Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Plum Orchard Mansion on Cumberland Island Nearly Set to Reopen; Home Build in 1898 Has Undergone a $3 Million Face-Lift

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Plum Orchard Mansion on Cumberland Island Nearly Set to Reopen; Home Build in 1898 Has Undergone a $3 Million Face-Lift

Article excerpt

Byline: GORDON JACKSON

CUMBERLAND ISLAND - After spending nearly a year rewiring Plum Orchard mansion, Jack Bryant understands patience.

The mansion's electricity was originally a direct current supplied with a hand-cranked generator. The challenge, Bryant said, was to remove all the old cloth-covered wiring throughout the house without leaving any signs of the improvements.

"This job is pretty complicated," said Bryant, an electrician with St. Marys-based R&L Enterprises. "It's been very challenging and interesting. I'm amazed at this old place."

Bryant is one of the many contractors hired to renovate the 22,000-square-foot mansion the Carnegie family built in 1898. In about a month, the mansion will reopen and the public will see the results of a $3 million, 18-month face-lift.

Much of the work was structural, such as replacing termite-infested beams and rusted metal poles supporting two porches and the kitchen floor, unclogging and repairing downspouts, installing a fire suppression system and removing all asbestos from the structure. But cosmetic improvements are also an important part of the project, said David Casey, facility manager on Cumberland Island.

Interior improvements include the addition of new wall fixtures, replacing the wood floor in an upstairs bedroom and restoring floors throughout the house, Casey said.

Perhaps the most noticeable improvement is the painstaking repairs to the original griffin-pattern burlap wallpaper in the mansion. The original wallpaper, which was damaged by water leaks and cracking walls, has been restored. The library's pond lily-pattern wallpaper, which was stained and peeling, also now looks like new.

Once the work is completed, several rooms on the main floor will be furnished with original pieces from the home, including four Tiffany lamps, a grand piano, chairs and tables, said Julie Meeks, the National Park Service's acting superintendent on the island. Planters that sat on the porch of the mansion from the time it was first built until the 1960s will be taken from storage and returned to their original locations outside, she said. …

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