Saturday, April 14, 2018

A Note About Rake Boards

In the United States, most homes' gable roofs overhang the walls on which they rest. The majority of gable roofs form distinct eaves, and these eaves often adorn all four elevations equally. But not every building is constructed this way. In Ohio, the absence of distinct eaves is a trait peculiar to Federal-era structures — those edifices built between the territorial era and the dawn of the Greek Revival period. (In a few places, even Greek Revival homes eschew eaves.)

Ubiquitous to such early, eaveless buildings is the rake board, the side elevation's equivalent of a fascia, more or less. In the absence of a roof overhang, rake boards protect the junction between a building's roof and its side walls from water infiltration. Though most common to masonry buildings (1), rake boards aren't unique to a particular construction method — log, frame, brick, and stone structures alike make use of them.

William Knoles House; Chillicothe, Ross County, Ohio. A stupendous example of early-nineteenth-century construction practices. Note the rake boards, vertical proportions, and steeple-notched logs.

On masonry structures, rake boards tend to coexist, almost by necessity, with flush chimneys. Among higher-style Federal buildings, they occasionally feature dentils or scalloped carvings, and they often terminate, on the facade, at proper cornices.

Early house; Clifton, Greene County, Ohio. This dwelling — bizarrely vertical, and almost tower-like, in its proportions — features the usual flush chimney and rake boards.
Jacob Coy House; Beaver Creek Township, Greene County, Ohio. Coy, a Pennsylvanian, built this enormous log house in 1824. In its proportions (and its use of the site's terrain), it falls neatly into the Pennsylvania German tradition. The rake boards, attic windows, and box cornice (barely visible) are typical. Photo by Sandra Shapiro, 1989, from the collection of Donald and Jean Hutslar.
Kitchen wing, John Knott House (1828); Miami Township, Greene County, Ohio. The rake boards may this home's least noteworthy feature. Most fascinating are the two-story porch and divided ("Dutch") door.
Travelers' Rest (1812); Greenfield, Highland County, Ohio.
Abandoned "saltbox" house; Elizabethtown, Hamilton County, Ohio. Razed. Photo from the Miami Purchase Association collection; digitized by DAAPSpace.

1) Why? Largely because early masonry buildings were more likely to outlast frame and log ones.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Commonplace Classicism in a Michigan City

A few days ago, I spent an afternoon walking the streets of Hillsdale, Michigan — my adopted (and soon-to-be former) hometown. Like a great many small Midwestern cities, Hillsdale has endured its share of economic and cultural oscillations. The community, platted in the 1830s, enjoyed moderate prosperity in the nineteenth century (thanks, largely, to its status as county seat), then entered a full-fledged boom about the turn-of-the-century, when the railroad industry reached its zenith. The city suffered little in the postwar years, but more recent decades have brought stagnation (albeit stagnation of a moderate sort). Thankfully, the presence of Hillsdale College guarantees the community a modicum of vigor.

Hillsdale retains an unusually fine housing stock — a smattering of Greek Revival holdouts, a few examples of the Gothic picturesque, and a bounty of Italianates. (If my experience is any indication, Michigan cities, in general, tend to be architectural treasure troves.) A majority of the town's homes, though, date from the thirty-year period spanning the presidencies of Cleveland and Coolidge — the 1890s, 1900s, and 1910s, when American cities underwent something of a building boom. Stylistically, this era was marked by a return to the classical. Already, by the 1890s, architects at the cutting edge of American design (to use a cliché) were eschewing Romanesque massiveness and ornate scrollwork for entablatures, pediments, dentils, and volutes. The turn-of-the-century popularity of classical forms is evident in Hillsdale, and evident, moreover, in the homes lining one of Hillsdale's streets.

Once upon a time, Howell Street served as Hillsdale's primary north–south thoroughfare. It formed the focal point of the city's commercial activity, constituted one border of the courthouse square, and connected the community to Ohio and points farther south. It also witnessed quite a transformation during classicism's reintroduction.

Some of Howell Street's homes only flirt with classicism. A few date from the 1860s, 1870s, and 1880s, when the Italianate style dominated. 99 Howell Street is a typical example—a one-and-a-half-story home of "upright-and-wing" form (so popular among the New Yorkers who dominated early Michigan), originally built in a vernacular Greek Revival–Italianate mode and updated, about 1900, with a vaguely Ionic porch. The porch's columns are disproportionately slender, and the volutes jut from the capitals at a 45-degree angle—a feature exclusive to the corner columns of Greek antecedents.

