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CAROLYN CRABTREE: This is Carolyn Crabtree. I am with Billy Lowry at the McDowell House. It is October 23, 2009 and it is 1:00 in the afternoon. Mr. Lowry, tell me a little bit about what you do for a living.

BILLY LOWRY: I do restoration on old homes. Just like this one right here.

CRABTREE: Just like this one?

LOWRY: Like McDowell House.

C: Do you do those all across the state or just in our area?

L: No, just central Kentucky.

C: Just central Kentucky. How long have you been doing that?

L: Just 15 years. But I have been associated with restoration probably for 25 years.

C: How did you get interested in that?

L: Through Stanley Kelly from Harrodsburg. I worked with him on projects, and so I just went out on my own.


C: What is your connection to the McDowell House?

L: I was a general contractor on this restoration project. We started February 5, 2005 with a new drainage system out to the street. All the gutters dropped into the lines, and some new sidewalks, and then we drilled the wells for the geothermal in that phase. The following year we started phase I and we did a 2:00partial electric upgrade and proceeded with installing the ductwork and removing the old ductwork. You always have an asbestos problem which we had to correct and get rid of all that. The Phase II consisted of a total electric upgrade. They got a grant to do the whole house and also the geo-thermal system along 3:00with the boiler for hot water to dehumidify the house.

C: Were there problems with the house that this was necessary to do that you could tell us about?

L: This is, as you know, a museum, with a lot of old original McDowell furnishings from their relatives from what I understand. They got the money from the grant to do that and Joseph Opperman, the architect, was the one that designed all this, and it keeps the relative humidity over the whole house, and 4:00seems to work fine. I think they had some problems with the computer that regulates the temperature. There're no thermostats on the walls. They're built into the cold air duct returns; then the computer senses that humidity and it will dehumidify the house or humidify, whichever is called for. And we painted the house with gray paint. Of course, we had to do the wall channeling to get the ductwork electrical.

C: What does that mean exactly? What is wall channeling?


L: Cutting walls to get access from first floor to second floor.

C: Ok.

L: And to install all new wiring and to get the refrigerant lines to the attic.

C: Is that where the air conditioner system is?

L: There're four units in the house. There's one in the attic of the old kitchen; there's one in the main attic to take care of the top floor; and there's one in the office to take care of that part. And there's one to take care of the first floor.

C: Is that one in the cellar?

L: Yes ma'am, it's in the basement.

C: So that's why it was so critical to get that water out of the basement where they were having problems?

L: Right.

L: That's why we put a new drainage system all the way around the house and took it to the street. In fact, they had to come all the way to the intersection 6:00because there wasn't a storm drain.

C: Really?

L: Which took care of that.

C: I thought they had storm drains all over this town.

L: Second Street didn't have one, this first block.

C: My goodness!

L: Then we did some changing in the back yard. Of course, we had some archeological digs to check for artifacts and put in more new sidewalks. We did that in 2008 after we completed this.


C: You didn't make any changes to the main sidewalk out front.

L: No ma'am.

C: Just on the property itself.

L: Right.

C: Now is all of that part of Phase 1 or have they started Phase 2 in the restoration?

L: No, that completed Phase 2 on installing of the units and the total electric upgrade.

C: They have told me that there will be another part to this restoration, including a roof and some other parts.

L: Right. And repointing the brick; it'll be done in three phases.

C: Ok.

L: They're having trouble up here in the operating room with the brick; the mortar's deteriorated.

C: Really? How long do you think that mortar's been there, since the 1935 restoration?


L: The pointing was done in whatever year that was.

C: By the WPA?

L: Yeah. But it's the wrong type of mortar; it's a hard mortar, which will just have to be cut out.

C: What type of mortar would you put in there?

L: Well, it's a special mix, because you don't want your mortar harder than your brick.

C: Really?

L: Down here's not the problem; it's up on the south wall in the operating room. And the west end part of the kitchen is in bad shape; it's going to be repointed in the second phase. The third phase is the north part of the operating room and 9:00dining room.

C: Now is this brick original to the house in the beginning or was it replaced?

L: There're a lot of questions about that and when this part was added. I feel like it was added after the frame part was built; that's from working in the attics and seeing how it was built and was added on to. I don't think there is a date that that frame part was built.

C: They don't know the date?

L: No.

C: So which part of the house do you believe was built first?


L: The frame.

C: The frame? And that was 1809 or something or was it before that? Do you know?

L: I don't really know. I don't think they know.

C: Well, we had found an old log cabin up on Third Street that we wanted to save. I talked to Mr. Kelly and some others about it --

L: I think I've talked to you, I know I went up and looked at it.

