community Foundation (Anonymous Fund). Their generous grants ($5,000 and $1,500, respectively) move our project closer to completion this fall. Gratitude also to two other stalwart backers in the neighborhood for their recent $500 gifts — thank you both for your ongoing faith and support!

More capstone donations are welcome; please make tax-deductible contributions to Friends of Fort Ward, 1948 Parkview Drive, Bainbridge Island, WA 98110. Friends of Fort Ward is an all-volunteer organization, and all gifts go directly to the building restoration fund. Contact us at history@fortwardhall.org to tour the building. 

Fort Ward bakery’s twin at Fort DuPont, Del.

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