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The Jeffersonian cyclopedia;

a comprehensive collection of the views of Thomas Jefferson classified and arranged in alphabetical order under nine thousand titles relating to government, politics, law, education, political economy, finance, science, art, literature, religious freedom, morals, etc.;

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438. ARCHITECTURE, Brick, Stone, Wood.—
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438. ARCHITECTURE, Brick, Stone, Wood.—

All we shall do in the way of reformation
will produce no permanent improvement
to our country, while the unhappy prejudice
prevails that houses of brick or stone
are less wholesome than those of wood. A
dew is often observed on the walls of the former
in rainy weather, and the most obvious
solution is, that the rain has penetrated
through these walls. The following facts,
however, are sufficient to prove the error of
this solution: 1. This dew on the walls appears
when there is no rain, if the state of the
atmosphere be moist. 2. It appears on the
partition as well as the exterior walls. 3.
So, also on pavements of brick or stone. 4.
It is more copious in proportion as the walls
are thicker; the reverse of which ought to be
the case, if this hypothesis were just. If cold
water be poured into a vessel of stone, or
glass, a dew forms instantly on the outside;
but if it be poured into a vessel of wood, there
is no such appearance. It is not supposed, in
the first case, that the water has exuded
through the glass, but that it is precipitated
from the circumambient air; as the humid
particles of vapor, passing from the boiler of
an alembic through its refrigerant, are precipitated
from the air, in which they are suspended,
on the internal surface of the refrigerant.
Walls of brick or stone act as the refrigerant
in this instance. They are sufficiently
cold to condense and precipitate the
moisture suspended in the air of the room,
when it is heavily charged therewith. But


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walls of wood are not so. The question then
is, whether the air in which this moisture is
left floating, or that which is deprived of it,
be most wholesome? In both cases, the remedy
is easy. A little fire kindled in the room,
whenever the air is damp, prevents the precipitation
on the walls; and this practice,
found healthy in the warmest as well as
coldest seasons, is as necessary in a wooden
as in a stone or brick house. I do not mean
to say, that the rain never penetrates through
walls of brick. On the contrary, I have seen
instances of it. But with us it is only through
the northern and eastern walls of the house,
after a north-easterly, storm, these being the
only ones which continue long enough to
force through the walls. This, however, happens
too rarely to give a just character of
unwholesomeness to such houses. In a house,
the walls of which are of well-burnt brick and
good mortar, I have seen the rain penetrate
through but twice in a dozen or fifteen years.
The inhabitants of Europe, who dwell chiefly
in houses of stone or brick, are surely as
healthy as those of Virginia. These houses
have the advantage, too, of being warmer in
winter and cooler in summer than those of
wood; of being cheaper in their first construction,
where lime is convenient, and infinitely
more durable. The latter consideration renders
it of great importance to eradicate this
prejudice from the minds of our countrymen.
A country whose buildings are of wood, can
never increase in its improvements to any
considerable degree. Their duration is highly
estimated at fifty years. Every half century
then our country becomes a tabula rasa, whereon we have to set out anew, as in the
first moment of seating it. Whereas when
buildings are of durable materials, every new
edifice is an actual and permanent acquisition
to the State, adding to its value as well as
to its ornament.—
Notes on Virginia. Washington ed. viii, 395. Ford ed., iii, 258.