This lath is post-1825-1835
This enlargement of 1999 photograph of debris from the collapsed north wall of the west end of the house shows lath that appears to exhibit circular saw marks, since the marks are all slanted at the same steep angle. According to Henry C. Mercer's 1923 article "The Dating of Old Houses", this style of lath was not available until circa 1825-1835, after the circular saw came into more general use.
The wire nails weren't used until 1883
Note the fallen nail near the bottom of the photo. It is clearly a modern wire nail. The chapter "History of Cut and Wire Nails" (1189 KB PDF) from the 1892 book "History of the Manufacture of Iron in All Ages" says "it was not until the year 1883 or 1884 that the wire nail came into the market prominently as a competitor to the cut nail..." Page 640 of the 1895 book "One Hundred Years of American Commerce" indicates that wire nails were not made in the United States until 1886. In my opinion, from other construction details, there is no way this houses was built contemporaneously with the use of wire nails; this lath has to be part of a remodeling job.
Other, older lath indicates that this sawn lath is a remodeling job
This remodeling theory is further supported by triangular lath (possibly split) and primative plaster was found at another location in the house. A close look at the triangular lath, and research on plastering in general, reveals that the triangular lath was evidently installed improperly. For plaster to stick to a wall properly, one has to leave big gaps between the lath so that plaster can flow through and form "plaster keys" that mechanically retain the plaster. The original triangular lath appears to be placed too close together to allow many keys to be formed, and evidently had to be replaced for this reason.
Where did this wall section fall from?
A careful study of these five photographs (one, two, three, four, five) leads me to conclude that a probable place that this wall section could have come from was from the upper floor, from the upper section of wall, between what is possibly a doorway and the northwest corner of the house. The other places where lath seems to have been on both sides of the wall either didn't fall, or may not have been intact enough before the fall to be this particular fallen section.
A careful study of the five photographs linked above shows that the lath on the outside of the north wall was badly weathered. In the enlarged photograph of the lath, the lath that is facing the camera is not weathered, while the lath on the side facing away from the camera appears weathered. From this, I suspect that the sawn lath was probably from the inside of the north wall, protected by the roof, and possibly recently protected by plaster.
There's something unusual about the corner brace in this photo. Half of it is roughly hand-hewn and half of it is planed smooth for the extent of where the lath is attached; click here for a more complete picture of the brace. I can't reconcile the fact that the lath appears to terminate where the hewn surface begins, with this being on the inside wall of the house. Wouldn't the lath have needed to extend to the corner of whatever the brace attached to, if it were inside the original part of the house? Why is the visible flank of the brace relatively smooth, yet not straight?
This lath is near another major remodeling job
The west end of the north wall of the house was the site of a later addition to the house. At least I deduce that it was a later addition, because part of the traces of the roof extend over the siding. If it had been a wing that was part of the original construction, the siding would presumably be added after the roof of the wing was built, and the siding would therefore terminate at the roof.
No Dating Mystery
This lath leaves us with no house dating mystery, even though it is post circa 1825-1835 lath that was apparently cut with a circular saw, because it was retained with wire nails that were not used in the United States until circa 1883-1886. There is no way that the original construction of this old house is contemporary with those wire nails. This sawn lath is therefore part of a remodeling job.
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