tv The Presidency White House Stonemasons CSPAN June 30, 2018 11:55am-12:42pm EDT
c-span radio app. up next on the presidency, white house historian discusses the scottish stonemasons who helped to build the white house and the exterior carvings that are visible to this day. he is the author of a white house of stone. this program was part of a daylong symposium hosted by the white house historical association and focused on the history of british and irish connections with the white house. it is about 45 minutes. is one thatsession is very special for me personally. scottish,generation the story of the scottish stonemasons is very meaningful and important. sealresenter dr. william literally wrote the book on these craftsmen.
a book that is available in our shop today. he will also be at the reception this afternoon and will sign your copy of the book for you. book thatwonderful tells the story of the scottish stonemasons and the work you can still see evidence on the white house today. where also honored to have with us in actual scottish stonemasons. is in the back today. chuck jones. if you have not yet been to the blue tent on the other side of the lunch tent to see chuck's masterful work, please take time to do so. a week ago, that was one solid block of stone that originated in a quarry for the original white house stone. thanks to our friends at the national park service, they have been assisting in converting that block of stone into the
beautiful double scottish rose that you will see under the blue tent in the back. for the past several days, this is been carved on the south one of the white house and was yesterday moved here. work and you to see it in practice today. the idea of chuck joining us evolved from a meeting that i had in edinburgh last summer with the cabinet secretary for culture tourism and external affairs for the government of scotland. while she could not be with us today, we are honored that she sent us a brief video message. >> greetings from scotland. i am happy to be able to contribute to the white house historical association symposium 2018. which will celebrate the relationship between the u.k.
ireland and the u.s.. the bonds of friendship which stress across the atlantic are found throughout the pages of furtherand will be explored in the presentations for the symposium. i was usually interested to learn about the role the scars from some masons had played in the construction of the white house which means that the links between our two countries are in a very real sense embedded in the roles of the home of every american president since john adams. the stories of how this came about as compelling. on october 13, 1792, the group charged with building the presidents house late cornerstone. the plate between the stones listed the names of the commissioners.
williamson had emigrated to new york and was teaching architecture in new york city until his cousin recommended him to the commissions. in georgetown at the time which also happen to be where the commissioners were staying. ofwas brought on in spite some competition between the master scottish stonemasons in the irish architect, the to make quick progress on the foundations and ground-level. project andve the left a major impact on the commissioners. more stonemasons from edinburgh were hired to complete the task at hand. a man german -- journeyed to scotland to find more stonemasons for the project.
members of the brotherhood decided to take up walker's offer of work in the american capital. of work in the american capital. the scottish stonemasons got hard at work on the outer walls. they finished the majestic house of stone by the end of 1798. afterward, some state and worked on the capital building. others, such as the williamson brothers, return to edinburgh to finish their projects. their legacy has been further -- forever cemented in the white house. tens of millions of visitors have glanced above the north door to see the double scottish roses, acorns, oak leaves, and griffins. this is their house, as well. here, several homes still survive that were built by the
same stonemasons that worked on the white house. their current -- the current plan underway by the white house historic society to install historic plaques at these sites to tell the story of these master craftsman and the international reach of their work. i look forward to welcoming our friends from the white house historical association to celebrate these plaques representing our ties. the ties between our two countries are long-standing. they are deeply embedded in our respective cultures and provide a bedrock to build future generations. it is in the spirit of our shared and rich past, and i wish you all the best for a successful symposium. [applause] >> there is more recent news since the recording of this video.
we have received word a plaque will go up at 66 queen street, one of the sites in edinburgh where the stonemasons worked in scotland. please join me in welcoming dr. william seale, i believe the infinitive -- definitive authority on the white house. he is the editor of our quarterly history journal. [applause] >> thank you very much. i am going to talk about, as the program suggests, the stonemasons on the white house. some context, i am delighted with my predecessors here. to begin with, we are in a scottish area where all of this took place to begin with. the towns of alexandria and georgetown were incorporated into the site george washington selected for the capital of
america. they were both settled by scots, and run by them. it was not unusual they would look to scotland. we know the shops were supplied with materials from scotland, and so -- washington put this plan here in an area he had long admired, long before the revolution. businesspeople had seen this site is about 400 miles from the sea, from the ocean.
