The Preservation of Historic Structures

East Cabin and West Cabin ruins
Ruins of the East Cabin, circa 1924. (Left) Ruins of the West Cabin, circa 1924. (Right)

How old is the building you are standing in? What was it used for? How was it constructed? Is it true to its original appearance and design? Answers to questions like these provide the basis for preserving the cultural resources of Pipe Spring National Monument.

Cultural resources are the material evidence of past human activities. At Pipe Spring, much of the past human activity centered around the historic “pioneer dwelling” for which Pipe Spring was set aside as a national monument in 1923. As a result, much of the preservation of cultural resources at Pipe Spring is specifically focused on the pioneer dwelling, which includes the Pipe Spring fort (also called Winsor Castle), the two stone cabins, the masonry ponds, and the stone retaining walls, all originally built in the 1870s and 80s.

This building–today known as the East Cabin–is an excellent example of the science, art, and choices involved in the practice of historic structural preservation. The National Park Service approach to structural preservation
has evolved over the years, and those changes in approach are reflected in this building.

East Cabin and West Cabin after restoration
East Cabin after initial restoration in 1925. (left) West Cabin after initial restoration
in 1929. (right)

Early Attempts
Both the East and West Cabins had been allowed to deteriorate between 1895 and 1923. By then, the East Cabin was being used as an animal pen.

In 1923 National Park Service officials decided to rebuild the East and West Cabins. At that time, little specific information was available on the history or original roof structures of these buildings. After talking to locals and making an educated guess based on the floor plans and remaining walls, both cabins were rebuilt. The masonry walls were rebuilt to their estimated original height and configuration using original and similar sandstone blocks. The roofs were reconstructed using a low-pitched gabled design with large pine beams (vigas) supporting peeled juniper poles (latillas) fitted tightly together and covered with juniper bark and dirt.

Excavation of Whitmore Dugout
Excavation of Whitmore Dugout, 1959.

The value of Research and Information
Historical research is an important step in any preservation project and can reveal much about historic structures. Information about the early history and use of the cabins and fort has been pieced together from various historic documents. For example, early accounts indicate that one portion of the East Cabin was originally built as an outpost for the Mormon territorial militia–most probably what is now the north room. The south room (this room) was added just prior to the construction of the fort and apparently served as living quarters for Anson Perry Winsor, first ranch manager at Pipe Spring, and his family. After the 1870s the historical record only rarely mentions specific uses of the East Cabin–living quarters, work and storage space, and ultimately a livestock pen.

Metal Objects

Archeology has become an important tool at Pipe Spring. Historical archeology can often reveal hints about original features of buildings and daily life of the occupants. The first historical archeology project at Pipe Spring occurred in 1959 when the Whitmore Dugout, the earliest pioneer structure, was excavated. The number of items found during the excavation was minimal. Layers of ash and charcoal tell us the dugout was used as a trash dump and burning area for many years. The variety of objects found pointed to a very basic life on the frontier.

Metal objects found in the Whitmore dugout excavation ranged from nails, part of a buckle, piece of a bridle, a few cans, ammunition, and a piece of a harmonica. Ceramic objects included pieces of basic stoneware, some crockery, and a few glass shards. Clothing items included buttons, pieces of shoes and boots, and a comb. Axe or saw-cut animal bones tell us that sheep and cattle were the only large animals eaten. Various bird bones, corn cobs, and peach seeds were also found.

East Cabin

Prior to rebuilding the cabin roofs in the 1990s, archeologists conducted studies inside and outside the buildings. Among other things, these studies verified historical information that one portion of the East Cabin was built several years prior to the other. It was discovered that the back wall of the "breezeway" between the two rooms of the East Cabin matched up with the back wall of the south room, but not the back wall of the north room, indicating the south room and breezeway were built at the same time and most likely after the north room. This study also revealed that the East Cabin was partially built over an Ancestral Puebloan roasting pit or hearth.

East Cabin and West Cabin roof
East Cabin roof replacement, 1997. (left) West Cabin roof repair, 2005. (right)

Preservation Technology
Preservation technology has changed over the years and continues to evolve. Construction techniques that will provide extra protection to historic buildings are often incorporated and hidden from view. The roofs of the East and West Cabins have been replaced several times since the 1920s, each replacement incorporating changes in technology. One reconstruction of the roofs included a hidden, lightweight reinforced concrete layer. In the 1980s the West Cabin roof replacement included a hidden fabric and plastic layer. The 1990s reconstruction of the East Cabin roof included hidden plywood structural reinforcement, a rubber membrane, and a fabric and plastic layer. However, vigas, latillas, bark, and dirt have been part of every new roof.

Repainting involves removing loose mortar from between the sandstone blocks and replacing it.

Repointing has also evolved over the years. Early on, the NPS used a mortar mixture with a high percentage of cement along with lime and local sand and clay. This mixture was very hard, durable, and lasted for years. However, it was discovered that this hard mortar formed a barrier around the sandstone blocks through which moisture could not escape. This moisture increased the deterioration of the sandstone masonry. A softer mortar mixture of lime, local sand, clay, and less cement, which allows moisture to move through it, is now used to best preserve the masonry.


The Future
New information and techniques will continue to impact the National Park Service mission of structural historic preservation. Additional archaeological studies using ever-improving techniques may yield hidden secrets. More historical documents and references will undoubtedly be discovered, and improved preservation maintenance techniques will be developed. The goal of preservation will be driven by the best information, workmanship, and decisions.

Removing old gate supports. / The new steel and wood lintel. / Installation of the new lintel. / All new wood was treated to resemble the old.
Removing old gate supports. / The new steel and wood lintel. / Installation of the new lintel. / All new wood was treated to resemble the old.

In 2006 it was discovered that the massive door frame for the big wooden gates on the east side of Winsor Castle was deteriorating (it had last been replaced in 1949). First the overlying sandstone blocks were marked as they were removed, so they could be precisely replaced. Then the entire door jamb was removed–the lintel (beam above the gates), side posts, and threshold. The lintel was replaced with a steel beam for strength and durability and encased in wood to maintain the original appearance. The side posts and threshold were replaced with new ponderosa pine posts. All the new wood was treated to reflect the appearance of the original framing. This project corrected a structural inadequacy of the building while retaining the original appearance. All changes were thoroughly documented for future reference.


Last updated: January 11, 2017

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Pipe Spring National Monument
HC 65 Box 5
406 Pipe Springs Road

Fredonia, AZ 86022


(928) 643-7105

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