Another problem with our master bath was that the plaster lath ceiling sagged, due to moisture, like the ceiling in the downstairs half-bath beneath it. Neither surface was original to the house—Bradley Palmer's workers probably built them when he bought the land in 1910, added on the kitchen, and introduced electricity and indoor plumbing to the property. So Kevin used a crowbar to drop them both—and met a few surprises along the way.
The first day he wore his normal work clothes and got a nasty rash from the downpour of a century’s worth of plaster dust, dirt, squirrel droppings, nest materials (corn cobs, nutshells), and other goodies. The next morning he bought a respirator and hooded hazmat suit and wore them, along with gloves and safety glasses, for the rest of the job.
With the early 20th-century plaster and lath down, the frame came clearly into view, facilitating various plumbing and electrical updates and corrections. Kevin found some electrical wires, for example, joined together without a junction box, hidden above the downstairs bathroom ceiling, and was able to remove this potential fire hazard.
He also found a joist with a huge chunk of wood missing from it—carved out by a creative plumber to make way for the upstairs bathroom drain.
He repaired and “sistered” it—flanked it with 2" x 6" joists, as shown here, placed on ledgers like that board running along the wall perpendicular to the joists. Ordinarily he would have used metal bolts to sister a joist, but the ledgers make a less invasive support for wood that's more than two centuries old.
He also discovered that only three joists undergirded the master bath, so he sistered all of them and repositioned the tub. The old clawfoot had sat on just one joist, along the western side of the room. The new bath will run along the north wall, centered under this window, so the roughly 300 pounds of porcelain—not counting the weight of humans and water—will straddle all three joists. Note that this room is the same one pictured under rubble in the opening shot of this entry.
The biggest surprise were the joists with antique-looking, hand-written numbers and letters on them. A letter "A" above the downstairs bathroom ceiling led Kevin to discover countless other boards numbered like this one, Number 5.
How many? We’ll probably never know without dismantling the house—possibly for the second time in its life. The numbers are out of sequence, leading Kevin to the dramatic theory that the house may have been moved to its present location. It was a surprisingly common practice in the area back in the day and might help explain why Hamilton doesn’t have record of the house's earliest construction. I can't get back to that Salem Registry of Deeds soon enough (see History Detectives, Part II).