you could come here on a sailing ship. this is probably the deepest we had come into the interior in colonial america. this was very deep. that's why these two towns were founded, and just below the first of the rapids, everybody knew that the potomac would go way into the interior and would eventually join the ohio and mississippi. it wasn't part of the country when this happened, but it happened very soon after the white house was finished. washington selected this site because he wanted a great city, a city that was a capital in the sense that paris was a capital. he was humored. he appointed a commission of planters, the most unlikely
people he could have gotten, who had no knowledge of architecture at all. i can't think of much they did, except that one of them had 18 children. [laughter] >> he was pretty fit. [laughter] >> james hoban was, washington met in charleston. it was probably arranged. he was prominent there, and all of the men, the five men who recommended him, knew him and all were involved in society there. james hoban have built the links in the town. there's almost no documentation of what he built. the court building seems likely, since all of his recommendations
were on the board of the building of the courthouse. he was taken out the hampton, the plantation where a portico had just been added, it looks like him. whatever the case, he shook hands with washington, and washington came back and told his commissioners that he had met a man in charleston, and he was obviously very good and had many lands of his own. an american qualification. hoban quickly headed to philadelphia to meet with washington. it was a successful meeting. a competition was held for the presidents house. it was fixed. [laughter] >> there were many curious entries. one had a thrown minute. -- a throne in it. all kinds of architects, one of them the great carver from new england.
but hoban won. washington won. they cut the plan down, the house would've been four times the size it is now. the plan called for a grand avenue outside decatur house. it came from three streets and joined as one with gates and the usual idea of a french palace. this did not work, but washington was going to have his house. he also realized it was more likely to be able to finish that house band of the capital. -- house than the capital. when the plans were made for reducing the house, he would not step back from the carving, that was important to him. that had to be kept. as hoban was an easy man to get along with, had different ways of doing this, it happened to be the way the world worked -- at a
meeting at the fountain inn, john scooter overheard one of the meetings and realized they were after stonecutters. he told them he had a cousin named williamson who was working in new york, from scotland. williamson hurried down and they turned the whole thing over to him, the whole project. although hoban was the head man. williamson was from the highlands. one of his recommendations was that he worked for a powerful landholding family. he had a patron who had a little
bit of a drinking problem, and they got finished with -- they got half finished with the house he was building for the daughters, and his son james took over the estate and took it to court and took away from him and fired williamson and hired the adam brothers. they were -- it was a modest country scottish mansion. it burned about 15 years ago. williamson also mentioned his patron. people in these days knew the upper-class in europe, they all knew about them. like we do movie stars, i guess. williamson took over. he was a personality, he was older than the other people involved, and he had an impatience that did not serve him well. but he built the basement around the white house with the beautiful rest of vacation -- rusticness. the commissioners, he and hoban, they just did not get along. williamson said that hoban hired every irish vagabond he came across to work on the place.
hoban did have trouble with workers. they came in in huge numbers and they were all average. williamson observed how they drank and cursed and partied all night, and there was even a brothel opened beside the white house on the grounds. it was very nice. [laughter] >> they went -- the commissioners were scandalized, and hoban went to the madam. they compromised by moving the brothel just outside of the grounds of the white house. [laughter] >> she continued in operation, and she was washington's first, i think. there was a lot of battling. hoban was no dummy.
