Repairing the Cornice

Research & Collections

Much of the exterior cornice, one of the most important exterior architectural elements on the mansion, survived the duPont additions and was repaired as needed during the restoration. Where possible, the restoration carpenters even straightened and re-used the original eighteenth-century nails found in the surviving sections of cornice. Additional sections of Madison-era cornice were found to have been re-used in the attic by the duPonts.

In order to replace sections of missing cornice, molding profiles from the surviving Madison-era cornice were taken and used to create new segments of cornice. To insure that the reconstructed cornice would match the surviving cornice, heart pine was selected, which was of the same high quality as the Madison-era material. Additionally, as proven by the surviving 243-year-old exterior cornice, heart pine is an extremely durable material.

Images of the Cornice Repair

Painters preparing a section of original cornice for painting. Before the cornice was repaired, all loose and unstable layers of paint were removed with hand scrapers to ensure the new paint would stick properly to the original wood.

A carpenter re-installing an original piece of fascia. When a piece of the original cornice was found to be decayed or damaged, it was removed and the location of all of the original nails was recorded. After the cornice was repaired, it was then re-installed using the same nails in the same locations.

A carpenter carefully filing down a new piece of bed mold to exactly match the existing Madison-era molding. In order to re-create the new pieces of molding, profiles were taken from the surviving Madison-era moldings and used by the mill shop to run the recreated moldings. By recreating these eighteenth and early nineteenth century profiles, the carpenters were able to exactly match every piece of original molding that needed to be replaced.

A completed section of restored molding.


Building a President's House: The Construction of James Madison's Montpelier

With Conover Hunt, Bryan Clark Green and Ann L. Miller coauthored Building a President's House (2007) published by The Montpelier Foundation. This text discusses the various architectural campaigns to Montpelier during Madison ownership, the changes the duPont family made to the mansion, and the subsequent efforts of The Montpelier Foundation to restore the mansion to that of the Madisons' retirement.