The Case of a Missing Staircase

//The Case of a Missing Staircase

The Case of a Missing Staircase

There has always been some question about whether a staircase was ever built in the dining room of the George Rapp House.  It shows up on all four of the original 1820s floor plans, but the staircase for that part of the house has always seemed to have been in the hallway next to the dining room.  The hall staircase shows up in an 1895 floor plan by Elise Mercur Wagner.  Beyond that date, it was anyone’s guess – until now.  The plaster ceiling had become unkeyed from the lath underneath and needed to be repaired.  The ceiling appeared very bumpy, especially in the area of the possible past staircase.  This repair job allowed us to investigate what was underneath the plaster.  We definitely found evidence of a staircase.  Follow our story of discovery below.

The following four plans for the George Rapp house were drawn by a member (or members) of the Harmony Society.  This was most likely Frederick Rapp, the adopted son of leader George Rapp and an architect and mason.  They all date to the 1820s, and were probably drawn to show George what Frederick was thinking during the construction of George’s house.  He would probably have drawn one, discussed it with George, and then redrew it to reflect the changes desired.  (Interestingly, there are no existing drawings of Frederick’s house, probably because he didn’t need any for his own house.)  None of the drawings show what is in existence today, but they may give clues to what was built originally.  Each of the four plans show the curved staircase carved out of George Rapp’s formal dining room, which is the upper left room in the main block of four rooms.  None of the drawings tell the direction of the staircase.

06-72-17-25 Rapp House floor plan

06-72-17-12 Rapp House floor plan

06-72-17-15 Rapp House floor plan

06-72-17-7 Rapp House floor plan

The next floor plan was drawn by Elise Mercur Wagner in 1895.  It shows that the staircase was in the hallway by this time, not in the dining room.  The dining room is also noted as the “Girls Room.”

1895 floor plan

116 N 4In 1962, Charles Stotz took out the straight staircase in the hallway and turned it around to face the other direction.  He did this because he remembered John Duss saying something about turning the staircase (or could it have been a turned staircase, ie. the curved staircase that was removed?).  However now it makes no sense.  We know that staircases would have faced the front of the house, which is the Church Street side, which also is the side that has double doors, also an indication that this was the front of the house.  The other door in the hallway is a single door and leads to the garden.  In the photograph to the left, you can see the markings of the staircase in the direction it used to face pre-1962 under the current staircase (post 1962).  The wall was painted a greenish blue, but where the staircase was is not painted.  Sorry – it may be hard to see it in this photograph, but trust me, it’s there!


116 S 3The picture to the right shows the doorway and wall in question.  The open doorway in the photograph may have been the location of the actual entrance to the curved staircase.  Were the doorway and the wall beyond even built with the original construction of the house?  It is believed that entry to the dining room would have been through a hallway near the exit door partially visible in this photograph.  By the way, this wall is built of brick and is thicker by about an inch than the wall next to the George Rapp formal parlor (or Trustees Room) seen in the foreground of this photo.

116 found wallpaperAfter the wallpaper was recently removed from the wall, we discovered some wallpaper that just did not want to be removed in any way.  This can be seen in the photograph to the left.  The wallpaper happens to be in the area of the wall where the staircase was moved in 1962.  Susie Duss did not like wallpaper, and when the Dusses moved into the house around 1892, they had all of the visible wallpaper removed.  During the 1960s restoration, any wallpaper scraps that were found behind staircases, radiators, chair rails, etc. (ie. places that were hard to get to) were (thankfully) saved and kept in the archives.  The following photographs show some of the wallpaper that was saved from this hallway.  You can see the diagonal edges of some of the wallpaper, indicating that it was behind the staircase.  Dating the wallpaper may indicate when the straight staircase was built in the hallway and the curved staircase was removed.  Piecing together these clues indicates that this work may have been done when the vault wing was added to the house probably sometime between 1847 (George Rapp’s death) and 1858 when a survey shows the first addition of the vault wing.

116 tiny scrap

This is the only scrap left of the wallpaper that did not want to come off the wall. It is seen with a tracing of the wallpaper on the wall.

116 Egyptian wallpaper

The tiny scrap in the last picture can be seen upside down with some other wallpaper that was machine printed, circa 1865-75. This second wallpaper’s design shows up on the reverse of the first wallpaper.


116 wallpaper stripe

This block printed striped wallpaper is being reproduced for this hallway and dates circa 1840-50.

116 wallpaper stripe reverse

The reverse of the striped wallpaper on the right indicates the pattern of the wallpaper that was printed circa 1865-75. This raises questions about the layering of the wallpapers. Which came first?

116 Ashlar

This Ashlar wallpaper is being reproduced for the Frederick Rapp hallway.

When the plaster was removed from the ceiling of the George Rapp dining room, evidence was discovered for the curved staircase.  In the north half of the room all but two of the joists were cut and sistered 20 feet from the south wall.  This was enough room for the staircase.  (By the way sistering is when a joist is placed beside another joist to help support it.)  The two single, unsistered joists are in the northeast corner of the room.  Below are photos of this evidence.

117 GR dining room 34

Site Administrator Michael Knecht inspects the area of the cut joists. The sistered joists are visible in the top part of the photograph, whereas the single joists are seen beyond Michael.  This photograph faces north.

117 GR dining room 37

Facing east along the line of cut joists in the ceiling.  Each of the cut joists shows that it was mortised and pinned into another beam that would have been the top of the wall.

117 GR dining room 56

Close-up of one of the original nuts and bolts holding the sistered joists together.

117 GR dining room 55

When the new full length joists were added, half of the ceiling must have been removed. The joists were mortised into the summer beam in the center of the room, but could not easily be mortised into the beam at the side of the room. This photo shows how the beam was cut so that the new joist could be inserted and slid over to the left. Afterwards the hole in the beam was plugged with another piece of wood. Removing the ceiling would have been more possible if the vault wing were being added to this room at the same time. It is thought that since the vault wing was taking out one of the two windows in the room to make a door in its place, that more light was needed in the dining room. This would have been a good reason to remove the curved staircase at the same time.

117 GR dining room 49

More plaster was removed on the east wall, revealing a brick section of the wall. Would this have been needed to support the weight and pull of the staircase? Also visible in the far right of the photo is the slanted beam which was usually placed where a wall was built to help support it. The beam it leans against is in the same place as the cut joists in the ceiling.

If you have any more ideas about this staircase, please let us know!

For other posts please see the main blog page.

By | 2022-09-13T10:12:25-04:00 January 17th, 2014|Rapp Houses Restoration|0 Comments

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