168 N. Loudoun Street
Winchester, VA 22601
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April 2015 Edition

Chimneys Photo - Chimneys

I typically use this forum to tell the reader some of the interesting facts about the history of the area. This time, however, I wanted to take a moment to highlight the reasons behind some of the characteristics of the lovely historic structures in our area. Mainly, chimneys!

Ever notice that brick chimneys on old buildings lean to the south? How about the iron stars that adorn the sides of buildings? Believe it or not these two are related. There are several theories about leaning chimneys; composition of mortar used before 19th century that dries and condenses more quickly with greater amount of sun on the southern side and the northern wind cooling the interior of the brick and causing greater build up of fire residue, are two of the most popular. Whichever is correct the fact remains is that they do lean. This distortion often causes the outside northern wall to bow slightly away from the structure. In many cases brick buildings built before or shortly after 1800 would have iron rods run through the floor joists, fastened on the exterior with an iron cap, often in the shape of a star a nut anchored the star to the rod. This kept the structure from falling in on itself. Another interesting fact is that firefighters in the early 19th century carried large wrenches that they would use to remove the anchoring nuts in case of fire. This would ensure that the structure would indeed collapse inward thus lessening the chance of fire spreading to nearby structures. Since this became such an efficient method of containing fires builders began ‘fire cutting’ joists. The cut in the beam where it rests in the brick foundation ensured no outward collapse was possible.