The Germanna Foundation takes very seriously its stewardship of the historic property known as Salubria. Substantial efforts are being made to preserve, study, document and better understand the history of this architectural treasure.
Germanna Trustee Kathy Ellis shares the following update:
The Salubria Architecture Subcommittee in-service on March 13 was great fun, and I think we all learned a great deal. I am going to share a few notes on different topics which apply to all three houses being compared (Wilton, Brooke’s Bank, Salubria). The info comes from Richard Byrne, Gordon Lohr, and reference books as listed.
Take a moment to consider the importance of window glass. The first glass window in the western hemisphere is dated at 1535, just 2 centuries before Salubria’s construction.
Dr. Barbara Mooney author of Prodigy Houses of Virginia says:
In England, glazing was routine only after about 1590, and the kind of glass that was inserted into the previously open windows, known as broad sheet glass, was replete with imperfections and had a dull, murky surface. Glassmakers cut broad sheet glass into small rectangular pieces….because the …strips of soft lead (cames), that held them in place could not support much weight.
While not without flaws, pieces of crown glass were, comparatively speaking, amazingly transparent. Produced in quantity in London starting in 1678, this new kind of window glass first appeared in the urban centers of British North America a few decades later. At least one Boston government official found its effect revelatory when h visited the new Boston Cit Hall in 1713. Recognizing the metaphorical connotations of its increased transparency, Samuel Sewall jotted a rather cynical prayer to the Almighty in his diary: “Let this large, transparent, costly Glass serve to oblige the Attorneys always to set things in a True Light.”
The novel effect of crown glass went hand in hand with other innovations, namely the shift from iron casement windows to wooden sash windows. The English builder William Samwell first used the new devise at Inigo Jones’s Prince’s Lodging at Newcastle. in 1669… and Ham House 1674….His original sash windows there still employed lead cames but soon it was discovered that wooden glazing bars, or muntins, could hold larger pieces of glass. The size of crown glass, about 6 x 9 inches, when placed in wooden muntins offered the considerable luxury of increased illumination and the possibility of increased interior social activity.
The shift from casement windows with lead cames … to wooden sash windows with crown glass did not take place in Virginia overnight. Sash windows are first mentioned at the turn of the 18th century in …context of the new… buildings at the College of William and Mary.
In the 18th century, crown glass was much more expensive than broad sheet glass or cylinder glass. A person wealthy enough to afford crown glass when building a house would order it from England, panes pre-cut to the correct size. In its original condition, Salubria would have had over 600 lites (or panes) of crown glass, cut to the ordered size (9 x 11″) before shipment from England, probably from the port of Bristol. As expensive as it was, extra had to be ordered to allow for breakage on the journey across the Atlantic. Moreover, Salubria’s construction site required horse-drawn wagon transport on rugged roads from, probably, Fredericksburg, the nearest receiving port. (Consider how easy Brookes’ Bank construction materials delivery was with the Rappahannock River just out the front door!)
Neither Wilton nor Brooke’s Bank’s windows contained any of their original glass. In his Conditions Report, however, Richard Byrne noted that Salubria has a few panes of the original crown glass still in place. When we look through this crown glass, we see the outside world just as the original inhabitants of Salubria did.
I attach some of Richard Byrne’s research so you can see how important networking among historians is in tracking down this kind of information:
An update note on visiting the library at Winterthur. I was able to look at the 1760s Christopher and Charles Marshall invoices [file 61×35] last Monday and they have proven most useful. Marshalls were bringing in large box lots of noted on the invoice “crown glass.” Salubria, the 1742 house I am working on now south of Washington, needed over 600 lites of 9×11 inch glass. Thus, what one often sees in the invoices are quantities of boxed glass that probably represented the needs of a house under construction as many of the shipments were of a “house size” and thus a “bespoken” order.(Of course one can also assume some or the orders were for in hand stock in the store.)
The other curious note is the insurance placed on the glass shipments. It was “at risk.” Other goods such as pigments and spices were insured also, but without the “at risk” notation. I assume the insurance basically said, we’ll deliver but not guarantee the glass from breakage. [Even today modern glass is ordered with a 10% breakage/waste allowance by the time the glass gets into a wooden sash.]
Sheet glass is always shipped vertically and so I am trying to construct in my minds eye what the shipping containers looked like, and what was the packing material. It had to be cheap and plentiful. We are talking about sizeable and heavy boxes of wood filled with glass and straw…probably in excess of eighty pounds each with each order requiring several boxes. One can assume there was a trans-shipment of the glass from its point of manufacture toBristol where it was loaded on a ship. So now to suss out the inland British transport manner and route. The canals and railroad were not in place yet in the 1760s nor tunnels through mountains so it must have been by wagon and draft horse. Packaging would have meant everything both in England and after it reached Philadelphia. One thinks of straw and grasses to pack the glass. The 18th century French Trappist engraving showing window sash being made has a large basket of tables of crown glass standing vertically in the basket with straw stuffing material around it. Of course this implies the Trappist were close to the site where the tables were blown, otherwise they would have been working with pre-cut glass too.
