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Stone Carvin
BUILDERS

AND RESTORERS
LeeM. Nelson

U.S.

Department of the

Interior

National Park Service

Cover

Ornate carving of the transom and swags over the

north entrance to the White House represents

tin-

quality

craftsmanship of the original stonemasons and the finest


American stone carving from the late 18th century, photo:

Richard Cheek.

^ FEDERAL 1
PUBUCATIOH,

White House Stone Carving


BUILDERS

AND RESTORERS

Lee H. Nelson, fa. la.

U.S.

Department of the

Interior

U.S.

Department of the

Interior

National Park Service

National Park Service

National Capital Region

Cultural Resources

White House Liaison

Preservation Assistance Division

1992

Printed in the United States of America

U.S.

Department of the

Interior

National Park Service


Preservation Assistance Division
P.O.

Box 37127

Washington, D.C. 20038

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Nelson, Lee H.

White House stone carving: builders and


restorers/by Lee H. Nelson.
p.

cm.

Includes bibliographical references.

ISBN 0-16-038014-6

$4.25

Washington (D.C. History

Stone carving

2.

Decoration and ornament, Architectural

18th century.

Washington (D.C.)
3.

Stone carving

Conservation and restoration

Washington (D.C.)
4.

White House (Washington, D.C.)

NK8700.5.U62W26
725'.

17'09753

I.

Title.

1992

dc20

92-21388
CIP

Design by Charles Beyl, Alexandria, Virginia

Drawings by Tim Buehner, National Park Service

Cover photograph by William Allman, The White

House
For sale by the U.S. Government Printing Office.
Superintent of Documents,
Mail Slop:

SSOP, Washington,

DC

20402-9328

ISBN 0-16-038014-6

For sale h\ the

Superintendent

ol

US

Government

Printing Office

Documents, Mail Stop: SSOP. Washington.

ISBN 0-16-038014-6

DC

20402-9328

Foreword

The

White House

is

the finest eighteenth century

stone house in the United States, yet one of

most

significant features has

its

been hidden from

rich past, the care

carvers

many

coats of white paint applied over the years are

manship. Now,

after

wonderful

crafts-

200 years, the paint has been

removed and the stonework repaired

as part of

an

With the White House Chief Usher, the National


Park Service shares stewardship responsibility for the

grounds and exterior of the building.


to

offer

We

both national and international

national treasure. This booklet not only

as 40 layers of deteriorated

made much easier today to appreciate the


superb workmanship of the eighteenth-century
carvers. Beyond the carvings themselves, the
enormous task of building a magnificent stone
it

structure along the


truly

remarkable

banks of the Potomac River

story, a tribute to the vision of

founding fathers and to the craftsmen

who

is

office

century,

it

describes the significant

by today's talented

United States and a historic

one

site visited

our

realized

million people annually, the

unique

in

the world.

practiced at the White

And
House

by more than

White House

is

though the stone craft


is

just a

small part of

its

the story

work being done

restoration team.

and home of the President of the

tells

of the stone masons' achievements in the eighteenth

that vision.

As the

visitors

and understanding of this

foster a greater appreciation

of our National Park System.

The removal of as many

are pleased

educational programs and publications that will help

overall exterior restoration of this incomparable unit

paint has

original stone

restorers.

view throughout the twentieth century. Beneath the

details of the original stone carvers'

and pride of the

being respectfully extended by today's

is

Director

National Park Service

Digitized by the Internet Archive


in

2012 with funding from

LYRASIS Members and Sloan Foundation

http://archive.org/details/whitehousestonecOOnels

Preface

As

one of the most recognizable buildings

world, the White House

is

both a symbol of

freedom and a representation of America to


peoples throughout the world. Today, two hundred
years after the laying of the cornerstone, craftsmen are
at

work

restoring the exterior sandstone walls of the

White House. As a

result,

the exquisite eighteenth-

century carvings and tooled stone faces, long hidden

under numerous layers of paint coatings, can be

fully

team, dedicated to progressing with infinite care and


displaying

exterior restoration project has provided

investigate the original stone carving

an

and quarrying

procedures. The laborious task of quarrying, handling,

and placing the thousands of stones

sizing, carving,

weighed

many

of the

skills reflected in

as

much

as IV2 tons

accomplishment, especially

in

was

the

a remarkable

late

1700s in

project

is

further complicated because

it

must be

scheduled around the daily tours totaling 1.25 million


visitors

each year, as well as the

Official

and

Ceremonial events of the Presidency. Despite the slow

and laborious pace of the work and the accompanying


received strong support from the

In keeping with the long tradition of maintaining

the White

House

hundred years

will

be ready

to

its

is

House can be

fully

home and

office of the President of the United

States.

same

to repair larger stones that are severely

cracked, weathered, or damaged.

be restored

appreciated by future generations

time and from the same quarry as the White House

used

will

former architectural grandeur so that the White

necessary. Small pieces of


at the

two

beacon of freedom

admired around the world. The stone

project aims to minimize the loss of the original stone,

matching Aquia creek sandstone, quarried

to face the next

as the continuing

the historical character of the original stone walls, the

replacing only what

First Families.

Upon completion of the exterior restoration project,

as the

America.

stone, are

the original

stonework craftsmanship. The complexity of the

opportunity to study the intricately carved stones and

that

are fortunate to have a marvelous restoration

noise and dust, the stone restoration effort has

appreciated.

The

We

in the

White House Chief Usher

Acknowledgements

was developed by the PreservaThis publication


Assistance Division of the National Park

his

J.

Walters,

and the National

Park Service White House Liaison Office, James

publication.

L.

was through

It

guidance

that

his

commitment,

interest,

the success of this publication

for their fine


field
P.

research for this

P.

Callahan,

Hickson.

photograph and data

and

Curator's Office, in particular

files

available to

was

an advisor on the

Office;

White House Exterior Restoration Project and author

The

text

is

based

in part

upon

enhance

this

this publication.

Michael T. Summerlin of the White House Liaison

Lee H. Nelson, FAIA, former Chief of the

of this publication.

making

Several people in the National Park Service are to

be credited with various aspects of

is

in

publication.

assured.

Preservation Assistance Division,

cutters of

work and

Raymond D.
Andrew Uhl, and Norman

Sean

William G. Allman, was most helpful

Historian for the Preservation

Fisher,

E.

Assistance Division, acted as the publication project


director.

are:

The White House

Region.

Charles

They

Cleland, David J. Roberts,

T.

McDaniel, Associate Regional Director, National Capital

crew are recognized

cooperation during the

Service in cooperation with the Chief Usher of

the White House, Gary

The stone

crucial to the restoration effort.

tion

Robert

Division; Jack E.

HABS; Michael

the

J.

Kapsch, Chief of

HABS/HAER

Boucher and Frederick J. Lindstrom,


J.

Auer and other members of the

research notes and writings of William Seale, author

Preservation Assistance Division provided valuable

of The President's House. Special appreciation

assistance.

extended to Mr. Seale for sharing the notes

and

is

Thanks are also extended

in his files

A.

Preservation Assistance Division,

assistance

at

removal of the numerous paint coatings from the

worked with

the

sandstone walls.
Finally, the

every stage of the publication's


his

drawings, and photographs.

much

the

team and provided invaluable

development including

of the research

work on

He

is

for

is

J.

knowledge of the stone

and mason,

cutting craft

House be preserved

Exterior Restoration Project.

the superintendent for the present crew of stone

carvers. His

is

acknowledged

for

all

Americans by

providing the funds necessary for the White House

also responsible for

on the Aquia Creek sandstone

Plunkett, master stone carver

United States Congress

having both the foresight and desire to insure that

the White

the sketches,

quarries.

Patrick

H. Rudder for

in

Buehner, Historical Architect

exterior restoration

Thomas

sharing his knowledge and expertise regarding the

for his insightful review.

Timothy

to

is

vn

trimmi
Painting done about 1827 showing the White House

and grounds.

Tfje

Huntington Library, San Marino. California.

White House Stone Carving


BUILDERS

tend to think of the White House as

Americans
a

AND RESTORERS

symbol of the Presidency rather than an

exceptional example of early American crafts-

Though

the project.

the government

was being

Federal city

built,

the President

when seen close-up, the building is both


bold and delicate in a way that surprises and impresses

well informed of the progress and

most visitors surprises because such delicate orna-

the next President, not himself,

manship. Yet,

mentation

is

carved out of stone, and impresses be-

cause such craftsmanship adds a

new dimension

to

our appreciation of the White House as a landmark

number of stories can be

building. While a

building the President's


is

limited to

what

it

House

told about

in the 1790s, this story

took to carve a stone building, and

the preservation of that

work

as part of the

White

The construction of
in the

House

as

it

the President's Palace, or the

came

to

be

called,

was placed

hands of three Commissioners appointed by

President George Washington. Their job

was

to plan

the work, secure cost estimates, find the necessary

materials and

workmen, pay

the

bills

and be

responsible for the timeliness and the costs of the


project.

