Our first task in the window restoration and repair project involves investigating the condition of the windows to determine how they had fared since the 1980 restoration. We knew from visual observation that a lot of paint was peeling and there was evidence of moisture related deterioration on the inside of the sashes.Further, the 1980’s restoration documents did not provide any observational notes which might give us a clue as to their age or construction. While it is presumed that the sashes are not original, their multi-light configuration suggest either a pre or post Victorian era age (earlier as Federal/Italianate rarely used large panels of glass or late as Colonial Revivals often imitated the smaller muntin configurations of earlier architectural styles), and remains unresolved to this posting.
So sashes from three representative openings were removed (one window on each level on the South or back side of the building) to determine conditions and get a general feel for how repairs would proceed on all sashes.
One of the first things noted was that sash pulleys had been installed for single hung windows (only one set per window opening), but there were no counter-weight ropes. Further inspection revealed that there was no dado slot for the rope or a knot hole to tie it off as one might expect. The blocks supporting the pulleys were removed to reveal that the pulleys were constructed of finely machined hardwood with a flared brass bearing shaft through which a brass axle pin was inserted, clearly shop made but field installed.
We drilled small holes in the counterweight boxes to insert a scope and discovered perfectly made rectangular boxes that were…completely…empty. Also, there are no obvious counter weight box doors through which the weights could be installed in the boxes for use.
We also carefully pried open one of the interior shutter boxes which had been nailed and caulked into place in the 1980 restoration. Those restoration documents only specified that inner shutter panels not be replaced. Once open we discovered that the shutter had been stripped of all paint, the attachment to the window frame modified, rendering the hinges inoperable, no secondary shutter leaves and no obvious access point for counterweight installation as that counterweight box panel (essentially the window frame), is one continuous piece of wood.
So what we have discovered so far provides no real “smoking guns.” Our working theory and summary conclusion as to the age of window systems thus far, based on observational and background information are as follows:
- Earliest photographs reveal the sashes (which appear to be the current units) are single hung, have relatively small glass panels and are all very delicate in woodworking proportion suggesting a Federal/Italianate period or Colonial Revival period – so 1785-1850 or post 1890. We are leaning more toward Federal/Italianate as the thinness of the materials and proportion is uncharacteristic of the Colonial Revival period.
- There were significant ownership changes during both of these periods, with more affluent owners apparently (but not conclusively) in the Federal/pre-Civil War periods (bracketed by Henderson and Magruder ownership periods respectively). At 50 to 100 years old, life cycle replacement of building systems and changes in contemporary style might prompt more affluent owners to make modifications which we see here today.
- Xerographic copies of photographic documents from the pre-1980 restoration suggest that the exterior was finished in ruled plaster creating an ashlar stone appearance on some or all of the exterior stone masonry walls. Unfortunately, and to our knowledge, that work was not dated prior to its removal. It seems unlikely that this was an original finish to the 1742 Middle Georgian era Colonial structure. If however it was an early modification – this technique was widely used during the Federal period- it suggests that an intensive improvement campaign may have been engaged then including window systems. This could be during the early construction of the Federal City (Henderson Period) or its rebuilding after the War of 1812, maybe as late as pre-Civil War (Magruder Period) or even later, as building in a “Federal Mode” continues to this day in Washington DC.
- Newspaper reports of the time document several instances of significant window damage in Bladensburg after powder mills exploded mainly in the Federal period, prior to consolidation of munitions manufacturing away from this area.
- The window sash currently installed are not related to the sash pulley/window frame system on the first floor (typical condition for all 7 of the 9/9 windows to be verified).
- The lack of counterweights in the boxes or access panels to service them in window opening examined suggest that they may never have been used.
- Pulley system may be original to the building (counter-weighted systems were introduced to the colonies in the late 17th), but hardware and the quality of the machining of the wood pulleys may suggest a later installation. The pulley blocks are installed with a hooked notch and a single cut nail. Cut nails are in regular production and use by the1780’s.
- The sash maker/installers do not appear to have employed any counterbalance or hold open system other than props. So far there are no clear indications of hardware shadows or hole patterns which suggest a bolt or pin type locking system (typically involving locking the lower sash to the upper).
- It appears that most of the window woodwork was stripped of paint in 1980 so only 2-3 coats of modern paint are evident on sashes and no records of paint analysis are in evidence in archival materials.
- The relationship of the shutter boxes to the sash counterweight boxes is unclear due to 1980 restoration work. While it seems clear that the shutter panels are very early, the counterweight boxes appear to be fabricated and finished differently. Additional lumber species and fabrication technique identification is needed here to be more conclusive.
The investigation continues…