Historic Cork Flooring Uncovered at Colorado County Courthouse

Posted by on Jun 12, 2013 in Current Projects, Journal

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Recent construction work in the Colorado County Courthouse required one of the existing platforms in the District Courtroom to be moved.  The platform, which supports a modified original 1890s desk, was carefully lifted onto rollers and moved approximately ten feet.  The relocation revealed a section of early cork carpeting dating to 1913.

Cork was a popular, moderately priced flooring material in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.  Its natural resiliency made it a durable flooring material for areas of heavy traffic.  It was comfortable underfoot and provided acoustic benefits in large, populated spaces.  It’s only disadvantages were that when left unwaxed, it absorbed stains from foot traffic and could be damaged if it got wet.  Cork carpet was typically made from ground waste cork bark, mixed with linseed oil and gum and pressed onto a woven backing.  With the advent of linoleum, cork declined in popularity.  Linoleum, which was made from oxidized linseed oil, rosins, and powdered cork or wood flour, was much less susceptible to water damage and staining.  Linoleum never required waxing, and offered many color and pattern choices.

On January 11, 1913 Colorado County Commissioners accepted the bid from J.G. and L.M. Wirtz in the amount of $678.50 for “Cook’s “A” grade Cook [Cork] Carpet” to be installed in the District Courtroom and adjacent stair halls.  For an additional $296 the commissioners also agreed to install “one width” of cork along the entire length of the first floor hall with strips leading to “the threshold of each door” and on the “step platforms” of the stairs leading to the second floor.

Cook’s Cork Carpet was originally manufactured by the Trenton Oil Cloth & Linoleum Co. of Trenton New Jersey.  Established in 1887 as the Trenton Oil Cloth Co. by George R. Cook and his brother, Edmund D. Cook, the company became a leading producer of oilcloths, cork, and both inlaid and printed linoleum flooring.  Edmund Cook died after a fall from a horse in April 1909.  The company name was changed to Cook’s Linoleum Co. sometime between 1910 and 1911 and they continued to manufacture flooring into the 1930s.

The samples uncovered at the Colorado County Courthouse consist of 6-foot wide rolls of cork, approximately 3/32 inch in thickness, pressed into a loosely woven jute backing.  The ends and sides were hand-nailed to the original wood flooring.  Circular indentations seen in the cork may have been caused by individuals leaning backwards in chairs. The photos show a lighter area in the middle of the cork, where a smaller raised platform once sat.  The darker perimeter areas of the cork, indicate the county later tried to coat the floor with some type of wax or other protectant.  The historic cork will be carefully removed and salvaged to the County.