These three Commissioners

Johnson, David
distinguished

Washington,

Stuart,

in

upon

the

would be the

occupy the Palace, President Washington


his

own

vision for the building,

new

appropriate to the

nation.

large,

and

brick.

The construction of a

the

was kept

made demands
Commissioners. Even though he knew that

built of stone, rather

Potomac

River,

first

to

carried out

one which would be

He wanted
than mere

it

be

to

wood

or

large stone building along

where there was no established

stone industry, would create almost insurmountable

problems, plaguing the Commissioners for years.

House's 200th anniversary.

President's

was seated

Philadelphia during the ten years (1790-1800) the

Judge Thomas

and Daniel

Carroll,

all

men were accountable to President


who took a strong personal interest in

The Commissioners had much more than the


to manage, for there were many other

stonework

duties associated with building the Federal

overseeing

just

the

stonework

the

for

city.

But

two most

important buildings, the White House and the United


States Capitol,

was

involved than

a formidable task.

just

Much more was

ordering materials from local

suppliers and engaging local craftsmen, for neither

suppliers

nor craftsmen were available

Commissioners

in the

that the building

was

new
to

Federal

city.

to

the

Knowing only

be large and made of stone,

work underway even though

they took steps to get the

no

and no

actual plans existed

architect

had yet been

House and the United

States Capitol.

They chose

stone primarily because the quarries were served by

water transportation, making the stone

selected.

this

relatively

Even

accessible to the building sites in Washington.

though

was unclear whether

it

sufficient

Aquia stone

could be obtained to meet their expectations, they

The Stone Problem

purchased a quarry and began to extract stone for the


foundation walls of the White House. This work

In the late eighteenth century, large cities

New York had

Boston, Philadelphia, and

such as

established

commenced

prior to the preparation of architectural

designs or drawings.

stone industries, utilizing local or regional stone


quarries, with the necessary infrastructure to freight

the rough or cut stone by land or water.

was

Philadelphia, there
to

fine architectural

in a

range of colors.

in a variety of

ways, including

window

trim, staircases, classical

columns, and fireplace mantels. Furthermore, stone


carving was a well-established
large-scale craft or industry,

near the newly created

craft.

No such

however, existed

District

of Columbia.

the stone used for architectural trim

in or

Much

of

on eighteenth-

century buildings in Virginia and Maryland had been

pre-carved and imported from England, such as

Purbeck or Portland stone.

would have been

It

easy to build of brick, as there was a plentiful

but the President wanted stone.


The magnitude of the task build a large public
building of stone must have been evident
supply of good clay

to

to

all

concerned. Three options existed for obtaining the


stone.

The

first

was

to import

was probably unthinkable

new

it

from England.

This

for a building symbolic of

just

broken away from England.

Alternatively, stone could

have been ordered from one

Stone Quarries
The Aquia Creek sandstone used

stonework cut for decorative features

such as door and

relatively

The Aquia Creek

a variety of local stone types

choose from, including marble

Such stones were used

In

nation that had

of the larger American

cities,

but the logistics of this

House was commonly known


a stone that can

local quarries that supplied

The

stone for tombstones and building trim.

Commissioners exercised the


doubtful they really

knew

last

option, though

it

is

the size of the job ahead.

There were outcroppings of stone along the

Potomac River
but never

on

that

had been

a large scale.

One

was along Aquia Creek, some


newly created

District

utilized for

many

years,

of these outcroppings

forty miles

south of the

of Columbia. The Aquia stone

was selected by the Commissioners

for

both the White

freely in

pronounced

White

meaning

any direction

because the grain or bedding layers are not

sufficiently

to interfere with the splitting, cutting or

carving of the stone. In the geologic time chart, this

stone resulted from the deposition of sediments along


the coastal plain in the

Lower Cretaceous age over 100

million years ago.

principally

It is

composed of quartz

sand, with pebbles and pellets of clay,

together with

silica.

This stone

is

all

cemented

easy to cut and to

carve because of the soft cementation. Unfortunately,


this softness also contributes to

quality of the stone will vary

poor weathering. The


even within the same

quarry due to the amount of cementation present, to


flaws such as the clay deposits and pebbles, and to

minute cracks
the stone

is

that are

sometimes hard

to detect until

cut or carved. In color, the Aquia stone

ranges from a tawny white to a soft pink with vibrant


streaks of rust caused

option were formidable. The third possibility was to

engage one of the small

be worked

for the

as a freestone,

by mineral

deposits.

Aquia stone was being quarried from several


locations in Stafford County, Virginia. Small quarries

on

situated

a 15-acre island astride Aquia Creek

would

eventually supply most of the stone for the President's

Surrounded by

Palace.
invisible

and

tidal

marshes and

virtually

today due to the overgrowth of vegetation

trees, the

exposed stone faces on the island must

have been rather prominent

in

their

heyday when

quarrying was underway. Although the Aquia Creek


is

at

quite

wide

at this point,

it

is

also very shallow.

Only

high tide could ships load the rough-cut stone

blocks and transport them

Potomac
the

new

The

River.

had been acquired

Brent,

and

it

remained

generations. Another

deeded the land


1792.

time
to

down

the creek to the

there they could

sail

upriver to

the

1670s by

George

to the

in

in the

and

transportation.

Brent family for

Commissioners

in

not known, though local buildings are

known

have had Aquia stone as decorative

trim.

Presumably, the Brents had opened the several small


quarries sufficiently that both the quantity

was evident

to the

and

quality

Commissioners. To

develop the quarrying operation for the Federal


however, the Commissioners needed a

Takes Over

February,
at that

of the stone

A Scotsman

Brent, a descendant,

The extent of the quarrying operations


is

operation, requiring additional labor, equipment,

city.

island

George

From

much

city,

larger

In April of 1792, a Scottish master

mason named

Collen Williamson was contracted to serve as overseer.


His duties were two-fold. In Stafford County, he

was

develop and expand the modest operation

the

to

at

quarry in order to provide a large and reliable stone

supply for shipment to the Federal

he was

city.

In Washington,

to supervise the laying of the quarried stone

for the foundations of the building,

once the exact

site

1
Aerial view of'Government Island, site ofseveral quarries thatfurnished stone for the While House. Located along Aquia
Creek in Stafford County, Virginia, about forty miles south of Washington, DC. this tidal island is connected to the mainland
by marshy bogs and a man-made causeway. The present overgrowth conceals ivhat was a rather extensive quarrying operation

Fig.

in the 1790s. After quarrying, the blocks ofstone

were hauled to a dock, seen here jutting out on the

left

edge of the

island,

where

they were loaded onto boats, thenfloated down Aquia Creek to the Potomac River and shipped upriver to Washington Thousands

of tons of stone were quarried

and shipped from

Historic America)! Buildings Survey (HABS).

this island for the

White House in the early

1 790s. photo:

Jack Boui

her.

Y/'s

and design of the building were


an architect or a

was

all

established. Without

design for the White House,

final

appeared

that

they had reached good stone, the

quarriers used very labor-intensive techniques to free


relatively large blocks of stone. First, they chiseled

rather chaotic at this stage.

Collen Williamson seems to have been the right

man

for the job, at least initially. Sixty-five years of age,

was an experienced master mason from


Dyke,

it

he

the village of

Coming from

on an outcropping of

(actually picked) a vertical face

which would serve

the stone

as a

working plane from

which they could measure and begin

to plan the

a family

removal of blocks of stone. Using hand-picks, they

of stone masons, he was accustomed to operating as

then cut two trenches four to six feet deep into the

in

northeastern Scotland.

a master builder in the traditional

Why
life is

not known, but

economic

was

at that

was probably

it

difficulties that led

to migrate to
It

meaning of the term.

he came to the United States

same

these trenches were only about twenty inches wide,

for the

other skilled craftsmen

providing barely enough


a pick

Williamson took over a sporadic

and cut

of the trench.

a relatively

Then

room for a man

quarrying operation with relatively low production.

parallel to the initial stone face,

two

Aquia could not begin

with the needed quantity of stone.

from Pierre Charles L'Enfant (then


out the city and
99,000 cubic
stone

just

or over eleven million

pounds of

had envisioned

built.

finally

at

only

a long

through the long hot

The

know

and arduous

the presence of veins or other flaws within the

that

they were

Working the

The operation required considerable judgement and


experience.

