Friday, January 12, 2018

The Cluxton Log House

Unlike Kentucky, Tennessee, and other states south of the Ohio River and west of the Appalachians, Ohio boasts relatively few double-pen log buildings. (For those unversed in the arcane art of log-divining, a double-pen building is one which contains two structurally independent units, or pens.*) One of the Buckeye State's finest double-pen dwellings stood, appropriately enough, in one of its most "Southern" counties (geographically and culturally) — Adams — just north of West Union, the county seat. Nestled among billowing pastureland within an agriculturally deficient region known, historically, as the "white oak barrens," the house languished in obscurity and decrepitude until Stephen Kelley, president of the Adams County Historical Society, photographed it in 1977. Kelley's images found their way into Donald Hutslar's hands, and thence into two books (this and this). It's scarcely surprising, then, that state and national surveys of historic buildings neglected to include it — and shall always neglect to include it, since the house disappeared in the 1990s.

The house's front (northwest) elevation. Image by Stephen Kelley, 1977, from the collection of Donald and Jean Hutslar.

The home was an utterly classic double-pen structure — precisely the sort of building I'd expect to find within the earlier-settled portions of the Upland South. It made use of two one-and-a-half-story pens, each constructed of steeple-notched logs and adorned with a single window opening. It featured two massive rubble-stone chimneys — one exterior, and one interior (with an exposed firebox). In all likelihood, the passage between the pens was always enclosed (unlike in the case of the archetypal "dogtrot" house), and the braced-frame rear rooms, which lent the structure a "saltbox" roofline, might have been planned at the time of construction.

The rear (southeast) and side elevations. Note the square attic windows, rake boards, and cantilevered porch framing. I must say, I'm a bit baffled by the pole-mounted hoop. Was it a DIY television antenna? A massive dream-catcher? A homing device for extraterrestrial spacecraft?

Kelley, it seems, failed to photograph the interior, but he did have the foresight to sketch a floor plan, which I've adapted into a proper CAD rendering.

In some ways, the house's oddest feature was its staircase. More often than not, early inhabitants of Ohio's southern half jammed their stairways into the space between the fireplace and exterior wall. This house's builder, by contrast, placed the staircase within the "breezeway," but left it accessible only from the home's rear room. This suggests two possibilities — that (a) the building underwent a massive interior remodeling sometime in the nineteenth century, or that (b) the frame rear portion and the log pens were contemporaneous. Either possibility seems perfectly likely.

Dating the house is a tricky affair. Given its existence in Adams County, site of some of Ohio's earliest permanent settlements, it could have been a statehood-era structure. Then again, its placement on less-than-desirable land may mark it as a late survival of archaic building techniques. Tracing its ownership, alas, provides few answers. In 1880, it belonged to one S.P. Cluxton — perhaps Samuel Page Cluxton (b. 1838), a middle-aged farmer of Scots-Irish descent. It's unlikely that Samuel built or inherited the house; if mid-century census data is any indication, members of the Cluxton family lived exclusively in nearby Liberty Township, and their first place of settlement was the Brush Creek valley, several miles distant. (ApparentlyCluxton is a variant of Clugston, a "habitational name from the barony of Clugston in Wigtownshire," Scotland.)

So, the house's origin will remain a mystery — at least, until someone pays a visit to Adams County's courthouse and slogs through nineteenth-century tax records. I'll end my post with a rendering of how the house may have appeared in better days.

The house reconstructed in SketchUp, from the floor plan pictured above.

* Like all definitions, this one is subject to exception. Some of Ohio's seeming double-pen buildings — Brown County's Erastus Atkins House, for instance — are, in reality, unified structures whose rooms are divided by interlocked log walls.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

A Warren County Puzzle

Perched on a hillside northeast of Waynesville, in Warren County, is a curious brick farmhouse. It's obviously an ancient structure (by Ohio's standards), with its flush chimneys and rake boards, and it fronts an early thoroughfare connecting Waynesville and cities farther north. Like a few other homes in the vicinity, it makes stupendous use of its sloping site; the basement is at once a first floor, a quirk which allowed the builder to attach a two-story gallery to what seems, from one angle, a single-story structure.

