Bill Bryson’s *At Home*

Indeed, the history of early America is really a history of coping with shortages of building materials.  For a country famed for being rich in natural resources, America along the eastern seaboard proved to be appallingly deficient in many basic commodities necessary to an independent civilization.  One of those commodities was limestone, as the first colonists discovered to their dismay.  In England, you could build a reasonably secure house with wattle and daub — essentially a fraework of mud and sticks — if it was sufficiently bound with lime.  But in America there was no lime (or at least none found before 1690), so the colonists used dried mud, which proved to be woefully lacking in sturdiness.  During the first century of colonization, it was a rare house that lasted more than ten years…A hurricane in 1634 blew away — literally just lifted up and carried off — half the houses of Massachusetts.  Barely had people rebuilt when a second storm of similar intensity blew in…Even decent building stone was not available in many areas.  When George Washington wanted to pave his loggia at Mount Vernon with simple flagstones, he had to send to England for them.

The one thing America had in quantity was wood.

That is all from the new Bill Bryson book, subtitled A Short History of Private Life, which is both entertaining and informative.


Comments for this post are closed