Historic Preservation Month
It’s Historic Preservation Month! Did you know that Cheekwood is listed on the National Register of Historic Places? We prioritize preserving the historic structures, landscape design, and gardens at Cheekwood and often have preservation projects going on across the estate.
We are currently focused on the preservation of character-defining, outdoor stairs within the historic landscape design. Created in the early 1930s, these stairs represent Cheekwood architect Bryant Fleming’s vision to create a Georgian-style estate that was beautiful and impressive, but also locally-sourced and in harmony with nature. They convey a natural, rustic beauty through their textured Tennessee limestone (originally quarried on site), a feature that is incorporated into the walls of the house. Cheekwood’s 2013 Cultural Landscape Report (a report that documents the history, significance, and treatment of a cultural landscape) by Suzanne Turner Associates notes, “One of the most important hardscape elements [at Cheekwood] is the extensive rockwork associated with fountains, steps, pathways, walls, and statuary.”
The outdoor, historic stairs at Cheekwood have unique preservation challenges. Their limestone is soft, they have frequent foot traffic, and their position on a hillside make them particularly vulnerable to erosion. We are working to address this by bringing in expert masons to stabilize and repair them according to historic preservation standards.
Late last year, we did a small pilot project, working to repair three sets of stairs needing the most attention. First, mortar mix in line with historical masonry standards was used to reset stones and repair mortar joints. For places missing stone entirely, local limestone was procured from Lebanon, TN to closely match the original stone color, size, shape, and texture. Finally, the work on the stairs was cleaned with a mild, diluted detergent. This pilot project achieved excellent results and educated us on what was necessary for the restoration of all the historic stairs at Cheekwood.
We are now gathering resources and seeking support to treat more of the historic stairs at Cheekwood. We will work in a sequence, prioritizing treating the stairs according to the severity of their current condition, foot traffic, and prominence within the original design. As part of this project, we will also establish maintenance protocols for ongoing care to ensure their future preservation.
These stairs serve a purpose but, at the same time, present a lovely composition of graceful, historic landscaping. Once preserved and repaired, they will present an impressive, stable, unique, and historically-accurate element of the landscape at Cheekwood. This is an important step toward ensuring the ongoing sustainability of Cheekwood as a significant historic resource and demonstrates the importance of historic preservation projects that make experiencing historic sites even more enriching!