The Cross House

A Mystery Revealed?

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This is the floor in the first-floor bathroom of the Cross House. The flooring is geometric porcelain tiles by the American Encaustic Tiling Company. Save the obvious missing pieces (most of which I have), I had no reason to doubt that this was the floor installed in 1894. Or was it????????

 

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Last year, when John the mason was doing some work on the floor, he noticed two odd things. First, see how the orange tile border suddenly changes into a yellow border? Second, John said that there were two different type mortars used (mortar is the “cement” under the tiles). This indicated that the floor, or part of it, had been taken up at some point and relaid. Well, this was all MOST curious!

 

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This is how the room was laid out when I purchased the house. It always struck me as odd that it was so cramped. The tub and toilet and sink were almost touching each other. In an almost 9,000 square foot house? Huh?

 

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This image is from 1999, but this is how the bath looked when I purchased the house in 2014. A wall-hung sink is just to the left. The lower walls are quite quartz, and are original. Anyway, with John’s news, plus my feeling that something just wasn’t right about the fixtures, plus my learning that none of the fixtures were even from 1894 (the toilet is dated 1926), my mind started to ponder…

 

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..and this is what resulted from the pondering. I think this is how the original bathroom was laid out. The vanity would have been marble. The toilet would have been a high-tank model. Importantly, there would have been some space around the fixtures! I suspect that the bathroom was altered in 1929, when Scott Mouse, Sr., purchase the house, converted the second-floor into apartments, and then he and his family lived, it seems, in a suite on the first-floor. But there would have been no tub on the first-floor. Hence, the half-bath was converted to a full bath. And what was originally spacious became…tight.

 

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The tub was over to the right. Under the tub was/is cement. No geometric porcelain tiles. This always seems REALLY odd. I mean, in 1929 why didn’t they just install a claw-foot tub atop the existing 1894 flooring? And see the floor? The whole upper half of it appears to have been removed at some point and relaid. Why? Well, these questions have proved most vexing!

 

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The other day, with great excitement, I received an 1894 Hoffman & Billings 500-page plumbing catalog! Oh, my heart! Bo Sullivan alerted me to its being on eBay, and there was NO WAY that the Gods could be so cruel as to not assure my being the successful bidder. Well, this is the type vanity (fabulous!) which would have almost certainly been in the bathroom. Now, note that it sits on a marble slab. Just like…

 

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…this toilet (fabulous!).

 

This got me to thinking.

What if my suspected 1894 plan was correct? And what if the vanity and toilet did sit on marble slabs (a detail I have long adored)?

If so, then the current floor (part tile, part cement) would make sense. For, in squeezing in a tub in 1929, the toilet and sink also had to move. Their floor slabs of marble would have been discarded, meaning that there would not have been enough porcelain tiles for the whole room. So, a built-in tub was installed, and concrete laid under. Problem solved!

For a brief while this made perfect sense to me. All the oddities of the bathroom were explained, and, thus, order restored to the Universe. I love it when that happens.

Then I thought: The second-floor bathroom retains its original 1894 floor. And there are no marble slabs inset into it.

But…if the second-floor bath was as such, it is highly likely that the first-floor bathroom would have also been as such.

So, damn, there went my great theory.

But…the second-floor bath had wood wainscoting. Not white quartz like the first-floor bath. Which means that the latter, used by guests, was meant to impress. So, maybe, maybe my theory IS correct?

Oh, I just don’t know what to think at this point, and need to lie upon the divan.

 

CONCLUSIONS

  1. The first-floor bath was changed at some point, and its 1894 flooring was altered.
  2. I think that point was1929.
  3. The fixtures in the bath when I purchased the house could not be original.

 

 

 

13 Responses to A Mystery Revealed?

  1. Ross my ca.1900 Victorian house has natural chestnut woodwork, except in the kitchen and the adjoining bathroom and laundry room. These rooms have hard pine woodwork that matches the chestnut trim. However, the two bathrooms were painted at one point. I stripped the one layer of paint that was on the wood. I am curious if the wood I see painted was grained originally. If so, do you plan to remove the paint? My house had wallpaper everywhere, in every room. No painted walls, and I don’t want to paint them. Are you planning to strip what is probably lead based paint?

    • The previous owner removed all the trim from the bathroom, and then had everything stripped in a dip tank. So, what was the original finish? Luckily, there is a single piece of trim which was not stripped. I will have this professionally analyzed to determine the original finish.

      Almost all the trim in the house has a faux wood finish. I believe the kitchen and main pantry trim was just painted.

  2. Can you look in the basement to see if there are holes in the flooring where the original pipes and toilet stack might have been.

  3. If you have visited Biltmore, the Vanderbilt chateau in Asheville, NC, you may recall in the bathrooms the facilities standing on incised marble slabs.

    Of similar vintage, the Cross house was clearly designed and built to assert a substantial “wow” factor to visitors, e.g. the elaborate portal, the telephone room. Why not a chateau-esque first floor powder room? Most dwellings of the era were considered advanced to have any indoor plumbing (Hill House had only a kitchen sink in 1899)

  4. I adore your “detective” posts. I picture you in a deerstalker, crawling on the floor like Sherlock Holmes, searching diligently for clues from 1894.

    It seems odd to me that those marble slabs would have been discarded — the previous owners tucked away so many of the odds and ends in the basement.

    If your theory about the bathroom is correct — that it contained only a loo and vanity — would you go with that layout when resurrecting the bathroom?

  5. And from somewhere in southeastern North Carolina, a loud, rhythmic changing arises… MARBLE SLABS! MARBLE SLABS! MARBLE SLABS!

  6. The vanity/sink and toilet could have been original according to your scenario, just moved over a bit, but apparently they aren’t. Maybe they were too big for the new layout, so they both had to be replaced with narrower ones. Or maybe the Mouse family decided to replace them because they looked so old-fashioned by 1926, or maybe both reasons were in play. I doubt anyone was installing high tank toilets as late as then. And who knows how wide the original vanity/sink was?

    I find it hard to believe that they would discard the marble slabs and put the claw foot tub on bare concrete. Why didn’t they simply turn the marble slabs over and use the other side as the floor under the tub? Or buy some cheap tile to finish the floor? Strange!

  7. This may be late in the game, but my first thought was they took the marble floor and put it on the wall. Could the stone wainscotting BE the original flooring?

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