Sceanned, copy-edited, spell-checked, and tagged by Lyndsey McCabe, The University of Virginia, 11/13/95.
With dates painted on their chimneys, their lawns neatly mowed, and room after room of period furniture, the historic houses of America proclaim their presence. Hardly a town in all of New England lacks a historic-house museum. Such importance vested in old houses is not misplaced. The house is our most important buffer against the elements. Shelter is basic to human existence, and the earliest known forms are over one million years old. At Olduvai Gorge, in Tanzania, the archaeologist Louis Leaky excavated a simple ring of stones thought to represent a rudimentary foundation of a shelter built by our earliest ancestors, the australopithecine man-apes of southern and eastern Africa. Whether a crude brush and bough affair built by the nomadic Siriono Indians of Bolivia for a single night's use, or an elegant mansion on the beach at Newport, Rhode Island, the house forms the focus of that basic social unit of the human species, the family. People are conceived, are born, and die in houses; in preindustrial cultures, the house is at the same time the domestic center and the location of most production of essential artifacts. The form of a house can be a strong reflection of the needs and minds of those who built it; in addition, it shapes and directs their behavior. Small wonder that so much of archaeology concerns itself with the excavation and interpretation of domestic structures of almost endless variety.
The distinction between vernacular and academic building traditions is a critical one, since each reflects different aspects of the culture that created the buildings. Vernacular building is folk building, done without benefit of formal plans. Such structures are frequently built by their occupants or, if not, by someone who is well within the occupant's immediate community. Vernacular structures are the immediate product of their users and form a sensitive indicator of these persons' inner feelings, their ideas of what is or is not suitable to them. Consequently, changes in attitudes, values, and world view are very likely to be reflected in changes in vernacular architectural forms. Academic architecture proceeds from plans created by architects trained in the trade and reflects contemporary styles of design that relate to formal architectural orders. It is much less indicative of the attitudes and life styles of the occupants of the buildings it creates. Vernacular building is an aspect of traditional culture, and academic architecture of popular culture. The change in Anglo American building from the early-seventeenth century to the end of the eighteenth century is essentially a picture of the slow development of vernacular forms under an increasing influence of the academic styles that were their contemporaries
The evidence that permits us to understand the development of domestic architecture in Anglo-America is of three types. The first comprises all of the surviving structures from the period, both in England and America. The second consists of excavated remains and as such is limited only to those portions of a building that survived below ground. Finally, certain documentary materials are useful, including land titles and deeds, probate materials, and building contracts. Surviving buildings are subject to certain limitations, which we have already briefly considered. There is no guarantee that they are surely representative of their times. The factors that allow the survival of one house and the destruction of another are probably numerous and complex, but it seems a reasonable assumption that the simpler and ruder houses of early America have long since vanished. On certain occasions, modest houses have been built onto in different directions, so that careful analysis of the various "builds" exhibited by a house can isolate the original core structure. Too, it was not unusual for a house to be dismantled in order to obtain materials for the construction of a newer one. The subterranean remains of a house, which are observed through excavation, have survived the passage of time in a far less selective way than have whole structures. It is extremely unlikely that any building constructed in the past has vanished without a trace. These traces are often underground, however, and must be exposed with shovel and trowel to be studied and understood. Even when this is accomplished, two other aspects of them must be considered: focus and visibility. Focus means the degree to which a pattern of postholes, cellars, and hearths can be "read" clearly as to how it represents the structure that once stood over it. Visibility means the actual amount of physical remains, however clearly or ambiguously they might be perceived. Sites can have poor focus and high visibility, or any combination of the two. For example, a house that had continuous stone footings as a foundation, a cellar, and substantial hearth, and which was not remodeled later, would provide an archaeological pattern of high focus and visibility. The tavern on Great Island in Wellfleet was such a site, and its architecture could be understood in some detail. On the other hand, the Edward Winslow site in Marshfield, Massachusetts, occupied during the second quarter of the seventeenth century, had good focus, but its visibility was poor. The house had no cellar, and its footings must have been set on the ground and later removed. The only evidence of its presence was a brick smear formed by what remained of the chimney base and small deposits of clay that might have been daubing for the walls. Winslow's son built a substantial house nearby at about the time his father's house was dismantled. Bricks recovered in digging this site were of two sizes, and some seemed earlier in type than the known date of the later house. The original house built by Edward Winslow vas probably cannibalized in the construction of the second house by his son.
