December 1994

 
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Recreating

the McCay-Balcom House

in Miniature

by

James E. Dierks

The classic Greek Revival structure in Bath known as the McCay-Balcom House is celebrating its 175th birthday in 1994, an occasion well worth commemorating. You're invited to the party, so clear the kitchen table and use the model to build your own paper replica of the handsome house. [An image of the paper pattern that can be printed out on cardstock will be posted soon.]

History of the McCay-Balcom House

Facing west toward the southeast corner of Pulteney Square in Bath, New York, stands the Greek Revival style house built for William W. McCay in 1819.

Richard Sherer, Steuben County Historian, discovered, when researching the history of the McMaster house on Washington Street in Bath, that Robert Campbell had built both the McMaster house and the McCay house. This information was corroborated by a man who told Mr. Sherer that an ancestor had built the round window in the pediment of the McCay house for its builder, Robert Campbell.

Campbell may have designed the house. He had come to Bath in 1795 from Glasgow in Scotland, where the popular Greek style was being adapted to residential buildings. Robert Campbell may have seen such houses or plan books with Greek details, and later used these designs to craft the McCay house.

William McCay was born in Ireland in 1890 and came with his parents to Geneva. In 1818 he became a clerk in the Pulteney land office in Bath. His father died in Pittsford the next year and may have left his son enough to build an elegant house. William W. McCay was described as a cultured man for whom dress and appearance were important, and a stylish house, too? The McCays entertained with generous hospitality and their home became the social center of Bath.

After McCay died in 1852 his wife sold the house, and it passed through several owners until Sarah L. Balcom bought the property in March, 1877, for $3,600. The Balcom family lived in the house until 1959 when Samuel Balcom and his sister Margaret Bringham sold it to Steuben County.

Build the Minature

Join in celebrating the 175th birthday of the McCay-Balcom House by building a paper minature! Clear the kitchen table and gather the following items: colored pencils, a straight-edge, a hobby knife or single-edged razor blade, an old magazine to use as a cutting board so you won't get in trouble with the kitchen staff, scissors, household/hobby glue such as Duco, a few toothpicks, tweezers, and a little character reinformcement appropriate to the era and the season such as hot cider, hot buttered rum, or hot chocolate. Yes, if you insist, put on a party hat. Let's get going!

