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.

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