Red House prep work continues

Sunday, May 26, 2002

Volunteers sledgehammered square pegs into a round hole Saturday morning at the construction site of the Red House Interpretive Center.

They also moved and split 300-pound logs as prep work continued on the likeness of Cape Girardeau founder Don Louis Lorimier's trading post. Volunteers, working from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, began laboring April 25 at the site on Aquamsi Street across from Old St. Vincent's Church. The construction is expected to conclude in the fall.

The volunteer workers Saturday included Downtown Neighborhood Association members Don Greenwood, Bill Dunn and Tom Neumeyer, retired psychology professor Ken Moxey, Jackson carpenter Bob McDowell, construction supervisor Steve Strom, and Jane Jackson, chairman of the Cape Girardeau Lewis & Clark Bicentennial Commission.

Jackson, who is director of the Cape Girardeau County Archives, drafted McDowell after he came into the archives to research his family tree. He wore carpenter's overalls and a cap that read "Authentic Limestone Fossil."

Poetry and pounding

Unlike McDowell, most of the volunteer workers on the project are unskilled. He trimmed a log with a chainsaw while Jackson sledgehammered a piece of wood through a hole in a steel plate being used to form the pegs. As she hammered, Moxey held the plate and recited reworked opening lines to Longfellow's poem "The Village Blacksmith."

"Under a spreading chestnut tree/The village smithy stands; the smith, a mighty woman is she,/With large and sinewy hands;/And the muscles of her brawny arms/Are strong as iron bands."

Jackson laughed while she hammered.

The newly rounded peg will be one of about 100 used in construction of the center, which is intended to look as if it was built 200 years ago.

The logs are from a cabin donated by the Albert Wulfers family in Fruitland, Mo. They consist of different kinds of wood. One might be walnut, another, yellow poplar.

Some concessions are being made to modern building codes. Those concessions will be concealed from view with the exception of electrical wiring necessary for exhibits. That wiring will be exposed to show that it is not part of the cabin.

The cabin's concrete foundation is made to look like the stones that might have been used 200 years ago.

Moxey and Greenwood used a hand blade to work the pegs into shape. Moxey is a frequent worker at the site who volunteered after hearing Jackson deliver a program about the project at his church. Since then he has read Steven Ambrose's "Undaunted Courage" and Bernard DeVoto's "The Journals of Lewis and Clark."

Greenwood, a DNA member who is an artist and musician, worked in construction in college. The Red House is a welcome project for the DNA, Greenwood said. "It ties in the downtown with the River Campus."

The work being done now is in preparation for the walls to begin going up in about two weeks. That awaits approval of the design by the Missouri Department of Transportation, which has awarded a $77,972 grant for the construction and for an archaeological dig nearby.

The Cape Girardeau City Council is set to approve a contract June 3 for construction of the fireplace.

A matter of scheduling

Strom, a retired prosecuting attorney who previously built a log cabin, said the only problems so far have been with scheduling volunteers. "The problem isn't getting people willing to work 'someday,' he says. "The question is, 'What day are you going to be here?'"

Knowing whether volunteers who appear on a certain day will be skilled or unskilled makes it possible for him to schedule the type of work that will occur. One work day, no volunteers showed up. But on other days, the Lions Club, Downtown Merchants Association and the city council have filled the site with volunteers.

335-6611, extension 182

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