Rehabilitation of original brick work
New owners of this property have requested the well known Charlottesville Architect John Rhett, to make a study of the condition of the existing brick work with a view to its rehabilitation. John has kindly asked me to review his report for comment and estimate the time and expense required in making the necessary repairs. It has been a rare pleasure to have the opportunity to closely examine and study the fabric of this most interesting historic building. As part of my participation in the project I will be looking at some related buildings in the area to further study the hand work of the principal artisans responsible for the existing brick portions of Castle Hill in buildings they built for other patrons in Central Virginia during the second quarter of the 19th century. For comparative purposes I will also look at the work of other artisans working at about the same time on other buildings that did not involve the masons who built Castle Hill. The purpose of this close study of the brick work on these various buildings is to gain a deeper understanding of exactly how these men used their tools to achieve the distinctive appearance of the joints characteristic of their work. Close examination and photography will permit comparative study leading to conclusions about exactly what they intended to accomplish in the ways they handled and tooled the mortar in the joints of the visible parts of these buildings. The work of these master craftsmen is so remarkable and so distinctive that every effort must be taken to emulate their original work as closely as possible when making repairs to it. Even though none of us can precisely mimic the hand work of another artisan, any more than we can duplicate his signature, understanding exactly what these master masons were trying to achieve in their work will help to guide the hands of those of us now responsible for the care of these priceless treasures of our national heritage. It is important to remember that the masons who built Castle Hill had previously worked at the University of Virginia as its principal builders under the watchful eye of Thomas Jefferson who was deliberately trying to create the finest example of Classical Revival architecture possible to inspire the new nation he did so much to create. The sophisticated elegance and beauty Jefferson achieved at his own home, Monticello, and further refined in the work he designed and supervised at the University attracted the admiration and interest of many of his closest friends, who like him, were the wealthiest and most discriminating patrons of the day. The contracts this landed elite executed with these master masons clearly indicate that they had discerning taste, knew what they wanted, and could afford to pay for it. It was this insistence on workmanship and materials of the finest quality that permitted these highly trained expert artisans to take the time to painstakingly execute the work to the highest possible standards seldom seen before or since. And it was the wealth of their patrons and their willingness to spend it that permitted the use of the finest possible materials that were in themselves a necessary part of the process of realizing work of this extraordinary quality. Reading the contracts we learn that at Castle Hill, as at the University, rubbed bricks were used. These were bricks specially fired and then rubbed on a perfectly flat abrasive stone to perfect their dimensions and rectangular shape. But unlike at the University, where these very costly bricks were used only on the principal facades, at Castle Hill all visible surfaces were laid with these perfectly rubbed bricks. Beyond that, we learn in the contracts that the owners required mortar of the highest quality to be used in laying the visible bricks of the facades. Only by using such a rich mortar could the remarkable fineness and definition of the joints be achieved. As a result of the preliminary study I have conducted for this project I have decided to try to bring together as much information as possible relating to these artisans and how they did their work. Much of this will be found in close examination of the buildings they have left us, but there is more to be gained from the original construction documents. These original contracts survive in several cases and are to be found among the papers of the original owners now in the Library of Congress and elsewhere. It is my hope that during the course of this project I will be able to locate and copy or transcribe several examples including the contract for the work at Castle Hill carried out in 1824. This research will be ongoing for several months and as I come upon new items I will post them here. In the meantime, I have some preliminary findings to report in summary below that is followed on this page by an extensive gallery of images of Castle Hill and related buildings. I will eventually append a bibliography of historical and technical items related to this project.
Some notes on Castle Hill and Related Buildings
Castle Hill is a private home in Albemarle County, Virginia, begun by Dr. Thomas Walker (1715-1794) in 1764 and enlarged over several generations of ownership by his descendents in the first half of the 19th century. Upon the death of Peter Jefferson in 1757 Thomas Walker, who had been a partner of Peter Jefferson’s in the Loyal Land Company, became the legal guardian of Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), who as a young man was thus well acquainted with this house.
