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.
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.”
In 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!
The 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.
After 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.
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.
If you have any more ideas about this staircase, please let us know!
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