there was a lot of battling. hoban was no dummy. he organized a militia and the workmen all joined it, if they didn't, they got a doctor. he mustered them every week. every sunday afternoon, they were mustered. if they did not please him, he finds them -- fined them. that's how he controlled the workmen. williamson cannot stand it. the commissioners thought williamson was too much trouble. they asked a friend, a scott from edinburgh, who lived in georgetown who had stores in philadelphia and georgetown, they asked him to take letters to europe for them.
they have tried this with the french and were advised, don't do it. the french will not like this, they will think the americans are meddling. so george walker, and very irritable old man, took the letters to edinburgh. his contact was dead. they had a friend in philadelphia who was a well-known stonemason, and a friend of jefferson, and he aspired to be a sculptor. he had great connections. he recommended this man in edinburgh who had died. the widow let him to other people, mainly to the masonic lodge, believed to be the oldest in the world there in edinburgh. and a sort of sub lodge within the major lodge, lodge number eight was operative, meaning
working stonemasons. here he found the 10 milligrams -- creme de la creme of stonemasons. they were working on a city development set down the hill, a beautiful neighborhood, flat carvings and so forth. if you were a stonemason or anybody, you had to build the front of the building as the adams brothers specified, then you could build the back like you wanted to and put it on the market. these men were real estate speculators. they had the wherewithal to do that and did it. the moratorium in 1793 of workmen, skilled workman of any kind, leaving britain, put them out of business. not really, they held on, but they had to get out and get some
income. they agreed with walker and came to america. i don't know how many totally came, but seven of them we know pretty much as individuals. they would have fled from the western coast of scotland. we know they landed in norfolk, and apparently walked washington. they were in good shape. [laughter] >> there they were. i would like to start with these lights now. -- these slides now. the upper circle is where washington was being built. down the potomac is a quiet creek which runs back end, it is navigable. later famous for a civil war
encounter, but in our case, there was a little corey there -- quarry there in operation since 1699. it was owned by the print -- brent family, old settlers, associated with maryland and mistress brent, who did minded -- who demanded the right to do business. she was granted the governor's business. she is one of the legends. she owned it. george washington was a patron. george washington had doorsteps made it there, favors made and all sorts of things. these are pretty random.
this is the original contract. the commissioners are so glad to get a stonemason. here is a quiet query -- quiet creek where it was dug out. backt of mountain of stone where you see. they have started taking the stone out of it and they would creek and putthe and pull it up the river. when it got to washington, there was a special stone landing on the creek.
the stones were lifted up and they put them to the building side. please remember the stones were extremely heavy and they had none of the conveniences we do. quarry again. the we have a tree root running through. the first issue was splitting the stones. here's the only house i know of that was ever built out of it. that is replaced today by limestone. oh my heavens it was so deteriorated in 1976 that they replaced it with limestone in the registry -- in the restoration.
general braddock came here. carlislee home of john , one of the leading people of alexandria. the general, heading for what became the french and indian war , state there. inonderful thing happened 1976, the papers were found. it was kind of legendary by that time. john carlisle said he ate him and ranouse and home him to the ground. there he met with a young george washington. washington went out king street and to the ohio river. the house is still there in alexandria.
if you can forgive the limestone, please see it if you can. christchurch in alexandria church of england was built with a trim of sandstone. it always had trouble with the weather. still practicing church. this is where george washington two churches. of a country church near mount vernon and this one, christchurch. and remind you inside of what you would see in bermuda or barbados. i urge you to see it if possible.
wrong,ne something there, we are all right. there we go. they have split between two .ocks, to stones this is stafford county. it is a highly desirable residential area. it, theseas they left were rejected stones all over the place. evidence of their work, and now they did it. here are some of the sketches the association had done. six, probably six, but they ordered iron spikes.
he drives these in and naturally splits the rock. as the rockets reduced to the , big papers that never survive. both here and at a quiet park, you can see it on the government island. see where the spikes went down. they drove it down and poured water on it. usually the split was pretty good, pretty smooth. carrie are on some drawings. he said there would have been .ix oxen
i don't know. this was his stone and a very simple cream. it slants down to the creek and they were loading onto the stone boats. polled along. the current potomac is very strong. so they got as much out of the current as they could. , theis the building site carvers and the stone dressers. they were again in evaluating. williamson --john they were thrown out. these are the accepted ones in the excepted size. the rest was rough.