Walker’s grand daughter married United States Senator William Cabell Rives, who also served as Minister to France and later as a Confederate Congressman. In 1824 and 1840-44 he added to the original frame house built by Walker a two story main block and hyphen connector and two one story wings that originally served as conservatories. These additions are noteworthy for their exceptionally fine brick work, and, at the owner’s request, feature Roman Revival architectural elements and details associated with what has since become known as the Jefferson Federal style also seen in several other buildings in Central Virginia either designed by Jefferson himself, such as at Farmington and Barboursville, or built by artisans who worked under his supervision at the University between 1817 and 1826, such as Sunnyfields, Frascati, Birdwood, and Estouteville, among others.
The 1824 addition at Castle Hill was undertaken by Captain John Perry, an artisan skilled in carpentry and brick masonry and a highly successful building contractor who had worked for Jefferson during the reconstruction of Monticello, at Poplar Forest, and at Jefferson's mill. Perry was also responsible for much of the work constructing the campus of the University of Virginia. This was possible, in part, because it was Perry who actually sold the land on which the University was built to the Commonwealth of Virginia and he provided in the terms of that sale that he would be hired to do some of the building on the University project. During his work under Jefferson’s supervision at the University Perry made and laid hundreds of thousands of bricks used by himself and the other contractors in the original Pavilions, Hotels and dormitories, and he provided much of the lumber used by himself and other artisans from his Hydraulic Mills as well as hundreds of cords of wood for firing the bricks. Perry built Pavillion VII, among other structures, and he was present at the historic ceremonial placement of the cornerstone along with Jefferson, Madison and Monroe. When the work on the original Jeffersonian campus was completed, a tabulation of Perry’s invoices demonstrates that he contributed more to the original fabric than any other builder involved. Also during this time he built his own house, Montebello, just southwest of the University campus, now owned by the University.
Immediately before coming to Castle Hill to build the addition for Senator Rives Perry built Frascati, another brick country house in the Federal style, for Phillip Pendleton Barbour(1783-1841), then Speaker of the House and later Supreme Court Justice. The correctly proportioned monumental tetrastyle pedimented Tuscan portico at Frascati shows the influence of Jefferson on this large, two story home that otherwise conforms more to the typical Georgian floor plan, unlike the home Jefferson designed for Governor James Barbour (1775-1842, Governor of Virginia 1812-1814), Phillip’s brother, built between 1814 and 1822 at nearby Barboursville by Edward Ancel, bricklayer and James Bradley, carpenter. The superb brick and brick work with tooled joints at Frascati is typical of John Perry’s other projects, as may still be seen at the University and at Castle Hill. After completing Castle Hill Perry began liquidating his land holdings and sold his Hydraulic Mills. He moved to Missouri in 1836 and died years later in Mississippi. Little is known about his life after he left Virginia, although he may have been seeking new opportunities in the west and along the Mississipi where large plantations were being established by planters who had exhausted their lands in the east and had moved west.
In 1840 another brick addition was made at Castle Hill, this time carried out by William B. Phillips, another of the masonry artisans and contractors who had worked on the original campus at the University under Jefferson’s supervision. He and Perry were present on that project at the same time, although they contracted separately and worked on separate sections of the work. The brick used in the 1840 addition is slightly smaller than the brick used by Perry in 1824, and so does not course out with the original walls where the two meet. Nevertheless, the brick and brick work of Phillips’ 1840 addition is meticulous and expert, and in every way the equal of the work performed by John Perry in 1824, and very similar in the style and execution of the tooling on the joints.
To my knowledge, Castle Hill is the only building, other than the campus of the University, where work by both Captain John Perry and William B. Phillips was contracted by the same owner.
I am indebted to the published works ofRichard C. Cote, Frank Grizzard, Jr., Calder Loth, and Edward Lay, and to conversations with Robert Self for the historical information included on this page, any errors or oversights are my own. I will eventually include a comprehensive bibliography of historical sources and technical information.
