Capitol Hill Restoration Society

Restoring Historic Iron Work – Preservation Cafe

Posted on April 16th, 2013

Fred Mashack, owner of Fred Mashack Ironworks, was the presenter at the March 2013 Preservation Café. An architectural ironwork specialist and a Capitol Hill resident, Mr. Mashack is celebrating 40 years in business this year, having operated in the District since 1973. Fred’s presentation focused on cast iron front porches: their history, styles, potential issues and solutions.

Cast iron porches on Capitol Hill were generally installed between 1880 and 1900, coinciding with the post-Civil War building boom. One local foundry was well positioned to take advantage of this building activity – plaques from George White and from foundries founded by his two sons (Fred and George Jr.) are prevalent on Capitol Hill. Other plaques found on Capitol Hill porches are from the Edward Dent (Georgetown) and the Architectural Builder (Springfield, Ohio) foundries. Cast iron, a metal that took considerable craftsmanship to form, fell out of favor as the material of choice for front porches after 1900, as wood, masonry and steel became more commonly used.

Many different styles of cast iron porches are found on Capitol Hill. This is due to the fact that the porches were constructed together from a kit of parts. Homeowners would order individual parts (deck plates, stringers, risers and treads) from the foundries. The parts were then bolted together (no welding was necessary). This is why even homes that were built at the same time and style may have very different front porch styles.

Several potential issues can be found on original cast iron porches. One of the most prevalent issue is rust developing at the connection between the riser and stringer. Once rust has developed, generally at the bolted connection, the rust will expand and contract over time, weakening the cast iron material and causing the members to separate from one another.   Rust also develops on the underside of the riser, which is usually not primed or painted after original installation. Treads are also prone to wear over time from use, rendering the walking surface slippery.

An improper repair to porch parts will make an original problem worse.   One example can be found at the post connection to the riser. The posts, which have a threaded rod running the length of its hollow core, are typically secured with a cap at the top and a bolt at the bottom (under the bottom tread). The threaded rod fails over time due to rust, causing the post to come loose. If the post is improperly re-attached, commonly done by welding the bottom of the post to the stringer, the force exerted on the post and its railings will cause the bottom riser to crack. As well, the rust may still be present inside the post.

To fix these and other issues, Fred will take the existing porch apart and strip the paint and rust off individual parts. Fred will create new parts if needed, using custom molds to cast new pieces in his shop. The parts can be made to match the style of the existing porch or to recreate historic styles already found on Capitol Hill. Fred can be reached at 202.554.4455.