Thanks to generous donations from our supporters, we created “Q & Abe” – a podcast that investigates real questions from visitors to the Cottage. This bonus episode accompanies the fourth episode of Season 2, What’s the Cottage worth?

While we’re digging around researching the questions in the show, we sometimes run across things that don’t fit within the main episode, but are too intriguing not to share. Having rediscovered the full specifications for building the Cottage, we asked our Senior Preservationist Jeff Larry to read them for us, and to shed some light on them using his expertise.

In addition to the embedded media player below, you can find the podcast on Apple Podcasts / Spotify Stitcher Google Podcasts or wherever you get podcasts. You also can read below for a transcript of the episode (transcript coming soon).


Joan Cummins: Hi everybody! This is Joan and Callie from Q&Abe, a podcast by President Lincoln’s Cottage.  

Callie HawkinsWhile we’re digging around researching the questions in the show, we sometimes run across things that don’t fit within the main episode, but are too intriguing not to share.    

JC: This bonus episode accompanies episode 2.4What is the Cottage worth?, so if you have not yet listened to that episode, that might be a good place to start.  

CHHaving rediscovered the full specifications for building the Cottage, we asked our Senior Preservationist Jeff Larry to read them for us, and to shed some light on them using his expertise.   

Jeff Larry: [reading] “Specifications of materials and workmanship of the house to be built for George W. Riggs, on his farm near Rock Creek Church, formerly the property of Mr. Agg two stacks of chimneys, starting from the foundation. Six feet breasts projecting eighteen inches inside of rooms, and a flue to start from the second story.” S6 feet breasts are a projection outside of a building, and in this case it’s saying that this projection, which is the chimney, is six feet wide, um, though they project into the room eighteen inches. “Two fireplaces in basement, two in the principal story, and three in the second story. Chimney tops carried three feet above the peak of the roof, and trimmers to all the fireplaces.” So there, there, there are two fireplaces in the basement and there are three – or there were three – in the second story, but we do – though it only lists two in the principal story, we do have evidence that there was a third one, so this might have been one of those situations where the, the plans changed as the building was, was being put together. “Trimmers to all the fireplaces…” the trimmers, if you sometimes go underneath a fireplace hearth, that’s the arched brick work that you see underneath the fireplace. It supports the hearth. “Kitchen floor to be paved fair, with the top of sleepers and grouted…” so we know that the, the kitchen in the Cottage was originally in the basement – this is before they built the, the east wing to the Cottage which we believe is the summer kitchen, and I, I, I think that what this is saying is that the area in the kitchen floor was bricked, and the top of the brick was to be neat and smooth and flat and it was to be aligned with the top of the sleepers, which suggests that the other rooms in the basement had sleepers –  which are wood framing – and they would have had a tongue and groove flooring placed on top of them, sthere would have been wood flooring in the basement. We can’t confirm that now, but that’s what this suggests.  

JC: And that’s because we need the kitchen floor to be like flat and good and sturdy and easy to use? Or we don’t really know? 

JL: I, I think it’s that and also, if you’re going to be cooking and using fire, wood may not be the best choice, and some sort of masonry unit would be more durable and safer. 

JC: Mhm. 

JL: “Six window frames in basement. Three fourteen by fourteen nine light sash, the others small, to be bitermin – to be determined by Mr. Riggs.” So yes, there are indeed three fourteen by fourteen nine light sash, um, but there are only two other windows, so apparently Mr. Riggs determined that he didn’t need three more, he only needed two more. 

JC: Changed his mind along the way. 

JL: [crosstalk] Changed his mind, yeah. Which, you know, that happens  

JC: One of the things it made me think about as you were reading it was that these are all the details you would need to know if you were building a house essentially from scratch, like you were not purchasing a window that was already framed and fitting it into, you know, a wall that you were building, you were like, no, I need the measurements for every single one of these because I have to make them. 