here he is carving. , he is fascinating to me has the drawing, these drawings to work by state. thereould have the border . it might be for stones. was all fitted together and it looks like one carving. there were not many tools documented. byst two tools were brought blacksmiths in georgetown. and they ordered hundreds of chisels.
here is a chisel, which is a way of cutting down the stone. mallet, there wasn't a lot else. there are huge numbers of this place. they were carving anionic capital. wind.g the base of the here is my favorite picture. it shows the moldings and a banker mark right here. wasn't known until the 1950's. when they finished a job there were paid by payment.
it was trying to put them on wages and they wouldn't hear it. they wanted to be on measurement. that is just a quick example. egypt, back to egypt probably further than that. thank you. piece beforelong the work was done. though fired, they came back many times. they agree that whatever he said would be the price. upon byld be agreed hoping.
they measured and figured out the cubic content of the work and the quality of the work. it was only disputable in court. apparently it was handled very well. the scots didn't this may hate like the irish. -- didn't miss behave like the irish. they took care of everything themselves. restorationing the the different levels of work. so the house was built.
here is a print from the garden library at oak spring, which is introduced in 1780 and created a great sensation. it'll let you fight gardeners in europe. stonecutters, from chuck jones and his work, adapted this. this is the trademark they left at the white house. it's everywhere. and they are a bit windblown. this is a 14 foot swag over the fancied,r but i always general washington love the
carving so much. put as everything as you can .magine in this carving it was the finest example known in the united states for many years. today you leave the white house and you don't see it. most people don't turn around and look. so there is the rose up close. it set them up as gardeners in a world very much interested in gardening then in europe. rose thathe first wasn't flat. it was the first one like this, and the pride of scotland.
and he see the fine work on the house, the plasters. i think in this corner, the house has plasters like that on the three sides, but not on the front. the front is smooth. . the carving we see with an -- the corn we see with the arched window. cornice we see with the arched window. here is the south portico. this was built after the rest of the house, it was finished in 1824. funnily enough, when it was cleaned -- come on, now. when it was cleaned in the 1980's, the stone suddenly turned red. it was from the cynical quarry -- seneca quarry of the potomac.
a lot of it was used on the house and later additions, but it turned red and became the famous washington brownstone that you see around on the buildings, people loved it. the smithsonian building was built out of it, the oldcastle. undaunted, hoban just did it white. -- just painted it white. [laughter] >> this is the north portico. this was long planned. people look at the virginia capital and of jefferson, hoban claimed he did it, drawings of it. charles bulfinch had something to do with it, the famous boston
architect. this is all stone from bottom to top and was added after the fire. is that the last one? maybe it is. the house was finished in 1798 and whitewashed. it was whitewashed to secure the stone and philippa craddock's -- fill the crack's so that in the winter, it would not split. it would wash off and leave the cracks with thick whitewash. the scots actually published it in the local newspaper. no president i guess wants to live in a dirty house, so it was whitewashed again. after the fire, the fire in the british invasion of 1814, the house was so blackened, james madison insisted the house be
rebuilt as it was. he called it a repair, politically, because the capital, many people wanted to move the capital to cincinnati. the rivers were open, cincinnati was crowned the queen city by location with the sea. two locations by the sea. they wanted to do that, and madison was terrified, he wanted the city repaired so they repaired to the city. holden was very careful. someone else was hired, but he was impossible to get along with, he kept doing drawings for elaborate interiors and things
and madison was very practical and it did not do. hoban was brought back, and the intricacy to which he takes the smutty stones. the north is greatly rebuilt. one of those window hoods might have 15 pieces of them, some of them black. the one in the basement that the ambassador is talking about, they kept. it has never been covered. the house was rebuilt, occupied by james monroe at a time he called the era of good feeling, it were to be no more political parties. [laughter] >> monroe made a national tour, he was a francophile, and
ordered all of his furniture from parish -- from paris. he really lifted up, chandeliers and the whole works. washington would have loved. [laughter] >> the house went on, build, rebuilt, reused. as we heard earlier, democracy plate is part -- played its part in the use of the house. normally houses in america were not this big. the ceremony they did not want, but finally had to do. staff was hired, sometimes 30, sometimes 15. and the house lived on. it served for the rest of the century. sort of paralleling -- washington in the constitution was an extremely powerful figure.