My lone, woefully inadequate photo of the building.

Alas, someone, at some time (perhaps in the finest decade for tasteful design — the 1970s), thought it wise to seal half the window and door openings, then reface the entire building, including its porch's columns (!), with stones of varied size and shape. The result looks, to my jaundiced eye, like the architectural equivalent of type-I neurofibromatosis (or some other tumor-inducing disease). Thankfully, staff from the Ohio Historical Society photographed the house in 1969 or 1970, well before the remodeling. At the time, the building retained its original six-over-nine windows.

Image, 1969 or 1970, from the "Southwest Ohio Survey" collection; held by the Ohio Historical Society.

Obviously, the house is early and noteworthy, but researching its history proved more difficult than I anticipated. The earliest digitized map of Warren County land ownership, published in 1856, lists "J. Parkhill" as owner of the 204-acre tract where this home stands. As is so often the case, Parkhill seemingly left no literary footprint — he receives no mention in county histories, and grave records are equally scanty. (The closest match in Find A Grave's database is James Parkhill (d. 1896), interred in Deerfield Township's Rose Hill Cemetery.) The 1850 census, though, records a Joseph Parkhill, born about 1815 in Ohio, as a resident of Wayne Township. Parkhill had a large family, and he provided room and board for at least three non-family-members — evidence, perhaps, that local tradition has correctly identified the building as an inn or tavern.

Some time between 1856 and 1874, Parkhill's property passed to Israel Hopkins Harris (1823–1897), a Waynesville banker and member of a locally prominent family. If the postcard pictured below is any indication, Harris's name — and not Parkhill's — became attached to the house, no doubt because of the Harris family's considerable cachet.

Postcard, undated, from the collection of Donald and Jean Hutslar.

Assuming the building did function as a "wayside inn," it did so during Parkhill's occupancy (or earlier), and not Harris's. But Parkhill was reasonably young in 1850, and it's unlikely that he commissioned or built the structure. (Given that Waynesville itself was platted in 1796, and that Warren County comprises one of Ohio's wealthiest, earliest-settled regions, a construction date in the 1810s or 1820s seems perfectly believable.) But, alack, tracing Warren County property ownership beyond Franklin Pierce's presidency requires (a) good literary sources or (b) a trip to the county courthouse, so, for now, the Parkhill–Harris residence's ultimate identity will remain a mystery.

A slightly later (?) photo gives an even finer glimpse of the house's two-story porch, its twin entrances, and its most distinctive feature — a semicircular stone staircase, which partly provides ground-level access to the gallery's upper story.

Image, undated, from the collection of Donald and Jean Hutslar.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Christian Sipe's Log House

Once again, Greene County provides fodder for a post — albeit a brief one.

I've known about the above abode for a few years, and I long ago included it in my list of likely log buildings. (If houses could talk, this one would holler, "Look at me! Look at my thick walls! Look at my boxy proportions! I'm log! For Pete's sake, I'm log!) Remodeling has spoiled its purity, but it remains a splendid example of early-nineteenth-century building practices in southwestern Ohio; the box cornice, rake boards, and asymmetrical facade are all traits peculiar to the period.

Yesterday, I decided to research its history. I must say, I expected to find little — perhaps the name of its owner at mid-century, and whatever information I could glean from census records and Find A Grave's ever-handy database. But I struck gold. First, I turned to an 1855 map of Greene County, which clearly labels the house with the name "N. Sipe." A quick Google Books search revealed this passage (in G.F. Robinson's 1902 History of Greene County, Ohio):
In 1856, Mr. [Noah] Sipe erected a brick house upon the old home farm, where he now resides. There was but one other house anywhere in the locality at the time the old home had been erected. The first structure was a log cabin, which was succeeded by a fine log house built when Mr. Sipe was a young lad, and is still standing, one of the mute reminders of pioneer days . . .
Eureka! Not only does Robinson mention Sipe's log house (a rarity in county histories), but he also gives a construction date (Sipe was born in 1820) and, more importantly, draws a distinction between the Sipe family's first-generation cabin and its better-finished, second-generation log house. Examples of this distinction are numerous in nineteenth-century writings, but I can't recall ever finding such a description of an extant building.

