There are so many things to enjoy about old buildings. From the ornate moldings to the craftsmanship in the small details to the quaint quirks there is something to enjoy about even the simplest of old fashioned homes. There are some features of old buildings that brought a lot of function to the structures while also becoming visually iconic. Think back to the classic barn red color, which was thought to be tinted with rust to prevent the wood from rotting. Well as it turns out those stars on old buildings also have a purpose.

6 point star on historic brick building
Via: Austin Kirk/Flickr

The stars on older buildings can be on the front or the sides, they can be large or small. The stars can have 5 points or 6, and they are often painted different colors depending on how the shutters and trim are painted. So there certainly is a decorative element to these features. Since you see them a lot on extremely old buildings that are made of brick, like those you find in New England, you might have assumed that they were some kind of patriotic flair.

But, the stars have a purpose that goes far beyond looking good.

black metal star on old brick building
Via: Paul Sableman/Flickr

The stars are in effect giant washers. They are there to keep long metal bolts from slipping through the bricks. This method of running a long bolt through the house and securing it at the ends is a way of keeping old brick buildings from swaying and crumbling. They are often found on the fronts of these buildings since the floor joists were often placed running front to back. The bolts go through the brick, into the floor joists, and out the other side.

Over time brick buildings can settle and bulge. If this happens the building is less structurally sound. To combat this movement over time these bolts keep the building straight. The stars are a great-looking way of doing this, but sometimes large nuts or unadorned metal plates are used instead.

older brick building in Petersburg, VA
Older brick building in Petersburg, VA. Via: Carol M. Highsmith/ Library of Congress

There are also other decorative shapes that are used this this purpose as well, such as the violin-like the scroll patterns you also see on old buildings. So the next time you see these “decorative” features on a building you’ll know that it at one point it got a little wobbly and just needed some help standing up straight.