Ramble On

Monday, July 8, 2013

Cabin Lore: The White House Bricks

This is the first post in a new category called “Cabin Lore,” which I’ve wanted to start since I began the blog in 2007.  From time to time, during renovations to Hawksbill Cabin, or as we get to know the neighbors and others who knew the folks who built the place, we learn something new about our little mountain house.  These periodic posts will document those fascinating little tidbits that we find out along the way.

When we made our second visit to Hawksbill Cabin, it was for the purpose getting a house inspection done.  While the inspection didn't identify much of the damage we eventually needed to repair (I’ve written before about the extent of major renovations that had to be done under the “big projects” label to the right), the owner’s family was at the house that day, and their little girl pointed with pride to some bricks in the floor while we waited for the inspector to finish.

“Those are bricks from the White House!” the little girl told us, pointing to two bricks in the floor near the pellet stove, since removed.  We moved closer to take a look and sure enough, there were two bricks with little bronze plaques on them, identifying them as “original White House materials.” 

We admired the bricks for a few minutes with the unanswerable question, “How did they get here?” rolling around in our thoughts.  Soon enough it was back to the inspection and checking out the other aspects of the property – to tell the truth, most of our efforts that day were focused on negotiating the allowance for the one beam that had obviously been damaged by termites.

Soon after we closed, we found a message etched in concrete near the fireplace that said “Thanksgiving 1948,” and there another reference to 1948 etched in the mortar at the top of the chimney.  We knew that the original owners had built the place pretty much by hand in the years right after World War II, but now we could find direct evidence of that recorded right in the building materials.

And that would also put the date of the Hawksbill Cabin right in the time frame of the Truman reconstruction of the White House, which took place from 1948 to 1952.  There is a link to a photographic exhibition on the renovation below, here: http://www.whitehousehistory.org/whha_photographs/whitehouse_truman-renovation.html

The White House renovation was extensive and left the whole interior a vast open space after demolition.  At some point, salvaged original materials were made available to the public – and so, Hawksbill Cabin got a pair of the bricks...original White House material, in fact, possibly dating to the 1790’s!   

While Mary was doing research for the book she edited (Civic Art:  A Centennial History of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, Amazon link below), she found a few historic photographs of National Park Service employees handling these items, preparing to ship them to citizens who’d requested them.  I’ve misplaced them, but will add a post when I come across them again.

There are also quite a few references to auctions for this material.  I won’t link them here, and in any case, I’m not really interested in the value of the bricks.  To me, they are just a part of what makes Hawksbill Cabin such a welcoming, relaxing place.  I can’t wait for my next visit – I’ll make sure to take a minute to look at the bricks.

Note:  While the White House renovation isn't mentioned in great detail in the book, since I mentioned that Mary edited it, I thought I might close with an Amazon link to the tome "Civic Art"

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