Restoration of Whitmore Hall
During the 18th century the first floor of the Old State House was largely an open hall, with a row of columns down the middle and two stairways with small offices beneath them, dividing the expanse approximately into thirds. Now known as Whitmore Hall, this space served as a merchants’ exchange, and in this capacity also served as a place to exchange news and political views, particularly about the actions of the legislature and the Royal Governor upstairs. During the 19th century, two partition walls were erected to divide the space on the east end of the first floor. There was a wall crossing north to south dividing the space in half, and then an east-west wall on one side of the north-south wall. Those walls, however, were shortened in 1903, after construction of the subway station beneath this part of the building required that the first floor be raised.
|Whitmore Hall, looking NE before restoration|
After receiving approval, the project got underway in early 2009. We opened up a few exploratory holes in the ceiling of the space, and what we found surprised us. On one hand, we confirmed that the partition walls definitely were not load-bearing. On the other hand, we found that the ceiling had pulled away from the joists by as much as four inches.
|Whitmore Hall, looking NE after restoration|
Removing the old plaster allowed us to examine and document the ceiling’s support system, including four 13” x 13” wooden girders spanning about 34 feet, dating to 1748. One is spaced between each window, spanning from the north wall to the south wall, throughout the first floor. The girders are among the building’s oldest surviving architectural elements, and the four in this section of the building were in quite good shape. One girder had to be repaired and sistered with steel I-beams as it had been previously cut and patched with wood. As part of the project, we installed a viewing panel to allow visitors to see one of these massive old beams for themselves.
We even left clues as to how the room had been previously divided:
- The Douglas Fir floor boards that run perpendicular to the rest of the floor to signify the wall that once ran east-west through the space.
- The furthest east column was left unique and does not match the others, as it was installed at a later date and is a reminder of the division.
- We chose not to continue the center beam that runs along the column line in Whitmore Hall, but the termination of it will be a trace of the former division.
- The “floor rail” in the old Preservation Room was retained along the east and north walls as a reminder of the space having once been used for an office.
Check back next week for our final installment of our Preservation Month series!
By Matt Ottinger, Director of Facilities and Historic Preservation