To

split

wedges were placed

in the

was a very slow

much
to

of large

wooden

were cleared away and discarded. When

it

lift

out the blocks of stone that

posts set

into

holes cut

in

the

undisturbed stone to support and steady the posts.

They were equipped with

vegetation, tree roots, and the

damaged stone

were placed

to help

work

time. Using considerable labor, the

the immediate quarry

the island. Derricks or cranes

away. These cranes probably consisted

could

continual splitting and heaving caused by frost over

moved from

manageable

split into

split

use because the

little

were

had been

upper reaches

of the exposed stone were of

labor.

where needed

hemp

surfaces. Usually, the

as the stones

they were

on

size.

process, involving a tremendous

amount of hard physical

had to be cleared away

into the

grooves, splitting the large block into the desired

the frozen

operation on the island in Aquia Creek, but on a

grooves about one foot

and systematically and uniformly driven

apart

summer days and

to continue the quarrying

number of iron

the stone away, a

It

Quarrying The Stone

surfaces

as well as the specific size of stone needed.

continuing

larger scale. Vegetation

The

depended

itself,

area

damaged by

the main mass of stone.

location of these grooves or cutting planes

task,

was

and

grooves one to two inches wide between the

wedged away from

sizes,

stone was

quarriers then chiseled shallow horizontal

vertical

As soon

Williamson's task

sizes.

upon

winter months.

expose new stone

manageable

stone

of one pint of whiskey for each man.

would be

very large rectangular mass of stone that could be

split into

bodied negro

allowed a diet of pork and bread, with a daily ration

stone

connected the

it

side trenches. This last trench effectively created

the quarries."

The names of these quarry workmen have

We

side

behind and

provided a plane from which stone blocks could be

Williamson had to teach the slaves the task of

gone unrecorded.

and

cut

trenches in the face of the stone. These grooves

five able

employed

Slaves to be

was

That was

much bigger building than was


To begin this enormous task, the

Commissioners hired "twenty

quarrying.

work with

needed, but L'Enfant

to build the foundation walls!

subsequently

the order

charge of laying

principal buildings) called for

its

feet,

roughly twice the amount

men

Initially,

in

to deal

to

smooth surface on each

a rear trench

The few quarrymen

at

and

roughly ten to twenty feet apart. To minimize waste,

America during the next several years.

likely that

stone, perpendicular to the face of the stone

point in his

large

wooden

pulleys with

ropes to provide leverage so the quarry


lift

blocks of stone and set them

area

where the stones could be

in

men

an adjacent

further cut

and

dressed into the approximate sizes required for the

White House.

To reduce handling problems and

to

eliminate

2a

2b
Fig. 2

2c
aj The Aquia Creek stone quarry showing the original method of removing stone. After a rock outcropping teas exposed,
was created by laborers using handpicks. Three narrow trenches were then band-picked into the rock, two at right

verticalface

and a trench parallel with thefront face connecting the side trenches and isolating large sect inns ofstone.
and vertical grooves were chiseled into the faces of the stone. Iron wedges were then driven into
oat smaller blocks. These smaller blocks were hoisted from the immediate work area and later trimmed at

angles to the first face

To free the stone, horizontal


these grooves to split

the quarry into the sizes needed for the building.

b) This photo shows

many

an Aquia Creek quarry face

with side trenches

and a

horizontal groove ready for splitting, but

abandoned

years ago.

c) Closer view showing the

hand-pickedface of stone with a narrow chiseled groove

illustration

and photos: Tim Buehner, NPS

unnecessary wastage
delivered and

worked

blocks were not

much

later
at

when

the job

the final quarry

site,

larger than

stone was

the

what was ultimately

needed. However, a great deal of waste occurred

at

the Federal city

The

also created debris, as did the

down

process of cutting the rough blocks

to the

approximate sizes needed by the stone carvers.

Weight and handling were

factors

Thomas Jefferson, then

for use in the walls


in

each stone

result,

that

was quarried

above the foundation was ordered

dimensions corresponding to a specific use, such

to

be brought

be

built of stone.

had a

President,

Secretary of State and future

life-long interest in architecture

practice that

was

was

was common

in

little

to hold a competition, a

used

in this

country but which

two competitions, one

for

and one

for the

President's

for the

House, and

obtained approval from President Washington. Dated


1792 and published

as for the wall, cornice, balustrade or other location.

March

newspapers, the announced competition called

were only

the quarry

slightly

larger than actually

required, reducing weight for shipping

while allowing for

final

trimming

were

After the blocks

at

the

identifying letters

hoisted onto

hill

sleds

value for the winning entry.

and dragged by teams of

dock

northeast corner of the island. There they

at

would be

down

loaded by crane onto small ships for shipment

miles to the Federal

up

Potomac

the

city.

Three

Columbia, the Ark, and the


transport the stone. Each

River,

some 40

sailing ships,

Sincerity,

the

the

were used

to

was capable of carrying more

than 30 tons of stone.

that there

was

the country's major

fifteenth of July

a prize of $500 or a

Born and educated

was working

at that

$500 prize

and

for the

in Ireland,

he

time as a house carpenter

in

Hoban

Charleston, South Carolina. For his award,


selected a gold medal

for

medal of that

James Hoban won the design competition


President's House.

and took the remainder of the

in cash. Unfortunately,

Hoban's original

drawings and design have not survived. Hoban


subsequently modified the winning entry

in

order to

meet the expectations and demands of President


Washington and the Commissioners. Pleased with
Commissioners awarded Hoban the

their choice, the

job of directing the entire construction process.

On

of pounds of stone blocks thus were

Millions

in

be submitted before the

site.

cut at the quarry to the

to the stone loading

the Aquia Creek and

entries to

noted

and numbers, and then probably

wood

oxen down the

14,

and handling

approximate dimensions, each was marked with

and

get a

to

Europe. Jefferson drafted newspaper

announcements
Capitol

way

The dimensions

specified for delivery of stone from

to

easily resolved than the

strongly believed that the best


distinguished design

of major

importance. Each cubic foot of stone weighed about

120 pounds. As a

house were

this

if

problem was more

first

to

second.

the quarry. Obvious flaws had to be cut from the stone.

The trenching process

masons needed

highly skilled stone

August

2,

1792, President

Washington came

to

laboriously split out of the quarry for the White House,

the District of Columbia, surveyed the foundations,

cut to useful sizes, dragged to the water's edge, loaded

and drove the

onto a barge or boat, sailed to Washington, unloaded,

Excavations for the basement and part of the

and hauled
building

site,

to

the stonecutter's

workshop

at

the

only to be handled several more times

before they were finally placed into the walls.

President's

that

had

House with drawings

that

at

to

for

the

be
the

would show the

appearance, the details and the dimensions. Second,

who was

and laying out the

not

known how much


built or

what changes were needed


siting,

was

far

city.

It

of these early foundations

but the

work

to

enough along

comply

of laying the

foundation stones, already delivered to the

Before any stone carving could get underway

there had to be a design

house had already

locating the major buildings

the quarry,

First,

larger

Pierre L'Enfant,

with the adjusted

resolved.

stakes for construction.

begun under the orders of

were

White House, there were two problems

much

foundations for a

is

Laying The Cornerstone

final

site

from

to arrange for

an

elaborate event to mark the "Laying of the


Cornerstone."
This event took place on a Saturday, the 13th day

of October, 1792, beginning with a parade. Starting

in

Georgetown, the Commissioners and Freemasons led

all

the various

workmen, commonly

to the foundations of the President's

called artificers,

House where they

formally placed the cornerstone. Although


location has never

been found,

of the ceremony reported that the cornerstone


at

precise

its

newspaper account

An

the southwest corner of the building.

was

laid

inscribed

was embedded with wet mortar onto the

brass plate

to

Efforts

stone masons continued

skilled

attract

throughout 1793- Meanwhile, master stone mason


Collen Williamson proceeded with

House

work

at

the White

few stonecutters he had and the

utilizing the

additional laborers that could be trained. Despite the

work conditions and pressing schedule,

difficult

Williamson's crew did a very credible job, as evident

top surface of the stone. The inscription was as

from the finished stonework on the ground

floor. All

follows:

the stones except for the bold projecting

window

enframements were neatly dressed with hand-tooled


stone of the President's

This

first

was

laid the 13th

in the

House

vertical

furrows covering their entire surface.

day of October 1792, and

seventeenth year of the indepen-

dence of the United

States of America.

