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August 2003


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Harold Miller <[log in to unmask]>
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Harold Miller <[log in to unmask]>
Wed, 30 Jul 2003 12:18:16 -0500
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The Berne History Project at www.Bernehistory.org has begun an inventory of
early buildings in the Town of Berne, Albany County. We are concentrating
first on the 480 buildings shown on an 1866 map by Beers, of which perhaps
half are extant. While almost all of the houses were of frame construction,
a few unusual types of construction were used.

So far two houses have been identified in Berne that are of vertical plank
construction. In both the vertical planks are visible in the gables of the
attic. The new owners of one of these houses had no idea that it was not the
usual frame construction. Vertical plank buildings are constructed of rough
sawn planks, each more than a foot wide, two inches thick, and long enough
to reach from the top of the cellar walls to the attic. The planks were
placed vertically so that their edges abut, thus requiring no studs. There
are two overlapping layers so the walls are four inches thick. The exterior
is sheathed with clapboard, and the interior had lathe and plaster. There is
no insulation. Both houses are thought to have been built around 1800.

There is one house of stacked plank construction that so far has been
identified in Berne. It was probably built around 1840. Stacked plank, or
plank-on-plank buildings were constructed of rough milled planks stacked and
nailed on top of the other, thus requiring no studs. The boards were laid
similar to log construction with every other board extending to the corner
so that the ends overlapped the one below for the adjoining wall. The result
was a dense, solid wall with no insulation. An advantage was that the
construction did not require a great deal of expertise, making it an
excellent choice for people who were not skilled craftsmen. The
disadvantages were that they required a large quantity of lumber and nails,
and were prone to warping. As the exterior is covered with clapboard, it is
impossible to tell the method of construction from the outside. On the
inside of the Berne house alternate planks are offset an inch to create keys
for a plaster finish, thus requiring no lathe.

Several gravel houses were constructed in the Town of Berne in the mid 19th
Century. While the 1855 census lists only one gravel house, by 1865 there
were eight. The walls were a conglomerate of lime, horse hair and gravel.
Today we would probably call them concrete houses. Gravel was not a strong
building material and only two houses survive, both of which are faced with
brick. The brick was probably added after 1865 to reinforce the walls. Both
houses have in recent decades had structural problems and had to have walls

I am writing a newspaper article about these Berne houses. In order to get a
feel for how rare they are, I would like to know of other houses of similar
construction in New York State, and when they were built.