The Devil Queen

How my wife and I sold our souls to the Queen Anne Victorian we tried to save.

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Location: Crow Mountain, Arkansas, United States

Synopsis: This is a cautionary tale. A seriously disturbed couple find the charming, old ruin of a Queen Anne Victorian in Russellville, Arkansas, and buy it for $1.00. They tore the roof off, cut it in half, and had it moved to some land they owned sixteen miles away because they didn't know any better. Since then, they have hired and fired contractors, had all of their tools stolen, re-wired, re-plumbed, insulated, and essentially rebuilt the entire house. Their only problem is that after four years it still isn't finished. Now they are tired, broke, and wonder what in the hell it is they've done to themselves. And, it's haunted.
(Last updated on April 3, 2008)

Press: Russellville Courier Article - December 2003, HGTV website article, AP story - October 2006, and Victorian Homes Magazine - February 2008 (link coming soon).
Art: From time to time, I receive requests for my art. If you would like to look at more of my art, go to The Failed Artist. If you would like to buy my art, email me. I am more than happy to answer any questions you might have. Thanks!

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Anatomy of a Wall

Eric thanks for the questions. I hope this post answers them.

First, the walls (interior & exterior) of the Devil Queen are 100% wood. Here is a rough diagram of the how her walls are put together.


The wall studs of the Devil Queen are pine, true 2x4’s. On the exterior side of the wall, beveled lap siding was nailed to the studs (double nailed incase any one is interested). The interior walls are made from 3/4” thick, tongue-in-groove wall boards. This construction leaves hollow pockets between the studs & the interior/exterior surfaces. The wiring, plumbing, etc are run through these pockets just like a modern house.

I’m not sure how prevalent this style of construction is. In my person experience, it is predominately found in the South in lower to middle class homes. Most of the upper middle class and upper class homes seem to have plaster & lathe construction vs. the tongue-in-groove wood. Every old home I’ve personally seen in the Arkansas River Valley is built with this kind of construction. The only houseblogger with this construction that I’ve seen is Kristin over at 1902 Victorian. Greg at the Petch House has found a peculiar version of this construction: tongue & groove wallboards modified to serve as a heavy duty lathe for a plaster wall (his kitchen stairway I believe).

I’ve searched for other examples of his construction online, in books, and in person and found very little. George Nash’s Renovating Old Houses makes no mention of it. I didn’t find any reference to it at the National Registry website’s preservation briefs. Even books on the Old South focus almost entirely on the ante bellum plantation houses and not the Everyman’s home.

The interior wall boards were never meant to be the finished wall surface (with the exception of the kitchen which has tongue-in-groove beadboard that was painted several times and never wallpapered). When the house was originally built, canvas was stretched until taut over the walls and tacked into place. A layer of wallpaper was glued to the canvas as the final, finished surface. As years passed, new layers of wallpaper we laid over one another until around the 1970’s. At this point, the wallpaper and canvas were beginning to crumble with age. Instead of tearing it all down and starting from scratch, they covered it with ¼” drywall or wood paneling.

We’ve spent years tearing out all these different layers of stuff off the walls. Once we reached the original tongue-in-groove wallboards, we had to decide what came next. Our options were:

1) Tear out the wallboards and replace them with standard sheet rock & insulating the walls with rolled bats from the inside.
2) Do a modern approximation of the canvas & wallpaper wall covering
3) Clean the wood and oil it with Danish Oil or varnish/shellac it
4) Paint the wood.

Option 1 was never really an option. I was too invasive in our opinion. Option 2 didn’t really excite us though it was probably the most historically appropriate. Option 3 was tempting. The problem is that since the wood walls were never intended to be a finished surface, the carpentry was shoddy in some place (huge gaps, cracked board, etc). Sections of several walls would need to be pulled out and rebuilt.

This left us with Option 4. I feel pretty good about this choice, but I still sometimes wonder if it was the best option. On upside, if someone comes along after us, they can always revert back to historically accurate canvas & wallpaper without anyone ever knowing what lies beneath.

Since dining room has tongue-in-groove beadboard, it will be the only exception. We’re going to Danish Oil two of the walls and paint the third one as an accent wall (it was in too rough of shape to oil).