The Carvers From Scotland

George Washington, President

Thomas Johnson,
Doctor Stewart

By eighteenth-century

[sic],

was

Daniel Carroll,

Commissioners

to

wide,

be

standards, the White

House

measuring 87

a very large building,

feet

170 feet long, and 53 feet in height, with

James Hoban, Architect

foundations five feet deep and walls constructed of

Collen Williamson, Master Mason

quarry-faced blocks of Aquia stone. While

walls of the ground story


After the ceremonies, the

was

it

intended to be an all-stone building, only the exterior

Vivat Republica

group marched back

to

over four feet

were constructed

Due

thick.

all in

stone,

to cost constraints in 1793,

Georgetown where they celebrated with an elegant

President Washington approved a one story height

dinner replete with 16 toasts honoring every con-

reduction and the Commissioners declared that the

on the upper two

would be

ceivable interest of the participants. Ironically, the

exterior walls

cornerstone ceremony had taken place even though

with a stone facing, instead of all stone. Yet even these

the final design of the house

was

still

in sufficient quantities,

the building plans,


additional

problem

ceeding very

far.

revisions in

Commissioners faced an
prevented work from pro-

that

Few

difficult to get

and the continuing


the

stone carvers were available to

carry out Hoban's elaborate design; this was, after

an embellished stone building, one of the

first

all,

in the

the Commissioners

attempts to lure stoneworkers


Philadelphia,

expand

New York

their search

in

in

away from good

jobs in

now had

to

earlier efforts

from abroad.

The magnitude of

the project perhaps can be best

understood by realizing
thousands of stones
dressed,

in the

handled and

each of the many

that

outside walls had to be cut,

laid

place.

in

Even more

impressive, they average roughly three feet long,


foot high

letters

Great Britain, France and Holland

Europe,

to travel to North

this

including stonecutters.

was not an opportune time

America due to the

risk

of sea travel.

one

and one foot deep, weighing about 360


this length

and weight.
Given the quality of the stonework on the ground
floor of the President's

we know

House,

it

is

unfortunate that

nothing about Collen Williamson's crew

that stage of the

Commissioners sent

inquiring about tradesmen,

With war

earlier futile

and Boston, they

In January of 1793, the

contacts

had made

and follow up on

to obtain skilled labor

to

three feet in thickness.

pounds. Some wall stones are even twice

land.

Though

brick

masonry walls were quite an achievement, measuring

unsettled.

Besides a stone supply, which was

stories

work. About

all

we know

is

at

that

Williamson claimed to have started the work on the


8th of April, 1793, and had

it

completed by the 7th of

August of the following year

an

impressive

accomplishment.

The ground

floor

was

entirely faced

with thick

blocks of cut and tooled stone, backed by rough-cut

ground

stone. In addition, the

molded

and bold

architraves

windows. This amounted

lineal feet of stone

this

worked by hand.

come, requiring

yet to

and

the most difficult

team of

In their efforts to obtain


skilled craftsmen,

Philadelphia merchant
travelling

named George Walker, who

Walker published

and Scotland.

new

Federal

London,

In

to America,

rate for

the sea passage for stonecutters

even providing an advance to

same

sea.

at

men were

Single

arrangements applied

travel

he went on

to

good time

Edinburgh some months

to recruit stone

masons

economic

effect of

later.

This

was

in Scotland;

1793 a number of building projects had

come

by

to a halt

Great Britain's entry into

the European war.


In Edinburgh,

apprentices

now

available to master

Williamson,

Williamson,

Walker was successful

in attracting

who was

perhaps related to Collen

members of the
Lodge No. 8 George

Williamson. In addition, six other

same masonic Lodge


Thompson, James White, Alexander Wilson,
Alexander Scott, James Mcintosh and Robert
Brown agreed to come to the Federal city in America

and work on the White House. From 1794


their stone

12 stonecutters

Other

known

work ended,
working

there

until 1798,

were some 10

work

settled into

something of a familiar

days a week.

When the pieces of stone,


and location

for

ordered according to size

the White

House, arrived

in

north and east of the present building. There, they

were inspected
James Hoban

for

proper size and

quality. Architect

estimated that one eighth of the stones

from the quarry were not usable and had to be


reordered.

to

how

the details and figured

A complex maze

to actually build the structure.

of stone

work was involved

logistical effort.

of stone, and

as well as a

little

opportunity to mass-produce similar

which were the

most stones were unique.

On

the south wall alone,

approximately forty distinctly different kinds


architectural stone features
sills,

window

needed

to

be

window

decorative consoles under the


different types,

window pediments

types, carved support brackets

needed considerable

assistance. Unlike other trades

at

objected to using slaves as hired help to

assist

them

sills

ears,

of

two

different

projecting pilasters that varied in width from top to

bottom, very elaborate pilaster capitals carved

classical

architrave,
a

louse such as the carpenters, the Scotsmen

and

of two

of

window

under the pediments,

full

force, the stonecutters

cut:

architraves with moldings

Ionic Order with scrolls, cabbage roses

Andrew

plain

rectangular blocks of stone between the windows,

from the Federal pay


Reicl,

tremendous

There were very few identical pieces

stonecutters

and Hugh Sommerville.

mason Williamson worked out

the President's House.

Even with the enlarged work

the White

mason Collen

at

records were Alexander Reid, James


Shields

force in

but very busy routine consisting of 10 hour days, 6

pieces. Except for the ashlar,

an experienced builder and stone mason named John

when

which was

work

While Hoban had designed the building, master

Walker's efforts met with no success in London, and

to the

also lay stone,

that

America. With the additional skilled labor and

to wives.

due

would

of particular value in the labor short

meant

stone yard and sheds on the Presidential grounds,

cover expenses while

In Scotland,

specialties.

According to the broadside, the

city.

preferred, but the

and

also stone masons. This

Washington, they were hauled over land to the large

work and would pay

come

who were more

a broadside to attract craftsmen to

Commissioners were offering the prevailing

to

were

Scottish stonecutters

abroad on business, to search for

stonecutters in England

the

from abroad the services of

the Commissioners authorized a

to follow tradition

than English craftsmen,

stonecutters

exceptionally talented stone carvers.

was

flexible

stratified in their craft

start,

the

respect,

this

and took on white apprentices. The Scots were more

feet thick,

impressive

in

masons were allowed

pounds of

was

skilled part

Reluctantly obliged

Scottish stone

and four

stones be quarried, transported and

Despite

directly.

that almost three million

walling, twelve feet in height

which required

around the

rustication

514

to

windows had

floor

in the

and

leaves, a

entablature consisting of a

molded

hundreds of stone

crown molding, round

and modillions,

balusters for the roof railing,

and cap stones. These are

just a

and some of the

variations.

account the

hand

right

dentils

left

conditions that only occur

Nor does

hand
at

few of the examples


this take into

variants; the special

the corners; the curving

'

stonework

that occurs

special carvings

on the south

portico; or the

on the other facades including ribbons

and bows, oak leaves and garlands.

PEDESTAL

Every piece seemingly was pre-ordained for

TOP RAIL/CAP

its

place in the building. This was something that the

BALUSTER

master mason had to plan and manage independent

was

of the architect, even though the architect

Blocking Courses'

in

CORNICE

charge of the entire operation and the two had to work

ATTIC

FRIEZE

Weathering Stone
'\ry / /w
'ModilUon Stone

made what

together closely. Williamson


called

shop drawings,

are today

that spelled out details

ARCHITRAVEl

Dentil Stone

such as

moldings and construction joinery, enabling the

PIIASTER CAPITAL
Bnek Backing

'

craftsmen to carry out the architect's concept. Using


the architect's designs, Collen Williamson and his

successor,

Timber Safe

Lintels

George Blagden, submitted written


N

estimates to the quarry, ordering the blocks of stone


Molding/Architrave

to

be delivered

House. Their
stone by

listings identified

name

piece and

its

to the stone carvers at the President's

number of each

in priority order; the

length, breadth

Hi

the necessary pieces of

and

PILASTER SHAFT
Second Floor Structure

height.
Acanthus Leaf

Tools, Logistics

SECOND FLOOR

Sill

Bracket

'

Pediment

And Skill

ffll

Brick Backing
'

The

incredible variety of cutting

done with about

dozen

Lintel

and carving was

different tools, including

Timber

Safe Lintels

Stone

an
Molding/ Architrave

assortment of hammers, axes, picks, chisels and stone

S
^

saws. In addition, there were levels, squares, straight

edges and a great variety of special templates, plus the

PILASTER BASE

The stone arrived from Aquia,

FIRST

usual tools for mixing mortar.


