McGuffey House Architecture: Brickwork

There are several physical characteristics that suggest McGuffey House's early 19th century provenance. It is the only known 19th century residential building in Oxford that exhibits Flemish bond masonry [Figure 1] on three of its four elevations [Elliott Hall is unique in that all four elevations were laid in Flemish bond].

Flemish Bond

Figure 1: Flemish bond

Queens Closers

Figure 2: Queen closers

Jack Arch Lintels

Figure 3: Jack Arch Lintels

This is highly unusual in Ohio and suggests the walls were built by an experienced brick mason. Flemish bond masonry required considerable skill to lay, and formed a stronger interlocking bearing wall than the more ubiquitous common bond. In Flemish bond brickwork, the short face of the brick is called the header and the side or long face of the brick is referred to as the stretcher. Note the small portions of brick near the corners of the walls. These are called queen closers [Figure 2]. Another indicator of early nineteenth construction are the brick jack arch lintels [Figure 3] over the windows.

MortarAnother indicator of the house's early 19th century origins are the bricks themselves. They tend to be smaller and less uniform in shape, texture and color than 20th century bricks. To observe this first-hand, compare the brickwork on McGuffey House to the bricks on Warfield Hall (1962), a mid-20th century building to the east. Several of the bricks in the gable end of McGuffey House and on the wall in the back room are darker color. These variations and imperfections are a result of the way the bricks were fired in a beehive kiln. The green bricks were stacked around the fire, thus those bricks nearest the fire tended to be darker and harder than those along the outside walls. The harder bricks were reserved for the outside walls while the softer bricks formed the interior walls.

Figure 4: Mortar

The bricks were bonded together with a traditional lime mortar [Figure 4] consisting of lime and sand. By the late 19th century natural cement and later Portland cement were used in place of lime. Mortar joints using cement tend to be gray in color whereas the traditional lime based mortars are usually tan. When the McGuffey House was rehabilitated in 2001, an effort was made to make mortar repairs using the more traditional sand and lime mixture.


Figure 5: Lintel

The walls exist to support the roof, the floors and the contents of the house. Wherever there are window and door openings the load bearing capacity of the walls is diminished. House builders employed lintels [Figure 5] as a way of deflecting the weight, or load away from the top of the window frames and doors and distribute the weight toward and down the walls.

Before 1830 brick lintels laid vertically, or jack arches, were used; afterward sawn stone replaced brick for use in most window lintels. The sawn stone lintels on McGuffey House were likely later modifications to the house, most certainly after 1840 when steam powered saws were available.

The foundation is constructed of locally quarried and hand chiseled limestone. Note the stonecutter's hand-tooled chisel marks on the stone. Given the considerable weight of brick and stone, both materials were probably quarried and kilned close to the site. It was rare, however, that bricks were molded and kilned on site. We do know Oxford had for many years a large brickyard and that most likely is where the bricks for McGuffey House, and the town's pre-1860 bricks, were manufactured. Stone and brick were commonly used as foundation materials until replaced by concrete during the first quarter of the 20th century.

Stephen Gordon, Curator
Fall 2006

Continue to Windows and Doors »