A note on the Bricks and Mortar:
As part of the research for this project I am trying to accumulate as much information as possible on the state of the art of brick making and mortar making and brick laying at the time of original construction, and in particular as much related information concerning Captain John Perry and William B Phillips who contracted at different times with Senator Rives for the brick additions made to Castle Hill.
As will be seen below, documentary evidence shows that Jefferson sought skilled brick makers and brick layers from Lynchburg where oil stock brick were being made, that there was emphasis on perfecting the shapes of the bricks used on the facades of the principal buildings, that the use of copper lined molds was specified for this reason, that mortar formulation was specified in the contracts and that various mixes were used for various parts of the work, including mortar as unusually rich as one part lime to one part sand for face bricks and mortar of three parts sand and one part lime for inside work, also elsewhere two parts sand and one part lime for inside work. The quality of the lime was considered a part of the process in determining the ratio of sand to lime.
Palmer Sweet pointed out that:
Frank E. Grizzard, Jr. wrote his 1996 dissertation, Documentary History of the Construction of the Buildings at the University of Virginia, 1817-1828, while in the Graduate Department of History at the University of Virginia, where we were classmates. In note 209 of Chapter 3 we learn the following about William B. Phillips work at the University of Virginia:
Curtis Carter and William B. Phillips laid bricks at Pavilions I and IX and dormitories nos. 1 to 4 and 27 to 28 on the west lawn. Carter & Phillips also built the garden walls at Pavilion III; between 1 August 1819 and 25 November 1820 Carter & Phillips was paid $4,945.95 for brickwork (ViU:PP, Ledger 1). Phillips worked alone as the principal brickmason for Pavilion X and Hotel C, dormitories nos. 22 to 26 on east lawn and nos. 24 to 28 on the east range, and an additional six dormitories on the west range. Phillips, who also worked on some of the walls at Pavilions II and VII and did some unknown minor work at Hotel A, contracted for the brickwork of the Anatomical Hall, for which he received $1,998.73, and for the Rotunda (along with Thorn & Chamberlain), recieving $7,106.98; between 1 March 1820 and 25 November 1822 Phillips was paid $7,798.95? (ViU:PP, Ledgers 1 and 2). Phillips and brickmason Dabney Cosby of Staunton apparently worked together on the west range dormitories.
In the following note Grizzard cites an excerpt from the agreement between the University and Carter & Phillips that Jefferson wrote in which he explicitly explained how he wanted the mortar prepared for the work:
[Thomas Jefferson wrote] to Carter & Phillips, 9 April 1819, ViU:TJ. The detailed 3-page agreement between Carter & Phillips and the university's proctor of 15 June 1819 is in ViU:PP. It required "front Walls" to be "faced with Oil stock bricks, the others with sand stocks, the interior mass to be place bricks, all to be laid with good bond, to be clinkers, and not a single sammel brick to be used in any part of the work under a penalty of five cents for every such brick, nor more than two bats for nine whole bricks, the inner mortar to be one third lime and two thirds good clean gritty sand, without any mixture of earth, the outer mortar to be half lime and half such sand, and the whole to be grouted with a mortar of the inner quality." William B. Phillips brought letters of recommendation from N. Turner, Christopher Tompkins, and B. Tate, written at Richmond between 31 August 1818 and 15 March 1819 and located in ViU:TJ, showing that he served a seven-year apprenticeship and then as a foreman for Turner.