C: We weren't able to save it on the site; we do have the logs preserved to possibly put the building up eventually but I was fascinated by the way that you can tell how buildings are put together and face

L: Yeah, that had been changed and the ceilings raised.

C: Have you noticed anything like that in this building?


L: No.

C: Was it always built this tall and things like that?

L: Yes ma'am. It's a well-built building.

C: Is it?

L: The frame; you can always to the attic and get an idea.

C: Did you find anything up there that indicated anything other than professional construction.

L: No, ma'am.

C: I mean, like pegs in the roof or anything? I'm always curious about these old buildings.

L: They're very interesting, that's why I do this.

C: Now do you plan to do part of the work that will be coming up.

L: I hope so. I mean, I bid on it.

C: Alright.

L: And I have several bids already.

C: Have you? What is your favorite part of the work that you do with restoration? Do you have a favorite part?


L: Well, seeing it put back to the original state if it's possible.

C: Have you worked on any other homes here in Danville or in the county?

L: No, my first project was the Owsley House in Lancaster.

C: Really?

L: Of course I didn't do the exterior; I did the interior.

C: Oh, it's beautiful.

L: I did the white house at Camp Nelson.

C: OK.

L: That was a total restoration. Interior, exterior, we totally gutted it out.

C: Really? Is that still considered a restoration when you do that? When you take the whole thing and rebuild it? Did you rebuild it with new products or use 13:00what you took down?

L: What we did, we gutted the inside, took all the plaster, restored part of the siding and added some new and new windows and all new electrical, new heating.

C: Ok.

L: Really there were no changes to it; maybe the landscaping might have been different, sidewalks and so forth.

C: Now who was responsible for hiring you to do that one at Camp Nelson?

L: That was through Jessamine County Fiscal Court. It was bid job.

C: So the county was actually restoring that house?

L: Right. The architect was Greg Fitsimons out of Lexington, a wonderful person to work with.

C: Now is Mr. Oppermann still doing this type of work?


L: Yes; he's out of North Carolina. He does the whole eastern seaboard.

C: So that's his home?

L: Yeah, Winston-Salem.

C: Well, they had given me his name to interview and then they said don't do it. But I'm going to North Carolina next week so--

L: Yeah.

C: I doubt if I'll travel all the way to Winston to do it, though.

L: That's a really good trip. I traveled down there in one day and came back. That's a long trip.

C: That was. My home is about 50 miles from Winston-Salem, so we're going down just because I enjoy the fall down there. Well, what are other things that you feel like need to be done here?

L: New roof.

C: Which type do you think they need to put on?


L: Well, originally you know it was a shake wood roof, probably out of local timber. Of course now the only thing available is your cedar and then you're going to have an estimate for copper, standing seam.

C: Now, would copper be something that they would have done back in those years?

L: Yes, I feel like in the early 1800s there would have been.

C: In the work that you've done here have you been able to find any artifacts that were hidden somewhere in the house or up in the roof or up in the ceilings? 16:00That would be interesting? No?

L: A few empty beer cans, but that's --

C: Of our period or someone else's?

L: Yes.

C: Now, has any work been done in the cellar or in the part of the building that did have water problems other than just trying to get the drainage out?

L: We've stopped the water from the exterior. Course there was a lot of work done, you know, during the WPA. Wasn't there some done in '65?

C: Yes, I believe there was.

L: I think what they excavated the basement, maybe took a lot of dirt out, poured a concrete slab and laid brick.

C: Ok.

L: And that was probably in one of those two, 'cause you can tell there's a 17:00concrete shelf that runs around the wall about that high so that was probably taken down sixteen-eighteen inches to get more head room.

C: Ok.

L: Because the units in these old homes -- you're lucky if you've got a six foot headroom in the cellar or basement whichever.

C: Yeah, we've been in several. That's what was so interesting about that log cabin over there; their cellar had several feet above where you stood. That's the one on Third Street. I'm not sure if someone else had already dug that out.

L: Probably did.

C: But it was solid stone walls all the way up, dry laid.


L: Good.

C: It was interesting. Now, what is the wish list that you contractors might have for McDowell House for the future, other than the roof? Anything that you see that needs to be done here?

L: Well, the brick needs repointing.

C: Oh, ok.

L: And the roof. And the front step, the top landing, we're gonna have to replace that and two of them as you come in the office door. I hadn't noticed they had deteriorated.

C: Do you feel like those are original steps to this house?

L: No, ma'am.

C: No. I know the house was used many different ways before it was restored.

