There are many hats to wear when working on the Humphreys House — excited and eager homeowner and amateur local history buff come to mind. “Builder” is one that has not yet been explored in this column–until now. One of the reasons we took on this project was because of my 10 years of experience in the building industry. However, my decade of experience pales in comparison to the century the Humphreys House has been standing.
I feel I have already learned some lessons from the house and its original builder. I don’t know the details of the original builder (stay tuned, as we will be researching more on this for future columns), but speaking in general terms of houses that were built 100 years ago, it was probably built over the course of a couple years–maybe as many as five–though not five consecutive years, as summers were likely taken off to tend to the fields.
Construction techniques and materials that were used were selected to not just create a strong product, but a structurally sound one in all phases of construction, able to weather storms and general exposure to the elements. A lot of the uneven floors or sagging door frames are attributed to the length of exposure, lack of settling, or structure deficiency. Balloon framing, skillfully hand-cut cross bracing, and the use of square cut nails where common practice back then, and they created bend but unbreakable strength that shows as “character” 100 years later.
I’ve enjoyed pulling some of the artifacts out to hang onto, such as some of the nails used. Nails like these were so valuable at points in our history that homesteaders moving across the plains would burn down their cabins to collect these nails before getting back on the trail to the new frontier.
Using engineered “wood” beams is common building practice of today. Knowing the load specs (how much weight it can hold) of the lumber is one aspect of the engineering, architecture and code enforcement of today. One hundred years ago, codes didn’t exist and the people building the house simply would use practical knowledge to select the hardest wood to ensure the house wouldn’t fail. This was not lost on me as I notched a 100-year-old heart wood post to accept an engineered beam.
Old, meets new — I have equal confidence in both, but a bit more respect for the one that has the history of holding up a house.
Please click through the photos below to reference the solid construction from years gone by.