JL: Yeah and, and that might have been something that might have been made offsite in the carpenter shop, knowing what the rough opening was going to be, and, you know, you had six rough openings of this size and, you know, you wouldn’t necessarily need to make those onsite, you could make them offsite and then bring them to the site, going with these dimensions that were given to you, but North Carolina or cedar sleepers to basement. Cullings Carolina clear of sap, flooring through-nailed two nails to each joist or sleeper.” So this is saying that there were sleepers in the basement, these are the, the framing members that were laid on the ground. Cullings of cl- Carolina clear of sap… now cullings is usually when you’re going through a quantity, in this case a quantity of wood, and trying to pull out the best, the best pieces, so assuming that they’re saying either ah, they’ve pulled out the best pieces or the cullings were maybe not the best pieces but they’re okay to use in the basement. “Clear of sap flooring through nailed,” this is when they nailed the flooring just, right down through the top, it wasn’t nailed into a, a tongue ah, you know, again, this is the basement, so it was a little less fancy, you didn’t have to worry about that. “Washboard six inches wide,” this comes up a lot. So the washboard was five inches wide in the garret, which is the attic, six inches wide in the basement, and I believe seven or eight inches wide – so the washboard is the baseboard. “The joists of the principal story floor, three by eleven, sixteen inches from center to center, counter sealed floor, five quarter merchantable Carolina, secret nailed.” So that’s not nailed down in the face but nailed into the tongue, it’s just a fancier way of doing the flooring. “Heading joints tongue and grooved,” so this is interesting, so this is where the, the ends of the floorboards meet, um, this is saying that they actually have to be tongue and grooved together, which is really fancy. 

JC: So three levels of fanciness on the flooring… 

JL: [crosstalk] Three levels of fanciness… now I, I don’t, we don’t really have access to that level of flooring the, the, that Lincoln era original flooring was covered over in the late 1800s, so I don’t really know if they actually did that, but you don’t see that a lot. A lot of times it’s just nailed. So there is a note in the specs it says, the partitions for the folding doors to be finished in the best manner,” and I have no idea what that is. I, so we haven’t – from what we know – no evidence of folding doors. 

JC: I thought the folding doors were the ones that go in from the drawing room into the library. 

JL: Um, but that is the 1848 part of the building, so we don’t – this is, the part that we’re talking about here is the original central core of the building that was built in 1842, and I can’t, you know, there are the double doors that enter from the vestibule, but – yeah, I’m not sure what that, what that is, the folding doors. “In the principal story there will be three rooms, a hall, and china closet,” which we have, three rooms, where the china closet would have been perhaps in the dining room  

JC: Is it that little portal, the unfinished portal, that goes out the dining room? 

JL: No that was actually – 

JC: [crosstalk] next to the table? 

JL: No that was put there on purpose so that the door going into the room could swing fully open and not, not have the doorknob hit the wall.  

JC: What else did you find in here that surprised you? 

JL: Well I, I just, I think it’s interesting just to sort of, you know, after, after I ran through this – cause I hadn’t looked at this in a while  and after I ran through it this morning, I had to come over here to the Cottage because I just, it was just so much fun walking around and seeing if – what of these things was, was actually done, and looking for clues to the vestibule… We have this vestibule project coming up, and the only real mention of that in here is that: “plain portico to north door, somewhat similar to that in front of Mr. McClellan‘s.” If you go on the, ah what is it, the 1852 Boschke map of Washington, DC, you can find Mr. McClellan‘s property, and it’s, um, just north of what was then called the Boundary Road which is now Florida Avenue. And it was located in what is now LeDroit Park, and we have a picture of that house, probably from the late 1800s, but unfortunately you can’t make out what they’re calling the porticowe call the vestibule, to see where they might have gotten inspiration… “And all the work to be done in a workmanlike manner of good materials. No extras to be allowed for which are not ordered in writing. Washington City, 23rd July 1842. W.H. Degges. 

CH: We hope you’ve enjoyed this little something extra! If you’re looking for even more information on the topics from the show, please do check out our website for transcripts, show notes, and links to additional information 

JC: We’ll have a whole new set of questions coming up in season 3 this fall! This episode was produced by me, Joan Cummins, and Callie Hawkins. Music for Q&Abe was written, performed, and is copyrighted by Clancy Newman.  

CH: Q&Abe is possible thanks to generous supporters of President Lincoln’s Cottage. To find out how you can support this podcast and other programming, visit www.lincolncottage.org.  You can also write to us at [email protected]. 

JC: President Lincoln’s Cottage is a home for brave ideas. Stay curious!   

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