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William Brown House - Builder's Error?

One of the neat benefits this preservation project has given us is the chance to climb around the scaffolding and look more closely at parts of the building you can barely see from the ground level. This post focuses on an interesting exterior feature of the building on the western elevation. The pictures will be larger than usual so that you can examine them more closely. So just keep scrolling down to read the text either before or after each image. (The picture above is just a shot I took from the scaffolding that I thought was neat.)

Anyway, the picture below shows a fairly visible diagonal feature in the mortar. It is definitely visible from the ground level. For years I have seen it and just assumed it was a repair and/or something that popped up over the years.

The image to the left is a close-up taken from the scaffolding.

You can clearly follow the thicker line of mortar in a diagonal from the upper left to the bottom right.

A quick glance from this perspective does not seem to tell you much more other than the mortar seems thicker at this location.

However, as the picture below shows, if you look at the side of the building from more of an angle, there appears to be a bigger structural problem. If you want to take a moment to try to figure it out, don't scroll beneath the image (the answer is there).

If you follow the different layers of brick, particularly the top level of the belt course (the brick that sticks out from the wall by about a 1/2 inch), then you'll see that the part of the building farther away from the camera is higher than the part of the building closer to the camera.

Below is a close-up view of the belt course and where it changes. This image hopefully gives you a better sense of both the difference in height and that the brick leading away from the camera is level once the height changes.

It appears that during the construction of the William Brown House, there was a compounding error on a portion of the southern section of the western side. Maybe the mortar was just laid on a bit too thick in between each layer of brick when compared to the other portion of the wall. Or some other construction error occurred.

What seems fairly clear is that when the two "segments" of the wall came together (the northern and southern sections on the western side), the masons discovered that they didn't quite match. They had gotten out of level. One portion was higher than the other portion.

At that point they probably only had two options. One was to undo a lot of work and start again. The other option is what we see. Slowly make the brick layers level by changing the mortar thickness as the building went higher.

Anyway, that's the prevailing theory. Without a more in-depth investigation into the construction of the building or a builder's journal or diary left by William Brown, this is the best conclusion we have. We're happy to hear of anyone else's ideas.

So far, this has been one of the more interesting discoveries about the William Brown House. We still have more weeks of preservation work to go, so who knows what will turn up.

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