65 Howell Street — occupied, in 1894, by members of the Prideaux family — is a more developed building. An irregularly shaped frame dwelling of side-passage plan, it combines Italianate and Classical Revival details in a way that makes determining a construction date difficult. A bracket-supported cornice crowns each of the home's windows, many of which feature leaded glass. More interesting, perhaps, is the way the eaves are treated — chunky scroll brackets, pierced and paired at the corners; a divided frieze; and an abundance of smaller brackets which rather resemble classical dentils or modillions.

The house's two-door entry is sheltered by a well-proportioned porch — a porch with a full three-part entablature, small eave brackets (similar to the ones adorning the windows and roofline), and fluted columns topped by simplified Corinthian capitals. (This capital design, it seems, was inspired by the Athenian Tower of the Winds.)

Other homes in the vicinity were born in a state of classicism. In general, the earliest turn-of-the-century-era Classical Revival residences combined neoclassical ornamentation and irregular, picturesque late-Victorian forms. (The McAlesters classify such houses as the "free classic" subset of the Queen Anne style.) 93 Howell Street exemplifies this turn. In proper late-Victorian fashion, it's well-supplied with turrets and towers, but it lacks much extraneous adornment. Beyond the turret and the narrow frieze board running beneath its eaves, its only claim to a stylistic identity is its stumpy Ionic porch.

In a similar — albeit later — vein is 75 Howell Street, another balloon-frame dwelling with an Ionic porch and an asymmetrical plan. This house seems to anticipate the Craftsman movement, with its purlin-esuqe modillions and double-slope roof.

96 Howell Street is one of the neighborhood's grander Classical Revival abodes. The omnipresent Ionic columns (and pilasters) may be awkwardly scaled, but the home's irregularity, entablature, modillions, elliptical (and keystone-surrounded) attic window, and two-story porches lend it an air of respectability.

Near Howell Street's southern terminus lie a few gambrel-roofed homes. Though predominantly astylistic, they approach the classical.

By far, the crowning classical jewel in the neighborhood's crown is 147 Howell Street. I'll let the photos speak for themselves.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Clermont County's Collins Farm

Reservoir-building is necessarily destructive. Foliage must be cleared, and topography graded, before water floods the site in question. Fields and fences drown, and entire landscapes disappear under muddy water. Worst of all (if I may flaunt my bias), the construction of dams tends to disproportionately affect historic buildings. Why? Because — in southwestern Ohio, especially — any locale's earliest settlements tended to cluster around its watercourses. Valleys often shelter a particular community's oldest homes and wealthiest farms. Inevitably, dam construction involves the obliteration of these things. One such casualty was a cluster of homes in southeastern Batavia Township, Clermont County, in and around the now-submerged hamlet of Elk Lick. William H. Harsha Lake, created in 1978, now covers the site of Elk Lick, itself commemorated only by an eponymous local road.

The Richard Collins House's front (east) facade, viewed from Elk Lick Road.

I discovered the Collins Farm by accident, one day, while browsing the University of Cincinnati's DAAPSpace media library. (In the 1990s, the university acquired the defunct Miami Purchase Association for Historic Preservation's collection, which it has partly digitized.) Among photos of familiar Clermont County structures, I found an intriguing cluster of images labeled "McGrath Complex." A bit of digging confirmed my suspicion — the buildings were long ago razed. Oddly enough, they receive no mention in the Ohio Historical Society's 1970 "Southwest Ohio Survey" report (which includes one Elk Lick house). More useful, but no less perplexing, is the error-laden East Fork Environmental Impact Statement issued by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1974. According to the report, the homes within the "McGrath Complex" were "[r]emoved from the site according to standard real estate procedures," with some hope for future preservation. This, alas, is nonsense. In reality, they were unceremoniously bulldozed.

The houses in question stood on a terrace overlooking the East Fork of the Miami River, just south of Elk Lick proper. Both were constructed by members of the Collins family, whose progenitor, John, relocated to Ohio from Gloucester County, New Jersey, in 1802. John Collins (1769–1845) was born to Quaker parents, but converted to Methodism well before his arrival in the Buckeye State. (I wonder whether he had something to do with Clermont County's preponderance of New Jerseyans.)

A few years after moving to Ohio — in either 1803 or 1805 — John funded the construction of a two-story stone residence. The structure was strikingly ancient-looking, with its two-bay facade and single-pen plan, and it scarcely differed, in form, from the log homes built by less-wealthy Ohioans of the same generation. Like a few other stone buildings in Clermont County, the John Collins House featured a massive interior-end chimney, a narrow frieze board, and rather skimpy boards which, as far as I can tell, simulated cornice returns.

The John Collins House (circa 1805). Despite what local lore claims, this was not Ohio's oldest stone building.

