“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”

St. Mary's City in St. Mary's County, Maryland — The American Northeast (Mid-Atlantic)

Dating Changes in a Building

Dating Changes in a Building Marker image. Click for full size.
By Devry Becker Jones, August 30, 2019
1. Dating Changes in a Building Marker
Inscription.  Old buildings often show many changes but when did these occur? To find out, you need to become a "building detective" searching for subtle clues. This barn had many alterations over its life. Important clues are found in the wood and nails because these were made differently thought time due to changing technology. We have numbered some of the clues to help you in your quest.

The large timbers were hewn and adzed by hand (1), and the walls originally covered with thin, split or riven oak clapboards, dating to 1785 (2). Sash sawn timber and siding with closely spaced, nearly parallel saw lines are from repairs in the 1840s (3). In the late 1800s or early 1900s, more siding was added but it was made using a circular saw, as indicated by curved saw marks (4).

Other clues come from nails. When workers first built this bar, they only had wrought nails, each handmade by blacksmiths. The clapboards are affixed with wrought nails (5). In the early 1800s, a new type of machine-made nail called a cut nail became available (6). Because they were cheaper, these replaced wrought nails for general
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use. A similar change occurred in the 1880s and 1890s when still cheaper nails made from wire started replacing cut nails (7). Today, wire nails are the most commonly used type. By identifying nail types, we have more evidence to determine when timbers were added.

Let's use these clues to solve one question. The original doorway to the granary is in front of you (8). How long did this door remain in use? We can see that a circular sawn board with wire nails covers this doorway (9). This tells us the door was no longer used sometime after ca. 1890.

A Saga of Changing Use Through Time

Over the 250 years of its life, this barn has served many purposes. Study of the building and documents provides clues to how people used it at different times. It began as a granary but was soon converted to a tobacco barn, then back to a granary, and once again it became a tobacco barn. After World War II, it became a livestock barn and now, finally, it is a museum exhibit. Why did it have so many uses? The answer is directly related to the agrarian economy, changes in prices for crops, and shifts in the type and cost of labor. As markets changed, farmers adjusted their crops, thereby requiring changes in the buildings used to process or store those crops. This barn is a splendid example of how agrarian architecture responds to economic
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Original heavy construction, floors, and closely-spaced ceiling posts.

ca. 1803
Tobacco Barn:
Removal of every other post, wrought nails used to hold tier poles from which tobacco was hung.

New wood floor added and new sawn siding with cut nails.

ca. 1900
Tobacco Barn:
New tier pole supports with wire nails.

ca. 1940
Cattle Barn:
Sheds enlarged and shafts added center used for dairy storage.

Barn Restored:
Sheds replaced and barn converted to exhibit.

Erected by Historic St. Mary's City.
Location. 38° 11.001′ N, 76° 25.786′ W. Marker is in St. Mary's City, Maryland, in St. Mary's County. Marker can be reached from Point Lookout Road (Maryland Route 5) 0.4 miles west of Rosecroft Road, on the left when traveling west. The marker is inside the open-air barn. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 16721 Point Lookout Road, Saint Marys City MD 20686, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Agricultural Change and Environmental Damage (here, next to this marker); Who Worked Here? (here, next to this marker); What Kind of Barn Was This? (here, next to this marker); A Pressing Situation (here, next to this marker); To Market! To Market! (here, next to this marker); Constructed With Colonial Ideas (a few steps from this marker); Carpenters' Marks (a few steps from this marker); Tree Growth Rings (a few steps from this marker). Touch for a list and map of all markers in St. Mary's City.
Categories. AgricultureAnimalsColonial EraNotable Buildings

More. Search the internet for Dating Changes in a Building.
Credits. This page was last revised on September 2, 2019. This page originally submitted on September 2, 2019, by Devry Becker Jones of Washington, District of Columbia. This page has been viewed 42 times since then and 6 times this year. Photo   1. submitted on September 2, 2019, by Devry Becker Jones of Washington, District of Columbia.
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