This is important information because it demonstrates Jefferson's particular attention to the quality of the bricks and the mortar that was used to set them, even distinguishing between the mortar used on the exterior brick work and the brick work of the inside of the walls. The typical and classic formula for lime mortar was three parts sand to one part lime putty. But here Jefferson specifies a one to one mix for the outer layer of bricks and two parts sand to one part lime for the inner parts of the walls, much richer than was normal. One problem with such a rich mortar is the probability of increased shrinkage. Nevertheless, Jefferson insisted on this formula, perhaps because it permitted a more crisp definition to the tooled joints. Looking at Captain Perry's work at Frascati in the gallery below we see again the distinctive tooled joints that began to appear in Central Virginia with the work at the University under Jefferson's supervision. The high lime to sand ratio is evident in the whiteness and smoothness of the mortar in the joints. We can also plainly see the vertical shrinkage cracks one would expect from such a rich mortar. This occurred during the curing process. The same kinds of cracking may also be seen elsewhere, including in the joints at Castle Hill. It is also clear in the pictures of Frascati and Castle Hill that the sand used in the mortar was very fine, as would be typical of "bank sand," or sand taken from a river bank, as the sand used on construction sites in Albemarle county was in those days. Elsewhere, such as at the Caroline County Court House and the Madison County Court House and at the Madison County Church we can see that the mortar in the joints was not so rich, perhaps because only the wealthy elite were willing to pay for the additional cost of the extra lime. The joints in these examples are markedly different in surface texture although not in the way they were tooled. In the Caroline County Court House it is clear that the local sand was more coarse than that available in Albemarle County, and also more yellow.
The following resulted from a Search Jefferson's Works alongside A Documentary History of the Construction of the Buildings at the University of Virginia, 1817-1828, Frank Edgar Grizzard, Jr:
Search Jefferson's Works alongside A Documentary History of the Construction of the Buildings at the University of Virginia, 1817-1828, Frank Edgar Grizzard, Jr.
Search Jefferson's Works alongside A Documentary History of the Construction of the Buildings at the University of Virginia, 1817-1828, Frank Edgar Grizzard, Jr. :
In his 1986 University of Boston dissertation The Architectural Workman of Thomas Jefferson, Richard C. Cote explained that some building contractors owned slaves who were highly skilled artisans, including brick masons, and that when these were not actively engaged in projects contracted by their owners, these slaves were hired out to other builders and in some cases at rates of pay (to their owners) higher than journeymen artisans working on their own account. It appears that this had to do with the skill level of the workers in question. So, in addition to free artisans working for wages in the employ of builders like Captain Perry and William B. Phillips, there were also highly skilled slaves working as carpenters and masons, sometimes for their owners, sometimes hired out to other builders. (Cote 86: 96-106) It is possible, therefore, that skilled slaves may have worked at Castle Hill as brick layers. Robert Self, Conservator of Architecture and Furniture at Monticello, doubted that Captain Perry himself laid any of the brick at Castle Hill and expressed his belief that Perry was more of a business man and contractor than actual artisan by that time. That may be so, however I have a feeling Perry may have been more involved in the actual construction. This was, after all, an important commission. Certainly there is a consistency in all the work he did under contract, such as at the University, at Frascati and here at Castle Hill. It is possible that this is because he kept the same crew together and supervised them closely, but he may also have stood on the scaffold, trowel in hand, working with his crew. I have no evidence in support of this, it is just a feeling I have.
Castle Hill: 1764, 1824, 1840-44
These images show the facade of the original 1764 building built by Dr. Walker. The close ups show the details of the
strike on the mortar joints. In the brick work a "grape vine" strike was used, making the indentation. This was done to
compress the shrinking mortar during the early curing process, within hours after the brick was laid. The tools in the
images on the right were made for me by a blacksmith in Williamsburg after an 18th century pattern in a period handbook
on masonry. Tools like these were used to make the groove in the mortar and compress the mortar back against the bricks.
Usually in original 18th century work the groove is deeper than that obtained using the modern style of grapevine striker.
The raised "V" shaped joint on the stone work was the typical joint used for stone work in 18th century Virginia and
appears to be original here.
The main brick block of the house was added in 1824 when Senator William Cabell Rives contracted with Captain John Perry for the work.
