Lane County, Oregon

Wednesday, September 29, 2010



Now I am not going to say that I know everything about historic masonry -- but it is an interest of mine left over from a masonry class that I took at university many years ago.The class dealt with historic brick and stone -- I found the class tough yet intriguing.  So when I met Charles Jones, a stonemason of more than forty years, I was extremely delighted and  impressed with his knowledge. 

How did I find Charles? Well, I was driving through Lancaster, Kentucky when I spotted two men working on an elevated brick porch leading up to a beautiful historic building. I stopped in the middle of the street and called out my window, " do you have time to talk to me for a few minutes?" I really did not know that I was yelling to this expert tradesman on repairing historic brickwork. I just had a feeling I might learn something from this man and I sure did. 


The man's name was Charles Jones and he was very receptive to taking a small break to explain a bit about what he was repairing. Parts of the brick porch needed to be re-grouted as they  were coming loose. He and his helper, Nathan, were in the process of re-grouting in the three photos below. He mixed up a special mix to use with the old bricks. 

Charles, a native of Lancaster, told me that he learned the trade from his father when he was young. His grandfather, many years ago, had hand mixed cement and laid all the sidewalks in Lancaster. Charles said he has witnessed the disappearance of many fine old buildings in Lancaster.

Charles even walked down the street a little to show me a historic deteriorating brick house, built using old lime  mortar. He told me that this  type of mortar is found in very early brickwork. From the deteriorating foundation of the house he picked up a small piece of mortar and showed me how it crumbled easily as he broke it in his hand.  He told me that this was one of its characteristics. 

We then stood on the sidewalk as he pointed out repairs recently made to buildings on the commercial block. He gave a tally on a few of the buildings that had been altered or torn down in the main commercial section of town. 

I then excused myself as I knew he had to continue the porch's repair. -- working along with his associate helper Nathan. 


Preservation techniques such as Charles was doing help prolong the life of a building. In this case the porch being preserved -- it was well worth it for both  stability and aesthetics. The artistic early ironwork railing of the porch would be almost impossible to duplicate.

One can read books and articles about a subject but talking with a hands-on skilled tradesman can give you an education in a short amount of time. 



  1. I agree that watching a tradesman do his work is a wonderful way to learn! It allows you to engage many more senses than what a book would, thus creating a more complete learning experience. Thanks for this great post! My favorite picture was the one of Charles grouting the porch with the wet grout ready to be smoothed out. I always wonder how in the heck they keep the grout in the cracks and not spread out all over the surface of the bricks.

  2. I used to love watching the tv series "This Old House" on the Lifestyle network here, some of those houses and architectural styles we have nothing like here in Oz and it's fascinating to learn not only how things were originally constructed but the best methods for repairing them to keep it going for another century :)
    Like the barge board houses in New Orleans, making do and recycling again ;)

  3. Darcy -- There truly is an art to being a stonemason. i think some times people don't realize what knowledge is needed to repair or build in stone or brick. For Charles it was a trade handed down. -- barbara

  4. Jayne -- I have watched this Old House many times. They even had a magazine that was quite good. Since I don't have a TV any more I can't watch it. I missed the one on the barge boards in New Orleans. Thanks for the nice comment -- barbara

  5. Fascinating, Barbara! How many would have stopped to learn? How many of us walk by these old treasures daily, without seeing. We need the mapmakers like you to guide us to observe and preserve. I think of the many similar buildings in my neck of the wood, most of which are going unheralded, unprotected. What an enriching conversation.

    Thank you, again, dear lady!

  6. Elora -- The forgotten arts intrigue me when it involves the human mind and hand. So much of what is made today is prepackaged -- no prolonged learning necessary.Of course not everything -- like the computer -- now that takes some time to learn to operate -- it's really an ongoing learning experience! Thanks for the very nice comment! -- barbara

  7. Beautiful old buildings -- so glad that there are still craftsmen like Charles and Nathan to preserve them.

  8. Interesting post. You are lucky to have come across Charles.

  9. Vicki -- Thanks for stopping by. Yes, there is a value in tradesman that have the skills to keep old structures "living." -- barbara

  10. It is brilliant, as has been said above, that you stopped and asked about their work, and now we can share the experience too. I find stonemasonry a fascinating art, especially when those skills are being used to preserve historic buldings.

  11. NCmountainwoman -- Charles was very generous in sharing some of his knowledge with me. Thanks for the comment. -- barbara

  12. LiD -- I agree with you that stonemasonry work is an art. So many levels of knowledge involved. Thanks for stopping by -- barbara

  13. It's wonderful that there are still workmen around with these skills. I hope they have someone to pass their knowledge on to.

  14. barefootheart, I could not find out if the skilled trades is remaining the same or growing. I don't believe in a fast fix when dealing with old structures -- barbara