  • After you complete each step, feel free to put a check in the box for that step. This contributes to a sense of accomplishment, something you'll come to appreciate as our project proceeds. Start by lightly coloring the various parts of the house. Current colors suggest the clapboards and trimshould be white and the shutters dark green, but if you're privy to historical information calling for other colors, or if someone took the dark green pencil to school in 1957 and hasn't returned it yet, you're on your own. Choose appropriate colors for the stone foundation and the main veranda, side porch floor, chimneys, roofs, sidewalks, lawns, tree and sky, and color them too. You're doing fine.
  • Actually, you're just doing OK. Now comes your chance to really show what you can do. Take that hobby knife or single-edged razor blade and very lightly scribe the dotted lines on the parts. Scribing very lightly will just break the surface of the paper, which will provide a straight, crisp fold if we ever get to that step. Scribing very heavily is also known as "cutting right through the paper and wrecking everything," so don't do that! As a check, my count has two dotted lines each on the Side Porch Roof and Side Wing Roof, one on the Main Roof, five on the Side Wing (including the two that you might miss in the brick chimney and counting the discontinuous—for a reason—line as two), twelve on the Main House, two on the Main Roof Trim (just outside the end capitals), four on each of the two Foundations, and three on the Portico. Also scribe the "fold line" indicated on the Diorama. Have a sip of your evening companionship, and savor the moment.
  • I know you've been itching to bear down on that knife, so here's your chance. In all cases, try to stay on the lines, making slits neither shorter nor longer than called for by the lines indicated. Carefully cut the two rectangular openings A and B in the Wing Wall Support and slits C and D on the Main House. On the Side Wing, carefully cut the 3-sided figure that separates those two sections of discontinuous dotted line we encountered in the preceding paragraph, and cut the two horizontal slits below the second-story half windows (one slit connects the left and middle windows, the other connects the middle and right windows). Cut out the triangle cleverly marked "cut out" in the Main Roof Trim. Cut slits X, Y, and Z in the two Foundations. Also cut the four column slits in each Foundation (the four column slits in the Main House Foundation are curved like a smile). Finally, cut the slits marked E through O in the Diorama. For each slit, insert the point of one of your toothpicks and widen the slit a little.
  • You may want to "freshen" your refreshment. I'll wait.
  • OK. Take the scissors and cut out each part. Cut along the dark, solid outlines. Note that these solid outlines continue under the bricks of the two chimenys, and above the front of the Main House all the way left to the long, vertical dotted line. Similarly, the outlines come in from both sides at the tops of the four portico columns. Be very careful not to cut all the way through the tops of the four columns.
  • Go through all your parts and fold them along the scribed, dotted lines, folding away from you. Most of these folds will want to be right angle, 90 folds, so aim for that. As the little parenthetic instruction advises, fold the Diorama toward you. Are you really getting the hang of this, or is it just that second hot chocolate?
  • Before we proceed, a couple of general guidelines on glueing:
    1. Always "test fit" the instructed assembly dry, before applying glue.
    2. When a tab is to be glued into a slit, apply the glue to the less conspicuous side of the tab (decide this for yourself when performing the dry test fit).
    3. Tabs inserted in slits in the Diorama will be accessible from behind, so apply glue to them after inserting.
    4. Give each bond a minute or two to set up before going on to the next step.
    5. Don't inhale.
  • Take the Main House Foundation, and place a little glue inside each of the four corners where the side walls meet. Hold each for a few seconds until the glue sets up. Do the same for the Side Wing Foundation. Now put a little glue on the four bottom edges of the Main House Foundation and place it in position on the Diorama, with the column slits toward the front (not against the back wall of the Diorama). Now do the same with the Side Wing Foundation, butting it up tightly against the Main House Foundation.
  • Apply glue to the WingWall Support and glue it to the back side of the similarly-sized part of the Side Wing, lining up the bottom edges and letting the top edge of the Support protrude above that of the Side Wing (openings A and B will coincide with the two slits under the half windows, and tabs c and d will protrude beyond the right edge of the Side Wing). In the same fashion, apply glue on the Main Front Support and glue it behind the simlarly-sized front wall of the Main House, allowing the four shallow tabs to protrude above the top of the front wall. Don't you wish computer software manuals were written this well?
  • I hope you're remembering to check off these boxes. Bravely grab the Main House, apply a bit of glue to tabs y and z, and insert them in their respective slits. Apply glue to tab aa and the small tab just above it on the chimney, and attach where indicated on the back of the Diorama, pushing tab o through slit O. Puch tab i and j through slits I and J. Apply glue to tab bb and secure the right front corner of the Main House. Old William McCay would be proud of you!
  • Now take the side wing in hand and apply glue to tabs x, c, and d, and slip them into their respective slits. After letting the glue set up, apply glue to tab cc; push tab e through slit E and attach tab cc where indicated on back wall of Diorama.
  • Apply glue to the two tabs on the Side Porch Roof and insert in the two slits below the three second floor half windows of the Side Wing. Use a toothpick to daub a bit of glue on the triangular tab on the end of the Side Porch Roof and secure it behind that three-sided piece sticking out from the front of the Side Wing. Glue the four columns of the Side Porch Roof into their floor slits. Do these one at a time, starting with the column adjacent to the Main House, and using the tweezers to flex the column and shove it down into its slit.
