This blog follows the reconstruction of the Revolutionary War Public Armoury on the James Anderson site
Reconstruction of the Blacksmith's & Public Armoury
February 11, 2013
Revisiting the Kitchen Floor.
There is some activity in the Armoury kitchen this week that may attract viewer attention. The clay floor is being pulled up, and a new clay floor is being applied. In this blog post Matt Webster explains the process, why we’ve had to undertake this step, and what we’re learning about 18th-century construction methods.
The Armoury is one of those unique projects that you wait and hope for; it combines research, traditional materials, and construction techniques all in an effort to reconstruct a historically accurate site. It is an opportunity to apply years of research and see how these buildings come together, and how the materials function. Sometimes it works perfectly, but sometimes we have more to learn and need to adjust our approach. The Armoury kitchen floor is such a case.
As discussed in an earlier blog post (“Installing the Kitchen Floor or ‘How Do We Know?’” -March 31st 2011), portions of the Armoury kitchen floor were uncovered by archaeologists in 2010, allowing architectural historians to take and analyze samples. From this we learned that t the mixture for the floor was 4 parts clay, 2 parts sand, ¾ parts quick lime, and 1/10 part brick dust. What we do not know is how the material was applied or if there was an additional finish application to the surface. There simply was not enough evidence to help us answer these questions.
Now, two years after the floor was placed, we have seen how it has worn which has helped answer some of our questions. When we first installed the clay floor, it was done in several sections. This allowed us to make smaller batches of material and made finishing the surface easier. Observing the wear on the floor, the junctions between the sections have deteriorated quickly. The floor is deteriorating much faster in these areas, indicating that when the original floor was placed (sometime around 1760), it was done in one large application. The large batch of material was dumped onto the floor and troweled as one uniform surface, not several independent sections. We will be removing approximately three to four inches of the current floor and replace it using this technique.
The second problem we have seen is the floors inability to withstand hundreds of shuffling feet. Granted, one year of visitation likely equals the amount of traffic the original floor saw in its entire lifetime, but we still need to solve the problem. The floor samples collected by archaeologists are likely not the finished surface, but close to the bottom of the original floor, so we would not see evidence of a finish. It is also unlikely that traces of any finish materials would have survived even if we had the upper layers. Period recipes list primarily organic materials such as egg whites, blood, and linseed oil applications for finishing floors. All of these materials would have deteriorated and any trace would have been lost long ago, even if the upper layers had survived. We have decided to apply linseed oil as our finish surface, and are currently testing a panel to see how it will work.
It is simple to look at the written recipe or the results of the analysis and say we know how a period appropriate floor was made. It is not until we actually try to replicate the process that we truly understand how it was done. That is what makes this process so fascinating and a learning experience for all of us.
Contributed by Matt Webster, Director of Historic Architectural Resources
Update: February 25, 2013
Jason, Josh, and Kenneth are making rapid progress on the kitchen floor. The old floor has been removed, new clay has been added, leveled, and smoothed, and soon it will be sealed with linseed oil finish. What follows is a long period of drying…not the stuff of exciting webcam coverage. The images below should help you to visualize the progress so far.
Funded by a generous gift from Forrest E. Mars Jr., of Big Horn, Wyoming.