Slide 2 image
Slide 3 image
Slide 1 image
Slide 4 image

Adena Mansion Restoration

The restoration of a house such as Adena is a complex and multi-faceted project.

When houses become museums, curators and historians face the complex task of returning the house back to its appearance during the time of its primary historical importance.

Houses are like living things: they change over time. Rather, the people who live in them change them to make the house more suited to their lives.

Following the Smith family ownership of Adena, staff from the Ohio Historical Society researched and restored the mansion from 1946 to 1953.

Fifty years later, from 1997 to 2003, staff from the Ohio Historical Society again researched and restored the mansion.

The first restoration was carefully done and especially noteworthy for generally returning the house to its original floor plan. The second restoration brought to Adena new approaches, especially in finishes and decorations, based on new technology and sources.


Two upstairs rooms pose intriguing questions. The Insurance Survey of 1821, our earliest source, calls them a "closet and apartment." One is now interpreted as a servant room, and the other is closed to the public, but is small, long and narrow, like a closet.

The larger room, the "apartment" had been interpreted as a storage room for trunks. Physical examination determined that the original access to the attic (previously in the closet) had been in this room. The attic stair has now been reconstructed. (Not shown in current photo)

But what of the closet beyond? What does closet mean? At the time of the Insurance Survey, it meant a small room, either for storage or other purposes. Clothes closets as we know them were rare in houses of the period.

Closet was also a shorthand way of referring to a "water-closet." Thus, OHS investigators have explored the possibility that this room could also have been a water-closet attached to a dressing room.

That there might have been a water-closet at Adena is made more likely because Latrobe designed the house. Indoor plumbing was rare two hundred years ago, but Latrobe included in several English houses a "Dressing Room" with an attached indoor privy. Typically this room adjoined both a chamber and a hall and was approximately 8 x 12 feet in size. Latrobe's Markoe house, designed in 1810 for a Philadelphia family (since demolished), included a bathroom with fixtures for waste elimination and bathing. Latrobe also included a water-closet in a proposal for re-modeling the President's House.

An important part of the Adena restoration has been the installation of authentic wallpapers in the house. Two of the rooms have custom made replicas of the original wall paper.

The earliest wallpapers were developed in the 1400s as a way to decorate walls that was less expensive than mural painting and tapestries. The use of wallpaper increased over time. Wallpapers were expensive through the early 1800s. Only with the development with mass production techniques in the mid-1800s did they become affordable to middle- and then working-class Americans.

The wallpapers used at Adena were produced using the same methods as the wallpaper that Thomas Worthington purchased. Pieces of paper were glued together to form a roll. A ground color was painted on the paper with a brush. Then a pattern was printed using wood blocks-one block for each color in the design. The more colors in a paper, the more expensive it was.

We know from various documents what kind of floor coverings were in most of the rooms at Adena, and they were all quite typical for the period: carpet, floor cloths, and floor matting.

None of these coverings have been preserved, however, they have been recreated. What we do not know is exactly what they looked like, but we have tried to make the patterns true to the period.

Eleanor's sister-in-law Nancy Swearingen wrote in a letter that;

"Mr. Worthington has got a Brussels Carpet for the drawing room."

In her will Eleanor mentioned Brussels carpet in the dinning room as well. Brussels Carpet is a carpet having a back made of stout linen thread with an upper surface of worsted wool yarn raised to form the pile and not cut.

“Brussels carpets are not made in large squares, but in pieces about seven eights wide. The basis is composed of a warp and woof of strong linen thread; worsted threads are also interwoven, which are formed into loops by means of wires; and these form the pattern, the linen threads not being visible on the surface. When well made they are very durable, and being at the same time elegant, they are at present much in request for the good apartments.”

(From, Thomas Webster, An Encyclopaedia Of Domestic Economy
(New York, 1845).p. 255)

For the Adena restoration, historic furnishings consultant William Seale designed a handsome carpet for the Drawing Room and Dining Room.

The garland medallion in the center of the drawing room is especially evocative of the classical influences on American design of the period. Americans compared their new nation and its representative government to the ancient Roman Republic and to Athenian democracy.

“In laying down carpets, the most complete way is to fit them into all the recesses of the room; but this is also the most expensive. . . The colour of carpets should be well attended to; . . . In the richest carpets, intended for the best apartments, the style is usually gay and splendid.”

(From, Thomas Webster, An Encyclopaedia Of Domestic Economy
(New York, 1845).p. 256)

Ingrain: a carpet in which the pattern goes through and through and can be seen on both sides, as distinguished from carpets, such as Axminster and Brussels, in which the pattern appears on the upper surface only.

“Where economy is an object, the carpet may be square or oblong, according to the shape of the room, but not fitted into the recesses; and the boards round the sides may be left bare, or be painted in oil or covered with oilcloth, etc.”

(From, Thomas Webster, An Encyclopaedia Of Domestic Economy
(New York, 1845).p. 256)

The paint and other finishes applied to woodwork and walls are an important part of creating the historic appearance of a house, because the colors and finishes popular in one era typically go out of date in the next time period. The interior of Adena has been changed with brighter paint colors and new finishes on woodwork, particularly graining and marbling.

Several pieces of furniture that belonged to the Worthingtons are featured in the restored home. The new furnishings plan highlights those pieces of furniture. Especially significant is the furniture built by George McCormick for Adena at Adena.

"Mr. Worthington has got a Brussels Carpet for the drawing room two hair bottomed Sophas [sofas], handsome chairs and a mantle glass. James and I among others that dined there on Thursday last."

Nancy Swearingen, 4 January 1818