  • Seventh Inning Stretch. Pour out another toddy or whatever is getting you through this, and see if there's any pie leftover from dinner. Go for it.
  • The Side Wing Roof is next. Apply glue to the three-sided figure labeled dd, and underneath the folded lip that runs along the bottom front of the shingled area. Place this piece by inserting tabs f, g, and h in their marked slots and keeping shape dd behind the upper sidewall of the side wing.
  • Now we'll form the four columns of the Portico. This is a little easier if you first scribe each of the many flutes on each column, but not mandatory. Whether you do so or not, using yet another toothpick, carefully roll each of the four columns into cylindrical shape. Be very careful not to tear the columns where they are tenuously attached to the portico ceiling. Yes, the columns will spring back a little from full-cylinder, but that's OK: this is only make believe. Purists can inp Apply glue to the Wing Wall Support and glue it to the back side of the similarly-sized part of the Side Wing, lining up the bottom edges and letting the top edge of the Support protrude above that of the Side Wing (openings A and B will coincide with the two slits under the half windows, and tabs c and d will protrude beyond the right edge of the Side Wing). In the same fashion, apply glue on the Main Front Support and glue it behind the simlarly-sized front wall of the Main House, allowing the four shallow tabs to protrude above the top of the front wall. Don't you wish computer software manuals were written this well?
  • I hope you're remembering to check off these boxes. Bravely grab the Main House, apply a bit of glue to tabs y and z, and insert them in their respective slits. Apply glue to tab aa and the small tab just above it on the chimney, and attach where indicated on the back of the Diorama, pushing tab o through slit O. Push tab i and j through slits I and J. Apply glue to tab bb and secure the right front corner of the Main House. Old William McCay would be proud of you!
  • Now take the side wing in hand and apply glue to tabs x, c, and d, and slip them into their respective slits. After letting the glue set up, apply glue to tab cc; push tab e through slit E and attach tab cc where indicated on back wall of Diorama.
  • Apply glue to the two tabs on the Side Porch Roof and insert in the two slits below the three second floor half windows of the Side Wing. Use a toothpick to daub a bit of glue on the triangular tab on the end of the Side Porch Roof and secure it behind that three-sided piece sticking out from the front of the Side Wing. Glue the four columns of the Side Porch Roof into their floor slits. Do these one at a time, starting with the column adjacent to the Main House, and using the tweezers to flex the column and shove it down into its slit.
  • Seventh Inning Stretch. Pour out another toddy or whatever is getting you through this, and see if there's any pie leftover from dinner. Go for it.
  • The Side Wing Roof is next. Apply glue to the three-sided figure labeled dd, and underneath the folded lip that runs along the bottom front of the shingled area. Place this piece by inserting tabs f, g, and h in their marked slots and keeping shape dd behind the upper sidewall of the side wing.
  • Now we'll form the four columns of the Portico. This is a little easier if you first scribe each of the many flutes on each column, but not mandatory. Whether you do so or not, using yet another toothpick, carefully roll each of the four columns into cylindrical shape. Be very careful not to tear the columns where they are tenuously attached to the portico ceiling. Yes, the columns will spring back a little from full-cylinder, but that's OK: this is only make believe. Purists can include entasis for extra credit; the rest of you can look it up. Now, apply glue behind folded tabs s, t, and u of the Portico and hook them over the top edge of the Main House front wall, locating them in the three recesses created by the shallow tabs protruding up from the top edge. You should be able to read "portico ceiling" when you look down from above the house at this point, and the four columns should be dangling somewhere out in front of the porch. Daub a bit of glue on the tab at the bottom of the column at one end of the portico and, grabbing the tab in your tweezers, push it into its "smile" slot in the porch floor. Repeat with the remaining three columns.
  • You're almost there! I suppose you'd better be, now that you're all out of refreshments. And you've finished the pie too?! So let's finish this up. Apply glue to the back side of the triangular middle part of the Main Roof Trim and apply it so that the top edges coincide with the top edges of the Main House, the circular window is centered in the cut out triangle, and the two side strips will lie level along each side of the Main House. After the glue sets up, put glue behind the two side strips and press them in place. .Apply a bit of glue to tab ee, sticking up from the Main House chimney, grab the tab with your tweezers and stick it inside the chimney on the opposite wall. This piece should form a nice, semi-cylindrical chimney cover. Do the same with tab ff on the chimney of the Side Wing.
  • Adjust the fold in the Main Roof to correspond to the angle on the front of the portico, and adjust tabs gg and jj parallel with this same angle. Apply glue to tabs gg, hh, ii, and jj (all on the Main House). Shove tabs k, l, m, and n through their slits in the Diorama, and hold the roof in place until the glued tabs set up. Daub glue on tabs k, l, m, and n behind the Diorama, and any others you may have missed.

That's it! You might want to sign your name and date on the back somewhere (then again you might not). I hope you've enjoyed this opportunity to build your own miniature McCay-Balcom House. Next time save me a piece of pie, all right?

1994, James E. Dierks
 
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