Virginia

FLOOR

with
First

quarry-cut surfaces, a rough dressing of closely spaced

Imbrication Bracket

pick marks evening out the surface irregularities from

quarrying and splitting of the stone. Without further

work

at

the job

site, this

quarry-cut surface

Molding

Weathering Stone

was too

'

rough

to serve as the

exposed face of any stones

Floor Structure

WATERTABLE

Tooled Ashlar

at

Rough Cut Quarry Stone

JTimberSalc

Lintel

Lintels

Keystone

GROUND FLOOR
Fig. 3

Partial section through the south wall of the White


1

House showing the original'stepped[foundations and'the solid


ivalls for the ground floor. In an attempt to cut costs
and expedite work after the project hegan, the upper walls
were built of brick with a stone facing. Most of the dressed
stone coursing is 12 inches in height and extends roughly a
foot or more into the wall. Also seen are some of the carved
stone embellishments, including the molded window
architraves, several types of brackets under the window sills,
the carved pediments and their supporting consoles, the
stone

pilaster capitals, the entablature with the projecting cornice

and the

roof balustrade, illustration: Tim Buehner, NPS.

Molding/Architrave

Ground Floor Structure

BASE COURSE

Paving

at

Ground

Level

FOUNDATION
'

SILALE

FOOTING

Rough

<

ui

Quarr) Stone

the White House, although

it

was

suitable for use

on

square -edged chisel about two or three inches wide.

To make

the hidden or back surfaces and as foundation stones.

At the job

site,

many

tasks

were delegated

to the

squaring them to

work such

surfaces. Special

balusters

and the Ionic

size,

and

finishing

was done by

surfaces

use and placement

in

the building.

stone, a

The saw consisted of

a large

fitted

stones

wooden

frame, not unlike a

toothless

saw was drawn

wet, sharp sand

checked with a

areas of the stone

Fig.

modern coping saw.

where

were made with

hammer and

it

flat

with a chisel and

was then honed

flat

stone with abrasive sand so that

flat

and smooth.

manual labor was involved

the blade and

it

to a

a smaller

would be both

in

handling the stones

during the cutting and carving process, and during the

act of abrasion). In

saw could not be used,

which

In addition to the variety of skills involved, heavy

across the stone, while

was thus an

made

straight edge,

smooth surface by rubbing the surface using

with a thin toothless

was placed between

the stone (the cutting

surfaces,

in several stages. After the face of the

stone was hand-dressed or

blade which was stretched between the two ends of

surfaces

and closely spaced

on the upper walls had smooth

were produced

Flat

were usually created by sawing the

U-shaped wooden frame

the

a very

furrows used on the basement stones. Most of the

tedious task indeed.

The

and

hammer.

tooth-tooling produced parallel

the stone

Each stone followed a forming sequence depending


its

for shape,

good

Once the stone was carved, the finish was applied.


Some finishes added texture to the stone. For example,

the

carvers.

upon

edge or template

controlled use of the

as carving the moldings,

capitals

surfaces with such a tool required a

eye, a straight

helpers and apprentices such as sawing the ashlar wall


stones,

flat

construction of the wall. At the White

flat

were two

a drove, a

large

wooden

House

there

derricks about 50 feet high

The windows on thefirstfloor of the White House have alternating triangular and archedpediments supported by large
The secondfloor windows have kneed architraves (moldings) ami acanthus leaf brackets supporting the sills photo:

consoles.

huh BOW

her.

HABS

10

Fig. 5

the

sills,

The first floor windows on the north, east and west side walls haw the hand ofinterioc king ircles (guilloche)
beneath
hut only the windows on the east and west walls have imbrication brackets supporting them photo. Tun Buehner,
NPS
<

11

that

undoubtedly were moved around the building as

wooden

needed. These

derrick poles

were

similar to

those at the quarry utilizing pulleys and rigging to help


lift

and place stones on the building

stones into place,

3-6

approximately

dovetailed

walls.

To

lift

rectangular

stone.

be

It

was

it

partially filled

with

wood

Installing

the stones required considerable

over 3000 pounds, yet despite the

such stones into place,

up and

many

difficulty of

moving

of the stone joints are

little

room

for error in the cutting or fitting.

Applied while seating the stones, the lime and sand


mortar provided

installed in

wedges were removed. Then

skill.

only about one sixteenth of an inch apart or less. There

was

the slot and held in place with a center


lifted

or

Stones ranged in weight from about 300 pounds to

Commonly known today as


was made in the top face of the

was

window
hemp and

to weather, such as a

inches deep, had to be cut into

spacer. After the stone

the wall, the iron

sill,

the

slot,

permitted iron wedges on a hoisting ring to

fitted into

it

sealed with mortar.

the center of most stones.


a lewis hole, the cut

was exposed

where

little

the weather out of the

the

more than

a thin

bed

to

keep

joint.

hole was covered by the following course or in areas

y
itniiiM
ijfH'l

It:

Fig.

This view

under the Truman Balcony on the south


any other windows

portico shows craftsmanship not found in

on the building. Thepediments,

the architraves, the sills,

and

Fig. 7
built-in drip ledge on the top surface of a window
pediment The ledge is an integralpart ofthe stone. This detail,
not seen from the ground, diverts the rainwater washing
dotvu the top of the pediment away from the wall surface,
thus reducing staining on the wall, photo: Jack Boucher.
.-1

the base moldings are all curved to

conform with the surface


ofthe wall. These must have required a multiple set ofwooden
templates since each curved surface had a different radius
that the stone carver

had

to follow, photo: Jack'

Boucher,

HABS..

II

\1

\BS

Fig.

General view of the upper reaches of the White House at the southeast corner, showing the most concentrated array of

stone carving on the building. It encompasses thepilaster capitals and the entire entablature with its architrave, dentils, modillions
and overhanging cornice. All of this is topped with the stone balustrade composed ofpiers, round balusters, and !<>/> rail Some

of the individual pieces in the cornice weigh over 3000 pounds

HABS.

13

and

rest

over 50 feet above the ground photo Jack Boucher.

9c

9b

9d

9e

9f

Fig.

Steps in cutting

and earring one stone, a

typical lintel stone for

a ground floor window of the White House,

illustrations

Tim Buehner, NPS.


a) The stone cutter laying out what will be a complex piece of work on a quarry block of stone. The small humps on the edges
of the stone are from the gaps he! ween iron wedges used during the splitting process at the quarry.
h) A workman sawing out a corner The angular cut at the right has already been made to fit the adjacent stone.
c

The stone being blocked out. Portions of the front face are being chiseled
moldings) around the window

and architraves

away

to reveal the

areas

to

be used for the quoins

is chiseling the moldings which are part of the window trim


The carver is tooling the surface with a series of closely spacedfurrows, a technique used only on the ground floor walls of
the White House
f) The flushed stone is hoisted into place using a lewis, iron wedges inserted into a fitted hole in the top surface of the stone.

d) The carver
e>

g) The stone

is

in place at the top

left

corner of a typical ground floor window See

14

Fig.

10 for

a photo of a complete window.

A typical window on the ground floor of the north


The complexities of carving one of the projecting
voussoir stones around the windows are illustrated in Fig. 9.

Fig. 10

wall.

Note the tooled surface of the wall stones used on the ground
but not on the upper walls. The groundfloor wall cannot

floor,

be seenfrom Pennsylvania Avenue, but is visible on thesouth


side because of the sloping ground, photo: Jack Boucher,

HABS.

Fig.

1 1

Close-up of the tooled surface on the groundfloor wall. Each stone was tixAed by a craftsman before the stone was placed

in the wall. Variations in the spacing of both the vertical and horizontal tooling indicate that different craftsmen
stones, photo: Jack Boucher,

HABS.

15

worked on the

Flowers, Leaves

And

The more elaborate pieces of stone carving


comprised of designs well known

Ribbons Of Stone

classical architecture

The

such as flowers or leaves required the highest

being performed

in early

and appreciated even


for

and west

of weathering

Before taking a tool

to plan carefully

in

and

to visualize

of

around a

first

floor of the north, east

walls.

brackets under the

precise detail. As the

windows except

hand, the craftsman had to plan

the approach to carving the pieces

down

to the

was sculpturing,

are a tribute to the achievements

talent of the stone carvers. Largely

sills

of

all

on the north

the

first

floor

facade.

on the north wall and the second

floor

window

sills

windows

of

the south, east and west walls.

a form of fine

every respect. The delicate carvings executed

used on supporting

acanthus leaves. They appear under the

unwanted stone was chiseled

gradually revealed. This

window

for those

is

Acanthus Leaf Brackets: carved brackets depicting

most

away, the delicate rose petals or other features were

Console: a

at

long carved bracket supporting the

pediments of the

and

adorned with

unnoticed for the

first

floor

windows. The consoles are

long rolling acanthus leaf and a

flowered quatrefoil supported by a label corbel or

200 years, they are truly deserving of the

past

some

Bands of guilloche appear

of scales. This decoration

the finished product. There could be no mistakes.

