Case Study: Emlen Physick Estate

The Emlen Physick Estate in historic Cape May, New Jersey, is the town’s only Victorian house museum. Attributed to renowned architect Frank Furness, the house was built in 1879 in the “Stick Style” with the characteristic exterior wall patterns of varying textures divided by rectangular grids of flat wooden boards. Now open to the public, the property is owned by the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts (MAC), a non-profit organization that was formed in 1970 to rescue the historic property from the wrecker’s ball.

In addition to the house, the estate features a two-story carriage house of wooden construction with a drop-front, Mansard tin roof. According to Tom Carroll, MAC’s vice president and a local bed and breakfast innkeeper, the carriage house roof proved to be a problem from the start.

After years of patching and repainting the tin roof, MAC’s board of directors realized it needed to find a more durable and cost-effective solution. However, because of the low drop of the carriage house roof and its visibility from street level, the group wanted a roofing solution that would not detract from the historical accuracy and visual appeal. In addition, the corrosive salt air and seasonal fluctuations in temperature made for environmental conditions where superior protection from the elements was essential.

In the summer of 1996, MAC hired a contractor to apply the Acrymax Roof Restoration System. Within just a few weeks, the Mansard roof was sporting a new weatherproof coating in a classic shade of red found on similar historic roofs in Cape May. More than a year later, the group is pleased with the look and performance of the new roofing system.

At a ribbon-cutting celebration in September 1997, the Emlen Physick Carriage House hosted a traveling exhibition of 18th and 19th century teapots on loan from England’s Norwich Castle. Chances are, not one of the two-hundred plus visitors who came to see the exhibit each day suspected that the historic tin roof overhead wore anything more than a layer of fresh red paint. Arch-preservationist Carroll – and others from MAC – couldn’t be happier.