As always besotted by artifacts (especially those directly related to Rosslyn) and irresistibly drawn to crowdsourcing as a way to answer questions that my own research leaves wanting, today’s post represents an exciting moment celebrating the convergence of the two. On June 28, 2013 I published “Stone Gutters?” showcasing a pair of mysterious artifacts unearthed while rehabilitating Rosslyn’s carriage barn. From what we could tell they had been repurposed from their original function into stone footings supporting the substructure of the north-side horse stalls. Almost ten and a half years later I can confirm that those singularly handsome artifacts are in fact stone splash blocks.
Let’s start with a slightly tightened up recap of the 2013 episode:
A pair of exciting — and slightly mysterious — artifacts have been disinterred from Rosslyn’s carriage barn today…
These beautiful, hand carved stones had been buried 2 feet underground and were serving as ad hoc footers for upright supports in the carriage barn stalls.
What are they? Gutter downspout troughs, perhaps?
What’s clear is that they are works of art. And heavy as lead. Massive hunks of local limestone with almost perfectly round “bowls” leading into rounded run-out troughs. I imagine rain gutters dumping water into these, directing the flow away from the foundation. Perhaps it’s just my wishful thinking?
My gut tells me that these hefty artifacts were originally part of a stone gutter system. (Source: Stone Gutters?)
I wrapped up that long-ago post with a last minute discovery of a photo and description from Parlington Hall (located in Yorkshire, England) that added a twinge of confidence to my speculation.
Stone Gutters: Scattered about in no particular location that could pinpoint where these sections of masonry were originally installed, are pieces of sandstone with a hollowed out semi-circular trough running the length of the piece, roughly three feet long each. Five have been unearthed todate. These heavy pieces of masonry are very old and as far I can tell are stone gutters which would have sat at the head of the external walls to carry rainwater from the sloping slate roofs. I have produced a series of sketches which illustrtate how the stone was sited in the wall. (Source: Parlington Hall)
Although I was comfortable speculating that what Doug and Jacob discovered while demo’ing the carriage barn stables were in fact part of a stone gutter system, the circular bowls leading into the troughs differed from the Parlington Hall example. And the likelihood that a stone gutter system had been integrated into the construction of Rosslyn (akin to diagrammed examples from Parlington Hall) struck me as extremely unlikely given the size and weight of each individual block.
Stone Splash Blocks
A week ago Pam came across the hand carved stone in the photo above while managing the icehouse dirt work. Actually, she came across both of them. You can just spy the edge of the second one at the right of photo.
I had been storing these *treasures* outside (think lichen-friendly patina-ing) in an area where we stage building and landscaping materials, but she’d never seen them before and was pleased with the discovery. I decided to push the photo back out into the sometimes prodigiously savant interwebs to see if any new ideas might come to the fore.
Eureka! In short order Leslie Jewel Hight (@lesliejewellhight) and Al Tirella (@al.tirella) demystified this decade old enigma. What we had discovered in the spidery underbelly of the carriage barn 10+ years ago was a pair of stone splash blocks. Moreover, they confirmed not just my original hypothesis, but they did so with visual evidence. Here’s the discussion that germinated on Facebook:
Leslie Jewell Hight: It’s a splash block to channel water coming out of the roof gutter away from the building.
Al Tirella: That’s what I thought right off as well.
Leslie Jewell Hight: I’ve encountered a few old buildings that still have functional stone splash blocks. Most have modern aluminum downspouts leading to them, but I saw one that used rain chains and it appeared to me that the rain chains did a better job.
Al Tirella: Frank Lloyd Wright was a huge proponent of the chain downspout. Ingenious whoever was its inventor.
Rosslyn Redux: I believe you two are correct. Thank you. I’d love to find a photo of one of those homes using similar “splash blocks” (great name! New to me…) to serve as a model. Any pointers?
Leslie Jewell Hight: Unfortunately I’m not where I can go snap pix today, but here’s an example in the same style as yours: https://www.flickr.com/…/raimist/124055892/
Rosslyn Redux: Hurrah! That is perfect. A Jeroboam of gratitude to you, Leslie. Thank you.
Al Tirella: Ha! As vast as the internet is, I came across the exact image and emailed it to GD a couple of days ago.
Leslie Jewell Hight: It sticks out in the sea of cheap plastic reproductions, doesn’t it? I noticed the photographer said it was at a Shaker site, so I wonder if Rosslyn Redux’s example has the same provenance?
Al Tirella: The modern pre-cast cement ones are not that bad. I have 3 of them.
Rosslyn Redux: Leslie Jewell Hight I wondered the same thing. Sooo similar!
Ah-ha! You ask, and the internet shall provide. Sometimes. Not always, of course, but what a thrilling gift when it does. I offer my most sincere thanks to Leslie and Al. And also to Andrew Raimist (@Remiss63) whose photograph of a remarkably similar stone splash block was included in his Shaker photographs taken at the Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill, Kentucky. It’s worth mentioning that all of his architecture and design photographs command attention, but it is the carved stone splash block that so perfectly confirmed Leslie’s conviction. Indeed it is a twin of our stone splash blocks.
Not Cannonball Molds?
Back in 2013 the men who unearthed the artifacts suspected that they might be a form used for casting metal objects. I asked them to hypothesize what might have been cast with the hand carved blocks.
“A canon ball,” one suggested hopefully. (Source: Stone Gutters?)
I could see where the idea came from, but the size of the potential “fill tube” seemed excessive, and the unwieldy blocks would be tremendously onerous to use. But, what do I know about casting cannonballs?
When I posted the image last week, a similar guess suggests to me that maybe these are pretty similar to what was used for manufacturing cannonballs once upon a time.
Perhaps the stone splash blocks verdict is premature? Perhaps Rosslyn was once a foundry for old school cannonballs?