House

details,

Imbrication: a pattern representing the overlapping

The carver needed

the White

more elaborate

under each window on the

at

200 years.

art in

students of

to

eighteenth century as

illustrated here, include the following:

series of circular voids.

America, the finished works

after the effects

in the

Guilloche: a chain of interlaced curves

skills

remain. Their beauty and vigor are marvelled

art

which are

level of

craftsmanship. While there are few views of such

of

well as today. These

actual carving of the stone into delicate shapes

are

label stop of small acanthus leafs.

recognition and appreciation given to exceptionally

high levels of craftsmanship.

Fig.

No known

views of the original stone carvers working at the White House exist

In fact, there are veryfew contemporary

views of any stone arvers at work on American buildings. This engraving was made from a drawing by the early American
architei i \\ 'illiam Strickland ( 1 7^<S-IS54). It shows a carver at work with his chisel, toolingfurrows into a piece ofstone, a craft
<.

technique used on the ground floor stone walls of the White House Also seen here are the typical tools of the trade, including
the carver's workbench, square, level, hammer, pick, straightedge, dividers, chisels, trowel and frame saw (on the ground at
Inner left) Also visible are typical specimens of the stone carver's art, including column capitals, bases, moldings,
work Lawson Scrapbooks, courtesy Library of The Academy ofNatural Sciences ofPhiladelphia.

16

and mortuary

Fig. 13

/4

Though

this

lewis,

one

a device usedfor lifting heavy blocks ofstone.


is modern, it is basically the same as those

used throughout history. Stones had to be lifted onto the u 'alls

from the top so


when lowering

that rigging ropes

three inch deep slot


stone.

would not get

in the

the stone into place. To accomplish

was

The hole needed

way

this,

chiseled into the top surface of the

to

be chiseled

like

dovetail, that

is,

wider at the bottom than at the top. To install the lewis, the
two outer wedge shaped irons werefirst put into the hole; the
middle spacer was inserted;
reinstalled, locking

it

and then the bolt or iron pin was

in place.

Once the lewis was secured, a

rope could be attached for hoisting. The pressure of the iron


wedges against the tapered hole kept the lewis from coming
out. photo:

Fig.

Tim Buehner, NPS.

14 Brackets and guilloche (the chain of interlaced curves

photo: Jack Boucher,

and

HABS.

17

circles)

under

the first floor

window

sills

on the north wall

Griffins:

lions.

His

Two

mythical creatures resembling winged


are centered in the inner arch of acanthus

leaves over the north entrance doorway.


Ionic Capitals:

decorated with

column or

scrolls,

pilaster capitals (or tops)

cabbage

roses, eggs

and acanthus leaves. They are used atop


and columns.

and

all

darts,

pilasters

In the center of the capital, the rose

petals are the highest relief carvings

building. Tilted

on

the entire

toward the ground to give the casual

observer a three-dimensional view, the boldness and

complexity of these carvings are barely apparent from


the ground.

Ornament was not


architectural features.
for
Fig. 15

just

limited

to

classical

Common items became subjects

permanent decoration on the White House and

Detail in the stone brackets supporting the first floor

window sills on the south, east and west sides. The pattern,
known as imbrication, resembles overlapping scales, photo:
Tim Buehner, NPS.

Fig.

16

carved bracket under one of the second floor

window sills. Thereare64 brackets ofthis design on the White


House, and while it might be assumed that they are all
identical,

hand and

each

is

slightly different, individually

wall stone are one unit, a large

carved

carved by

and the
amount of stone had to be

inserted into the wall. Since the bracket

away

to

make

17 A typical cawed console supporting the first floor


window pediments. Note the carved stone moldings that are

Fig.

the flat surface behind the projecting

purl of /he architraves enframing the windows, photo: Tim

bracket, photo: Tint Buehner, NPS.

Buehner. MPS.

18

-*

DD JJJjJJJJOJj.yjITfj

Ionic capital for one of the pilasters, typical of those


on the south, east and west walls of the White House. These
capitals cannot be fully appreciated from the ground, but
they exhibit delicately turned volutes, acanthus leaves, egg
and dart moldings andfinely detailed cabbage roses, canted
downward toward the viewer on the ground. Compare these

Fig. 18

wavy rose petals with

the plainly carved petals in the capitals

of the later columns on the 1820s north portico


photo: Tim Buehner, NPS.

(fig.

19).

Fig.

19

Ionic capitals on the columns of the north portico,

an addition constructed

in 1829-30.

Compare how

the rose

petals are arrayed in smooth concentric curves, as opposed


to the

more naturalistic petals on the original pilaster capitals

carved in the

790s

(fig. 18).

photo: Richard Cheek.

20 General view of the large lunette window and


Palladian entry centered on the west wall. The central
portions of the east and west walls were damaged beyond
Fig.

repair during the burning of the White


in 1814,

House by

the British

and were rebuilt in 1816 under the direction

of the

James Hoban. The stone details in these


sections are believed to match the original construction. The
lunette window is framed in stone with a kneed molding, a
original architect,

leaf, and
window sill The
inner window were

large scrolled keystone with a projecting acanthus


large acanthus leaf brackets supporting the

band of small

rosettes

around

the

originally carved in wood, hut were later replaced with cast

lead replicas, photos: Tim Buehner, NPS.

19

Nowhere on the White House is the richness of the stone carving more evident than over the north (front) doorway The
enframement includes consoles, engaged columns, and arhes ornamented with a mixture of oak leaves, acanthus leans.
medallions, and griffins. Above the entrance are high relief carvings of ribbons, hoirs. and swags of oak /cares and acorns
accented with roses, photo: Jack Boucher, HABS.
Fig. 21

20

made

more American. These

mansion

the

with the United States Capitol,

stonework

applications, include the following:

Oak

Leaves and Acorns: features

American

forests

the

in

new

it

was

truly the finest

nation.

from the great

were intertwined

in

the outer

archway band over the north entrance doorway. They


are also seen

Ribbons,
celebration.

on

Bows and Swags:

Two swags

bows, two large


leaves,

and

They Left Their Mark

the brackets framing the door.

festive

items

of
Pride,

festooned with ribbons, two

roses,

exception.

a central medallion are a major ornamental

window

architraves,

for the

door and

Stonecutters were

triangles, X's, arrows,

individual

craftsman.

marks because

required in constructing the building entablature and

which had over 300

have long been

and

similar

Generically called banker's

symbols were widely used by

can be traced back to the Middle Ages. Whether on


churches, palaces or fortifications, mason's marks are

richness of detail and the fine quality in the carving

commonly found on

was an outward expression of the symbolic

In

importance attached to the President's House. Along

Fig.

early stone buildings in Europe.

America, they appeared on buildings and

2$

Typical carved stone balustrade of the U hite House.

Many of the original sandstone balusters bare been


22

Many layers ofpaint had obscured the quality of the

carvings

around

the north

doorway

until this area

were

lines,

merchants to identify goods and products, their use

large

stone balusters carved in the round by hand. The

Fig.

no

carved into the stone to identify the work of the

and considerable time was

the extended roof cornice,

self-identity

Mason's marks, geometric designs

composed of

motif over the main north entrance doorway.

made

and

inextricably intertwined.

hanging bell-flowers, oak

Additional carvings were

craft

over the years (mainly with Indiana limestone).

was

extreme exposure makes them

Tim Buehner, NPS

stripped of its paint in 1984. photo: Richard Cheek.

21

sust eptible to

replaced
c/\

damage

their

photo:

engineering works until about the 1840s,

when

masons who worked on the White House during the

their

use declined.
In

1790s, as well as the partial rebuilding after the 1814

eighteenth century Scotland and England,

operative or working stone

masons granted

upon completion

mark

fire,

and during the addition of the north and south

porticoes in the 1820s.

to

of their training as a

Most of the White House mason's marks are neatly

symbol of the knowledge and worth of the new

carved on the back or hidden surfaces of the building

mason. In many cases, the granted mark was a

stones,

variation of the teacher's or master mason's design,

alterations, or restoration

providing a history and background to the future

renovation of the Executive Mansion

employer. Registered and protected by the mason's

many mason's marks were discovered and the stones


removed. Some were distributed by President Truman

apprentices

guilds or lodges, the


identity.

symbol became the

The marks served

a practical

the extent and complexity of the

individual's

purpose

when

to state

work were measured

certain rules, that

is,

Over 40 characters have been found and recorded

<^

stonework.

