Friday, June 27, 2008

The Gideon and Agnes Pond House

The 1856 Gideon and Agnes Pond house is one of the few Minnesota examples of the Federal Style. Gideon Pond was a Connecticut carpenter who came to Minnesota in 1834 with his brother Samuel to serve as Christian missionaries to the Dakota Indians and to teach the natives European farming methods. He settled in Bloomington, MN in 1854 and founded a mission near the village of the Dakota chief Cloudman. In 1856 he built this two-story house near his mission with bricks made on-site from clay found in the adjacent Minnesota River valley.

Although late for the Federal, which had been losing favor in the East since the 1820s, Pond decided to build in this refined style which had been common in Connecticut when he left in 1834. Some experts hesitate to call later examples like the Pond House Federal, preferring instead to describe them as vernacular or a Federal style remnant. Although certainly quite provincial, the Pond House has some of the classic features of the Federal and I believe the name is appropriate despite its plainness and late date.

Federal buildings are usually box-like, with a symmetrical arrangement of windows and low-pitched gabled or hipped roofs. High style examples have refined, but decorated cornices beneath the roof line with fanlights and sidelights surrounding the entrance door. The Pond house features a symmetrical arrangement of windows, although many Federal examples of a similar scale have a third window centered above the entrance.

The focus of a Federal facade was the front entrance. Entrance doors were sometimes flanked by half or three-quarter sidelights while higher style homes often had elaborate fanlights as a transom. In this example there is no fanlight although full-length sidelights are present.  Although the sidelights appear somewhat wide and blocky (reminiscent of those often found on contemporary Greek Revival homes), the entrance suits the proportions of building. The door slab is a recent (and quite incorrect) replacement.

Rather than an elaborate cornice with dentils and molding which were common on higher style homes, Pond constructed a simplified version in brick.

The Pond house is located at 401 East 104th Street in Bloomington, MN and is open for visits on Sundays from 1:30 to 4.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

The Workshop

I have already received a couple questions about the workshop where I made the molding in my first post. I was working in the Druke House, an 1854 Greek Revival home which is set up as an 1860s/1870s era woodshop. The Druke is one of many historic buildings moved to The Landing, a living history museum located in Shakopee, MN.

Here is an interior shot showing the workbench and some of my cabinet making and joiner’s tools. The house is divided into two rooms in the familiar hall-and parlor plan, with each room having a stove and chimney.

The house was built by a pair of brothers, Peter and Franz Karl Drüke, who had immigrated around 1853 to Chanhassen, MN from Nordrhein-Wesfalen, Germany (what was then part of the Kingdom of Prussia). Germans used stone frequently in their home country and the Drukes continued this practice in Minnesota, though they adopted a building style then popular in their adopted home. A few, similar examples built by German immigrants still remain in nearby St. Paul, MN. These were also constructed with stone and feature similar transoms over their entrance doors.

Like much frontier architecture, the house is rather small and has little ornament.
The principal features that identify it as a modest example of the Greek Revival are the wide frieze boards on the gable ends, gable returns, the transom light over the door and windows with 6 over 6 glazing (only the attic windows appear to be original). Features that were common in on higher style examples but are absent here are wide frieze boards along the sides and columns or pilasters framing the entrance and the building corners. The windows on the lower level and the door have been replaced. The 1-pane window glazing and bead molding on the window muntins and door stiles are more characteristic of the 1910s.

The walls are constructed of local materials, including rubble stonework, field stone and brick. Often frontier builders started buildings using dressed stones taken from earlier structures and, as their supply ran out, used other, less refined materials. In other cases, builders simply ran out of time, money or ambition and resorted to coarser field stone or brickwork. It is not clear which is the case here, but the bottom sections of the walls are constructed of lightly dressed, coursed rubble. Above this are field stones. As can been seen on the east gable end, brickwork was used at the top. Bricks were sometimes used to repair stonework, so we can speculate that the bricks at the top of the gable end might have been added at a later date.

The Greek Revival appeared in America around1830 and spread into the Mississippi Valley as settlers moved west. It was popularized by several pattern books and carpenter’s guides, including The Modern Builder’s Guide by Minard Lafever and The Practical House Carpenter by Asher Benjamin. By the 1850s the Greek Revival began to be supplanted by the picturesque styles such as the Gothic Revival and Italianate, although the Greek style did persist much longer in the South.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Making Molding the Old-Fashioned Way

I am occasionally asked how molding such as window casing or base was produced during the 19th century. The answer depends on when and where.  By the middle of the 19th century steam and water powered mills were producing most millwork, including casing, base, cornices, spindles, doors and windows. However, in some remote regions people continued to rely on carpenters and house joiners to make molding by hand using a variety of hand planes. By the end of the century factory produced millwork had become the norm, as railroads made quick and inexpensive transportation possible to most parts of the country.

In the following photos I will demonstrate how I made one part of a molding profile on a piece of sample window casing using 19th century hand planes. I am using a scrap piece of basswood approximately 4 inches wide and am working in the wood shop at The Landing, a living history museum located in Shakopee, MN.

I began by adding beads along both edges of the casing using snipe's bills and a #2 round (a side bead plane would work just as well). For t
he next step I will add a  shallow, rounded groove down the middle of the casing.  To start I lay out a small groove which will serve as a guide for a molding plane.   Here I am using an adjustable plow plane with a movable fence and depth stop which allow me to place a groove of any depth anywhere on the face of the stock.

Once I have struck the groove into the middle of the board I will use a rabbet plane to chamfer both of the groove's edges.  The chamfers will provide a good surface for the next molding plane, a #5 round, to ride upon. 

The chamfers guide the #5 round along the length of the casing.  I plane the entire length until the groove from the plow plane has disappeared and I have one, full-width shaving. 

After a bit of refining and smoothing you are done.  You can continue and use other planes to add more complexity to the molding, including hollows to round off the sharp corners.