It is from England that we have inherited most of our building traditions of domestic work. The earliest methods of constructing a home were much the same for all European countries. Woven brushwood of the crudest sort was undoubtedly the first beginnings of domestic construction. The next step in advance was, according to a German theory, invented by a woman. It consisted of erecting leaning poles and stakes and filling the space between with inwoven wattlework. The shapes were conical, like the Indian tents, but later the gable-roof shape was adopted because of the greater interior space allowed.
In building the gable-shaped houses the early builders used very heavy and massive construction for the ridge-pole and its support, for they believed that this upheld the rafters. This tradition was kept alive until quite recent times, but now we know that when rafters are supported at their base, the ridgepole practically takes none of the weight and need only be used for ease of erection.
But to our ancestors the important problem in first erecting the house was to secure the substantial support of the ridgepole. Obviously the erection of two forked trees at either end of the ridge-pole made an excellent solution, but when the room was long this meant that the interior had to be cluttered up with interior posts. We find then that one of the primitive methods in England of eliminating the interior posts was the adoption of the cruck system of construction which is shown in Fig. 2. By selecting two bent trees and placing them together in a shape like a wish-bone, the ridge-pole could be well supported without interior columns. By placing cross-tie beams on these bent trees and extending them outward, the plates for supporting the lower ends of the rafters could be held in position. This permitted the carpenters to erect the exterior walls independently of the roof, a thing which they seem to have desired.
There is another variation of the above method of supporting the ridge-pole, and that is shown in Fig. 3. Instead of selecting a bent tree, one was secured which was upright for a certain height, and then which bent to one side with a branch. By placing two of these trees together, a perfect end was formed for the house. However, this was not a very good type, since it meant the selecting of very unusual-shaped trees.
For this reason the system of post-and-truss construction, which is shown in Fig. 4, was the natural outcome of the above. Diagonal bracing at the corners evidently was found to be useful in resisting high wind-storms, and it was usually employed.
There apparently remained a distrust of masonry walls among the carpenters, for they continued to support the roofs entirely upon heavy timber framing, and records show that the exterior walls were built up after the roof-framing had been completed. There are evidences that the early types of walls, after the primitive woven brushwood walls proved insecure, were made like a barricade of trees; that is, they were merely a continuous line of vertically placed tree-trunks. This, of course, was a ruinously expensive type of wall when timber became scarce, and it is no wonder that it grew to a system of construction like that shown in Fig. 5. Even this required a good deal of wood, so that the filling of the space between the timbers rather logically became masonry or plaster on lath. However, the method of building shown in Fig. 5 has all of the elements of the system of construction used in framing modern exterior walls. The most important difference is in the size of the timbers used.
TYPE OF ANCIENT WOODEN WALL.
ENGLISH HALF TIMBER CONSTRUCTION.
The half-timber construction of the Middle Ages was only the artistic treatment of this crude system of building. In drawing number 6 is a very simple half-timber house which shows practically no attempt at all to decorate. The construction is perfectly evident, and there are no curves and carving used to ornament the building, as can be seen on some of the more elaborate houses of the cities. This simple building systern was the traditional background of the English carpenter, and it is not at all extraordinary that he brought his methods of building over to this country.
Even the custom of calling in the neighbors and feasting them when a house-raising was celebrated came directly from English traditions. The old post-and-truss construction of the early English houses required framing on the ground and then lifting into position afterward. Records show that the people from the surrounding countryside were called in to help, and their wages of hire were paid by the house owner with a huge feast. In early Colonial days the nearest neighbors were likewise called in to help raise the frame, and the host was supposed to feed the gathering, after the work was finished, and make a jolly party of eating and drinking - a sort of social debt, but not looked upon as wages, as in older days.
TYPE OF FRAMING FOR COLONIAL OF FIRST PERIOD.
BRACED FRAME AS DEVELOPED FROM NEW ENGLAND COLONIAL.
The hard climate which the earliest American colonists had to face and also the abundant supply of wood which lay at their very doors were factors which slightly altered the traditions of building. After the house had been framed and the spaces between the timbers filled with plaster or masonry, the exterior was covered over with clapboards or shingles as an extra covering against the weather. The use of clapboards or shingles as an exterior covering of course was not new, for many English farmhouses show that it was used in that country. But with this difference in exterior appearance, the framing underneath was the same as shown in Fig. 7.