The unfortunate attempt at a repair using modern and inappropriate mortar will be removed. The original wooden
window frames have deteriorated and allowed the brick over them to settle resulting in the typical pyramidal cracking often seen in brick buildings
of this period. In the image on the right modern, portland cement was used in an earlier repair and resulted in the spauled brick at the window. Portland
cement is too hard and too dense to use against hand made brick of this period and always causes spauling and degradation of the original fabric. Only lime mortar should be used.
The last image on the right shows the 1840 wall, on the right, meeting the 1824 wall, on the left. The bricks in the 1824 wall are slightly larger and the two walls do not course out.
Castle Hill Work in Progress
Please refer to these window location keys:
We have begun working on the repair of the brick work over window E on the 1824 main facade built by Captain Perry.
The window frame of the basement window was replaced during the remodeling of 1948. The sill is poured in place concrete and the jambs and lintel are pine. The window frame lintel supports the outer layer of brick, while an inner lintel 2 courses higher supports the inner part of the brick wall and the floor joists. The upper inner lintel appears to be original from 1824 and has deteriorated over the years due to age, minor insect damage, and significant deflection that has distorted the original shape of the lintel so that it has a sag in the middle of nearly an inch. This has allowed the brick work to settle and the joists had settled, although it appears that in the 1948 campaign these joists were shimmed with wedges driven in between the brick above the lintel and the joists. Nevethteless, even though the window frame was replaced it appears that pyramidal stair step settlement of the brick visible in the outer wall was not addressed other than by being forced more or less back into place by the new window frame resting on the new concrete sill. Since then, apparently, the deterioration has continued in part because of the deterioration of the the new frame itself since 1948. Several years ago the damage had progressed to the point that original bricks had actually fallen out of the wall. An attempt at repair was made that is not satisfactory because of the clumsy and disfiguring use of modern, Portland Cement based mortar, tinted to an inappropriate color, and because the settlement problem was never addressed and has continued in spite of this attempted repair that included the use of modern and other inappropriate brick and the insertion of a heavy steel angle for support. In order to make a better repair we have had to remove the brick that was taken out and reset when the steel angle was inserted. We have saved the original brick and carefully cleaned them to remove the offending modern mortar, but we will need additional brick to complete the re-installation. Because the 1840 addition wrapped around the side and back walls of the 1824 addition, there are in the basement original 1824 walls that are not in inhabited parts of the house and that can be removed from their current location, to be replaced by brick as nearly matching as we can find, and then used on the front wall of the house over this window.
This has raised an interesting issue. Even though these are original brick from the original work and match in almost every respect the original work visible on the facade, there is a difference. These brick that we will take from the basement walls have been out of the weather since 1840, so they only had 16 years exposed to the elements in a pre-industrial era before acid rain. Therefore, they are less weathered than the original brick on the front facade that has been continuously exposed to the elements since 1824. Furthermore, it was common practice in the 19th century and earlier to render the brick walls upon completion of the work with a color wash paint. There seems to be some uncertainty about the formula for these color washes, and the formulas may have varied from place to place and from time to time, but they seem to have included lime water, red led pigment, perhaps linseed oil, perhaps hide glue, perhaps alum, and other as yet unidentified ingredients. Usually, as at Castle Hill, the evidence of the color wash is most apparent in areas out of the weather, such as under porches and behind shutters. The intention of the color wash was to protect the brick and mortar and to cover any blemishes from spilled or spatterred mortar in a time before the use of acid to clean pre-industrial brick. Then the joints were painted with another paint, this time with chalk and lime water and possibly hide glue and linseed oil. This was called penciling. Castle Hill was penciled, as was Frascati, Birdwood, the University, and other buildings of the era. Upon close examination of the building we do find in a few places on the 1824 work a tell tale trace of the red pigment, such as over the fanlight at the front door and in the corner to the right of the front porch at the level of the porch on the main facade. At the Madison County Court House there appears to be original penciling on the joints of the inside of the arcade, but even though these joints are clearly penciled, there is no visible evidence remaining in this area to suggest that the joints ever had any color wash on them. Furthermore, at Castle Hill we notice that in broken bricks or bricks that were sawn in the recent repair to fit over the steel angle, the interior of the Castle Hill brick is an yellowish tan color, even though the exterior surfaces are distinctly red.