Christian Sipe (d. 1855), Noah's father and (I presume) the log house's builder, emigrated from Rockingham County, Virginia, in 1814. Sipe spent two years with family in Clark County, Ohio, then purchased his Bath Township tract and cobbled together a cabin. Sipe spent anywhere from, say, five to ten years in this cabin, then contented himself, for the remainder of his years, with his "fine" two-story log house.

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Hartsook House and the Trustworthiness of Atlas Illustrations

In Ohio, the overwhelming majority of nineteenth-century log houses followed a simple plan — a single log pen, divided into one or two first-floor rooms and a loft, with minimal ornamentation (save, perhaps, for a mantel and the omnipresent enclosed staircase) and as many window and door openings as were absolutely necessary. Of course, homes often accreted additions, wings, and lean-tos, all of which lent a bit of variety to the architectural landscape; but, for the most part, one log house looked — to the untrained eye, at least — very much like another. But every rule has its exception, (1) and I relish finding them.

One of Ohio's more inventive variants of the single-pen log dwelling stood at the southern periphery of Greene County, in Caesar's Creek Township (2). The home belonged to James Frederick Hartsook (1831–1912) in the 1870s, and it stood, in almost unaltered condition, well into the 1970s. Donald Hutslar describes (and illustrates) it in his Architecture of Migration.

Photo by Donald Hutslar, 1971, published in The Architecture of Migration.

The house's distinctive features were numerous: overhanging plates, a centered second-floor tripartite window, a twelve-over-eight sash pattern, scalloped rake boards (barely visible in the photo above), a partly enclosed storage area adjoining the house proper, and, most notably, two front entries. Now, such paired doorways are a common sight in Ohio — particularly in regions settled by Pennsylvanians and Germans — but they tend not to adorn log buildings (no doubt because of the interior divisions they presuppose). As its fenestration suggests, the house was divided into two rooms, albeit not by the usual board or frame partition; instead, the builder opted for a central log wall. This wall, of course, terminated at the upper floor, just below the window. I'd love to know how the second floor was arranged, but, alas, Hutslar's description falls just short. I can say that the interior contained an enclosed staircase, placed against the central log wall. The six-panel doors are standard Federal-era fare.

Much to my surprise, researching the house's history was a breeze. An 1855 map of Greene County lists "E.B. Hartsook" as the property's owner. "E.B." was no doubt Elijah Benjamin Hartsook (1798–1863), father of James (mentioned above), who must have inherited the farm after Elijah's death. The Hartsooks hailed from Hagerstown, Maryland (though they seem to have tarried in eastern West Virginia), and their family farmhouse appears to have Mid-Atlantic antecedents. Attached to Elijah's Find A Grave page is this helpful note:
Eleazer United Methodist Church, 1765 E. Spring Valley-Paintersville Road — Elijah Hartsook bought land in Caesars Creek Township in 1834 to build a home. He donated a plot of land for the church and cemetery. The church was probably finished around 1846, at a cost of $600.
This corroborates nicely with Hutslar's estimated construction date of 1833. Elijah Hartsook, then, built or commissioned the house in 1833 or 1834, in a style amenable to his central-Maryland origin. There. Simple. Case closed.

Like a few dozen other Greene County landowners, James Hartsook enjoyed the honor of his residence's inclusion in the Combination Atlas–Map of Greene County, Ohio (1874). The lithographer tasked with capturing the Hartsook farm's likeness did much justice to reality (and equal injustice to perspective). The illustration faithfully reproduces all that made Hartsook's abode distinctive: its second-floor window, its overhanging plates, and even its scalloped trim.