L: And Carol says this front entry is not original, the doors and so forth. If we could find documents about it, other architects probably --


C: Well, if there were unlimited funds here --

L: I know we would like to have that.

C: -- what would you see done?

L: Well, I guess I'll have to go back again and get the new roof. And the copper would last a lifetime; you wouldn't have to worry about the roof; and these wood shingles -- fifteen to twenty years is the life of those.

C: I know at Constitution Square they have to replace them quite often.

L: Of course they've got a lot of trees over there; that's bad for them.

C: That makes a difference, right?

L: They don't get to dry out. A wood shingle gets saturated plumb through and 20:00they need to dry out. If they stay wet all the time, mold and moss will grow on them and that's bad.

C: Well, I appreciate your doing this. I don't know that I have any other questions for you and if you have any other thing you'd like to tell us, I'd be glad to let you do that right now.

L: I can't think of anything.

C: What are some of the projects that you are working on now?

L: Over on the other side of Stanford on the Gooch Farm. The original part is a 21:00brick front which is a story and a half and then about 1910 they added a frame addition to the back and this belongs to a Dr. Gooch.

C: Is that the house they feel may be the same period as the William Whitley House? I had read something recently about a home that they felt like the brick was as old or older than the William Whitley House.

L: It's supposedly about 1810, 1815, the brick part.

C: Do you believe the brick, here was made on site or do you feel like it was made in the community somewhere?

L: No. I don't know when they started it, but on Dillehay Street there was what they called Dillehay Brickyard.

C: That's a very old brickyard, I know that; late 1700's I believe.

L: So there's a good chance -- you're limited here. You've got to have the right 22:00soil to make brick. It's got to be so much clay and a certain percent sand to make a good brick and these are good brick. They're good and solid and there're a few of the olive brick that I call "hunking" brick that, when they dried them in the kiln, they were on the outside; they didn't get the heat.

C: Is that what makes them yellow?

L: They're not fired as well, because, you know, they build a conglomerate of 23:00brick, you know, that is laid this way and that way and of course they build a fire in the center. There's brick on the outside that don't get the right amount of heat. And they're usually laid on the interior part of the house but some of them get on the outside and they'll deteriorate.

C: I know there is some brick that is made to be painted and some that is not. What is the difference between those?

L: Well, that would be the softer brick.

C: You have to paint that to protect it?

L: To keep it sealed. Mr. Gooch lives in California and he has some family. There's one son, I think, that lives in Lexington and then one in Stanford and the other two are in California, I think. Of course he's hard to communicate with, since we're three hours difference in time. That's been in his family -- 24:00well, his great-great grandfather was born in the house. So, that's how long, you know, it's been in the Gooch family. We're doing the exterior; we're painting that brick back. Well, it's already painted. And vines, they let those vines grow up.

C: What does that do to a brick house?

L: Those roots will grow in the mortar in every crack and corner; they're even in the attic. You've gotta to use a paint grinder with what they call a paint heater on it to get those little roots. I mean, they'll grow right on ___?____. They'll be in the brick and the joints. So we finally got them all off, got it 25:00primed this week. We're just doing the exterior at this point, new windows.

C: This building does have new windows in it, right? Here at McDowell House.

L: They're single pane; now, they're close to the original.

C: Really? Well, those two windows look like they have some protection over them.

L: Yeah, they've got storm protection.

C: Here on the porch?

L: There's a couple up there. Now, some of these are inside.

C: They put the storm windows inside?

L: Yes. They're Plexiglas.

C: Now, they are like the other buildings on Constitution Square; they like to keep the integrity of the history as much as possible.

L: I like this. Well, you can't hardly tell that they're on there, really.


C: Right.

L: But you can't clean the window.

C: I see that.

L: Now, these we took down and cleaned them. Of course, we reglazed them all and painted them.

C: What about the shutters and things like that, do you feel like they're original?

L: We restored all of those. There are some of them that are -- these are the oldest.

C: How can you tell that?

L: By the way they're made, the molding and so forth. I took them all down, took them to my shop and reworked them. I added some new parts and scraped and washed the front. You wouldn't believe the front with this traffic, how dirty. I reckon it's exhaust, whatever.

C: Oil.

L: And off the tires.

C: Where is your shop?


L: It's at my home. I live between Danville and Perryville on Tuggle Road.

C: Well, are you available for other people? Do you advertise yourself or do you just do it by word of mouth?

L: Yeah, I never did advertise. Don't have a business card. Course just this past year it's been slow. Also, last year for Jim Thomas, he's the retired past president of Shakertown, and I did one of the houses that he had bought from Shakertown that's on his property, which they had bought it. Jim Cougar was the president before Jim Thomas and he lived there; I think there was six or seven 28:00acres that Shakertown had bought for him so it finally come up for sale and Jim bought it.