However, we notice that in some places the interior color of the brick is visible where the surface seems to have worn away by weathering, such as in these examples above. The reddish color of the exterior seems to only be in a very thin outer layer that has weathered away unevenly in these bricks at Window E. Upon examination of other bricks removed from the wall in this area and cleaned, we began to wonder if these bricks were dipped in a color wash before being set, thus affording the desired protection without interfering with the crisp pristine appearance of the carefully tooled joints that were penciled, but that show no apparent traces of the color wash. Alternatively, we wonder if these bricks were dipped in something before firing that would have produced this red crust. This is a speculative explanation of something we have just noticed. Further research may answer this question. The penciling at Madison County Court House suggests that there might have been an intention to emphasize the joints with the penciling but to avoid coloring them with the color wash.
In these photos below taken at Window E it is clear that 2 different mortars were used in this wall. The lighter colored mortar was the bedding mortar under the outer layer of brick, the small area of darker mortar was from the inner wall mortar. This seems to correspond with the practice specified by Jefferson for work at the University on the facades of the Pavilions. This correspondence suggests that Perry was following the practice established at the University project. Philip Barbour specified that Perry should perform the work at Frascati in the same way and to the same standards as the work he did at the University. We also know that Rives specified that the work be like that of the University, where Perry had been a leading contractor and mason. If Perry undertook the work at Frascati and Castle Hill on terms that demanded the same quality and style of work as he had done at the University, then it is reasonable to conclude that he may have used the same mortar formulation he had already used successfully at the University. From the draft of the agreement Jefferson sent to Carter & Phillips we know that Jefferson specified a mixture of half sand and half lime for the exterior walls and two parts sand and one part lime for the inner work and grout. What we see in these photographs below strongly suggests that Perry was observing that convention in his work at Castle Hill. If so, it would help to explain the unusually fine white appearance of the joints at Frascati and at Castle Hill. When I showed this mortar sample to Robert Self at Monticello his first reaction was that this was a modern mortar, but clearly it is not and I assurred him that it is not and showed him this web page so he could see the same mortar all over the 1824 building. He remarked that the sand was particularly fine and the mortar was unusually hard. It is also clear from these images that this was not just a pointing mortar, but that it was the bedding mortar and runs all the way across the top of the course.
These images below show the loggia to the left of the front porch. Close examination of the brick and joints seems to show that this area may have been whitewashed at one time. In the crevices there is what seems to be residual white wash, slightly pink, as if it may have mixed with pigment from the earlier color wash. In the last two pictures we see the 1840-44 brick work undertaken by William B. Phillips on the left where it meets the original 1824 block built by Captain Perry, visible to the right of the corner junction. The two walls do not course out because the brick are of slightly different size, so the 1840-44 wall simply butts to the 1824 wall.
In these photos below we see the fanlight over the front door and the traces of color wash under the penciling.
In these photos of the main facade just to the right of the front porch we see another faint example of penciling with color wash under it.
Below is window B where the sill and window frame were replaced in the 1948 remodeling. The 1948 sill is poured in place concrete, but because the sill was poured at what was then grade (which is probably why the original sill rotted out) little care was given to the appearance of the bottom of the sill, hidden by soil. Since then the grade has been lowered for drainage reasons, exposing the ragged edge of the 1948 pour. We have cut the bottom of the concrete flange off with a diamond saw to make a more even and level appearance. The window with the downspout is window B where we will also trim the sill and repair the damaged surface. The last image is window E where we have removed some modern and other brick that did not match original that were used to make a repair some years ago where brick had fallen out of the wall. We will replace these with original 1824 brick taken from an unseen area of the basement wall in an area that was enclosed by the 1840-44 addition.