Monday, May 23, 2011

Who built the ark....Noah, Noah...Who built the ark....Brother Noah built the ark

I don’t know about all of you but the staff here on The Hill have commenced with plans to build an ark to save us from the deluge of rain that has, well, rained down upon us like some biblical curse the past couple of days. Luckily the restoration workers have so many tools they can’t keep track of them so we’ve been secretly pilfering them and other building materials while we work on the ark. Of course stealing supplies from the restoration workers and building an ark has prevented me from writing a truly informative blog this week. No sill talk, no window talk. (Did I just hear somebody cheer?)

What I do have for you are two interesting finds that the staff has made as a result of the restoration work. The first find is not new to all of you. If you recall in an earlier post of mine, “An architect, an insulation guy and an insulation guy’s cousin walk into a museum…,” I mentioned that roman numeral numbers were visible on the wood beams at the attic ceiling level, however, when I tried to locate them I came up empty handed. Well I’ve got good news. Since #3 and #4 had to remove some of the planks of wood on the floor in the South Parlor to access the sill from the inside, they exposed the floor joists which run perpendicular to the sill. Lo and behold, there are roman numerals clearly visible, carved into the wood at the end of each joist.  Hopefully you won't get motion sickness when you watch this!

And now the second find – which in my opinion is awesome! As I hope I’ve made pretty obvious in this blog, window restoration is being carried out on every window in the house. A couple of weeks ago the staff made an exciting find in the bathroom. (Let me take a moment to be clear, we weren’t all in the bathroom together at the time of this discovery because that would be weird.) The window coverings have been removed from the window in the bathroom, fully exposing it from top to bottom with nothing to block the view outside (which, as you can imagine, is awkward as it is the only functioning bathroom for the staff to use and it is located on the first floor of the house). It drew our attention solely because the bathroom was so much brighter without the coverings in place. That would have been the end of the story if not for the curiosity of one Education Director. The window is original to the 1787 construction of the house, a 12 over 12 paned beauty tucked away behind our supply cabinet in the bathroom.

Just behind the cabinet with cleaning goods on top....

...lurks one of only two of the original windows of the house.  
The Education Director decided to take a closer look at the window itself and the yard beyond one day and we’re lucky that she did. Because she found a name scratched in the glass – “Eliza Van Renʃselaer.” Below the name is the failed attempt of said Van Rensselaer to write her name.  When you watch the video be warned - it is difficult to see the signature clearly and it was impossible for me to get a good still photo of it.

This finding blew us all away as not a single staffer had been aware of the existence of the name on the window (this includes two staffers who have 30 years and almost 20 years under their respective belts as HCH staff). We think it belonged to Elizabeth Van Rensselaer, born in 1770, daughter of Philip and Maria Van Rensselaer. She was married in 1793 to Peter Elmendorf with whom she had two daughters, Sarah and Maria before her untimely death in 1798, only weeks before her father Philip died. A narrow stairway it is unknown if this stairway was original to the house) leading to the second floor once passed through this space only to be transformed into a “water closet,” or bathroom in the second half of the 19th century.

Hidden behind the pipes is a thin door which used to lead to the back staircase that once upon a time stood in what is now the bathroom.
In an 1852 inventory of the house the room was listed as a pantry. Its exact use in the 18th century is unknown as is whether the back staircase was present at the time of the house’ construction or was added in the early 19th century. But if we imagine for a moment that the staircase did exist, or that it was a simple pantry out of the way from the eyes of all but family and servants - you can just imagine a 17-year old Elizabeth Van Rensselaer scratching her name into the glass, leaving her permanent mark behind perhaps in a fit of teenage rebellion.

Now – it could be that Elizabeth didn’t scratch her name into the glass at all. Maybe an older or younger sibling was ticked off with her and decided the best way to get her in trouble would be to mark up Dad’s brand new window in his brand new house with their sister’s full name so she would get the blame. That’s probably what my kids would do.

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