Fredericksburg, Va. is the largest port close to Salubria [about 30 miles], but again a fair distance to transport glass by wagon. Perhaps it was transshipped to Fredericksburg from a larger port such as Philadelphia. One suspects the sash for Salubria being made “in town” and then the sash transported to the work site. Glass in place in sash seems a much safer way to make the journey as each piece would be bedded in soft putty in a vertical position and kept at some distance from other pieces of glass. We are awaiting the results of dendrochronology dating now being done at Oxford. So once again Salubria has its English connection.
Thanks again to you and to Laura Parrish for making this research possible. Your book on Glass in Early America is still a companion piece on my desk.
Richard O. Byrne
Consultant Architectural Conservator
An update on my crown glass email of this morning. Laura Parrish at Winterthur was kind enough to dig in for us. Looks like a good amount of the early window crown glass in America was made in Bristol which is an advance as I’ve seen wild guesses about it elsewhere. Because of the difficulty in moving glass overland I suspect the glass factories of Bristol were there to serve shipments by sea. The harbour in Bristol is perfect for handling boxes onto ships with ease and coal was close at hand up the coast. I suspect similar shipments were being landed in Quebec City or Montreal for the Canadian market. Thanks Laura.
Richard O. Byrne
TIME LINE — HISTORY OF GLASS!
First jar made of glass 3000 BC
All glass ancient container 1500 BC
Blowpipe to Shape Glass Used 30 BC
50 AD First Glass Window
1535 AD First Window in Western Hemisphere
1685 AD First Mirror
1753 AD First Glass Eyeglasses
1980 AD Microwave Glass & Fiber for Telephone Cables
BRICKS & MORTAR
A brick home in the 18th century was an extravagance. Most homes were wooden clapboard, and so a brick home would have stood out as evidence of wealth and prestige. Consider the labor involved in a brick home: Salubria contains an estimated 200,000 hand made, sand cast bricks, requiring a pile of wood 8’x8’x400’ long to fire the brick kilns (per Richard Byrne). Moreover, finding and hiring a skilled brick mason(s) was difficult and expensive.
18th century lime mortar was much softer than modern cement mortars. Sometimes you can see seashell fragments in 18th century mortar joints, especially in the Tidewater, Virginia area because shells were heated to obtain the calcium carbonate necessary in the manufacturing process. In the Shenandoah Valley, the plentiful limestone was heated to obtain the same result. (If you visit Lexington, Virginia you might attend a play in the old Lime Kilns, restored as an outdoor community theater.)
Richard Byrne says: The soft lime mortars allowed the building to move, as all buildings do, without major cracking, and the small cracks that did appear were self healing as dissolved lime filled and sealed any tiny cracks. This is the principle reason so many early brick and lime mortar structures still stand today, even going back to Roman times. If hard cement mortar is used in modern repairs on these old structures, problems can occur because of these dynamics.
Whether English or Flemish bond, most colonial Virginians found the lengthy and arduous process of creating brick buildings beyond their means. They survived in houses built of wood which rested on masonry foundations. Set against a prevailing content of timber houses, a large brick prodigy house presented a prominent and remarkable profile. See, Prodigy Houses of Virginia by Dr. Barbara Mooney.
There are two brick patterns typically seen in Virginia’s 18th century structures: English bond and Flemish bond:
1. English bond has alternating rows of “stretchers” (bricks laid lengthwise) and “headers” (bricks laid with only the ends visible). Some bricks closest to the fire in a brick kiln will have their sides and ends glazed over with vitrified sands and clays. These glazed brick ends are sometimes used for both decoration and water resistance. English bond is the stronger of the 2 patterns and so is frequently seen in the lower, thick part of a wall/foundation, which must carry the weight of the upper wall. The water table tops the foundation and is designed to deflect rain away from the house.
2. Flemish bond has alternating stretchers and headers in each row. This gives a beautiful appearance, especially if the headers are nicely glazed, but it is not as strong as English bond.
Salubria’s walls are Flemish bond both above and below the water table. The water table is fairly simple when compared to Brooke’s Bank which had specially molded concave bricks. Salubria’s brick work is very fine, and the work represents the craft of a very skilled mason.
Dr. Barbara Mooney in Prodigy Houses of Virginia comments:
Ornamental water tables on the exterior also called attention to the owner’s superior aesthetic knowledge. Positioned on the exterior where the thicker brick foundation walls yield to the thinner walls above, water tables were composed of specially molded bricks intended to dispense water away from the wall. At Blandfield (also Brooke’s Bank), . . . expensive molded bricks in the classical form of a concave cavetto and a convex torus accomplished the transition. John Thompon paid for a plain water table composed of only a course of simple, sloping bricks added to the top of the foundation.