Even if the visibility of a house site is high, the focus can be low if there has been extensive alteration, remodeling, and change over a long period of time. A longer duration of occupation tends to reduce the focus of a house's underground remains while increasing the visibility. Houses that have burned in place have a higher visibility and focus than those that were either moved to another site or dismantled in place. House construction that intrudes well below grade also increases both the focus and the visibility of the remains. The ideal feature for architectural study would be the remains of a house that was built with wall trenches, deep chimney base, and cellars, was occupied for a relatively brief period of time, was not added onto in any way, and burned in place. Such features are exceedingly rare, however, and our understanding of the various forms of early American building comes from less explicit archaeological evidence combined with the many buildings that have happily survived the passage of three centuries' time.
If the story we have so far gleaned from pottery fragments wand grave markers is a true indication of the way we have changed since the seventeenth century in our way of organizing and looking out upon our world, then a similar pattern of change is to be sought in changing building styles. Houses of the earliest period in Anglo-America should both resemble their English prototypes most closely and in some way provide evidence of a corporate life-style and a very organic integration. In time these should diverge and localize in form until they come under the impact of the academic traditions of the later-eighteenth century.
Without the evidence recovered from several archaeological sites, an oversimplified view of New England's earliest architectural tradition would almost certainly result. The surviving evidence above ground is remarkably homogeneous in form. The classic New England "salt box" house form is seen again and again in the many antique houses of the late-seventeenth and early-eighteenth centuries, and it would be reasonable to assume that a similar house form existed in the earlier 1600s as a standard type. Yet in the Plymouth Colony area alone there is clear archaeological evidence for at least two other very different types of dwellings. The first of these is an elongated form, approximately four times longer than it is wide Roland Robbins' excavation of the first house built by John Alden in Duxbury revealed a house of this type.l Ten feet wide and approximately forty feet long, the house had a cellar at one end and, although poorly visible, traces of a hearth one half the distance from one end to the other. Such an arrangement would suggest possibly a two-room plan, each room ten by twenty feet, although even smaller internal divisions of either or both halves could have existed. The structure was rather narrow; we shall see that the usual English building unit is sixteen feet on a side or larger.
James Hall's excavation of Miles Standish's house, also in Duxbury, revealed a similarly elongated foundation. While the proportions were identical to those of the Alden house, the latter building was fifteen by sixty feet, and internally divided into three l-room units. Both houses were built shortly after Alden and Standish moved from Plymouth to Duxbury, probably in the early 1630s.
In 1941 and 1942, Henry Hornblower excavated the R.M. site in Plymouth, named for a set of initials scratched on the end of a seal-top spoon. Its original occupant is unknown, since the title and deed research has not provided sufficiently clear evidence of the land's original owner. Hornblower's work was done before Robbins excavated the Alden site and before the Hall map turned up in Mexico, so the excavated ground plan was quite difficult to read. Visibility was poor, while focus was quite sharp. Only three features were clearly identifiable: two hearths and a cellar. However, when compared with both the Alden and the Standish ground plans, the R.M. plan makes perfect sense, and indeed, only the long, narrow house form fits. Its length, slightly more than sixty feet, matches exactly that of the Standish plan. It is impossible to determine the width with any precision, but it was probably between twelve and eighteen feet. No wall trenches were uncovered, and the house was very likely founded upon sills laid directly on the ground or on stones similarly placed. Ceramics and pipestems both suggest a date of construction of this house sometime in the 1630s.
A second type of early Plymouth house came to light in 1972. An architect noticed pipestems and pottery fragments in a field in Kingston, Massachusetts, where he was to build a house for a client. He took the artifacts to archaeologists at Plymouth Plantation, where they were seen to be of early seventeenth-century date. Excavation and deed and title research were begun almost immediately. The property had been granted to Isaac Allerton in 1629. Allerton was the financial agent for the Pilgrim group who settled Plymouth and one of the more important figures in the establishment of the colony. He moved to Kingston, some three miles distant, shortly after 1629. Excavations showed that he developed the property extensively. Remains of a dwelling house and several outbuildings were located, aligned with a trench that had held a high palisade. The palisade was somewhat of a puzzle, since it was three hundred feet in length but enclosed nothing. We will probably never know why such a one-sided fence was built; the best guess is that when the property was sold in the mid-seventeenth century, the palisade was only partially built and the new owner did not care to complete it. To lend support to this explanation, it is clear that the palisade was removed at that time; the dwelling house and outbuildings that had flanked it were razed, and the debris from the dismantling was deposited in the open palisade trench.
