Now the “Most Endangered”

“The Merchant’s House is without a doubt the most important historic
house in this city, and it’s now probably the most endangered one.”
– Michael Devonshire, Preservation Architect

Since 2012, the Merchant’s House has been fighting proposed development in the lot immediately to the west, at 27 East 4th Street. If allowed to move forward, construction next door is absolutely guaranteed to cause significant structural damage to the Merchant’s House. At particular risk is the original 1832 plasterwork. Engineering studies show that vibrations from demolition of the existing building, excavation of the new foundation, and construction of a new building would cause severe damage to the fragile 192-year-old plaster – both the ornamental details and the walls and ceilings.

The vibrations can, and most likely will, break the plaster “keys” between the wood lath, which generally are
only 1⁄4” thick. Vibration can also loosen the nails that fasten the ceiling laths to the framing, causing catastrophic failure of the ceiling support system. And, according to preservation architect Michael Devonshire, who has overseen all restoration work at the Merchant’s House since 1990, “Ceiling plaster is much more vulnerable. The plasterers were working above their heads, thus pressure to form the plaster “keys” between lath boards was much less, resulting in weak or deficient keying. Ceilings invariably fail first in historic buildings.”