Discovery #4. A Greatly Vexatious Puzzlement.

 

This is an 1894 blueprint of the second-floor stair hall. The top of the image is north, and the exterior wall has three stained-glass windows (extant). In the middle you see a large rectangle. That is an expansive opening to the main level. The stair was built as drawn, except for the few steps hugging the north wall. These steps were actually built around the corner a bit, hugging the east wall. These steps are the subject of this post.

 

This is, I believe, a 1929 blueprint of alterations made to convert the house into apartments. The drawing shows how the original expansive stair opening was significantly shrunk to add two kitchens along the north wall.

 

Stepping up to the second floor, one was confronted with a wall, blocking the light from the triple stained-glass windows. Of note in this image are the three newel posts, right. You can see just the top of newel #1 in the lower right. Then newel #2. Both of these are in their original location. Newel #3 used to be much further to the north.

 

The wall coming down. Light returns to the stairhall for the first time in 85-years.

 

While light has now returned, the expansive opening is still half what it was in 1894. Here, Justin and Scott begin the process of removing the infill flooring.

 

To restore the 1894 expansive opening, the 1929 ceiling under had to be removed. Of note are the lower portions of two newel posts, which had been sawed apart in 1929. At the far left you see just a  bit of newel #3, kissing the wall. Adjacent, and hanging just below the 1894 landing, is newel #4.

 

The original opening begins to appear! Looking north.

 

Looking south. 

 

Squee! This is a sight which had not been seen for 85-years. To the right remain some 2×12 joists sitting atop the 1894 intermediate landing. My hand is on newel #1. Adjacent is newel #2. Both are in their original location.

 

And…drum roll, please…the stair back together, sorta kinda. Newel #3 is back in its original location (far left). Adjacent is newel #4. This had been repurposed in 1950 as the newel to the new basement stair.

 

Newel #3 (left) and newel #4, no longer decapitated from their lower portions. Each, of course, needs to be repaired. The newels are different heights because three steps were adjacent, going from the intermediate landing (right) to the second floor (left). This means that the railing would be an angle.

 

Like this. This was, I assumed, the angled rail from this location.

 

The problem though is that the railing was too wide. Huh? What? This is the ONLY possible location for an angled railing. How could it not fit? For years this has vexed me. VEXED me! (Say hi to The Other Justin!)

 

In this 1999 image, you see TWO angled railings. The one to the right is in its original location. The one to the left was, or so I had thought, been repositioned when the stair was shrunk. And I long thought that this angled rail was…

 

…here originally.

 

But, again, it did not fit.

 

And this caused soooooooo much vexation over the years.

How could it not fit?

How could it not fit?

How could it not fit?

 

Yesterday, while standing along the west side of the expansive opening, and staring staring staring at the east side of the opening, clarity dropped into my head.

 

This angled rail did not exist in 1894. Repeat: This angled rail did not exist in 1894. Rather, it was created out of straight rail in 1929 to fit new conditions. So, where is the 1894 angled rail? Long gone I now realize. Long gone.

 

So, I will cut down the 1929 angled rail to fit the space between newel #3 and newel #4. All will be as it was in 1894.

And with this new clarity, a greatly vexatious puzzlement…has vanished.

 

 

18 Comments

  1. Kim on February 27, 2021 at 12:40 pm

    I’m thinking it would go with the original 4 treads along the north wall, under the windows. Is there evidence that this origional blueprint was altered during building? It seems logical to space out the short treads – one set along each wall, rather than bunch them all up.
    Hmm. A conundrum, indeed.

    • Ross on February 27, 2021 at 1:08 pm

      Kim, one always needs to be cautious about blueprints. Because there is often a difference between As Drawn and As Built.

      There is no question that the three steps along the north wall, as show on the blueprint, were not built. Rather, as I mentioned, they were built hugging the east wall. This is confirmed by the attendant newel posts. One is also taller than the other, due to a change in flooring height.

      • Ragnar on February 28, 2021 at 4:39 pm

        What puzzles me most about this hallway is the east landing. All it does is restrict headroom on the floor below. To me, the 1929 stair setup makes much more sense, even with the larger 1894 opening in the floor! You couldn’t argue that the landing balances the stairs either because the first run still has about twice as many steps as the second and third.

      • Kim on March 2, 2021 at 6:28 pm

        I’m going to guess they decided it would be better to have all three windows accessed from the flat run of landing instead of the multi level treads. That aesthetic might have pulled some weight in the origional construction decision.
        What a relief to have it all open again! 💜 Amazing!

  2. Bonnie Graham on February 27, 2021 at 1:36 pm

    Ross, how sweet to look down and see the windows in the alcove below.

  3. Dan Goodall-Williams on February 27, 2021 at 2:00 pm

    This is just brilliant. I’m living for this stairway!

  4. Leigh on February 27, 2021 at 3:45 pm

    Well done, Ross! Charles W. Squires must be proud of you for figuring it out! Beautiful, natural light; animated by the stained glass windows.

  5. Laurie L Weber on February 27, 2021 at 5:12 pm

    Luv how your brain works! You just won’t give up! So awesome and informative for us who follow your journey. 🙂

  6. Andy on February 27, 2021 at 9:24 pm

    Ross, are those three treads & risers between the 3rd & 4th newel posts temporary? It seems that the top riser should be aligned with the wall with your arched alcove opening below.

    • Ross on February 27, 2021 at 10:11 pm

      Yes, Andy. The current three steps were thrown together in 2014. I have the original three steps and will be reinstalling them. Soon!!!!!!

  7. Cindy Belanger on February 27, 2021 at 9:38 pm

    How wonderful that the staircase will be brought back to it’s former glory. What a difference with the added wall gone and three beautiful stained glass windows exposed. This is a major accomplishment.

    • Ross on February 27, 2021 at 10:46 pm

      Thank you, Cindy! And the wall with the triple-stained-glass was restored in 2019.

  8. Adam on February 28, 2021 at 1:38 am

    The swirl pattern on one of the spindles on that short section is running in the opposite direction of all the others. 1920’s copy?

    • Dan Goodall-Williams on February 28, 2021 at 2:46 am

      WOW, you have a great eye!!

  9. Dodi on February 28, 2021 at 7:40 am

    Ross darling? Perhaps I’m just nattering on about nothing, but in pictures 10-12, there is a puzzle. I appreciate that you’ve done a marvelous job in piecing this puzzle…but why is there a miter hole in the “long” newel facing out to the expanse? In my mind, this isn’t right because all the others have no such cavity and it wouldn’t have been a slot for a decoration, surely? Is this a later modification? Such a shame if so, the post is so beautiful!

    • Ross on February 28, 2021 at 10:50 am

      Dodi, newels #3 and #4 were brutalized in their being cut apart and relocated. #4, as I mentioned, was repurposed in 1950 to become the newel to a new basement stair. And a rectangular hole was cut into it for a light switch.

      Newels #3 and #4 will be largely rebuilt.

  10. Jordan on March 1, 2021 at 2:41 pm

    Hi Ross,

    Those bannisters look very low compared to modern standards. I wouldn’t fancy climbing those stairs after having one two many!

    Does being on the historic register exempt the cross house from having to comply with current building regulations?

    Here in the UK all new work must apply to current code, but significant alterations to old properties must also conform to current code before the work can be signed off.

  11. Jordan on March 6, 2021 at 11:05 am

    There is a major clue that this rail isn’t original. I’m amazed that you didn’t spot it Ross.

    One of the spindles is upside down!

    I doubt the original craftsman would have made that mistake!

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