“Forests were the first temples of God and in forests men grasped their first idea of architecture.” James C. Snyder

east frontispiece

Mount Pleasant East Frontispiece

“Where columns are turned out of the solid, charge according to the trouble of procuring the stuff, sawing them off, hewing, and attendance on the boring, turning and fixing them up.”

Articles of the Carpenters Company of Philadelphia: And Their Rules for Measuring and Valuing House-Carpenters Work, Philadelphia, 1786

Interior columns were glued up. The Carpenters Company Rule Book states “Glewing (sic) up columns of plank to any of the orders” @ 2 shillings, 9 pence per foot.

Abraham Swan describes and illustrates that process in The British Architect .

Swan column

Abraham Swan, “The British Architect”, London, 1745, pl. 16

Glue joints visible on the columns in the hall of the Pennsylvania State House after paint had been removed from the woodwork confirm this type of construction of interior columns.

State House

Pennsylvania State House, center hall.

But exterior columns, including the four massive columns in the two frontispieces at Mount Pleasant, needed to be solid as the joints of glued-up planks would not survive being subjected to weather. Trees needed to be felled, hewn close to the final shape, turned, brought to the site, and installed.

As seen in the State house columns, bases and  capitals were most often made as separate elements from the shaft. The bases of the columns at Mount Pleasant were lost more than a hundred years ago, likely the result of rot. They are already missing in this stereoview of the east front made in the late nineteenth century.


Mount Pleasant, stereoview c. 1885

The bases were poorly restored in the early twentieth century.


Mount Pleasant east frontispiece columns and restored bases and plinths.

In addition to the restored bases lacking the correct Doric Order, the original plinths were most likely stone as seen in these surviving exterior columns in Philadelphia.

The modern bases were removed to examine the extent of restoration and the condition of the columns and wood samples were taken from all four columns for microscopic analysis to identify the wood species of the shafts.

east column base

Mount Pleasant east frontispiece, north column with restored base removed.

This is a view looking up at the end grain of the bottom of the shaft of the column. The tightly spaced annual rings that are perfectly concentric denote a tree from an old growth forest that grew perfectly straight. Trees like this don’t exist anymore in the Delaware River Valley but were still available to carpenters and joiners one hundred years after British colonization.

end grain

Mount Pleasant east frontispiece north column. A rabbet was planed down on edge of the column shaft to fit over the rustication framing boards.

At least at the bottom of the shaft there was no hollowing of the tree. We don’t know if there was wood removed higher up. Since a log shrinks evenly towards the center, the columns are still perfectly round but slightly smaller in diameter then when they were installed.

column end grain

Mount Pleasant east frontispiece north column.

Counting the annual rings tells us these Red Pine trees had germinated by the middle of the sixteenth century, possibly in Pennsylvania, but just as likely in New Jersey. While an unimaginable use of material today, the ability to successfully spec and source “stuff” including the four perfect trees procured for the columns, was one of the motivations in hiring a leading member of the highly organized and influential Carpenters Company. Another was that that carpenter would have access to the best journeymen available in the city. On May 3, 1764, Thomas Nevell credited one of his journeymen, James Guy, 26 pounds for building the “Front frontish Piece Door”.

front frontispiece and window

Account Book of Thomas Nevell, pg 63.

The original design of the column bases is easily determined. The Doric Order screen framing the stair just beyond the the frontispiece door, contains two pilasters nearly identical in size to the frontispiece columns.

Doric pilaster

Mount Pleasant first story Doric pilaster.

East Front

Mount Pleasant east front

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