This raises an interesting point. Instinct and cynicism inform me that I ought to treat such illustrations with skepticism. After all, citizens paid for these engravings, and what homeowner wouldn't forgive a bit of artistic license, provided that it flattered him? Evidence and experience, though, suggest that the hundreds of illustrations adorning Ohio's nineteenth-century atlases are, for the most part, accurate depictions of reality. And we architectural historians ought to study them.

1) Does the rule that every rule has an exception itself have an exception?

2) No other Ohio township name is so inconsistently spelled. Some nineteenth- and twentieth-century documents use Caesar Creek (without a possessive), whereas others add that lovely English vestigial genitive, but omit the conventional apostrophe (making Caesars Creek). Wikipedia smashes together the two words in horrifying (but oddly trendy) fashion — hence Caesarscreek. (Gesundheit!) I'd throw my support behind the one variant that seems not to appear in print: Caesar's Creek.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Another Regional Quirk: Southwestern Ohio's Conspicuous Built-In Gutters

As I've said ad nauseum, every locale has its own architectural flavor (if you will), and that flavor tends to be a function of certain circumstances — when the community happened to develop, where its inhabitants originated, and so on. Often, clusters of distinctively similar structures betray the influence of a particular builder or carpenter. Other times, though, the origin of a locally (or regionally) distinctive architectural quirk can be more difficult to trace. The "monk-bond"-brick farmhouses near Bellevue, Ohio, are one such enigma; so are the myriad southwestern-Ohio homes adorned with built-in gutters.

Gutter, John Elliott House (1802); Symmes Township, Hamilton County, Ohio. This NRHP-listed stone dwelling was built within a year of Ohio's statehood. The frieze board, cornice, and gutter likely date from mid-century.

Describing these gutters — and what differentiates them from their counterparts elsewhere — is a bit of a challenge. They're scattered widely across Ohio's southwestern counties (historically, the state's wealthiest region), from Preble and Darke (in the northwest) to Clermont and Brown (in the southeast), with the densest concentration in the Cincinnati orbit; occasionally, though, examples appear farther north. They're formed when a cornice reaches its wall's plane, then juts out horizontally, creating a distinctive "kick." As far as I can tell, they seem to be a mid-nineteenth-century innovation — most common to Italianate-era structures, but sufficiently abundant in other contexts to leave me scratching my head.

House; Eaton, Preble County, Ohio. This building's cornice is more developed than the John Elliott House's, but the integral gutter remains equally striking.

South gable, Van Ausdal House; Eaton, Preble County, Ohio.

Lest anyone think I'm inventing my assertion, I searched my database of historic rural residences; the distribution of built-in gutters is striking: 48 examples in Warren County, 17 in Butler, at least a dozen in Hamilton,* 10 in Clermont, and nine in Preble; but three in Greene and Montgomery, one in Brown, and none in Clinton and Adams.

Workers' cottages in Columbus's German Village neighborhood — well outside the integral gutter's core region of popularity. Compare the foreground home's eaves with those of its neighbors.

Now, whenever I happen upon such a localized — nay, regionalized — quirk of architecture, I begin wondering about the origin (regional or ethnic) of those who employed it. (Of course, in this case, the method seems less useful, given the great temporal gap between the element's appearance and the settlement of the region in question.) The built-in gutter seems to correlate with concentrations of New Jerseyans, who flocked to the Symmes Purchase and surrounding lands. But such gutters aren't common in Ohio's other significant region of New Jersey settlement — the southwestern portion of the U.S. Military District. And, obviously, plenty of non-New Jerseyans employed the method, too. (It appears in Columbus's German Village, for goodness' sake!)

So, why are built-in gutters concentrated in Cincinnati and bordering counties? I don't know. A bit of meticulous research — tracing particular buildings' owners' immigration and combing through other states' NRHP listings — might reveal something, but I'll leave that research for the future.

* As of October 11, 2017, I've finished only part of my Hamilton County survey.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Albert J. Ewing Collection: Glimpses of a Long-Lost Landscape

Cross-posted from the Ohio History Connection's blog.

