Bricks and Mortar

Written by Link Ludington, Architectural Historian at Indiana State Museum

Some historic buildings are not simply preserved in their current condition, but instead are actually restored to an earlier historical appearance. This is what is happening at the Lanier Mansion in Madison, which is being restored to its appearance in 1850, when J.F.D. Lanier and his family were still in residence. The restoration involves reversal of alterations to the home which require locating matching bricks to fill in missing masonry. On most homes and buildings this would be a simple task. But a 19th century Greek Revival mansion like Lanier presents a special challenge.

Recently, I traveled to Madison to determine the target dimensions for the replacement brick, which will have to be custom-made because of their unusual characteristics. During the mid-19th century (when the Lanier Mansion was built, and when Madison was one of Indiana’s largest cities), most bricks were made by hand by forming wet clay in wooden molds before being dried and fired. Some were pressed in cast iron molds in brick-making machines. Most modern brick is mass-produced by a machine that produces a “ribbon” that is then cut into individual bricks by wire grids.

The bricks that were used in concealed areas of Lanier Mansion were the common hand-molded brick like that found in buildings all over Madison (and elsewhere throughout Indiana) from that period. The facing bricks used in all areas that were visible in the exterior, however, were an example of the special machine-made pressed brick with smooth texture and fairly sharp edges, but the brick making “machines” of that time were still operated by hand. Each of the pictures shows the difference — one is the smooth, machine-made, pressed brick, while the other is the hand-molded brick. It’s really hard to tell the difference. Machine-made pressed bricks can also be found in several other buildings in Madison from the same period, including the Shrewsbury House, another masterpiece designed and built by Francis Costigan, the same architect who designed and built the Lanier Mansion.

Machine-made pressed brick.

Common hand-molded brick.











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History was dead and crawling …

Written by Anne Fairchild, eastern region program manager for the State Historic Sites

110609_spooky_mansion_03This year, history was dead and crawling at the Lanier Mansion State Historic Site.

It is always fascinating to ponder the mysteries and beauty of architectural elements. But it turns out that it is way more fun to “spook up” your own architecture. And that’s just what we did on Oct. 24 at the “Spooky Mansion” program here in Madison, Indiana.

Over 350 monsters, princesses and heroes descended upon us with their chaperones to be spooked, eat candy, listen to hauntingly fun stories and, in general, have a great time.

110609_spooky_mansion_01In one activity, we provided a drawing of Lanier Mansion, in all its Greek Revival glory, and challenged our visiting mini-goblins to make it as spooky as possible. To help with this, we provided glow in the dark home accessories like skeletons, crows and creepy trees to make it all the more frightening. The picture shown here was made by a 42-year-old mansion employee to decorate her refrigerator.

However, everyone had the opportunity to see the real mansion as well. The rooms were decorated to be just spooky enough so that our small visitors would not have nightmares when they returned home. It also gave people a chance to view our basement, which is usually off-limits to visitors. I’m not sure that ,with skeletons and creepy gangs of dolls, visitors had much of a chance to appreciate all the architectural elements of this home. Oh well.

For those who don’t think that history is alive, we also had our “Night Spirits” program for adult and general audiences on Oct. 23. This isn’t really designed to be spooky, but to use the mansion as a backdrop for hair-raising theater performances that included grave-robbers, dead soldiers, grisly murders, hangings and other infamous but true stories from Madison’s past. We also celebrated the 200th birthday of the most depressed (and depressing) man in America: Edgar Allen Poe. Poe was the West Point classmate of Thomas Morris, superintendent of the Madison-Indianapolis Railroad.

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