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The Graden Dairy House at Mount Lubentia

The Graden Dairy House at Mount Lubentia

Among the significant outbuildings still standing on the grounds of Mount Lubentia is an octagonal eighteenth century dairy house, now sitting about 50 yards north of the house and in ruinous condition. The dairy house was originally located at Graden, a Berry family plantation several miles north of Mount Lubentia; it is listed there in the 1798 Federal Tax Assessment for Prince George’s (P.G.) County1 In the 1970s Forrest Bowie, then owner of Mount Lubentia, moved the dairy house from Graden at the time when the US Air Arena was being built on the Graden site. (The Arena has now been replaced by the Boulevard at Cap Center shopping mall.)

The dairy house move was executed in two stages five years apart. The wooden structure itself was moved in November 1970. For unknown reasons, it was not until 1975 that the brick foundation and floor of the structure were taken apart and moved to Mount Lubentia, where the bricks have been stored ever since. Both the 1970 move and the 1975 removal of the brick foundation were documented with photographs by Forrest Bowie; copies of the photos are appended to this report. Also appended are Forrest Bowie’s drawings of the drain system in the floor of the structure, and papers related to the transfer of the building to Mount Lubentia.

The National Register of Historic Places listing for Mount Lubentia, in its description of the property (by P .G. County historian Susan Pearl) notes, “Also on the property and of significance in and of itself is the octagonal frame dairy which was moved onto the property in the 1970s. The dairy is the best surviving example of an architecturally conscious domestic outbuilding of the 18th century in the county, and possibly in the state.”2 A recent article in Colonial Williamsburg magazine, discussing dairy and milk houses in the Tidewater region, features the Graden dairy as an outstanding example of its kind. 3 John Michael Vlach states in Back of the Big House, ” … dairy buildings were exceptional elements in the built landscape. A dairy was thus an architectural emblem signaling the wealth of the planter class.”4 The Graden dairy fits this description and is unusual in several respects – in its shape, in its degree of finish, and notably in its asymmetrical, shuttered and latticed window openings.

It is this last feature of the Graden dairy that most puzzles me. Why , in a building with a high degree of sophistication, built during a period when exterior symmetry was so important, are the window openings sandwiched into the corners of the sides, with one opening missing altogether? Why for that matter are there windows, instead of the usual long horizontal openings with slats or latticework? The window placement is dictated by the way in which the frame was built. The fact that the principal vertical supports, or posts, were located in the middle of each side, rather than at the corners, dictated that the window openings would have to be offset, rather than centered on the sides. But why was this post placement chosen? This is not typical practice in post and beam construction. Normally the posts would be located in the corners of the octagon, particularly since the main cross beams rest on the plates at the corners, not at the midpoint of the sides. I have never encountered a structure framed in the manner. Is it a result of local building practice, a technique that originated in a particular area of England where the joiner or his ancestors came from, or is it simply the whim of a particular builder? As to windows rather than high horizontal openings, there are a few precedents for this. Olmert in his article gives a couple of examples and Vlach a sites a notable dairy with windows at Folly Plantation, Augusta County, Virginia. Closer to home, Orlando Ridout of the Maryland Historical Trust sent me a photo several years ago of a small outbuilding, similar to the Graden dairy, in Sandy Springs, Montgomery County, Maryland. But the windows in these buildings are all symmetrical.

The Structure
The Graden dairy house is a frame structure, octagonal in shape, twelve feet across with an eave overhang of one foot, for an outside diameter of fourteen feet. It is sheathed with wide southern pine boards, beaded and lapped, which range from ten to fifteen inches in width. Each side is five feet long and eight feet from eave to foundation. The dairy has latticed windows with exterior board and batten shutters on six sides (Photos DH 7, 13, 22) and one completely sheathed side, with a door, opening inward, centered in the remaining side. The windows are offset rather than being centered on the sides to accommodate the principal posts, which are at the midpoint of each side (DH 37), providing principal support for the top plates. Posts are joined to sills and plates with mortise and tenon joints. Studs are tenoned into the top plates and nailed to the sills. Sills are also joined with pegged mortise and tenons.
The building was originally nogged with brick and plastered inside.

