York's Plough Tavern roof work uses centuries-old techniques

Greg Gross

Replacing the hum of electric-driven power tool was the faint sound of a human-powered draw knife against fresh wood. Now and again the bang of a hammer meeting metal would break the relative silence at the Golden Plough Tavern in York City this week.

A crew of workers from the Kraemer-based The Country Homestead ditched modern tools, like they do at most jobs, as they replaced the roof on the historic building using the same centuries-old methods its original builders used.

"We use all the original tools," said Caleb Stroik, son of the company's founder, "We use the original methods as much as possible."

And that makes for a long project.

Stroik estimated it will take three months to replace the decades-old roof with an exact replica. So far, the crew is about six weeks into the project that started with cutting shingles out of raw logs.

The project: Work at the York County Heritage Trust-owned historical site at 157 W. Market St. kicked off about a week ago and is expected to continue into 2016, Stroik said.

Workers this week pulled up the old shingles from the front of the building and replaced a water-damaged rafter before starting to lay new shingles.

The German side-lap shingles with a bevel are hand-cut from three-foot logs of red oak, with each log rendering four to five shingles, Stroick said.

Though the crew has been cutting shingles for more than a month, one of the worker's jobs at the site is to cut more shingles, a very tedious task, cranking about 50 shingles a day.

"You have to enjoy it," Stroik said. "Enjoy the challenge of making them as perfect as possible."

Between 2,700 and 3,100 shingles will be needed, and it's expected to take 75 hours just to split the shingles.

The building: The tavern was built in 1741 and is one of the oldest buildings in the city and likely played host to the Continental Congress when it met in York in between 1777 and 1778.

The roof was last replaced about 25 years ago, and through the years, the elements has caused the shingles to decay. The cost to replace the roof is $70,000, portions of which came from a National Trust for Historic Preservation grant, York County and through a local fundraising campaign.

"It's a little pricey because of all the labor that's involved," Stroik said.

The new roof should last between 30 and 60 years with proper maintenance. That's far longer than modern asphalt shingles that have a lifespan of 15 to 25 years, he said.

Also, unlike modern roofing techniques, the shingles are laid in rows from side to side instead of top to bottom.

"Plus it has to look a little funky or it's not handmade," said Mike Valent, an employee of The Country Homestead.

— Reach Greg Gross at ggross@yorkdispatch.com.