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While removing the New Room's mopboards during the Mansion Revitalization Project, Preservation carpenters made an exciting discovery.

In order to access elements of the Mansion’s framing, as part of the Mansion Revitalization Project, Mount Vernon’s Preservation team undertook the task of removing the mopboards from the New Room. During this process, researchers were thrilled to discover an 1884 signature on a small section of mopboard along the room’s east wall.

This photo of the New Room provides a look at the room’s dark mopboards, so called because of their effectiveness at hiding the dirty smudges that often occurred when mopping against them. A signature was discovered on the back of the mopboard shown at the far right. (MVLA)
This photo of the New Room provides a look at the room’s dark mopboards, so called because of their effectiveness at hiding the dirty smudges that often occurred when mopping against them. A signature was discovered on the back of the mopboard shown at the far right. (MVLA)

What Are Mopboards?

Known today as baseboards, mopboards served both a decorative and functional purpose in the 18th century. Typically dark in color, mopboards were effective at hiding the dirty smudges that often occurred when mopping against them.

Mopboards are one of the last elements installed during construction, effectively sealing in and covering a structure’s inner workings. Removing them is akin to peeling back the first layer of the onion; by removing the mopboards, the Preservation team could then remove the room’s floorboards in order to access and repair the Mansion’s framing.

Removing the mopboards is akin to peeling back the first layer of the onion.

Preservation Carpenter Joe Zemp works carefully to remove a mopboard along the New Room’s east wall, near the spot where a signature from 1884 was discovered. (MVLA)

Preserving History

Removing the mopboards required careful handling, as they comprise multiple components—primarily a main board topped with a decorative cap. 

In some cases, the top and bottom parts of the mopboards could be removed together, but often, they had to be separated to preserve their integrity. Preservation carpenters used wedges and shims to carefully work apart the seams in a slow, deliberate process. This careful methodology ensured that the historical value of these elements was maintained while allowing necessary conservation work to proceed.

Assistant Restoration Manager Steve Fancsali (standing) and Preservation Carpenter Joe Zemp (left) and Preservation Carpenter Allison Brashears use wedges to work apart the different components of the room’s mopboards. (MVLA)

Gaining Historical Insight

The mopboards' removal not only facilitated access to the floorboards but also provided an opportunity to examine these historical components closely. 

Most of the mopboards in the New Room are original to the 18th century, with only a few small sections replaced over time. By examining the fasteners, which can be approximately dated based on certain characteristics, the Preservation team gained a wealth of information about different eras of modification and repair; in some places, they found original 18th-century fasteners alongside later 19th-century additions. Mapping out all these fasteners is crucial to understanding how the mopboards were originally assembled and reinforced over the centuries.

Following the removal of the New Room’s mopboards, Project Preservationist Clay Fellows takes the opportunity to investigate. (MVLA)

The Signature

The discovery of a signature and accompanying year (1884) is particularly exciting to the Preservation team because it sheds light on a lesser-known period of the Mansion’s history. 

Harrison Howell Dodge, Mount Vernon’s longest-serving superintendent, meticulously documented his restoration efforts, providing a wealth of information through his diaries and letters. But Dodge didn’t begin working at Mount Vernon until 1885. With so little documentation existing prior to Dodge’s arrival, findings that pre-date 1885 are invaluable, as they add to the narrative of the estate’s preservation history.

“If we see evidence that something has been replaced, we always hope that somebody has marked it with a year, as was done in this case,” says Caroline Spurry, Mount Vernon's architectural research manager. “It’s particularly encouraging that the written date corresponds to the physical evidence that we can observe on that mopboard.”

The penciled signature reads “DP [or DL] Billingsley Sept 20th 1884.” Mount Vernon researchers hope to uncover the mopboard signer's identity by searching institutional records.

Discover More Signatures Throughout the Mansion

Preservation Carpenter Allison Brashears removes a small section of mopboard, which was found to display a handwritten signature and year (1884) on its reverse. (MVLA)

(MVLA)

Preservation Carpenter Allison Brashears displays the signed mopboard, discovered on the east wall of the New Room. (MVLA)

Moving Forward with Conservation

Following the removal, the mopboards were carefully stored to ensure their preservation, and the next step, the removal of the New Room’s floorboards, commenced. Once the Preservation team completes the framing repairs in the New Room, the “layers of the onion” will be reinstalled—concluding with the reinstallation of the mopboards.

An In-Depth Look

As Mount Vernon's Mansion Revitalization Project proceeds into 2026, take a deep dive into the various aspects of this landmark preservation project.

Learn more