The ceiling structure is quite elaborate, with two heavy cross beams or girts, which are lapped at the center and joined (m &t) with four horizontal struts about 16″ out from the center. Twelve ceiling joists extend from these struts to the ends of the eaves (DH 24, 27). Girts and joists lapped onto the plates, but not fastened with pegs or nails (DH 19), and support the roof.

where water was carried in from a nearby well and poured into a trough containing crocks of milk that ran around the perimeter of the dairy floor. This would seem to describe the construction of the Graden dairy floor.

The ceiling was lathed and plastered inside the quadrants of the principal beams, leaving about two inches of the cross beams exposed. These exposed surfaces were beaded on the comers
(DH 24).

The roof rafters extend from the top of a central post, which is mortised into the cross beams and secured with a wrought iron strap wrapped around the beams. (DH 26) The roof rafters are nailed to the central post at the top (DH 28) and extend to the ends of the ceiling rafters where they are nailed to false plates which sit on the ends of the joists and beams. (DH 17, 23,
25).There are rafters at each comer and in the middle of each section for a total of sixteen rafters. The roof was sheathed with riven oak boards, overlapped at the comers and spaced for wood shakes. (DH 23, 28). The original roof had been replaced at least two times, as there were both wrought and cut nails remaining in the sheathing boards. An asphalt shingle roof was in place when the building was moved in 1970.

The structure originally sat about a foot and a half above grade over a brick pit with drain which was 38 inches below the sills (DH 8, 9, 10). A wide, lapped shelf of pine boards, now mostly rotted, sat on top of the sills around seven sides of the building (DH 14, 15), and a shelf, hanging down about 30 inches, was suspended from the principal cross beams DH 36, 37, 38). Almost all of the structural elements of the dairy house are original (see appendix B), including framing, siding, roof sheathing, hardware and nails, but significant sections are rotted or missing.

The Restoration
The Graden dairy is currently (January 2006) in the process of stabilization and restoration. New sills of pressure-treated yellow pine have been installed, and missing or damaged framing elements are being duplicated or repaired. These include two of the posts and one of the plates, as well as sections of several ceiling joists. In each case wood of the same species as the original has been used . (See Appendix B) Structural epoxy has also been used to repair sections of beams, plates, joists, studs and posts. Windows with their lattice and shutters and the door have been removed and stored until they are restored and reinstalled. The roof rafters and post have also been removed and stored. Several of the rafters need to be repaired or replaced, but the post and strap securing it are in good shape and will be reinstalled. (See photos DH40-67)

The building now sits on concrete piers, awaiting relocation this spring to a different site on the property a few yards north and west of its current location. This will place the dairy at the end of an allee of American boxwoods on an axis with the rear porch.

The complete restoration of the Graden dairy is a long range project. Elements of the restoration, i.e. rebuilding of the foundation and brick floor with drains, and the replastering of the interior, will be dependent on obtaining grants to accomplish the work. The short range goal is stabilization, and restoring the exterior of the frame structure to its original appearance. The following tasks will be undertaken in the next year or so:
1. Moving the structure to a site north and west of its current placement and placing it on concrete piers for further work.
2. Rebuilding of the roof structure using existing parts and replacements of like material.
3. Installation of a wood shingle roof by a roofing contractor specializing in historic structures. Bids are being obtained.
4. Repair and reinstallation of the window frames and shutters, including reproduction of missing or damaged HL hinges.
5. Replacement of siding, eaves and soffits with new material of the same form and dimensions. Poplar boards are currently being air dried for this purpose by the owner, and will be lapped and beaded as the originals. Original wrought nails, salvaged from the building, will be used to attach this material whenever possible.
6. Painting the structure with white paint to duplicate appearance in 1970, when it was moved to Mount Lubentia.

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