Dating a historic structure by the nails   1 comment

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Dating a historic structure by the nails

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First you must determine whether the nails were original to the structure.  Once you have found original construction and the nails used, the actual manufacture characteristics of the nails will reveal roughly when the nails were made.  The following is an actual case study of dating by nails.  However, the nails alone are not absolute proof,  just one of many clues.   When enough clues converge, you can begin to bracket the years of construction.   The following is an actual example from examination of the Ditmars Polhemus Wagon House in Hillsborough, New Jersey.   Our Preservation Plan explains:

Some of the weathered boards were removed at the shared wall between the wagon house and the single story shed.  It is likely that some of the existing boards are original to the structure.  Some of the boards were removed to investigate the nail patterns.  The boards contained two square nails in vertical alignment at each post.  These nails aligned with the nails and pattern in the boards above and below indicating an even, singular and original nailing pattern.  When the nails and board were removed, no other holes were evident beneath in the post.  The nails appeared to be machine cut with a hammered head.  Since the siding boards and nails appear to be the first and only application where examined, it is likely that these were the original nails and boards.  Repair nails would have left clues.

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 DENNIS KOWAL ARCHITECTS restored the 1790 Ditmars Polhemus Wagon House in 2011.  The original clapboard siding and nails remain protected behind a series of additions.
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If true, this dates the original wagon house by virtue of when machine nails were available in the region;  some say this would be no earlier than 1790.  The removed nails were tapered on two sides and flat on two sides (indicating a cut nail and not a blacksmith nail) and the cuts appear to be in opposite directions (typical of the Type A or earlier cut nail from 1790-1830).  The heads are rectangular and tapered (two-way, not four-way) and not flat like the later period, single-blow, machine nail heads.  Therefore, the findings are consistent with earlier reports which stated that the wagon house could date to the late eighteenth century.    In addition, a will, which listed the barns and their sizes, included a barn with dimensions that match this barn; confirming a barn of this size existed in this time frame of 1790 to 1830.

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Posted September 20, 2011 by Dennis Kowal Architects in Historic Preservation

One response to “Dating a historic structure by the nails

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  1. Great Research & Info!

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