As for our color schemes, the only painted room in the house is the kitchen. Yes, we really did paint two walls in our kitchen purple on purpose. The other two walls are painted “Sand” and the ceiling is white. I might also mention that our camera refuses to take a picture of the purple that is true to life. For some reason it looks bluer than it really is. The base boards and trim are all going to be white as well. The purple will probably not be nearly as forceful once all the appliances are installed. The refrigerator and stove will cover a lot of it.

The master bedroom and bathroom will have green walls with white ceilings (the master bath will have white wainscoting too). The hall and my son’s room will be blue with white ceilings, and the living room will be . . . robustly red.

Just wait until you see the colors we’ve picked for the exterior of the Queen. She’ll definitely be a woman who cannot be ignored.

5 Comments:

Blogger Greg said...

A real popular method for lower and middle income homes in this area is just plain planks nailed horizontally. No T&G, just the planks butted up against each other. You see that a lot out here. After that they do the canvas and wallpaper just as in your home. In my last house (1875) the walls in the dining room were 1" X 36" planks!

Another method I've seen is board on board with no studs. On one side the boards will be horizontal and on the other vertical. This is found in small, rustic homes.

1:21 PM  
Anonymous Ron said...

I think your ideas about the lower class cheap housing in the south is right on. From what I know, this type of construction is used because, if your illustration is correct, they eliminated one entire layer by putting the sheathing on the inside. This gave them a semi-finished interior surface and save a pile of labor and material. Sine for the most part in many places in the south they are not too worried about keeping air movement out of the system this was not a problem. In the north this would be a big problem. Renovating these houses can be a problem though. If some people do what you mentioned in one of your options of removing the interior boards, it could be disastrous. Those boards are probably acting as the shear walls, or a major portion of that, and if it is replaced by sheetrock, that has no shear strength; you can have a major major problem. Insulating that system can also bring problems that might not be immediately apparent. Changing the airflow system of that type of house can cause some big mold and rot problem down the road. I think your approach is probably the smartest option

3:40 PM  
Blogger amanda said...

My uncle (not blood uncle, married to my mom's sister) is from the Virginia Mountains, in Pembroke, VA. I had the pleasure of going with him and some of the rest of his family to his grandparents house a few years ago. It was a terrifyingly dilapidated old farmhouse on several acres of beautiful, beautiful land, near the top of a mountain. The walls in that house were made of walnut tongue and groove boards, with lots and lots of old gaps. My uncle told me that he had helped his father replace some rotten beams under the porch when he was a teenager (in the 1950s) and when they pulled them out, they discovered that they were solid walnut. My uncle does replica woodwork now (in Arkansas, actually, but very far from you in Piggott) and he said that he'd kill to get beautiful walnut like that now. I imagine that the pine wasn't as prevalent on the mountain, and so they just used what was available. My uncle was extremely distressed that his family had painted over all the old tongue and groove wallboards, but he doesn't own the house now, so there was nothing he could say. I didn't think much of the construction until you posted this. Where I grew up in South Carolina, there weren't too many really old buildings- I think that much of it was destroyed in the Civil War, and then little was rebuilt until the late 1800s or early 1900s. There were some gorgeous old huge, ornate Queen Annes downtown, then the little houses on the mill hill, and tons and tons of bungalows, but not really any houses in between, so I can't comment on their construction methods. Anyway, thanks for the interesting perspective.

5:53 PM  
Blogger John said...

Greg,

The house we salvaged for the Devil Queen had some of the horizontal planks you mention. It looked like they ran out of t-in-g and just used what ever was available.

1" x 36" planks! Wow. Where they Redwood?

I've never heard of board on board before. Sounds pretty wild.

Ron,

Thanks for the comment. You made some good points which I overlooked. I'm going to address some of those issues in full post. Thanks for giving me something to think about.

Nightmare,

That is pretty amazing about the walnut. I think you're right about them using what was available. Arkansas had a lot of pine (other stuff too but a majority of it seems to have been exported).

The Civil War was hard on local architecture here too (the old county seat, Dover, was burned to the ground) though probably not as bad as the rest of the South.

Neglect probably finished off whatever was left in the mean time. A lot of the Everyman farmhouses, sharecropper shacks, etc were held in even lower esteem than other old home types. At somepoint they just fall in (my in-laws old homestead did after 40 years of vacancy).

7:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post. Thanks very much for the information. I had no idea this construction style existed.

--Eric

1:59 PM  

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