Pearl Park Open House

Park offers preserve
for historic buildings

Recently built straw house combines
traditional techniques, green technology

(October 2013) – Bringing together buildings from across Jefferson County, Pearl Park stands as a unique safe haven for historic structures that otherwise faced destruction. The park is located on West Street next to Crooked Creek near the foot of Michigan Hill road.
Elbert Hinds, member of the Jefferson County Preservation Council, says that Pearl Park “started out as a dream of Mary Ellen Munier.” Her vision of a space where buildings could be relocated and preserved will be celebrated at the upcoming Pearl Park open house, set for Saturday, Oct. 12.
Today, the park is home not only to the 1870 Sutter Wagon Factory, which had been owned by Munier’s ancestors, but the Crosby shotgun house, Dr. Sanderson’s 1890s office from Kent, and two mid-1800s bee houses from the Vernon Farm. Hinds says that the park is a way to “interpret them as to what they mean to the history of the county.”
Council member Lee Rogers explains, “My feeling is Madison has many historic homes, but not much has been said about the historic structures out in the county.”
Rogers’ family was involved in the salvage of the bee house and honey house that now stand on the site. Built around 1850-1875 the buildings are an example of structures more common to Europe than the United States. He hopes that the park can help raise awareness and appreciation of the historical buildings that stand throughout Jefferson County.
The Jefferson County Preservation Council will play host to an open house in Pearl Park from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Oct. 12. Council members will be available to discuss the buildings that stand on the grounds and share their stories and importance. There is no admission fee, though donations are gratefully accepted for the maintenance of the structures.
Hinds says that the Open House is a way to honor the memories Mary Ellen and Charles Munier and their work with the park. Charles Munier died last February at age 94 and was very active in keeping his late wife’s vision of Pearl Park alive, even setting up an endowment from an inheritance from one of his cousins.
In addition to showcasing the buildings that have been collected from throughout the county, the event will also showcase the straw house built at the park this past May. Jefferson County Preservation Council President Gale Ferris says that the structure was designed to “educate about methods of early building.”
Rhonda Deeg, Director of Programs for Historic Madison Inc., says the “Straw Bale building began as an idea for the Spring Break Staycation project for this year. The Pearl Park Preservation group were gracious enough to offer the space for the straw bale building to be built – in a visible and easily accessible site.” The design and building of the structure brought together many preservation and education groups.
Deeg said the structure was designed by Sonny Ash and John Marsh and building began during the Spring Break Staycation week. The Madison High School Building Trades class, along with instructor David Bear, helped to dig the foundation and spread the stone in preparation for the initial construction.
The straw building is an exciting fusion of traditional building techniques and modern “green” technology, she said. While shelters of straw and grasses have been built for thousands of years, during the 1800s the idea of using straw as a major building component saw something of a renaissance in the western plains of the United States. The development of the mechanical hay baler and the surge of pioneers into areas with few trees encouraged home builders to explore straw as an alternative to wood or stone buildings.
In order to protect the buildings from burrowing mice and hungry cows, a mud or lime stucco was plastered over the straw bales. Straw buildings have recently attracted the attention of builders because of their extreme energy efficiency when it comes to heating and cooling and also because the tightly packed and covered walls are highly fire resistant.
While Deeg points out that many of the materials used in the Pearl Park structure were donated, it is estimated that supplies for a 9x12-foot straw structure would cost less than $1,000. Deeg terms the construction event as “an educational hands-on project for ‘kids of all ages’ to do.” Project organizer invited people who “like mud” to come out and assist in stuccoing the straw building.
Now David Cart, Director of Preservation and Maintenance for HMI, explains that while the park is open for people to view the buildings each day, it is only during special events that they are unlocked so that people can explore the interiors.
Living in Deputy, Cart sees first-hand the contrast between the preservation and care that is given to historic structures in Madison and those throughout Jefferson County. “Madison has such a wonderful reputation for saving old buildings. The county doesn’t have that reputation,” he says. He points out that Indian Mounds and cemeteries are being plowed under in some places and old pole barns are being torn down to make way for new metal ones.
I think we can learn so much from our past,” says Ferris. He said he hopes that Pearl Park will continue to add buildings from around the county, and he would particularly like to see a log house added to the collection. The park, he says, is “still growing.” He believes that the open house serves as a way “to make people aware that these historic structures in the rural area are still being destroyed.”
Cart agrees and hopes that the Jefferson County Preservation Council and Pearl Park can “help people find creative options” that will allow for more old buildings to have a future as bright as their past.

• For more information, call Elbert Hines at (812) 273-2239 or Lee Rogers at (812) 839-4642.

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