L: So we restored it.

C: Is it an original Shaker House?

L: No, it's got a big stone in the center of a brick part; it's 1795, I think.

C: So it was before Shaker Village. My goodness!

L: Of course it's a few miles from Shakertown.

C: Toward Harrodsburg?

L: Back towards Harrodsburg, yeah.

C: I know there's several buildings along there on 68 that are across the street from Shaker Village that they still own, right?


L: Yeah. But this is back towards Harrodsburg, and it's back off the main road about a mile.

C: You must enjoy what you're doing.

L: Yes.

C: What is your favorite part of the work?

L: Well it's just all of it, you know.

C: You like it all?

L: Yeah: And getting it complete.

C: I tend to be the kind of person that doesn't like to do the same thing all the time.

L: Well see, that's not these old houses. They're none alike. It's always something different, and, you know, I used to build, back in the 70s I built new homes, and everything was pretty much the same all the time.

C: Right.

L: And then the 80s, early 80s, there got to be so much competition, that's when I got started in the restoration working for other people.

C: So does Mr. Kelly still do this type of work?

L: I don't, I haven't seen him in several years. His son has taken up the work.


C: Are there very many people around who do this kind of work?

L: Not the total restoration. There's remodeling and then there's restoration entirely. I have the tools where I can make any kind of molding. I can match up the old original parts.

C: I was gonna ask you that if you could actually take a piece of wood or stone or whatever you needed to do, and make something to match it. In fact, I was going to ask you about the home out near the Shelby house called "Arcadia." Did you do any work there? I know they did quite a bit on restoration of that house.


L: That's on 127?

C: It's on old 127 down near the end.

C: They even had these little -- what are those things called at the corners of the doors?

L: Rosettes.

C: They even had those with dogwood blooms and they had to replace some of those.

L: Yeah.

C: So is that the kind of work that you do?

L: Yeah, that comes in the carving.

C: And you do that as well?

L: Well, some. There's not much demand, other than someone's got one or two missing. I have turned some on a turning lathe that were round, no flower or that kind, but you just take wood chisels and sit down and go to carving. It's very time consuming.

C: Do you enjoy that?

L: Only until your hands get where they crack, I have arthritis. My legs are going to give out first; my knees.

C: So it's hard on you to do this kind of work then?


L: Yeah, you're always down on your knees crawling around, but anyway I've enjoyed it, because I've been self-employed all my life.

C: Have you?

L: Didn't retire from any big company. That's why I'm 67 years old and I'm still working. I've got to.

C: But don't you find it rewarding to work with your hands?

L: Oh, yes.

C: And create things?

L: Hmm. Yes, that's part of it.

C: I have a feeling that our society misses so much, because they don't do that. They don't create. I know even women could look at a quilt that they had made and feel a certain amount of satisfaction in that, that kind of thing. We're missing out on something, I'm afraid. I guess it's our creative nature.

L: Yeah, quilts always fascinated me.


C: We're not expressing it like we should be. Now let me ask you one more questions about the geo-thermal. Why did they go to that system?

L: Well, they had the natural gas heat and one furnace in the basement and it was just totally not suitable for a museum, as you know. It was so expensive. They have been a little disappointed in the boiler. Back in the summer, which you wouldn't think you'd be using natural gas but it got excessive. I think they 34:00got it corrected, but I think it all goes back to the computer.

C: It got excessive in what way? Too much heat or not enough?

L: The bill.

C: Oh, the gas bill.

L: The gas bill got excessive.

C: So the geo-thermal system still uses natural gas?

L: No, no. The boiler's entirely separate.

C: So they're still using natural gas inside.

L: But it's for the boiler and that's for the dehumidifying and humidifying. And also it can be a backup heat. If the geo-thermal cannot produce enough heat, the heat from the boiler circulates through the units.

C: It that done automatically, too?

L: Yes. It all goes back to the computer. And I'm computer illiterate so I don't know--


C: Well, even our cars have computers in them now.

L: Right. And you've got to depend on the transmission.

C: We don't have to understand them.

L: Or how to them. But, like I say, everything's designed for a museum and it's to preserve the old furniture.

C: So when they are closed during the winter months, this will still be operating to protect the furniture and the house itself, the walls, all of that sort of thing.

L: Those pumps run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

C: Can the people who work here make alternations to the settings?

L: No.

C: Or is it all just set?

L: It's all set through the computer. You can go into the computer and change 36:00it. About every month, in some cases, the computer will change the temperature and the humidity, but it also -- there's one right there -- senses the exterior humidity and temperature.

