In continuing a trend of answering questions about the construction of our historic houses (see this previous post on paint colors), I figured I’d give a little information on a question that our staff is regularly asked. While one of the most asked questions is always “Where is there a restroom?”, this blog post will discuss the second most asked question: “Are the floors original?”
The original floors of the homes would have been constructed of pine or oak boards (depending on which was readily available) and would have had wide dimensions due to New England trees being larger than they are today. As some might be aware, there were restrictions set forth by the British government on what type of trees and what size could be used for private use. These White Pine Acts allowed the British government to restrict which felled trees could be used for private building.
So, know that we know a little bit about the materials and how the floors would have been constructed originally, it’s time to figure out if the floors today are still original.
Unfortunately, due to the moving of Hancock-Clarke House and the millions of visitors that have come to the house since it opened for tours in 1898, the floorboards have been replaced at different points during the house’s history. While disappointing to know that most of the floorboards are not original, a good portion of the surviving woodwork (paneling, summer beam, joist beams) in the house is original to the eighteenth-century construction of the house.
The second house that Lexington Historical Society opened for tours was Munroe Tavern, originally constructed in 1735. As is the case with the Hancock-Clarke House, most of the floors have seen heavy use by the visiting public and have been replaced over the years. What is interesting is that in 1939 when the floors were replaced during a massive restoration effort, the replacement boards and some of the exterior doors were supplied from an older building in town.
Unlike at Hancock-Clarke House and Munroe Tavern, we have evidence that some portions of the floors at Buckman Tavern still have original fabric. At Buckman, as you ascend higher in the house, the older the floors become. Due to high levels of visitation over the 100 plus years the house has been open to the public, the floorboards in the first story of the house have been replaced. These floorboards were replaced during the 1920s when the first story was restored. To keep with what the tradition of what the original floors would have looked like, the boards were cut in wide patterns and attached with custom made rose-head nails.
The floorboards on the second story, mainly the boards in the ballroom of the tavern (the current exhibit space), date to the 18th century, although no exact year has been determined. The attic of Buckman Tavern is where a good portion of the original flooring is located. Most of the floorboards in the attic have been dated to before 1775, with the boards in the southeast and northeast attic chambers dated to before 1755!
If you have a question about the architecture or construction of the houses, please feel free to leave them below in the comment section and I will answer them if I can.
-Chris Kauffman, Education and Interpretation Manager
Featuring the voices of Lexington Historical Society permanent staff and occasional guest authors.