Once he’d finished the exterior of our house, Sweetheart turned his artistry to the inside. The picture posted here shows the antique wood floor he laid and the wood stove hearth and two-story river rock wall he created. Here’s his story about the wood floor that added some genuine American history to our home.
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Among the many choices we faced when designing our farmhouse was flooring. While the kitchen and baths needed to be vinyl, the living and dining rooms needed something that spoke of the farmhouse era. This led to a search for reclaimed lumber.
The choices for used/reclaimed flooring on eBay were/are fantastic! I filtered the selections by date and cost, and found a "lot" of flooring from an 1882 Chicago warehouse that seemed to fit the bill. An email exchange with the seller revealed that this was indeed from an old warehouse that had just been torn down, and some of the planks likely dated back before the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Being a cow person myself, the connection with Mrs. O’Leary’s bovine was irresistible.
I also learned that the planks were Long Leaf (or Longleaf) Pine, pinus palustris, or Marsh Pine, also known as the "Pride of the South." This wonderful pine was the dominant species along the Eastern Seaboard when America was colonized, admired for its beauty and usefulness. Of Longleaf, the writer Janisse Ray said "What thrills me most about longleaf is how the pine trees sing. Horizontal limbs of flattened crowns hold the wind as if they are vessels, singing bowls, and stir in them like a whistling kettle."
Unfortunately for palustris, its long, straight, knot-free wood saw much—most—of it cut down and put to work for everything from ship’s masts to furniture—and flooring. Thus some wound up in that long-ago Illinois warehouse, where it shortly headed for us, freight collect.
When it arrived at the freight forwarder, we hadn’t even finished framing the house, so I moved the "lot" to our temporary home’s living room for safekeeping. It wasn’t promising. All the planks were covered with 120 years of paint and yecch, and all were filled with hand-made nails.
So when it came time to lay the floor, the first thing we needed to do was clean up our find. To that end, my beloved Sunny located "someone with a portable mill." That someone turned out to be a pair of mountain men, who arrived in an ancient flatbed Ford, on whose bed rested a planer from the Museum of Tool Technology and four cases of beer. I hooked up the planer to 240 volts while they started on the beer…
One week and untold recyclables later, we had ready-to-lay flooring. Almost ready. As it turned out, this was early tongue-and-groove, which was to say "inconsistent." Every plank’s tongue and every plank’s groove differed in size and location. Two weeks of mix-and-match finally yielded a flat, tight floor, with exactly two square feet left over. A coat of urethane brought out Longleaf’s beautiful grain. And if you look closely, you can still find the square ends of some of those handmade nails, planed cleanly.
It’s a wonderful floor. Thank you, Marsh Pine.