C: Oh, really? That's what that is?

L: And temperature. Right

C: And it goes down through the system?

L: Yeah, it senses the exterior humidity. And if it's really humid outside, naturally the boiler will run lower to heat the air up. You have to understand 37:00the whole system. You'd think you wouldn't want heat in the summertime, but it dries the air that's blowing through the ducts.

C: Ok.

L: If it needs it.

C: Instead of your having a floor humidifier. How much does a system like that cost? I wasn't going to do this; I wasn't going to ask the cost.

L: I don't have my papers with me, but it was very expensive.

C: But in the long run, they feel like for a museum, that's a preservation furnishing.

L: Preservation of the furnishings.

C: Ok. So in the long run really it will pay for itself, because these things in the house will be protected for many, many years and they're irreplaceable things.

L: Right. And they're irreplaceable.

C. Is it a clean type of system where dust and things like that would be kept at a minimum too.

L: It has filters just like any other unit.


C: You mentioned the archeological digs that were done; was that a requirement by the state?

L: Yes.

C: Do you know if they found anything of interest?

L: They got a lot, but it's what you find in every city. If you go digging in the backyard, you'll find bones and pottery and old broken dishes. You see, where they put the wells there were six out there in a courtyard. Of course they had to come in and the McBrides, associated with UK did a dig there and then whenever we started back here with the sidewalks and so forth --

C: Behind the apothecary shop?

L: Yeah, they did the dig there. It's kind of mandatory, just like in highways.


C: It is mandatory, or it is not?

L: It is. If they feel like they'll find bones or an artifact of some sort, then they'll come in.

C: Well, I know several incidents here in town, where people have found things but did not report it. Is that normal, too, for people, contractors to do?

L: Oh yeah.

C: Well.

L: There was -- trying to think what year it was, in the early 70s, probably '71, we had an addition. I worked for a construction company and they added an addition to the telephone building.

C: Over there at the building on Fourth Street?

L: Yes. We put an addition on the back and, of course, we had to dig the 40:00basement. Of course, I was just a carpenter, you know, working for the company. They ran into an old dug well, and, of course, they brought the -- then you know it was Bell Telephone --their engineers up and anyway, they had a guy dig down with a back hoe. You never seen the like of old bottles, I mean, there was hundreds of them and, of course, they dug it all out and put it in the dumpster. Then they turned around and poured the well full of concrete.

C: Well, that's pretty close to a place where I had been told there is a long tunnel that goes back from Central Kentucky Bank all the way back Fourth Street there to another location. And it's bricked in, it's very, very old. Have you 41:00heard about that?

L: Was it a storm drain?

C: No, no. It was something that was built back in the early 1800s, late 1700s.

L: Well.

C: And it probably went back to some kind of water source, maybe. I don't know, but these stories kind of float around in Danville.

L: Well, I put the footer in -- remember the microwave tower that was over there? I put that footer in. I had a local contract there, dug it out, and we dug into a well. There was a stone house that was on -- a white stone house. It was on -- what is that street? Not Walnut.

C: What, Martin Luther King?


L: That street that they closed that went behind the hospital.

C: Martin Luther King.

L: Exactly.

L: It was behind it, and of course to the side of where the microwave tower was. Well, there was a 50 foot square footer that we put in, and we dug into half of a cistern there and in this old corner over here there was half of an old cellar.

C: Really? So it was the foundation of that old house then at one point or something.

L: The old cellar had -- there was a doctor's house close because was lots of old test tubes, funny looking things, you know.

C: Well, Dr. McClure had an office across the street there, right, where the Chamber of Commerce is located in the old brick house there?

L: Dr. McClure?

C: Yes, wasn't it right across the street?

L: Yes, on this way.

C: So maybe before that street was built. There actually was a cotton mill there 43:00at one time.

L: Yeah, and also there was another one that they started and didn't work out; what was it? Well. It was in that same area. There was another business that was started.

C: I can't remember that one.

L: It wasn't hemp?

C: No, the hemp factory was up on Broadway, the corner of Broadway there.

L: I was reading in one of the books here -- Oh no, my brother-in-law gave me a history of Danville and so forth.

C: Well, there's a lot of interesting history here and McDowell House really fits so much with it and improves it so much.

L: This whole block all the way to Fourth Street.

C: Right. Across the street at Constitution Square there's so much history over 44:00there. I hope it will continue to be preserved like you're trying to do.

L: Right.

C: Your work is trying to do that. I thank you so much for this interview.

L: You're welcome.

C: And I hope that things go well for you in your work. Thank you.