This chimney and foundation are all that remain of the "joiner's shop", of the first structures on Mulberry Row. From about 1775, free and enslaved workmen produced some of the finest woodwork in Virginia. Sawyers and carpenters felled oak, beech, cherry, poplar, walnut, chestnut, locust, and pine trees in the nearby forest and sawed them into timbers and planks at the "saw pit" to be put to use here. In the nearby "carpenter's shop", workmen dried and roughed out planks. Using an array of hand planes, chisels, saws, and lathes, joiners transformed the dried planks into doors, window frames, balusters, furniture, and carriages.
Highly skilled joiner John Hemmings trained with white craftsmen for 10 years; Scottish joiner David Watson taught him "to make wheels, and all sorts of work." Hemmings became James Dinsmore's apprentice in 1798, fashioning doors and windows, balustrades, staircases, cornices, and mantels. When Dinsmore left in 1809, Hemmings took charge of the "joiner's shop", producing fine furniture, carriages, and agricultural machinery. He also trained a younger generation of enslaved artisans, including his nephews, Eston and Madison Hemmings.
both are house joiners of the first order. they have done the whole of the work in my house, to which I can affirm there is nothing superior in the US. Thomas Jefferson, 1815
Head joiner James Dinsmore worked on the dependencies and dome as well as on important interior finish work including cornices, shutters, and door frames. Overseer Edmund Bacon recalled that "Dinsmore...was the most ingenious hand to work with wood I ever knew. He could make anything." During Jefferson's presidency, Dinsmore managed Monticello's operations. After 1809, this "very fine housejoiner" helped build James Madison's Montpelier and the University of Virginia.
(left to right) Buildings on Mulberry Row during Jefferson's era.
Arch in the Book Room. In 1799, James Dinsmore and John Hemmings "prepared & put up the oval arch in do. (8. feet wide in 12. days." They spent long hours sawing, planing, and bending tulip poplar wood for the arch between Jefferson's study and library. Carol Highsmith, 2008
Sawyer, The Book of Trades, Philadelphia, 1807. To saw wood into planks, the "pit man" stood under the timber while another sawyer positioned himself on the frame over it. Frank P. Amari Jr.
Turner, The Book of Trades, Philadelphia, 1807. Joiners constructed intricate, fitted woodwork, including balusters and newel posts turned with a lathe. Frank P. Amari Jr.
Saw fragment, iron. Measuring device, copper alloy. Wedge, iron. Small hammer head, iron. (This center part of the marker is currently missing.)
"Memdm of Carpenters tools belonging to Mr. Jefferson" by James Dinsmore, 1809, included over 125 hand planes, indicating the specialized nature of the work. Massachusetts Historical Society.