156 Years Of Dirt

by Don Friedman on March 16, 2017

Whatever that light-gray dust is – some combination of rotted wood, ancient coal smoke, and pigeon crap, most likely – it was damned difficult to wash off my hands and shirt. But that’s not the point.

What is this thing? It’s the cast-iron arch holding up the rear wall of an 1861 loft building over the rear extension of the first floor. If I could have got a better angle, which was not possible while perched on a ladder, the wrought-iron tie rod would be visible just below the wadded-up paper.

It can be hard to visualize this. Here’s an example from another building, exposed during construction:

In this case, there are two arches: the one we’re looking at and its twin off to the left, and the wrought-iron tie rods (in this case, there are two, front and back, and they’re square in cross-section) are continuous from the brick pier on the right, past the round cast-iron column between the arches (on the left of the photo) and off to the left brick pier out of the frame.

Don’t let anybody tell you that masonry walls were first carried on metal with the invention of the steel skeleton frame in the 1890s. People in the 1860s knew how to do it just fine. They couldn’t build a whole building that way, but then again it would not have occurred to them to try.

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