The dwelling house was totally different from any house formerly excavated in the Plymouth Colony area. Of a type known generally as a posthole house, it had no sills. Rather, the frame was supported by four massive corner posts set some four feet into the ground. At one end was a simple hearth made of cobbles. The house was almost square, measuring twenty by twenty-two feet. These dimensions are very close to those of the first building erected by the Pilgrims after landing at Plymouth, a common storehouse twenty feet square Larger posthole structures have been excavated in the Tidewater area of Virginia, but the Allerton house was the first one ever excavated in New England. Houses of this type were commonly built in the English Midlands, and it may be more than a coincidence that one of the colony's two known carpenters at that time was Francis Eaton of Gloucestershire.
The Plymouth Colony area today has no house surviving that is earlier than the last quarter of the seventeenth century. By that date, the traditional center-chimney salt-box house type seems to have become commonplace to the exclusion of others. To the north, a scant dozen houses in the area that once was Massachusetts Bay Colony predate the mid seventeenth century. Of these, the Jonathan Fairbanks house in Dedham has the distinction of being the oldest timber framed structure in the New World, dated by tree rings and documents to the year 1637. The Fairbanks house is an excellent example of the pattern of growth of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century vernacular American houses. Organic in the extreme, the houses of this early time grew according to need, and in their expansion reflected the development of the families that inhabited them. It is in this seemingly random but truly adaptive kind of accretion that such houses most strongly contrast with the academic structures that come to influence and ultimately replace them. Hugh Morrison makes the comparison succinctly:
A Gothic building evolved out of the plan, which was controlled by needs, and out of the varied materials employed, which were developed into decorative forms almost adventitiously by the many craftsmen who worked with them. It was not planned, so to speak-it just grew. The great difference between Gothic and Renaissance architecture is not merely a matter of stylistic details, but an essential difference in basic methods and philosophies of building. The one is expressional, the other geometric; Gothic architecture was evolutionary, Renaissance architecture was created.2
The Fairbanks house was decidedly evolutionary. It began in 1637 as a typical hall-and-parlor house, with two rooms flanking a central chimney. The hall was somewhat larger than the parlor, and each room had its special functions-as we have seen, technomic in the hall and socio-technic in the parlor. Many see this hall-and-parlor house form as the basic English prototype for all that follows in vernacular American building. It certainly forms the core, or nucleus, for the vast majority of folk buildings in New England. As the seventeenth century went on, lean-to rooms were added to the rear; the parlor and the chamber above were enlarged; a bed room wing was added to the hall off one end, and a second parlor and bedroom were added to the rear. The resultant floor plan is anything but symmetrical, no more so than the facade of the original house, with two hall windows and one parlor window flanking the entrance. The other early-seventeenth-century houses in the Massachusetts Bay area are roughly similar in plan and pattern of growth. Yet even here, other house types may have been more common than the surviving evidence would indicate. Chimney placement at the ends of the house rather than in its center, more typical of the middle Atlantic colonies, did occur in Massachusetts. The Peter Tufts house in Medford, dated to 1675, has such a plan, and a building contract for a house long since vanished calls for the same arrangement:
Concerning the frame of the house . . . I am indiferent whether it be 30 foote or 35 foote longe; 16 or 18 foote broade. I would have wood chimnyes at each end, the frames of the chimnyes to be stronger than ordinary, to beare good heavy load of clay for security against fire. You may let the chimnyes by all the breadth of the howse if you thinke good; the 2 lower dores to be in the middle of the howse, one opposite the other. Be sure that all the dorewaies in every,place be soe high that any man may goe upright vnder. lhe staiers I think had best be placed close DY the dore. Tt makes noe great matter though there be noe particion vpon the first flore; if there be, make one blger then the other. For windowes let them not be over large in any roome, & as few as conveniently may be; let all have current shutting draw windowes, haveing respect both to present & future vse. I thinke to make it a girt howse will make it more chargeable than neede; however the side bearers for the second story, being to be loaden with corne &c. must not be pinned on, but rather eyther lett in to the studds or borne vp with false studds, & soe tenented in at the ends. I leave it to you & the carpenters. In this story over the first, I would have a particion, whether in the middest or over the particion vnder, I leave it. In the garrett noe particion, but let there be onc or two lucome windowes, if two, both on one side. I desire to have the sparrs reach downe pretty deep at the eves to preserve the walls the better from the wether, I would have it sellered all ova and soe the frame of the howse accordengly from the bottom. I would have the howse stronge in timber, though plaine & well brased. I would have it covered with very good oakehart inch board, for the present, to be tacked on onely for the present, as you tould me. Let the framc begin from the bot tom of the cellar & soe in the ordinary way vpright, for I can hereafter (to save the timber within grounde) run vp a thin brick worke without. I think it best to have the walls without to be all clapboarded besides the clay walls....8Other end-chimney houses in New England included the Usher house in Medford and the Peter Sergeant house in Boston, both no longer standing.
