Re-roofing and Flood Proofing


Rosslyn boathouse when re-roofing was 50% complete in the summer of 2010
Rosslyn boathouse when re-roofing was 50% complete in the summer of 2010

Last summer (June-July 2010) our biggest concern with Rosslyn’s boathouse was restoring the roof. It’s hard to imagine that a year later our biggest concern is saving the building, pier and waterfront from finally-receding-but-increasingly-rough Lake Champlain flood waters! What better way to distract our anxieties than to look back on drier times?

The cedar shingle was suffering from many years of neglect. Covered with moss and rotted completely through in many areas, it was possible to watch clouds passing overhead (and fireworks) by standing in the second story and looking through the rot spots in the roof! Friend and former neighbor Michael Leslie headed up the project of stripping the expired shingles, rebuilding the rotted beams, sub-roof and related trim including the window overlooking the lake. The following comes from a blog post last July as we rounded the halfway mark.

The hardest part of re-shingling Rosslyn dock house is now behind us. Special thanks to Michael Leslie, Jerry Spooner and Jim Spooner for their progress so far.

In a bizarre twist, David Hislop asked me yesterday, “What’s the story with the dock house?” Hmmm… The story? Well, that’s what I’m writing: Rosslyn Redux. Coming soon to a digital download near you. 😉 Turns out he was referring to the roof. “People are asking why you’re re-roofing it AGAIN.” Again? Apparently a half dozen people have asked him this question. Easy answer. We’re not. It hasn’t been re-shingled since the early/mid 1980’s, but after a quarter century of rain, snow, ice, sun and wind, many of the shingles have rotted through and the roof is leaking, especially the southern exposure. We’d known that we would eventually have to strip the old shingles, but we had delayed as long as practical. Let’s hope the new roof lasts as long as the old one!

Although the re-roofing project took considerably longer than anticipated (this formula has become the rule rather than the exception during the process of renovating Rosslyn), it was worth every second when the beautiful work was complete. And doubly so last winter when snowstorms battered the little structure and again this spring when rain lashed at the roof. For the first time since buying this property in the summer of 2006 my bride and I could stop worrying about the boathouse that seduced us half a decade ago! The foundation had been restored. The structure had been restored. And now the roof had been restored. Life was good…

Perhaps we were too pleased? Perhaps hubris slipped into our homeowner psyche’s? Perhaps. Or perhaps nature’s far more powerful and far more fickle and unpredictable than we can possibly imagine. I’ve commented elsewhere that nature is a formidable foe and a loyal friend. I genuinely believe this, and yet this spring has reminded me that a boathouse built on a pier in the waters of a lake is not natural. It is a valuable architectural artifact. It is an indulgence. But it is not natural. And despite my resolve to balance my lifestyle with healthy stewardship of the natural environment, I never before stopped to contemplate how unnatural this structure really is. Although I’d likely discourage construction of a new albeit similar structure in fragile habitat like Lake Champlain, I never once stopped to consider Rosslyn’s beautiful boathouse a violation of nature because it already existed. It’s part of the architectural heritage of Essex, NY. In fact, we felt a responsibility to restore the boathouse. Indeed I still do, despite my newfound recognition that it contradicts my conventional bias.

Life is complex, and contradictions are everywhere. I don’t pretend to know all the right answers, nor even very many of them. But I’m beginning to suspect that the silver lining of Lake Champlain’s destructive flooding this spring is that I’ve been forced me to recognize and grapple with the contradiction in preserving Rosslyn’s boathouse despite the potentially adverse environmental impact. It has reminded me that conviction is handy but not infallible, that conviction must be balanced with questioning and humility.

So, I’m finally flood proofing my optimism! I’m still soggy and still anxious about the waves rolling through the interior of the boathouse and crashing against the rapidly eroding bank supporting Route 22, but I’m beginning to see that the glass is half full after all. And Lake Champlain? It’s still overfull!

About virtualDavis

A writer, storyteller and unabashed flâneur, George Davis (aka virtualDavis or G.G. Davis, Jr.) is the author of Rosslyn Redux: Reawakening a home, a dream and ourselves, a transmedia chronicle about rehabilitating an historic property in the Adirondacks with his bride. He blogs about storytelling, poetry, doodling, marginalia, flânerie, publishing, and other creativity-inspired esoterica at virtualDavis.com; posts sometimes exhilarating, often unnerving, occasionally euphoric, and always pollyanna "midlife mashups" at 40x41.com; chronicles his sailing adventures (and misadventures) at Sailing Errant; and delves into matters of parenting, babylandia, and childfreedom at Why No Kids? George formerly taught and coached at Santa Fe Preparatory School and The American School of Paris, and he co-founded and launched Maison Margaux: "Paris à la parisienne" in Faubourg Saint-Germain. He currently owns and operates Adobe Oasis in Santa Fe, New Mexico with his bride. George meanders on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, YouTube and Flickr.
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