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CRP students, faculty, alumni renovate Oneida mansion

The Department of City and Regional Planning’s annual Historic Preservation Planning Work Weekend in late April brought students, faculty and alumni to the Oneida Community Mansion House in Oneida, New York.

From left, master's students Jonathan Rosin, Kaitlin Mitchell and Ethan Potter, prep wooden columns for painting during the Historic Preservation Planning Work Weekend at Oneida Community Mansion House in Oneida, New York, in late April.

Projects on the three-day excursion, led by associate professor and department chair Jeffrey Chusid, included repairing windows, clearing and stabilizing garden paths, documentation and deconstruction of decorative porch railings, prepping exterior wood columns and porches for painting, and faux bois (“false wood”) paint conservation on wainscoting and doorways in the main entry halls.

Cornell impacting New York State

The 93,000-square-foot, three-story brick residence – originally the home of a religious utopian group called the Oneida Community – dates from the mid- and late 19th century. The expanded building is now a National Historic Landmark that features programs, tours, exhibits and lodging.

The for-credit work weekend offers students the opportunity to do hands-on conservation at a historic site and to provide positive and meaningful community impact. Chusid said this was one of the most successful work weekends in some time, in spite of intermittent rain and snow. 

“The Oneida Community Mansion House is a fascinating site with a wonderful history,” he said. “The great diversity of projects available to the students were executed at a high professional level, thanks to a combination of training received on site and commitment to doing great work.”

Chusid acknowledged the help of Abigail Lawton ’17 – curator of collections at the site and a former student in the historic preservation program who co-directed the 2016 work weekend – in making the event a success.

Lawton hopes to use the group’s work “as a starting point for conversations with visitors and stakeholders about the importance of preservation work generally, and the needs of our site in particular.” She appreciated how, in just two days, the students completed work it would have taken maintenance staff weeks to do. “We can’t thank them enough,” she said.

For student Dorothy Qian, the faux bois conservation project led by Lawton was a highlight of the weekend. “Many of us developed closer friendships and had opportunities to work alongside AAP alums,” she said.

“Contributing to the preservation of our historic resources is why we are part of the Historic Preservation Planning program here at Cornell,” said Kaitlin Mitchell, M.A. HPP ’20, who, along with Allison Turner, M.A. HPP ’20, organized this year’s event. “We saw an immediate positive impact that everyone involved can be proud of.”

In all, 28 master’s students participated in the event, along with Chusid; professor Michael Tomlan, director of Historic Preservation Planning; and architecture alum Jack Glassman ’80, M.A. ’82.

Patti Witten is a writer for the College of Architecture, Art and Planning.

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Lindsey Hadlock