A stone's throw (no pun intended) from John Collins's statehood-era dwelling stood a much larger, grandiose residence — reportedly commissioned by Richard Collins (1797–1855), John's son, who acquired the family farm in 1853 after a storied career. (The younger Collins practiced law in Hillsboro, Ohio; represented Highland County in Ohio's government; and operated a dry-goods store in Maysville, Kentucky.) Assuming the linked obituary's chronology is correct, Collins built his home in 1853, 1854, or 1855 — all believable construction dates, given the building's appearance.

Richard Collins's grand Grecian edifice.

The house's builder made use of a plan common enough in southwestern Ohio — four rooms arranged around a central hallway, with chimneys placed at the periphery (and, thus, a fireplace in each major room). Here, though, the mundaneness stops. Rather than being two stories in height, the Richard Collins House squeezed an additional half-story, lit by low windows, under its bizarrely shallow gable roof. The home's dominant feature was, of course, its massive Ionic portico, which sheltered first- and second-floor doorways ornamented in typical Greek Revival fashion, with sidelights, transoms, pilasters, and entablatures. The second-floor entrance led onto a small, iron-balustraded balcony structurally independent from the portico itself — not an uncommon arrangement among grander classically inspired homes. Brickwork underneath the eaves simulated an denticulate entablature.

As a work of art, the Richard Collins House was, I think, less successful than a great many Greek Revival homes in northeastern Ohio. (In general, the New Englanders who inhabited the Western Reserve built more faithfully in the Greek idiom than did their southern-Ohio counterparts.) Its size made it ponderous, and its sparsely adorned eaves (i.e., the absence of a proper entablature) rendered it bottom-heavy. Still, it overshadowed almost every building in the vicinity, and its ambitious design placed it among the great Greek Revival homes of the Cincinnati region.

Both John's and Richard's houses were well worth preserving, as even the Army Corps of Engineers noted, but their destruction isn't surprising. Relocating a masonry building is a bloody difficult task; I've heard stories of brick homes crumbling to pieces despite movers' best efforts.

What replaced the dwellings of John and Richard Collins? Have a look.

William H. Harsha Lake (looking north), seen from the East Fork State Park Beach. Photo sourced from Google Maps. The Collins family's farm occupied land near the center of the image.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

The Limits of Grecian Grandeur; or, When Entablatures Metastasize

Sturgis, Michigan, is a peculiar city — it's county-seat-sized, with an appropriately healthy economy and a splendid stock of nineteenth-century buildings, but it lies at the corner of its county, rather far from the usual sources of vitality. (More than likely, the community's survival is a consequence of its proximity to the Indiana Toll Road.) Just south of the business district, on a charming brick-paved street, stands an equally head-scratching home.

They say that the Greek Revival is a masculine style. (1) If so, this is the Arnold Schwarzenegger of Greco-American homes, with a great rippling, bulging bicep of an entablature. Now, most Greek Revival homes — whether or not their builders adhered rigidly to classical models — possess some grace; but others collapse (metaphorically, of course) under the weight of their ponderous entablatures. This house, it seems, falls into the latter category (though I'm rather partial to the doorway).

The standard Doric entablature consists of three parts: cornice, frieze, and architrave. The adventurous carpenter who constructed this home eschewed the last two, and instead stacked cornice molding atop cornice molding atop cornice molding, creating, in effect, the architectural equivalent of a multi-tiered wedding cake. The result is . . . interesting. It makes me chuckle with delight. Any well-trained classicist or Athenian architect, though, would surely retch in disgust. (I can hear the great I.T. Frary writhing in his grave.)

The doorway is also a purist's nightmare. The columns are too slender, their capitals are too large, and the engaged, semicircular pilasters slam awkwardly into the flat pilasters supporting the entablature.

What do I know about the house's history? Relatively little. In 1893, it belonged to a "Mrs. H. Church." Mrs. Church may have been Emma (1834–1912), wife of Henry Seymour Church (1831–1910), a native of upstate New York (America's Greek Revival capital, if I may say so). At the time of the 1880 census, the Churches lived alone, and Henry worked as a grocer. In all likelihood, Henry was too young to have commissioned this home, (2) so the identity of its builder remains a mystery. Kathryn Eckert's excellent Buildings of Michigan neglects to mention it, and I have no access to the Michigan Historic Preservation Office's archives. So, as with so many blog posts, I'll end with a shrug of bewilderment.

1) I can't entirely agree with this assertion. The Greek Revival mode indeed emphasizes massiveness and stolidity — at least, more than, say, the Gothic and late Victorian styles do. But Davis, Eastlake, and Shaw would surely object to our labeling their work unmanly.

2) I'd estimate a construction date in the 1840s (at the earliest) or the early 1850s (more likely). Given that Henry Church reached adulthood about 1850, it's conceivable — but, again, unlikely — that he bore responsibility for erecting the house.

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.