Some think chimney placement is an adaptive architectural feature. Certainly in New England, with winters colder than those of the English homeland, a centrally located chimney would form a heating core for the house. Conversely, locating the chimneys at the ends of the house in the hot, humid Tidewater region of Virginia would dissipate the heat generated in the summer by the constant need for cooking fires. The summer kitchen, common in the South, is but a logical extension of such an arrangement. Both modes of placement were employed in England, and given the inherent conservatism of traditional cultures, it may well have taken a generation to work such selective changes in the New World environment. Since our sample of architectural forms in colonial Anglo-America is skewed in favor of a later date than the first generation of English settlement, the pattern observed makes sense for the late seventeenth century. During the early colonial years we would predict a more English flavor to vernacular building, and some of this similarity seems to be a closer correspondence to a variety of English building techniques, and reflects the geographical diversity of the first generation of Anglo-American builders. The evidence is quite strong as far as it goes. Those sites predating 1650 that have been excavated in Plymouth have produced ground plans of building- types having no surviving counterparts. Likewise, the post- hole houses of Virginia have long since disappeared from the landscape. At the site of Flowerdew Hundred, in the Virginia Tidewater the archaeologist Norman Barka has uncovered a house foundation he has interpreted as being the remains of a cruck structure. Cruck buildings, framed with curving timbers to form the walls and rafters at one time, are virtually unknown in America and were rapidly disappearing from the scene in England at the turn of the seventeenth century. If they are to be found in America, they almost certainly will be of a very early date, as is the case of the Virginia example, dated to the 1620s. This greater variety of building types reduced in number as the seventeenth century continued, so that by the century's end, each area had settled upon one or two types as the most usable and ideal. It is from this period that the conventional observation of end-chimney houses in the South and center-chimney buildings in New England primarily derives. But during the first half of the seventeenth century, vernacular building showed a greater diversity.
By 1660, great numbers of Anglo-Americans had never seen England, and as we have seen, their life style began to reflect their isolation. This isolation can be seen in certain differences in their houses and the way they were built. To be sure, they remained English in spirit, but it is unlikely that any house constructed in America after the mid-seventeenth century would be identified as one built in England if its location was unknown. One factor that led to this divergence in New England was the great supply of wood the colonists found in the New World. By the end of the sixteenth century, wood for building had become a scarce commodity in England. Indeed, the decorative elaboration of Tudor half timbered structures was ostentation on the part of the wealthy builders and owners to show that they could afford such a luxury. In America, virgin forests provided the vernacular builder with more timber than he would ever need, and this difference accounts for some of the distinctiveness of timber frame construction in the colonial world.
By the end of the seventeenth century, New England exhibited marked regionalization in house types; no fewer than four distinctive expressions of house construction could be seen between New Hampshire and the Cape Cod-Rhode Island area. While some of this regional specialization can be attributed to environmental factors, this diversity also attests to the combined effects of isolation from the English home land the strong regionalization of cultures, the same factors that produced the varied styles of gravestone art.
Massachusetts Bay Colony followed the English tradition most closely. Those houses that have survived all are based on the hall-and-parlor plan, and the techniques used for framing cutting of joints, placement of major beams and rafters-follow the English methods closely. Yet even here certain differences emerged. Cecil Hewett has compared houses in Essex, England, with a number of New England examples, primarily in the Massachusetts Bay area.4 While he has indicated a number of stylistic parallels, in many cases a feature common in America is quite rare in England, so that, statistically at least, the American buildings contrast with their English prototypes. Ground plans are generally similar, but New Englanders invariably place the staircase leading to the upper chambers at the front of the house, while in England it was often placed at the rear. Wooden siding in the form of clapboards is an American trait rarely seen in English houses, probably due to the scarcity of wood in the mother country and the more severe climate of New England, which could well erode the clay walls that the clap boards covered.
