Friday, May 22, 2009

Whitewash, Wallpaper, and Beveled Butts - Oh my!

It's been a while since I've had a chance to sit down and tell you all what we've been doing on the chimney project. I'll try to correct that through a series of posts dealing with progress on a day to day basis...

May 12 (A busy day so this is long!)

I had a meeting with the mason and architect today to review the progress of the chimney project. Before getting underway though I was up in the attic talking with the mason's son about the chimney and he pointed out several interesting non-chimney finds, including:

A single board with a beaded edge, miters at the end of the beads, whitewash on one side (excluding an area of ghost lines at each end), and hand wrought nails at each end nailed through from the unpainted side of the board. It was found, painted side up, wedged between two joists next to the chimney. Hmmm...this looks strangely's a picture of it:

If it wasn't for the nailing pattern, I'd say it was a piece of baseboard. Instead, it appears to be one side of a four-sided box that was painted on the inside but not the outside. Could it instead be trim for my much anticipated, but unsubstantiated attic hatch (see my post of April 14)? Giddily, I took the piece over to the area where we had cut the attic hatch to allow access from the second floor bedchamber. I tried to fit the piece of trim between the two joists to see if my expectation of an 18th century hatch in this location was correct, and.........

It didn't fit. It wasn't even close. It was too long to fit between these joists. But that doesn't mean that its not trim for a hatch. It fit perfectly right back where it was originally found although it was not oriented as it would have been for a hatch. Also, that would put the hatch right above a winder staircase, which doesn't seem like a very good location for attic access.

We'll be removing a lot of blown in insulation and replacing it with new insulation. When we get all that old stuff out we'll get a good look at the joists, and maybe we'll find evidence of the hatch location. Fingers crossed.
What else did we find....

We found some shingles, still in place on a section of the kitchen wing roof that is now underneath the metal roof of the 1905 rear addition. The shingles are interesting in that the butt end of the shingle is beveled (like the current shingles on the Dutch House). They are also all circular sawn, so they are post-1850 or so. My guess is that these date to the 1870s when owner John Burnham added a new roof that gave his house a "decidedly newish appearance." And they were just covered up in 1905 when the addition was built. Here they are:

The shingles being in place are great because it tells us how much of each shingle was exposed. We checked up in the attic of the main block of the house, and guess what...we found more shingles that match the ones from the kitchen wing...some never used. The used ones are useful again, because its very obvious how much of the shingle was exposed to the weather.

So now we have a question...we are not planning on putting bevel cut shingles on the roof. Does or should this discovery change our plans about the type of shingle to use?

No, we don't think so. If we're correct that the date of the roof that these shingles were part of is the 1870s then there were probably at least two roofs on the building before it. What kind of shingles were they? Who knows. Also, the current shingles on the main block are not bevel-cut shingles. Since that roof is not being replaced at this time we are still going to use shingles that match it as planned. If someone else ever wants to put at 1870s wood roof on the Amstel House, or another house is New Castle, these shingles will be preserved in place and will be available for people to examine (though they'll need to crawl into a little corner of our attic to see them!)

Discovery number 3...the rafters and joists in the attic are all sawn with the exception of three hewn joists. That's not what I expected - I thought they would all be hand hewn since the place was built in the 1730s. One of the masons reminded me that their is a ghost line on the rear wall of the main block that may indicate that the roof structure on the kitchen wing was rebuilt at some point. There also seems to be alot of newer brick work just below the cornice and rakes of the kitchen wing that indicates something major changed.

Back to the attic of the main block. The timbers in the main block are also all sawn. Hmmm...
The three hewn joists in the kitchen attic all have notches cut in them that are not used in the current structure. Hmmm....Could they have been reused timbers from another structure - maybe. What does this all mean? I don't know yet.

For now, here's a picture of the three hewn joists, and some sawn rafters above:

Discovery number 4 - whitewashed boards and wallpaper. In the construction of the 1905 additions roof structure a fair amount or lumber was reused. The reused boards have beaded edges and one of them yielded a sample of wallpaper - three different kinds: here's a scan of a large section of paper and a small swatch of another. Notice that on the big section that there are two layers of paper here with different patterns. Most people seem to like the yellow paper underneath. We haven't started trying to date the papers yet:

I think that's it for the major discoveries. We did actually manage to have a meeting (though we held it in the attic) to discuss moving forward. We spent a fair amount of time examining the chimney, its flues and voids and discussing treatment for the masonry. Here's our plan:
  • We need to fill the voids in the chimney to make it safe to use. If cracks develop in the flues and anything combustible (mice nests, shingles, etc) is in the void then the whole house can burn down. The historical society would like to use the kitchen fireplace in the future, and if the Society ever sells the Amstel House to a private owner, we want to be sure that the chimney is safe for them to use. Our plan is to fill the voids wih a lightweight, non-combustible mixture of cement and vermiculite - the mix is 50 lbs of cement to 20 lbs of vermiculite. That sounds like it's heavy on the cement, but by volume it is far more vermiculite.
  • We are going to trim the ceiling timbers back from the side of the chimney, and use a header to support them when necessary.
  • We are going to parge the exterior surface of the chimney (the surface that faces into the attic) for additional fire and smoke protection.
  • We are also going to parge the interior surface of the CMUs (cinder blocks) on the inside of the gable wall to help prevent moisture infiltration.
  • We also decided to bring in six total sheets of plywood while we have a big hole in the roof to lay down as a floor in the attic. This way we can move around the attic easily for maintenance, and can store some lightweight items up there as well.
  • But...before we do anything more with the chimney we want to invite someone from the University of Delaware's Center for Historic Architecture and Design to visit the Amstel House and examine our chimney. We also want to fully document the chimney with photography and measurements.
That's it for May 12...I'll continue with my belated updates later today or tomorrow.

1 comment:

  1. Mike - Just read through all your blog posts! Wow....a lot is going on but how exciting. Sorry that the rain has come back again today :-( ~Andrea from DHS