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Drayton Hall Site History

The Great Hall
The Great Hall is one of the largest (29ft. x 24ft.) and most important rooms at Drayton Hall.  Centrally located on the first floor and accessed directly off the raised front landing, the room has served as the main entrance to the house on the approach from the landside since its construction.  Its ceiling is comprised of a flat field of lime-gypsum plaster decorated with applied cast gypsum plaster relief.  This ornamentation includes a large central composite medallion of stylized local vegetation as well as a perimeter border of stars and small roundels located at the corners and midpoints of the room.
Gibbs Drawing
The oldest existing drawing of the ceiling at Drayton Hall (ca.1845), attributed to Joseph Gibbs, is believed to be a representation of the second ceiling and not the original, which would have been divided into three independent sections based on framing evidence.
A Question of Integrity
In 1977, a structural analysis of the building identified several deficiencies including the ceiling framing of the Great Hall.  The distance spanned by the joists was found to be excessive for their dimensions with a live load capacity of only 14.2 pounds per square foot for the floor, inadequate by modern standards to safely support the load of large groups of visitors.  In addition, it was believed that the large span-to-depth ratios of the undersized joists resulted in excessive deflections of the floor in the upstairs Great Hall and subsequent cracking of the plaster ceiling below.
Lindsay at Work

Historic Great Hall
The Great Hall prior to its aquisistion by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, ca. 1935.
The "New" Ceiling
The present ceiling in the Great Hall is believed to be its third, probably installed in the 1860’s in response to the need to relieve load from the summer beams that were originally located at the third points in the room. The original eighteenth century faming of the ceiling appears to have been a three bay system with the joists spanning approximately ten feet to summer beams, whose dimensions were approximately 11 inch square.  While the design of the original ceiling cannot be determined from any surviving physical evidence, it is clear that the Georgian ceiling was at least 1 inch lower than the current ceiling.

At some unknown date, but probably during the early nineteenth century, the original ceiling of the Great Hall was replaced with a ceiling ornamented in a manner typical of the Federal period, with delicate and attenuated neoclassical motifs. This ceiling survived at least until circa 1845, when a drawing was made of it.

This system appears to have been converted some time between 1855-1874 to the present system. There is good evidence to suggest that the revised framing was much too flexible from the beginning, probably before the plaster ceiling was ever installed.  Attached to the joists with machine-cut nails, are twenty 3 inch x 3 inch x 10 foot diagonal braces (ten on each side of the room) of circular sawn Southern Yellow Pine, which span between the top of one joist and the bottom of the adjacent joist. The shorter diagonal braces (3 inch x 3 inch x 6 feet) in front of the fireplace bear notches in order to accommodate bridging boards which were removed in the 1978 campaign. It is likely that the addition of these twenty diagonal braces underneath the floor was done in an attempt to strengthen the installed system, but  unfortunately their ability to stiffen the floor was negligible.  The braces appear to have been an afterthought and not part of the original design; their insertion required the removal of several of the bridging boards, which clearly were part of that original conception.  It seems likely that the floor was a disappointment in terms of its excessive flexibility. This made immediate alterations necessary in an attempt to stiffen it before the plaster had even been applied to the ceiling below.

The Great Hall ceiling plaster is keyed to circular sawn lath attached directly to the joists with small machine-cut nails. The fact that only one set of nail holes has been found on the joists indicates that the present lath and plaster might be the only ceiling to have been applied to these joists.
Left: Treatment to reattach the plaster to the lath was carried out in  2001. The process involved some cast element reattachment.