Studs (slim vertical wall beams that carry the siding and support the filling of the walls) that run the full distance from foundation to roof in two-story houses are a New England feature seen also in England. Hewett suggests that their adoption was an economy measure, since they do involve less labor than do single-story studs, which must be joined to a major beam running along the line of the second-story floor. Yet in the Fairbanks house, such long studs are compatible with "clamps," horizontal beams attached to the inside of the studs, which in turn support the upstairs floor. This is an interesting feature, since in England clamps were used toward the end of the sixteenth century as a part of a great remodeling movement. Old houses in England were without second floors, open in the hall from floor to rafters. In a house already built, the only way one might build in a floor over the hall would be by attaching clamps to the walls on the inside. Yet, at the Fairbanks house, the use of clamped floors was an integral part of the house's original construction. Only one English prototype for this practice is presently known: it is in Essex and occurs on a building of only one and a half stories. An important factor in the framing of the Fairbanks house with two-story studs was the ready availability of trees that would provide such long pieces. Greater access to wood also probably accounts for another difference seen in New England houses: the extensive use of wooden shingles on roofs. Thatch, tile, and slate were the common English roofing materials. All called for heavy roof framing to support their considerable weight. New England houses developed a lighter roof frame almost certainly be cause of the lighter covering material. The continuous lean to, an addition to the rear of the house that continues the roof line unbroken nearly to the ground, is a very common New England feature that has no English prototype. Again, the difference is best explained by the availability of the very long rafters needed to span the distance from roof ridge across the rear room.
Many of the features enumerated are found in folk building over most or all of New England, but they are all present in the Massachusetts Bay area and serve to set apart its vernacular tradition from that of England. E1sewhere in the New England area, even more distinctive features can be seen. In Plymouth Colony by the middle of the seventeenth century, builders had developed a method of siding their houses that became a distinctive trademark of house construction in that area. Rather than attaching siding to studs, beneath which was either clay or brick filling, Plymouth Colony house carpenters clad their houses with vertical planks running the full distance from ground to eaves. Such siding certainly required an ample wood supply. Laths were attached directly to the planks and were plastered in turn
Vertical plank siding precludes the use of overhangs, or jetties. The jetty was a common feature in English medieval building, that survived into the early-seventeenth century. In New England, it was commonly used over most of the Massachusetts Bay area and in Connecticut and Rhode Island. Jetties survive in today's popular architecture as the trademark of "garrison colonial" houses, the name denoting a popular myth as to their use. Many believe that such an overhang allowed the occupants of the house to fire down upon attacking Indians without exposure. Aside from the fact that none of the original jetties has openings through which one could fire a weapon their use in England for a long time before the founding of the colonies hardly can be explained in this fashion. Other, more reasonable explanations for the jetty include a more efficient use of second-story space in crowded cities and, most reasonable of all, an efficient way to frame a two- story house without unduly weakening the large vertical posts with too many mortises. In any case, jettied houses, common in the Massachusetts Bay area, were virtually unknown in Plymouth Colony, with only one example, the now vanished Allyn house, exhibiting the feature in a nineteenth-century engraving of the building.
In Rhode Island, where quality building stone and ample lime supplies were found, yet another regional style emerged. The so-called "stone-ender" is typical of Rhode Island vernacular building. In striking contrast to the timber frame tradition of all of Massachusetts, Rhode Island houses were often built with an end chimney and wall entirely of tabular stone. Such a stone wall incorporated the chimney, and in a two-room ground plan, rather than flanking a central fireplace, the rooms were arranged one behind the other, with the hearths side by side rather than back to back, one serving each room, hall, and kitchen.
Houses of logs figure significantly in the popular image of the American past. From Abe Lincoln's childhood in a log cabin to the nineteenth-century adoption of the log cabin as an American symbol, it was long erroneously thought that the earliest houses built by English colonists were also of log. In The Log Cabin Myth Harold Shurtleff has effectively disposed of this idea and shows that the first log buildings in America were built by the Swedes in Delaware. The English had never seen such a structure, and upon their arrival in the New World, set about to build the kinds of houses they had known: timber-framed dwellings. Yet, in New Hampshire and Maine, log dwelling houses were built, although in their over-all volume and form they more closely resembled their timber framed counterparts to the south. Jettied, with steep roofs and sheathed in clapboard, they are hardly distinguishable as log structures until the underlying construction is examined. These buildings date mostly to the turn of the eighteenth century The appearance of such structures on what was at the time the northern New England frontier must at least in part be attributed to a critical environmental factor, the threat of attack by hostile Indian groups in the area. Yet, in view of their formal similarity to timber framed houses to the south, in Massachusetts Bay, they can be considered yet another, albeit very specialized, regional type.