In 2017, it's not difficult to document the world. Storage space is cheap, and opportunity cost is practically nonexistent. Cameras and computers allow geographers and architectural historians — amateur and professional alike — to capture, store, and edit a thousand images of whatever strikes their fancy. Thanks to Google and Bing, a person needn't visit a place to understand its atmosphere, to sample its je ne sais quoi.

But finding visual documentation from before the era of abundant information remains an ordeal. Everyone who owns a historic home dreams of discovering some glorious daguerreotype showing the structure as built, but few succeed. In the nineteenth century, portrait photography outshone landscape photography. Then, as now, people tended to overlook the ordinary. In far-flung places — rural Appalachia, for instance — the problem was particularly acute. The Ohio History Connection, though, holds one collection unmatched in its ability to give a glimpse of the turn-of-the-century landscape: a store of more than 5,000 plate-glass negatives, gloriously detailed, captured by the wandering photographer Albert Ewing.

Albert J. Ewing (1870–1934) spent his early years near Marietta, the first permanent settlement within the Northwest Territory, founded by the Massachusetts-based Ohio Company of Associates in 1788. The fertile valleys of the Ohio River and Muskingum River attracted plenty of early settlement, but the rugged, stream-dissected Allegheny Plateau remained sparsely populated until the nineteenth century’s closing decades. For the most part, the land of southeastern Ohio and central-western West Virginia allowed only subsistence agriculture. Homesteaders lived in relative squalor and farmed sloping plots within isolated mountain hollows. But turn-of-the-century oil exploration brought prosperity to the region and, in turn, triggered a building boom. It is this landscape — a landscape newly transformed by mineral wealth, dotted with derricks and oddly exuberant dwellings — that Ewing’s images allow us to glimpse in unparalleled detail.
A newly constructed farmhouse of standard turn-of-the-century appearance. Location unknown. Despite its hilliness, the land surrounding the house is largely cleared for agriculture; today, the same spot is probably densely forested.

Some of the houses in Ewing’s photos seem strikingly new — coated with unblemished paint, constructed of unweathered wood, and adorned with unbroken scrollwork, spandrels, and medallions. This is hardly surprising. Many of them are (or were) new. They tend to display the hallmarks of turn-of-the-century domestic architecture: an affinity for traditional forms, liberal use of lathe-turned woodwork, and a repetition of certain types of ornamentation. Ewing’s camera even captured some buildings during construction, and one pair of plates depicts the same home before and after a renovation.
A plain farmhouse of "saltbox" form — likely a frame building, but possibly log. Location unknown.
The same house — a decade or two later, and after a reroofing and the addition of a two-story porch.

Other photos show the poverty for which Appalachia is (rightly or wrongly) famous. Ewing's images of log buildings, in particular, are among his collection's most valuable. One — labeled "rural life," perhaps ironically — depicts a small log house and its accompanying log outbuilding. The outbuildings's roof is supported by purlins — a construction method common to Ohio's earliest cabins. (Yes, there is a difference between a log cabin and a log house, but that's a subject for another post.) In another image, the log house stands, encircled by a picket fence, among unkempt-looking fields. Additions obscure two of the log pen's four sides, the roof is clad with wood shingles, and the house's plates overhang the walls. Had Ewing jumped into H.G. Wells's time machine and emerged in the year 1830, he might still have returned with (almost) identical-looking images.

Still other photos depict buildings within a broader context. In one, the farm complex, rimmed by sloping pastureland and split-rail fences, straddles a small stream; in the other, the house and outbuildings stand on a level upland. One farmhouse is rather crudely constructed and sided with boards and battens (and, thus, might be a remodeled log building); the other, a balloon-frame structure of "I" form, was likely built within a few years of Ewing's visit. (The second-floor entries suggest that the owner planned to grace his abode with a two-story porch.) In both cases, the homes' chimneys send forth puffs of smoke — not surprising, for Ewing captured a great many of his images in the autumn, winter, and early spring.