1950s,

North America,

in

was

fireplaces

we

on the

House mason's marks

is

can come to identifying with

carved the handsomely skilled


his signature, his claim to fame.

7-

FB

^C

/N

th

It

J,

in the

White House.

the White

who

the person

the

4
xx

at

perhaps the closest

White House. These marks are the signatures of stone

i>

removed during

work. During the extensive

two reconstructed

in

floor of the

Looking

kinds of stone work.

at

stones were

and other Masonic Lodges

marks displayed

ground

the specific charges for different

during periods of renovation and alteration

until the

while a number of the stones were retained and the

determine the costs to the owner, based upon

to

unseen

M>

<>

Historic

Modem

Examples of the mason s marksfou nd upon the various stones at the White House during the renovation and restoration
40 marks have been found. It has not been possible to date or link any of these marks with stonecarvers known to
have worked on the building in the 1 790s. Carvers working on recent restoration have left their own marks illustration: Tim

Fig.

24

work. Over

Buehner, NPS.

22

**&*.

*r

'*

'* n

*--

Mffito(t

One of the major cracks in the entablature of the


south wall. This view also shows the results of environmental
damage where the protected stone dentils absorbed airborne

Fig. 25

pollutants that could not be

washed

off by rainwater.

x..

Over

200 years, many of the dentils have been destroyed


damaged in this way. photo: Bill Allman, Office of the

the past

or

Curator, The White House.

Fig.

26

Close-up of the entablature, just below the cornice.

In the frieze area, a pair of cracks were repaired (probably


at an early date) with iron cramps. The iron cramps extend
into theface ofthe stone at each

end to hold the stones together

and

keep the loose pieces from jailing out. Also note the
extensive erosion of the dentils, photo: Bill Allman, Office of
the Curator, The White House.

(
Fig. 27 Aquia stone that was removed from the U.S. Capitol during the extension of the East front in the l )^()s and put into
government storage. Some of this stone is now being used'for the restoration ofthe exterior stonework on the While House, photo
Tim Buehner, NPS.

23

Fig. 29 While most of the restoration involved repairs due to


poor original stones or environmental damage, some of the
work was to correct damage from previous alterations. This
restoration stone cutter is seen fitting in a new piece ofstone
to correct damage below the base molding on the south
portico. Such work is done with very tight tolerances, and
often will be unnoticed when the work is through, photo: Jack
Boucher, HABS.

Fig.

Patrick Plunked, stone superintendent working on

28

House restoration, is shown operating the large


saw used for rough cutting the old stone blocks
salvaged from the Capitol photo: Tim Buehner, NPS.
the White

circular

Fig.

Most of the stone repairs were small

30

place

\\

and made

inking from scaffolding, the stone cullers employed

Fig.

away the damaged portions


Replacements were then made slightly oversized on the outer
fat eso that it could be trimmed to make a flush fit with the
air-powered chisels

to

adjacent stonework after it hail been


Buehner. NPS.

set in place

31

Many

of the repairs to the old stonework were


damage from earlier metal attachments

necessitated by the

cut

for lighting, railings, shutters,

and

the removal of such attachments

some

photo: Tim

electrical devices. Often

left

unsightly holes

and

in

cases the rusting metal cracked the stonework. The

stonecutters tire inserting newpieces ofstone at the points of

damage photo LeeNelson

24

Standards and Technology, formerly National Bureau

200 YEARS LATER


STONEWORK RESTORATION

of Standards, developed a methodology for removing

the

be accomplished without

paint that could

damaging the surface and

The Aquia stone used

House

the White

at

is

generally considered an inferior building stone

because of

relative softness,

its

poor weathering

problems with the stone can be attributed


quality control at the quarry.

can be found

in

to the

Some Aquia

disruption to the access and use of the building, the

decision

poor

stones

still

Work commenced in
the paint removal,

in

water damage and to make

it

to seal

more uniform

an erroneous belief

was

first

British

that the

painted to hide the

burning of the building

White House stone

damage from

fire

became evident

that repair

Cracks

in the stone,

some

of which were

while others were probably hairline cracks

in 1814.)

the original stone


stones were

White House received periodic coats of

first

unnoticed

when

laid into the walls.

in

the

These

cracks allowed moisture to penetrate the wall;

paint for maintenance or to provide a fresh clean look,


2).

often timed for the arrival of an incoming President.

work has not shown

its

Exfoliation

and erosion of the surfaces and

exposed edges of the stone, especially where

Because the White House has been repainted with


regularity, the stone

they were frequently wetted by

age to the

The

casual observer. However, over the years a host of

3).

problems related

the modillions had

to the effects of time

and weather

developed under the heavy paint built-up, from cracks


in the

4).

connected with

The

earlier repairs to the

and problems

mid

1970s,

it

was

clear that

to the stone of the


a

sound surface

in

By

repainting.

something had

White House

5).

to

would be

became

the

knowledge

be done

that

came

and

in constant

use during

office of the President

this

and stage

time as the
for

stone from

for patchwork.

It

it

was not under-

overstressed,

and

The stone thus be-

failed at the interface

with the cement; and


6).

its

removal and disposal. Moreover, the White House

would be

in the

high strength cement

stronger than the stone.

most of the paint


in

When

stood that the cement patches were often

a major

had a lead base, which would require care

cement patches

available in the nineteenth century,

was used

project given the size of the building, the thickness of

the paint and the

Failed

earlier repairs.

order to re-establish

for repainting. This

of the outer

masonry.

such a heavy build-up of paint, constant peeling

more frequent

away

Spalling, or peeling

layers of the stone surface;

paint itself caused maintenance problems. With

necessitated even

and many of

been seriously eroded and

imitated their architectural form;

stone. Paint build-up has also obscured conditions


fire

majority of the dentils

rain;

previously covered with sheet metal, that

old walls to rusting metal attachments in the

such as damage from the 1814

and

historic

caused by age and movement of the walls,

the

Throughout most of the nineteenth and twentieth


centuries, the

it

stonework:

in color,
1).

fit is

1980 with the removal of more

categories of problems relating to the

against

it

over a

in stages

hidden for many years. Paint removal exposed several

weathered rather well; from the beginning

was whitewashed

work

the

maintenance problems with the stone had been

Washington, D.C. The White House stonework


the stonework

do

to

than 30 layers of paint from the east elevation. During

various local tombstones from the late 1600s and the

actually has

was made

period of years.

very good condition today, including

1840s facade of the Patent Office Building

historic

complete scaffolding of the building with consequent

abundant flaws, and

Yet part of the perceived

ability.

of the

details

stonework. Since removal of the paint would require

variety of stone failure

by the

home

early use of iron bolts

which had been used

world events.

together

At the request of the White House Chief Usher, the

at certain joints

to
l

problems caused

and

iron

cramps

hold the stones

fnfortunately, early

craftsmen did not understand that rusting iron

National Park Service and the National Institute of

causes an expansive force

25

that puts

pressure

on the stone and eventually causes


or

split.

The

iron

parts

the tool marks, the surface finishes, and carved details.

to crack

it

To help

caused such

that

problems must eventually be replaced.

The philosophy or guiding


restoration of the historic

repair

is

of the historic fabric as possible. This

replacing only
in

damaged

most instances

not

fillings

was

means

is

more

the desire to match the appearance and material

characteristics of the original

Aquia stone. This was

considered important even though the stone would

replacing entire stones or

work

is

Consistent with the high standards set for the project

portions of individual stones

sections of the walls. This

the

stonework

materials.

to return the

building to a sound condition while preserving as

much

amount of

restoration of the historic

being done by hand, using traditional techniques and

principle for the

stonework

realize this goal, a substantial

and

subsequently be repainted.

like dental

(It is,

after

all,

the White

House.) Unfortunately the few quarries producing

new teeth. The overriding concern is to


much of the historic stonework as possible,

than

retain as

Aquia stone

work

for

Fortunately, there

was

supply of old Aquia stone

is

quarried

intended to preserve the walls' historic character,

which includes the

had been closed

over a century.

whether elaborately carved or simple wall blocks.


Besides preserving the historic stones, the

for architectural use

at

the

same time

as

sandstone and available for use.

original craftsmanship reflected in

the White

When

House

the east front

DENTIL STONE

Fig.