The late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries saw the development of distinctive regional styles in New England, almost certainly due to the combined effects of isolation from the parent architectural tradition and a closer fit with the new environment. But, beneath it all, there re- mained something distinctively English-a way of organizing space and creating livable volumes. Henry Glassie's analysis of folk building in middle Virginia shows clearly the power of the mind-set expressed in every house in New England as well as those in the middle-Atlantic colonies even a century later. We have seen that language can be considered an aspect of material culture. Certainly in terms of its fundamental structure, a sound argument can be put forth in favor of an essential identity. Glassie has formulated a grammar that accounts for the pattern of folk building he observed in middle Virginia.
A grammar, in linguistics, is a set of rules for the formulation of utterances in such a way as to be mutually accepted by all speakers of a language. Likewise, a grammar can be thought of as a set of rules for the creation of artifacts mutually accepted by the members of the culture producing them. Such rules definitely exist, even if they cannot be explicitly stated by their users. Otherwise there would be no consistency in design traditions or in methods of creating houses, tools, or weapons. On occasion, anthropologists have been able to determine such rules for material culture production. A notable example is Lila O'Neale's study of Yurok-Karok basketry, in which basketmakers commented on each other's work: what was wrong and what as right about it.6 From her interviews, O'Neale was able to set down a number of rules that share all their principles with grammatical rules. Certain materials were not to be used with certain others in making a basket; it just wasn't "right." The principle of harmony between design elements around the rim of a basket hat and those in the main decorative field is strikingly similar to the grammatical rule in English of agreement between subject and verb.
It is likewise with vernacular housing, as Glassie shows us. His grammar is a generative, or transformational, one, whereby a number of basic forms can be shown to be combined according to a set of transformations to generate all culturally acceptable house forms. As he has prepared it, the grammar applies only to the houses from which it was developed, but within that, a relatively small set of rules, nine sub-divided sets, accounts for the complete generation of the folk house of middle Virginia.
In arriving at the grammar for the Virginia tradition, Glassie has penetrated deeply into the folk builder's mind, and made explicit what each builder carried with him in an unconscious, implicit way. At his deepest level of abstraction, that of the geometric entity from which all further generation of forms derives, we see the fundamental unit that also ties together all of the New England vernacular buildings and relates them to their English counterparts. The unit in question is a square, ideally sixteen feet on a side. Glassie suggests that this volume is one in which an Anglo-American feels most comfortable. It is the same as the rod, a measure of length that was explicitly used by the Plymouth colonists to allot landholdings when they established their first community, at New Plymoth. And it certainly is the common dimensional denominator of almost every Anglo-American house erected before the advent of academic architectural form in time or in space. Glassie sees it as a multiple of the cubit (18 inches), and his measurements of many houses support this proposition. Yet, there are cubit multiples other than sixteen (or sixteen and a half, to be precise) feet, and the sixteen- foot unit pervades Anglo-American folk housing. Rooms tend to be sixteen feet square, chimney sections of houses eight feet (half the unit) wide, and ceilings usually in excess of seven feet.
So it seems that when a house grew according to the needs of its occupants, such growth proceeded in volumes based on the sixteen-foot module in a decidedly non-symmetrical way. Glassie's rules for the multiplication of volumes naturally apply only to the middle Virginia folk house. They do not account for New England folk houses, nor should they. But if we were to attempt the exercise, such a set of rules could be formulated for vernacular buildings in New England, and they would in turn reflect what the builders' concept of ordered addition was. While symmetry was not a primary consideration, we can see by looking at the plans and facades of these buildings, there had to be some governing set of implicit concerns guiding their growth. Most important, these concepts were those of the builder, who was intimately a part of the society for which the house was produced, and as such closely reflect that society's values.
