Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Building a Foundation at 65 Pleasant Street


Editor's Note: This week's blog post comes to us from Ward Hamilton, of Olde Mohawk Masonry and Historic Restoration. Mr. Hamilton is the principal of the firm and has performed many masonry preservation projects throughout New England.  Olde Mohawk has been working on stabilizing the foundation of 65 Pleasant Street over the past few weeks. Below, he shares a bit of his experience with the project.

The photos below show the work being done on the foundation wall- including a "before picture" of the foundation dangerously bulging in the basement, and the "after" picture of the repaired foundation.


When it comes to rebuilding a section of collapsed foundation wall, post and beam structures pose challenges that modern, stick-framed structures do not. With stick-framed houses, floor joists span the tops of the foundation walls and the walls of the building sit on those joists; support the joist, support the house above. Pretty straight forward, right?

With post and beam structures, like the Anna Clapp-Harris House in Dorchester, the sills are laid on the walls and joists on top; fail to support the sills, fail to support the house above. This is a bit of a challenge, and requires carefully planning and patience (and just a bit of luck.) Once bracing is in place, and the collapsed portion cleared and stacked for reuse, we can focus on rebuilding.


What did it look like here when this wall was first built? Could you see the ocean then? It's less than a mile away now; clearly, these round and oblong boulders came from the shore. Before automobile traffic and urban bustle you would've heard the surf crashing as you worked. Was it 1638 or 1804? Either way, by man and by oxen and by cart the stones that make up the foundation were brought to this place.

Who were the men who built this wall? Can they see us rebuilding what their hands once laid? Each stone set as they had done, hundreds of years before. Little has changed. There is a special feeling as we 'rebuild.' I often wonder if those old masons are watching us, pleased that their work has survived the ages while others' has faded into forgotten memory.

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“Let us think that we build forever … let it be such work as our descendants will thank us for, and let us think, as we lay stone on stone, that a time is to come when those stones will be sacred because our hands touched them, and that men will say as they look upon the labour and wrought substance of them ‘See!—this our fathers did for us!’”  - from 'The Seven Lamps of Architecture' (1849) by John Ruskin


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