Friday, March 7, 2008
Reconstructing the past, after deconstructing a house...
My house looked weird when I bought it. While none of the houses in the neighborhood look the same, mine was very obviously different from an architecture standpoint.
Most of the houses have what appears to be an 'original' box-like house, then several smaller and very obvious additions protruding behind them as seen in the Sanborn maps.
It had this very strange sloping roof, that started at the peak of a cross gable and terminated at the rear of the house just above the first floor. At first this could be mistaken for a Colonial saltbox design. But this is the wrong time period (about 100 years too late) and the wrong part of the country. It was a very uncharacteristic roofline for this era.
The house contains at least 3 different 'types' of frame lumber, several different 'styles' of construction and many different fasteners.
After a whole lot of demolition and a little bit of thought, I think I may be able to reconstruct the past.
The Original House:
The front most building is constructed very different from the rest of the house. The lumber is very roughly cut-it appears with a vertical saw. They are 'nominal' 2"x"4" boards. All the studs and cross members are mortise/tendon style jointery and the nails are all square hand-forged type nails. My original perception is that the first 20 feet were the original house.....that is until I was talking on the phone and noticed this from across the room.
In the photograph it's obvious what is going on. But I walked past this for the last 6 months without noticing it. Mostly on account that stud spacing in the house appears to be random, and studs start and stop at will and it's very dark on the second floor.
So what is it? It appears to be some studs in a decreasing stud length in the "2nd" house part.....reminiscent of a rear 'shed roof'.....either that or part of an AT&T wireless commercial. Upon closer inspection those studs are made out of the old wood, and not the 2nd generation wood. (which the rest of the wood in that area is)
This is confirmed with a reference to the Sanborn maps. When I went to the historical commission they explained to me that the number inside each "cell" indicates how many stories are present in that part of the house. Note in this 1884 map, the first part of the house was "2,1,1" stories tall. (when I aquired the house it was "2,2,1) Some of the framing on the first floor also indicates there wasn't a 2nd floor in the middle of the house originally. The Sanborn also shows no wrap-around porch. Also note a 2 story structure in the rear. Highly likely a "carriage house" where the original drayman kept his horses. All of this leads me to believe that the very original house would of looked like such.
Something happened. But in the next Sanborn map issued in 1897 the rear "1/3rd" of the house is missing. Fire? Demolition? I don't know, but that part of the house has a very active history. As you can see in the Sanborn here the front part of the house is only "1 1/2" stories. Probably on account that it only has 8ft ceilings on the first floor and 7ft ceilings on the 2nd story....whereas most of the houses in the neighborhood are 10'/8'. But where the rear 3rd of the house went I don't know. On the wall that would be the rear wall of the house in the map I did find the remains of what could of been an "entry/exit" door which could confirm this setup. Also there appears to be a 1 story out-house.
The middle portion of the house is again different. The wood is "1.75 x 3.74" lumber and the nails are much smoother and obviously machined by mass production. There are no more elaborate joints-the only fastening is nails. It appears at this point the 2nd floor was added in the middle. The 2nd owner who took possession at the turn of the century was a carpenter and I suspect this was his work. So it appears he re-worked the middle of the house rebuilt the rear 1/3rd of the house.
Here in the 1921 Sandborn the house appears "2,2,1" including the wrap around porch.
Then a lot of time goes by without documentation.
Then the next evidence I have is the 1985 picture from the Detroit Historical commission that I posted a few weeks ago. This shows a full sized dormer on the back roof, and what appears to be at least a 2'-3' longer house (looking at the edge of the rear roof compared to how I got it).
After much deconstruction it was obvious that there was a fire. A lot of charred wood and 'modern' (post 1930's) lumber in the rear 1/3rd of the building confirm this. This part appears to have been reconstructed since 1985. Probably by Anne-who I hope to ask about this tomorrow.
The 'Third' House:
Anyhow I got my hands on it. I'm adding a full 2nd floor throughout the house. (including re-rebuilding the rear part of the house) So now the house will be a "2,2,2". The roofline now very much fits in with the neighborhood and has a "roman cross" aerial view.
Okay, enough playing 'Sherlock Holmes'......back to playing 'Bob Vila'