An Historic Structure Saved

The building occupied by The River House has a colorful history.  Built around 1890, the structure first served as a community store, then as an agricultural machinery dealership.  It was located along the original Northwestern Turnpike, just on the eastern side of the old wooden covered bridge.  Around 1910, BA Giffin acquired the building and used it as a mortuary parlor, primarily for sales and storage of caskets, hearses and to conduct embalming procedures.  Upon relocation of the funeral home, the building was used less frequently and finally fell into disrepair.

Luckily, the structure was constructed with solid hardwoods, primarily red oak.  The structural members are rough cut actual 2” x 6” in dimension. This lumber is very tightly-grained and rot resistant.  The metal standing seam roof was in fair condition and protected primary structure from the elements. The main element of concern were the wooden posts supporting second story and insect damage to the front porch.

Other relevant features of the building are 2” on-center stud and truss spacing.  The roof is an 8/12 pitch and a solid 8” concrete poured wall supports the front elevation.  It is clad with a pressed metal panels 28” x 60” that are shingled on the exterior walls. The building dimension are 24’ x 40’ plus an 8’ x 24’ front porch.

Foundational work

In the fall of 2016, two existing floor beams were lifted and leveled with jack posts and temporary wooden posts installed.  The existing wooden posts were rotted and replaced with 12 filled masonry chimney blocks set on poured footers. A new triple 2’ x 8’ beam was installed on the south end as well as six perimeter beams to support the exterior walls.  All the new beams rested on the new masonry columns. With this new foundation in place, all existing wooden posts were removed as well as all the lower level walls.

Roofing and Exterior Cladding

With the foundation secure, the next step was to removed the existing roof metal and tin cladding.  The existing roof was over 100 years old and leaked in several area. Rotted purlions on the eaves were replaced and a new 28 gauge ribbed roof was installed.  The existing tin wall cladding was carefully removed and labelled. Once removed, ½” OSB sheathing was secured to the structural studs, housewrap applied and the the tin wall cladding reinstalled.  The cladding was cleaned, primed and then painted.


The existing flooring was simply a 3” tongue and groove flooring in poor repair.  Several spots were rotted and much of it discolored. No subfloor existed. A new ⅜” plywood floor sheathing was installed to stiffen the structure and a beautiful elm tongue and groove finished floor was installed - with boards of varying width.  This floor was sanded and finished.

Interior walls, windows and Storefront

Two restrooms were created as well as small cafe kitchen inside the building.  The exterior walls were clad with a wainscoting of salvaged distressed wood with drywall above.  The interior of the main room has exposed truss with no ceiling. Drywall ceilings were installed only in the restrooms and kitchen.

The existing doors and windows were removed and replaced.  The storefront features large thermal pane windows and a commercial quality glass door.  The side windows are standard double hung insulated windows.

Insulation and Fireproofing

As mentioned, the existing roof trusses are exposed as it the underside of the roof.  This gives the space a pleasing volume of space and excellent acoustics. The underside of the roof was insulated with open-cell spray foam to achieve an R19 value.  This foam was fireproofed with a two coat application and then it received a finish coat of paint. The walls all received R19 batt insulation as did the space below the floor joists.

Porch, trim and cabinetry

The three posts on the front porch were removed and restored and a replica fourth post created.  All the existing porch framing and decking was removed and replaced with new wood. Interior trim for windows, doors and cabinetry utilized excess elm floor, trimmed to size.  Exterior trim and railings were custom fabricated. Custom floor tile as installed in the restrooms and durable standard tile in the kitchen.

Electrical, Mechanical and Plumbing

The existing building had no electrical or water/sewer hook up.  New 200 AMP service was installed and new wiring run. All new plumbing lines were run inside the space and new sewer and water lines were dug and installed.  The sewer line includes a 1,000 gallon grease trap as well as a grinder pump. The heat and cooling system utilize two 2-ton mini-split systems -- one cooling the cafe kitchen while the other cools the audience area.

Pantry Area and Otter’s Den

A new pantry area was created under the existing front porch.  The creation of this area was needed for surplus refrigeration, supplies and dishwashing.  The floor was lowered by hand-digging and a concrete floor poured. New exterior walls were built as well as a secure entry door.  The lower level space was named the “Otter’s Den” and serves as additional space for outdoor (covered) classes. A concrete floor was poured and plywood ceiling installed.  Additional storage was built along the existing concrete wall.

Sitework and Parking

A new 17 car parking area was created in the rear of the property.  To access the lot, a new shale and gravel drive was constructed, complete with poured concrete curb and pedestrian stairs.  Floodplain restrictions prohibits any increase in elevation so all existing dirt needed to be removed to make room for the shale surface.  Drain tile was installed to dry the area.

Five additional parking spaces were created in the front and a beautiful wooden pedestrian stair to the side yard was constructed.  Signage, fencing and a children’s playhouse were also installed.

Contractors and Volunteers

Dozens of contractors and volunteers assisted in the renovation of this historic building.  Many donated their time and materials to help. With apologies for any omissions, here is a partial list:


Capon Bridge Electric , 1st Rate Plumbing , Bennett’s Heating and Air,  Meade’s Special Services, Stotler Concrete, Chavez Masonry, Vidal Glass, Buckler Gutters, SJ Morse, Davenport Insulation, Smelser’s Tree Service, PC Tile, Pee Wee’s Excavating


Allen Reese, Leroy James, Larry Godla, Craig Mattice, Stuart Rowe, Joelle Huntsberry, Ian & Jenn Lockwood, Johanna & Deb Murray, Mike Everson, John & Barbara Whitacre and family, Pete Hobbie, Plim Howard, Pat Cash, Ibi Hinrichs & Booth Dyess, Chan VonSchrader, Alexor Moore, Steve Bailes, Nancy Cutlip