The two photos, like all within the collection, are deliciously detailed, and they permit the curious to see the long-dead accoutrements of Appalachian agricultural life: carts, carriages, millstones, chickens, cattle, orchards, dirt lanes, split-rail fences, and sloping fields — and, of course, the owners themselves, often proudly standing by those marks of civilization they helped wrench from nature.

But enough rambling. 1,435 of Ewing's 5,055 negatives are available, in 5,000-by-4,000-pixel glory, via Ohio Memory. As the old saw says, a picture is worth a thousand words. Do take a look!

Friday, July 14, 2017

Brick Columns in Warren County

It's not difficult to spot similarities between, say, the boxy braced-frame (and log) farmhouses of Wayne County and dwellings in southeastern Pennsylvania's Amish heartland, but finding direct connections between Ohio buildings and their East-Coast antecedents is a more arduous task. Still, some have managed it. Frary traces floral woodwork in one Western Reserve farmhouse to a home in rural Maine, and Asher Benjamin's designs are duplicated in countless structures — residential, commercial, and public alike. I suspect that most comparisons between individual buildings are, in all likelihood, mistaken, but the temptation remains.

In suburbanizing Hamilton Township, Warren County (one of Ohio's finest counties, if I may say so), are two Federal-era residences with peculiar similarities to at least one Virginia plantation home. One stands on Schlottman Road, just north of the township's southern boundary and a stone's throw from Benjamin Butterworth's hillside farmhouse (1815); the other sits on a sloping, stream-side lot, south of Maineville (a community founded, as its name suggests, by ex-citizens of New England's northeasternmost state).

The Schlottman Road house was owned, during the nineteenth century's second quarter, by members of the Hill family, but its exact history is murky. The building's facade is standard transitional Federal–Grecian fare — five bays in width, with a narrow frieze board, trabeated doorway, and rectangular stone lintels and sills. What lies behind the facade is a bit odder. Unlike most "I" houses (dwellings multiple rooms in width, but only one in depth), the Hill House features an additional row of rooms, which allow for extra fireplaces and a two-story inset porch (now enclosed), and which lend the house a "saltbox" roofline.

The Hill House (WAR-631-11), supposedly constructed in 1817; expanded circa 1845. Photo from the Warren County Auditor's website.

At the home's rear, though, is its truly intriguing feature. Extending from the two-story section is a one-and-a-half-story wing (not an oddity in itself), constructed of Flemish-bond brick. According to local lore, this wing predates the "I" portion by several decades — a claim I'm more than willing to believe. A two-bay section of this wing is recessed, and the resulting porch is supported by polygonal brick columns with blocky capitals and plinths. Clunky though they may be, these columns are distinctive. Ohio has a plethora of recessed porches, but few — if any — use brick as a supporting material (though I know of two arcaded porches in Lawrence County).

The home's rear (more interesting, I think, than its facade). The 1817 section lies to the right. Note the fieldstone springhouse. Photo from the Warren County Auditor's website.

Campbell County, Virginia's Green Hill Plantation, built about 1800, features a similar porch. As might be expected, Green Hill's columns are more sensitively handled; they're round, rather than polygonal, and they're topped with more typologically accurate capitals and plinths. Unfortunately, some of the many outbuildings and dependencies which once encircled Green Hill have disappeared, but the house remains, thank goodness.

Porch, Green Hill (circa 1800); Long Island vicinity, Campbell County, Virginia. Photo from the Historic American Buildings Survey collection. Photographer and date unknown.

A few miles northeast of the Hill House; in Warren County, Ohio; stands a second dwelling — this one omitted from the Ohio History Inventory — with a brick-columned porch. In this case, the porch is two stories in height, and, instead of being tucked into a rear wing, it boldly graces the facade. The columns are circular (rather than polygonal), but their capitals are no more elegant than the Hill House's. An 1875 property atlas lists a J.E. Murdock as the farm's owner. Murdock's family lent its name to a crossroads community just south of the residence.

Murdock House; circa 1835 (?). Photo from the Warren County Auditor's website.