At about the same time that Boston stonecutters were carving their first cherubs atop gravestones, the first Georgian houses were being built in the city. America's first Georgian building was the Foster-Hutchinson house, built in Boston in 1688. It is known today only from an 1836 engraving and a brief description by a British officer who witnessed its looting and partial destruction by a mob protesting the Stamp Act in 1765. It seems to have been the embodiment of the Georgian style and greatly resembled buildings designed by Inigo Jones in England. Other houses followed in Boston and other wealthy port cities as the eighteenth century began, and soon the impact of academic design was being felt throughout the colonial world.
The Georgian style, which so influenced the form of Anglo-American building, had its roots in the Renaissance. Inigo Jones is credited with its introduction to England, and from there, after a period of development in the seventeenth century, it was introduced into the colonies at that century's end. Strictly formal in its adaptation of classical architectural detail, the Georgian was rigidly symmetrical and bilateral, both in facade and floor plan. The classical Georgian house has a central hall that separates two sets of two rooms each. From the front, it exhibits strict bilaterality and balance: a central doorway flanked by paired evenly spaced windows and a central second-floor window directly over the door. These windows have multiple panes and sliding sashes, in contrast to the leaded casement windows of medieval type used in early vernacular houses. Doors are paneled, with porticoes in classical design. The entire configuration is profoundly different from that of the houses built before its advent.
The adoption of Georgian building in the colonies came about in several ways. The wealthier men in the cities, often trained to some extent in architecture in England, were both conversant with the style and had the means to have it created in America. The number of skilled craftsmen required to create such houses was steadily increasing in the eighteenth century, and some of them had the necessary experience and familiarity with the design. Perhaps the most important single factor in the introduction of the Georgian style into America vas the large number of architectural books that appeared on the scene from the late seventeenth century onward. Of two types, volumes on the classical orders of architecture and carpenters' handbooks, together they enabled a man of means to work with experienced help to construct such a grand edifice. The fact that the houses' forms were derived from books rather than from the mind of a folk builder is what probably sets the academic Georgian apart from the vernacular tradition so clearly. Recalling both Gowans' and Morrison's descriptions of this new order of building, we can see that design now overrode function. So much did this occur, that in at least one case the symmetry of the facade was preserved even though an interior partition abutted a window, rendering it useless.
Since the Georgian style was ordered by a careful consideration of academic treatises on classical architectural forms, and since this consideration was often conveyed to the builders of the houses through a limited number of books, it is not surprising that we see an increasing similarity in houses over all of Anglo-America as the eighteenth century progresses. Not that there were not slight regional variations; New England favored wood, as before, while brick was more commonly used farther south; the South employed hip roofs more than the North. But in contrast to the extreme regional variation of the pre-Georgian tradition, the similarities far exceeded the differences. Such broad similarity, with its origin among the urban elite, is one more hallmark of the re-Anglicized popular culture of America on the eve of the Revolution.
The new, academic architectural form was not without its impact old the earlier, vernacular tradition. One style did not simply replace the other, and houses of the older type continued to be built until the end of the eighteenth century or later. In time, the earlier tradition took on aspects of the new. Sometimes this modification was more thorough than a simple transfer of discrete elements. In its simplest form, an attempt was made to create a Georgianized facade for an otherwise pre-Georgian building, almost as if the owners desired to present a more contemporary face to the world while retaining their comfortable older house behind it.
The Mott farmhouse, in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, is an example of this process. This house was developed in a series of builds beginning in the late seventeenth century and lasting into the nineteenth. During this time, it was the residence of the same family, the Motts, who acquired the property in 1639 and did not leave it until the end of the 1800s. The first house built on the property no longer existed on the site in 1972, when the entire structure was systematically dismantled. The late seventeenth-century house formed the core of the old farmhouse, and when first built it was probably a stone-end house with a jetty on the opposite, gable end. In the middle of the eighteenth century, the house was remodeled, and in the process the facade was given certain features that have a Georgian flavor but only in a most superficial way. The end chimney was removed and replaced by a central chimney, which stood between the original hall and a new, two-story addition on the opposite side. The ridge line of the roof of this addition ran at right angles to that of the first build. The jetty was removed at this time, making the facade an even plane,.and the roof of the first house was covered by a continuation of the roof of the addition. However, the builders simply covered the end of the old roof opposite the addition to conform to its original slope, creating a final roof shape that was hipped at one end only. This asymmetrical roof line almost certainly came about more through expediency than from a commitment to any stylistic concept; although the hip roof is a Georgian feature, and rarely seen on earlier buildings, its presence on only one end is a violation of the severe Georgian symmetry. The same applies to the facade of the house. The placement of the windows in the new addition, and their relationship to the windows of the old, and to the entrance, follows the Georgian layout in scheme, but the windows are situated in a way that makes us believe that the builder was only faintly conversant with the formal rules of Georgian architecture. It is as if in remodeling the house, the builder brought to his job only a passing awareness of the new style; the manner in which he employed it reflects the imperfection and distortion in his perceptions.
