Crafting History

Preserving history is an art, and few understand this better than Sprigg Lynn of Universal Floors, the mastermind behind the meticulous restoration of the Bank of Alexandria, the first financial institution chartered in Virginia in the late 1700s. When a general contractor sought expertise for this ambitious project, Lynn and his team at Universal Floors were a natural choice.

The building, with its storied past as a hospital during the American Civil War, had weathered centuries of time and turmoil. Purchased with the intent to restore it to its 1820s grandeur, the owner emphasized that the wood floors were the centerpiece of the entire restoration.

Undertaking the mammoth task of revitalizing the 9,000 square feet of flooring, Lynn’s team transported the worn planks to their shop in Washington D.C. Here began the delicate process of breathing new life into the historic wood.

“The floor had been through hell and back,” Lynn recounts. “It had been down for a couple of hundred years, with all kinds of nails and glued-on remnants. We had to painstakingly remove every trace of its tumultuous past.”

With precision and care, the team planed the wood to an even thickness and transformed it into a square-edge floor, ready for its new chapter in history. However, the challenges were far from over.

“The contractor had removed the floor haphazardly, damaging much of the tongue and groove,” Lynn explains. “We had to cut back the boards, reducing the wood we had to work with, but preserving its integrity.”

To ensure authenticity and that he had enough material to work with, Lynn sourced additional long-leaf southern pine from the same era, meticulously distressing it to match the existing wood’s weathered appearance.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


“We reached out to E.T. Moore to locate extra wood, long-leaf southern pine from the same era,” Lynn shares. “This wood did not have all the nail holes and oxidation that the existing wood did. We ended up having to antique it to add imperfections to make it look like the existing wood.”

Transplanting the restored flooring back to the building presented its own set of challenges. With stairs yet to be installed and scaffolding lining the interior, Lynn devised a novel pulley system to hoist the boards into place.

“Authenticity was paramount,” Lynn emphasizes. “We wanted the floor to tell a story, to bear the marks of time and use.”

Creating period-accurate imperfections, such as wormholes and oxidized nail holes, required both skill and creativity.

“Over the years, we have seen how period floors wear and what kind of marks they have on them,” Lynn notes. “For wormholes, we found that if we unwind the top part of a 10-cent wire hanger, the top part of it makes an unbelievable swirl like a wormhole.”

Lynn and his team also used balls and picks and put black dye inside the marks to represent an oxidized nail hole.

“We don’t want to overdo it, but you want to be able to walk the floor and not have a board stick out at you. The floor must flow,” says Lynn. “If it flows well, you’re good to go. If it catches your eye, you’re going to have to adjust it.”

Once installed, the flooring underwent a series of additional treatments to achieve the desired aesthetic. “We flat scraped it, palm-sanded it, then hand-sanded it,” he describes.

Coating it was another adventure for Lynn, requiring specialized techniques to ensure a seamless finish.

“You can’t just roll on the finish and get it down into the cracks,” Lynn explains. “That would look horrible. We had to use smaller rollers that were close to the width of the board. We had to have a backup guy there with an artist brush to use between the cracks to remove the residual finish in the cracks as we were rolling.”

The result is a floor that transcends time, a seamless blend of past and present. Lynn reflects on the journey with pride, noting the client’s overwhelming satisfaction.

“It’s one of the finest-looking floors we’ve ever pulled off,” he concludes. “And seeing the homeowner’s joy makes every challenge worthwhile. In preserving history, we’ve created a masterpiece.”

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