Most remodelers are experts at dealing with lathe-and-plaster walls and similar old-fashioned building materials. But Bob White of R.G. White Construction in Jacksonville, Fla., faced a challenge in a recent project that few of his peers are likely to ever see: limestone blocks dating back almost 400 years.
White’s firm was hired to restore "The Oldest House" in St. Augustine, Fla., which is the oldest city in the United States. Historians trace the building’s roots to the early 1600s. The present structure was built in 1702 following one of the frequent fires that leveled the early Spanish settlement of wood and thatch structures.
The primary material in the 1702 building was coquina, a soft limestone formed from seashells and coral. Prior to that date, coquina was used only locally for building the Spanish fort at St. Augustine. However, once the fort was complete, the residents were allowed to rebuild using fire-resistant coquina.
After the English captured St. Augustine, the appearance of its architecture changed from flat-roofed Spanish to styles more typical of Britain. White’s work has uncovered timbers such as a Spanish doorpost to which British builders attached a sill plate for the second story they added in the late 18th century.
White also discovered the house’s original tabby roof, which was typical of Spanish houses in Florida in the 1700 - the first such roof found.
"One of the rewards of working on a very old building is the satisfaction of finding artifacts and historical architectural details that both confirm and contradict the ideas of historians about houses," White said.