this was cut down and the election of 1800 and cut down variously from that time on until 1898 and the spanish-american war, when prevacid -- president mckinley, one of the most significant presidents almost forgotten, retained for his war power, the status of power known to washington. the house survived all those years, just sort of the house, like the house of a banker in an american city somewhere. in 1902, president theodore roosevelt, looking for a new image, mckinley was assassinated. this young man came to office, a young and vigorous man, living publicity and loving to be around. he ordered the house restored. it wasn't really restored. but the stone walls were not harmed. there was a lot of damage to the basement.
it was repaired. 50 years later, president harry truman and the secret service faced the problem of danger, the floors squeaked, and the architect in the enlargement of the state dining room in 1902 used tire rods -- a enlarged the room, and he used them to screw the ceiling into the wooden timbers of the attic. in 1925, the attic was torn off and replaced and not much attention was given to that. so the ceiling sank. i took -- i talked to an engineer, and he said the east room ceiling had dropped in the
middle almost 30 inches and the dining room more. it could have fallen at any time. hi they were faced with that. and the security issue. president truman ordered the white house -- he researched it. he loved the symbol of the stone house washington have built. he ordered the house gutted, and we built inside of steel and concrete, and that was done. he protected the stone walls because they needed to take a dump truck and a bulldozer in today's to sub basements -- two big -- to dig two sub basements. he happened to come by when they were trying to air hammer a door wider to get through. stop, he said. both dump truck and bulldozer were taken down, carried through the doorway, and rebuilt inside. president truman also, every day he was at blair house, he also moved to cross the street to blair house for this process, although it did not affect the
west wing. he would walk around and he began to notice the banker marks. we saw one, they are ancient in building. a building men might carry his mark through generations, a little change here or there, but it is his mark. that's how he identified his work. the whole inside was covered with them. truman was so excited. being a mason, and believe me, it did not hurt with george washington or truman that these stonemasons were masons. he ordered a number of the stones withdrawn and replaced, and sent one to every masonic lodge in the united states, canada, and mexico for their museums. they are all available to be
seen, and they are very proud of them. we were not able to get one. he should have sent them to scotland. [laughter] >> the house was rebuilt in steel and concrete, but by no means bomb proof. every room was a cage. they worked hard. it is strong, but not bombproof for our time. in the 1980's, president carter authorized a cleaning of the white house stone. it would not hold paint anymore.
it was being painted every year, and that was bad. under the direction of james mcdaniel, still a board member here, not that old -- [laughter] >> a board member here, under his direction and research, they developed a means of cleaning the stone, preserving the stone, and it is copied everywhere now. the stonemasons were mostly italian, coming from the cathedral. the house was taken down, repaired and repainted with a spray gun, horrifying. a modern spray gun. there is a light coat of paint on the house, but it is not white, is a pale yellow. and the white house is there, we hope, for the ages.
thank you. [applause] watch american history tv this weekend on c-span3. highlights include today at 6 p.m. eastern on the civil war, the constitution and secession. and at 8 p.m. on lectures in history. p.m., on railamerica at 4 salute to the canadian army. then white house art. watch american history tv on c-span3. >> we are outside cafe dumond in the french quarter where we are learning about the cities french