32

Isometric drawing looking

up

at the entablature

and

roof balustrade of the sou/burst comer of the White House. A


was discovered during the present restoration. While

serious crack extending through several layers of stone in the entablature


this situation

This area

is

required analysis

and

repair,

it

also provided the opportunity to study

complicated, partly because the stones at the

comer have

some of the

original construction details.

architectural features on both faces of the building,

and

partly because there are five layers of large stones that comprise the entablature the weathering stone creating the cornice, the
modillion stone, the dentil stone, the blank frieze, and the architrave. The details offour of these stones are drawn off to the side.

and show how

the original stone carvers

planned and executed the overlapping stones to cany


illustration.- Tim Buehner. SPS.

weathering stone, the upper stone, weighs over 3000 pounds,

26

the projecting weight

The

of the United States Capitol


1950s,

was extended

in the late

large quantities of the original stone

removed and saved by the U.

circular

were

White House Chief Usher, Gary

J.

Walters,

circular

worked

new stone

to

shapes for the roof balustrades. In the

latter

instance, the precise mechanical lathes are saving

with the Architect of the Capitol, George M. White,

considerable time, since

many of the

have been damaged beyond

from the two controlling Con-

to obtain approval

for cutting the blocks of the

the approximate size, and lathes for turning stones into

Congress. Later, the

S.

saw

historic balusters

repair, unlike

most of the

gressional committees to utilize the stone in restoring

other stonework, due in part to high weather

the exterior of the White House.

exposure, storm damage and flaws

This emphasis

support of the

on preservation has had the strong


Families

First

who

balusters

in

original

and various replacements.

have lived amidst

the scaffolding, dust and noise of the lengthy exterior

The use of

restoration.

traditional

methods and the

required level of high craftsmanship necessitated a

long process of preservation and repair.

The

availability

of Aquia stone quarried in the

eighteenth century was fortuitous for the White House,


as

was the

local

presence of a cadre of stone carvers

decades-long building of the

trained during the

Washington National Cathedral.

Starting in the 1980s,

were used

first

their skills

at

a construction contract,

the White House,

through

and then by the White House

Chief Usher employing a small group of stone carvers.

Some modern technology

has been utilized by the

carvers in restoring the historic stonework.

Compressed
the chisel

air tools

points

has replaced the hammer, and

have carbide

enormous amounts of time


sharp.

in

Some modern machinery

including a

large

tips,

which save

A stonecutter is chiselingfurrows,

33

the

new stonework. Only the ground floor ivalls of the White

keeping the chisels

House have

has also been used,

walls which have dressed stonefaces.


the

platform-mounted stone-cutting

called tooling, into

Fig.

tooled surfaces as opposed to the smooth upper

new tooling

is

made to match

During the repair work,

the texture of the adjacent

original stonework, photo-. Patrick Plunkett.

Fig. 34 (a, b) The most serious damage to the original stonework, was at the upper southwest corner of the White House where
four very large stones had broken early in the history of the building and had been repaired with large iron holts. The iron bolts
rusted over time causing secondary damage. It teas necessary to remove the damaged portions of the stone and replace them
with new stones. These two views show one of the broken stones being removed and its replacement being carved in the shop on
the White House grounds. (See fig. 32 for a detail of the four stones that were replaced.) photo: Tim Buehner, NPS.

27

Since preserving historic fabric


principle in this project, only the

the original stone are being cut

is

the

damaged

guiding

to

filled

with

match the

new

replaced.

pieces

Fig,

35

is

original in texture

somewhat

away

rectangular recess or cavity.

pieces of old Aquia stone selected

The carving of stone

repairs

different

During the present

is

from the carving of the

many

primarily cutting

Then a new piece of stone

principle as at the original quarries

when

filling

the orders for specific stones for the White House. In

the small

stone-carver's workshop,

temporarily

modillions (and dentils) were found to hare sheet metal covers screwed to the

com

ealed the underlying deterioration Subsequent layers ofpaint


photo. BillAllman, Office of the Curator, The White I louse
stone These later carers

is

mechanically cut slightly oversized, based on the

same

and bedding planes.

and stone replacement

restoration,

The work today

away the bad and filling with good stone. The


damaged parts are chiseled away, usually into a neat

portions of

away and

Thus, the cracked portions of the stones are cut

and

original stones.

28

had hidden

these makeshift repairs,

constructed adjacent to the White House, one of the

stone carvers then cuts the piece


size of the cavity

with

usually allows the

new

Then

it

the projecting surface

away, thus assuring a perfectly flush


Different techniques are used

type of stonework involved.


floor the original stones
surface, achieved

by

On

had

is

mortared

is

chiseled

block

repairs, the

is first

cut away.

Then

is

The work

installed,

is

to ensure

done by hand

after the

so as to match the original

many

work

respects this type of restoration

essentially a process of working

backwards to match

new

character for the building.

ground or lowest

a tooled or

is

way

the historic character, rather than creating a

In addition to the balustrade, the portions of the

furrowed

building that have suffered the most from the elements

narrow

are the architectural features under the main cornice,

cutting a series of very

damaged

stone. In

depending on the

the

stone

original

craftsmanship of the adjacent portion of the original

repair.

grooves into the surface of the stone. Today

making

new

stone piece to project slightly


until after

and tooled the same

similar tool marks.

to the exact

one exception. The carver

beyond the surface of the wall


into place.

down

set in

when

especially the

portion of the stone

the replacement piece

features are

modillions and the dentils. These

under the overhang of the main cornice

and they receive some protection from the weather.

is

>:'
,

m
*TS

*-.

mason s mark on a White House stone. Such marks were usually chiseled into an unexposedface oj the stone
mason s work. Sometimes there are several such marks on a stone, thus indu ating that two (.arrets narked on
itperhaps a master stone carver and an apprentice. Traditionally, a mark was given to a carver upon completion of his
apprenticeship, but some of the apprentices at the White House may have taken on their own identifying marks photo. Bill

Fig.

36

typical

to identify the

Allman. Office of the Curator, the White House.

29

However, since they are not regularly washed by

rain

water

and

like the plain wall surfaces, the modillions

dentils tend to retain airborne dirt

and

Discoveries have continued during the project. The


restoration

pollutants,

original

efforts

have revealed

how when

the

stone dentils under the cornice became

many

years ago, they were simply

which then chemically degrade and erode those

seriously eroded

features, despite frequent painting.

covered over with sheet metal imitations screwed to

The

and stone

paint removal

interesting

discoveries.

relate to learning

features

how

Some

Through the

in

is

complex

poor

covered stone. Removal of the sheet metal and repairs


to the stone

respect for the

of those originally involved in

were necessary.

Perhaps the most exciting finds have occurred

different

the few instances

the appreciation and

As a

skills

removed. However, the sheet metal made

much

restoration, a

many

were

repair job, allowing moisture to continue eroding the

architectural features.

result,

coats of paint they

series of

being achieved as to what

creating the

many

not readily detectable until the paint was subsequently

areas of the original stonework

greater understanding

was involved

the stonework. After

of these discoveries

were assembled from

interlocking blocks.

have led to

restoration

when

damaged stone revealed

the

in

removal of a large

the chiseled identifying

mark

To

planning and building the White House has been

of the original stone carvers on the back side.

greatly enhanced.

today's stone carvers, such a find has generated the

Fig.

37

This view ofone ofthe pilaster capitals on the south wall (with paint removed) shows that the stone carving has

rather well.

However, there are a

penetration, thus

area shows

tin

ausingpiei

portion of the

es

number offlaws

in the stone,

ofstone to fall or erode away

damaged capital

that

/his

was replaced

30

weathered
which hare allowed water
capital required restoration of the right volute The shaded
1990 photo: lee Nelson

such as small cracks


in

and

holes,

special feeling of

coming

face-to-face with

The

one of the

200 years has inspired a


design,

history.

its

For the

architectural

material.

To help guide

new interest in the building,

research,

craftsmanship, and
first

returning the stonework to a

time

Revealing the original stonework for the

its

is

sound condition while preserving most of

original craftsmen.

in

restoration

its

first

careful

record

restoration work. While

architectural

time there has been a careful

time,

future

all

is

its

being

made

regular maintenance and sensitive

many

historic

House

photogrammetry and measured drawings, carried out

remain for

through the

symbol of our democracy and a testament

Historic

efforts

of the National Park Service,

American Buildings Survey, and the

the Executive Residence

at

31

to

future generations both a tangible

richness of our architectural heritage.

staff of

the White House.

of the

materials deteriorate over

preservation practices will enable the White

recording of the building with

historic

maintenance and

to the

Brief List of Further Reading

McKee, Harley

Introduction to Early American

J.,

Masonry, Stone, Brick, Mortar and

by the National Trust

Columbia

published

Plaster,

for Historic Preservation

and

University, Washington, D.C., 1973-

Report of the Commission on the Renovation of the

Executive Mansion, Washington, D. C, U.

ment

Govern-

Printing Office, 1952.

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