By Don Linebaugh and Melissa Butler
During this fall’s Dendrochronology Workshop in the basement of Bostwick, held in conjunction with Don Linebaugh’s Vernacular Architecture class, an important new observation was made about the original flooring in the first floor “large room.”
When the flooring in the “large room” was replaced in the early 20th century with standard 2 ½ inch tongue and groove oak, 1 inch boards were sistered to the pit sawn floor joists to provide a level nailing surface for the new floor (Figure 1).During class, Dr. Linebaugh discovered that these sistered leveling boards are actually original 18th-century floorboards salvaged from the old floor when the new floor was installed. This assessment is based on the protruding dowels visible in certain places on the boards, a feature newly observed (Figures 2-3). As explained in The Chesapeake House, dowel and secret-nail flooring represented the best flooring available in the second quarter of the 18th century when Bostwick House was built (Figure 4). “The Builder’s Price Book listed the cost of the ‘best doweled floors at $8.50 per square, five-and-a-half times more expensive than the widest, face-nailed, ‘square’ joint (butted) flooring.”1 The narrowness of the floorboards also indicate expense, and buyers paid a premium for floorboards between 3 and 5 inches. The repurposed 18th-century floor boards at Bostwick are between 5.5 and 5.7 inches wide, though this is just out of the most expensive range the type of flooring still indicates quality.
The expense meant “only a few rooms in the best of houses had doweled flooring.”2 As the supports were added during the addition of a new floor for the largest, and likely most important, room on the first story, the reuse of original floorboards confirm the significance of that room. This discovery helps understand the importance of the room from which the floorboards came and goes to show that there is still more to be learned about the house!
1-3 Cary Carson, and Carl R. Lounsbury, eds. The Chesapeake House: Architectural Investigation by Colonial Williamsburg. (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2013), p. 326.