First Bid Awarded for Historic Cave House Restoration

Wed August 13, 2003 - Northeast Edition

The first bid for renovations to the 1865 Cave House was awarded recently to a Sharon Springs company for historic window and door restoration.

Contractors’ Millwork Inc. was given the multi-year contract by the Cave House Museum’s board of directors. The company, owned by father and son Alden and Steve Witham, specializes in historic wooden window, sash and shutter reproduction and restoration.

The Cave House, once a hotel that welcomed visitors to famous Howes Cave, and later offices for the many cement companies that worked the Howes Cave quarry, is being re-created as a national museum of mining and geology. Work is expected to take four to five years to complete.

“We were very selective in the bidding process,” said Clemens McGiver, architect. “Invited bidders were limited to only those with experience in historic preservation. We’re pleased a local company met those high standards.”

“This is a great project,” said Alden Witham, “The historic museum will be a source of pride for the community for many, many years. We’re happy to be a part [of it].”

The Cave House has been abandoned for more than three decades. Over the years, vandals have broken all of the windows, most of the doors, and knocked holes in many of the interior walls. A tornado tore the roof off in 1989, and the interior has suffered severe weather damage.

Contractors Millwork will replace or restore all of the 61 windows and seven doors in The Cave House to the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Historic Rehabilitation. In many cases, the company will be able to use native pine or ash that has grown on the quarry property. It has already begun cutting some of the lumber.

“We prefer to cut our own,” said Alden. “We’ve learned to cut the premium wood from every piece.”

It will be several months before its work is evident. After cutting, drying, and preserving the window sections, most of the work — after some assembly — will go into storage in the Withams’ factory in the old Railroad Station on Chestnut Street, Sharon Springs, or in one of the secured industrial buildings at the quarry.

There are a variety of window sizes, shapes, and dimensions, as well as some interior trim to contend with in this unique historic building. The Cave House features four basic types of windows, ranging from traditional to 2/2 double hung of varying sizes, to floor-to-ceiling double casement units; and traditional raised panel entries.

When completed, all window and door units will meet the standards for full restoration, said McGiver.

The methods employed by Contractors’ Millwork add another historic dimension to the Howes Cave quarry project. The company uses equipment from the mid-1800s, as well as other 19-century methods which include wooden nails and wedges —no glue.

“It’s done the old way,” said Alden. “We couldn’t make it any better.”

Contractors’ Millwork Inc., is a family-run small business founded in 1986. The company’s unique methods have earned it national recognition as well as publicity in numerous home and woodworkers’ trade journals.

For more information on the Cave House, call 519/234-4241 or 519/234-0221.