Architecture Period 2: About 1810

John Hartwell Cocke, Jr. reached his majority in 1801 and soon embarked on a massive remodeling of the old house, beginning as early perhaps as 1800. These changes transformed the dwelling’s appearance utterly. In order to produce a more imposing, more regular appearance, Cocke raised the existing house to two full stories, and revised the fenestration to create symmetrical five-bay facades on both fronts. To achieve all of this it was necessary to dismantle large portions of the front and rear ground-floor walls and then to rebuild all the river-front window openings. Thereafter, the new windows on the upper floor were constructed to align with those below. Raising the upper floor made it necessary to augment the gables in proportion, with the new work up against the sides of the old chimney stacks. This required in turn that the stacks themselves be extended.

Further expanding the accommodations at Mount Pleasant was an added wing at the eastern end of the main house. From the beginning, there seems to have been internal communication between the house and wing on both floors, since the south jamb of second-floor doorway was clearly part of the ca. 1800 work, laid up when the main house was raised. This neatly constructed jamb demonstrates the wing was built at the same time the second floor was raised, and that it was originally two full stories in height. We presume that it was brick, based on mortar and paint lines that seem to establish the thickness and position of the original walls.

Porches also seem to have been added for the first time during this period. Archaeology revealed the remains of the early, land-side porch, and wrought nails for early flashing, and a raking cut in the belt course of the south façade show the slope of its gable roof. This explains the absence of a transom over the doorway, where chopped jamb bricks above the period III door head location reveal that the masonry over the doorway was rebuilt c. 1800 without an arch—a practice occasionally seen in federal-period work. The character of the north porch has not been fully defined, but it is likely to have been similar.

Clearly, the object of this building campaign was to transform the great house completely—inside and out. Significantly, these far-reaching changes corresponded with the adoption of a new name—Mount Pleasant. It is inconceivable that the period I and II interiors could have survived such a renovation, given the magnitude of work necessary to revise the first floor, and extent the additions made above and to the east of the main house.

Throughout the main house, wooden nailers were cut into the interior faces of the walls, all to be used in attaching new woodwork. In the west, ground-floor room these nailers carried a base and surbase around three walls. Below this height, the plaster was probably applied directly to the masonry and painted, while above this point, the walls were plastered over furring and almost certainly covered with wallpaper. The furring was nailed directly to the period III brickwork with wrought nails, affirming beyond doubt its association with the c.1800–1805 renovation.

The absence of plaster residue on the chimneybreast and the lack of evidence for furring plaster off of this masonry, together suggest that the fireplace wall was paneled. The flanking spaces were enclosed as arched alcoves with curving plaster soffits, judging from the thin arcs of plaster residue still visible high up on the back walls of these alcoves. The walls enclosing the alcoves stood well back from breast to avoid intruding on the adjacent windows. Mortared-up nailers indicate the approximate location and thickness of these walls. Inside the north alcove, the presence of wooden nailers indicates that the wainscoting carried around the interior of the niche. This strongly suggests that the arched opening had no door—a typical treatment in the Federal period, especially in Southside Virginia. (The Petersburg Room at the Metropolitan Museum, and Strawberry Hill are just two examples among many). The absence of nailers in the north alcove and the presence of what may have been a north/south wooden member running just below surbase height along the rear wall, suggest that there may have been a buffet or cupboard on this side. (This possibility needs further study).

In the east room as well the walls were plastered above surbase-high wainscoting, again probably papered. In this case, however, furring for the plaster was attached to wooden nailers let into the masonry. As in the west room, the lower zone of the wall was plastered directly on the brick, being occasionally cut by four paneled window seats. Unlike the west room, this space had no closets in period III, for an early plaster scratch coat remains in place on the north side of the chimney where the closet partitions would otherwise have abutted the masonry. On this plaster is the ghost of a later closet partition, probably dating to 1851. On the breast of the chimney, remnants of a similar plaster leave little doubt that this breast was plastered down to a wooden chimneypiece in period III.

On the second floor, it is quite clear that closets flanked the chimney mass in the west room of the main house. In this case, however, the ghost for a closet partition on the north side of the chimney demonstrates that these partitions were set back several inches from the breast. In the north closet slots were let into the brickwork to carry shelving on either side of the door. That these shelves dated to period III or later is clear inasmuch as the slots to the north were let into the c.1800 walls, laid up when the house was raised to two full stories. In the south closet, evidence for shelving is less clear and may predate the raising of the second floor, for no such evidence is visible on the land-front wall, laid up c.1800. In the west room, and indeed, throughout the upper floor, there were no window seats. Early plaster remnants together with charred wooden nailers reveal that the room was adorned with base boards and chair boards. No evidence for cornices was apparent, although at this date, it is possible that plaster cornices were applied over the scratch or brown coats of plaster.

Racking in the front and rear walls of the main house reveals that the masonry walls of the lower passage were carried up to the second floor when it was raised to two full stories. As noted in the period I discussion, the upper flight of the stair ascended from a landing at the north end of the passage, so that doors to the upstairs rooms were located in the southern half of the passage. Together with the absence of joist pockets in the front and rear walls, the presence of pockets for two large north-south girders reveal that the floor was framed, as in period I, with the joists running east and west. This allowed the floorboards to run with the long axis of the space as was customary. Nailers in the upper south wall indicate that wainscoting in the lower passage extended up the stair and into the upper passage. The absence of plaster evidence on the north wall indicates that it was furred out flush where the masonry steps in at the second-floor level, so that the wall surface above the landing ran up to the ceiling in an unbroken plane. Here, as in other second-floor rooms, there were no window seats. Like the period III window jambs elsewhere in the house, those of the north window are laid without squint bricks, indicating that the present opening is original to the c.1800–1805 renovation.

In the east, second-floor room, as in the room below, there appear to have been no period III closets. Like the room across the passage, however, it was finished with a base and chair board. Again, the question of cornices can not be definitively answered given the loss of physical evidence.

In addition to creating a more imposing house, the addition to Mount Pleasant undoubtedly created an new bed chamber in the east wing, allowing the old chamber in the main house to function as a distinct dining room—a room given to meals and nothing else. The new chamber was separated from the main house by hallway or “passage,” with exterior doorways at either end—a common practice in the period. This allowed for free movement of the family in and out of the house without passing through the public rooms. Additions of this sort were a common occurrence during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Tomahund, in Charles City County was expanded in the same fashion, about the same time as the Mount Pleasant. In some cases, symmetrical additions were made, one end housing expanded domestic quarters, and the other a large dining space. Eppington, in Chesterfield County, Wales in Dinwiddie County, and the St. George Tucker house in Williamsburg exemplify the type.