The Mott house represents the impact of Georgian design on vernacular building at its most imperfect and slightest degree. More commonly, older house facades were styled by replacing the old casement windows with the new sliding sashes, adding a more classical door, and otherwise adding de- tails that did not alter the basic form of the house. Glassie's grammar for folk housing in Virginia includes a set of rules that generate Georgian-like buildings, but, again, they do not conform to the full canons of the style. In this part of the South, a common vernacular house type is one room deep and two rooms long, a basic hall and-parlor plan. Two-story houses of this type were built under the impact of the Georgian tradition, with a central hall that forms the front, and while they exhibit all the characteristics of the style, the single-room depth is retained. Again, the house displays a full Georgian facade, but in its ground plan it is still a pre-Georgian building. In their ambiguity and their accommodation of two somewhat conflicting values, these "hybrid" houses are strongly reminiscent of the gravestones carved in rural New England in the mid-eighteenth century. In both uses, there is a mutual accommodation between older and newer traditions, the older reflecting deeply held and comfortable values, the newer the face that is presented to the world. Vinal's "bird" skulls embody the old death's-head symbolism and at the same time smile out at the world in much the same way as do the cherubs of contemporary urban and elite Boston.
A similar resemblance can be seen between gravestones and vernacular architectural styles in the Connecticut river valley. We have seen that, due to the rich soils of this area, a more cosmopolitan type of rural society developed, and the early and very Anglicized cherub design reflects this. The older style folk buildings in the same area are embellished by door- ways of classical Georgian form but curiously elongated with what is sometimes seen as a medieval verticality. Even in their outlines, doorways and gravestones are quite similar in this region.
One of the more striking differences between the old, medieval-derived building tradition and the classical style that influenced and replaced it is in the relationship among the individual, his family, his house, and his community. A New England seventeenth-century house provided space that was corporately used. We have seen that the foodways of the pre Georgian period were characterized by sharing of utensils. In a similar way, space was shared by all the members of the residential group, and rooms were the containers for tightly knit groups of people. Privacy as we know it could not have existed, and the separation of various activities was far less. Room-by-room inventories tell us that a variety of food and artifact production took place within the same space, as did other, purely social functions. A visitor entering such a house either stepped directly into this activity or was separated from it only by a small "porch," as the entryways of these houses were termed.
Glassie contrasts this with the visitor's experience upon entering a Georgian house, where one was welcomed by an unheated central hall, showing only doors behind which the family carried out its daily functions. The higher degree of spatial specialization in such a house not only isolated the family members from the outside but also from each other; clearly the result is the individualization of living space. Of course, much of this separation can come about only in a structure complex enough to permit it. Nonetheless, a house considered both expensive and adequate to the needs of its inhabitants in the seventeenth century was less divided than was its eighteenth-century equivalent.
So it is that with the coming of the Georgian style the characteristics of our third period, already observed in very different contexts, can be seen to be operative in housing. The earliest houses show strong ties to the English home- land, and in time become more American and more region- ally diverse. In all of this time, they are organic, corporate, and exhibit a growth that is sensitive to the needs of the family unit. Not only is the Georgian style an imposed order, it is totally mechanical in its integration, and its characteristic balance, symmetry, and order speak to us in the same way as do individualized graves and markers, and matched individual sets of china. And in every instance, the new order had its origins among the urban sophisticates, from whom it was passed slowly to their rural neighbors. By the time of the American Revolution, large numbers of Anglo Americans partook of a new outlook on the world, acquired from an England under the impact of the Renaissance.
1. Roland Robbins and Evan Jones, Pilgrim John Alden's Progress; Archaeological Excavations in Duxbury (Plymouth, Mass.: The Pilgrim Society, 1969).
2. Hugh Morrison, Early American Architecture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1952), pp. 279-80.
3. Samuel Symonds, letter to John Winthrop the younger, 1638. See: Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 4th ser., Vol. 7 (1865), pp. 118-20.
4. Cecil A. Hewett, "Some East Anglian Prototypes for Early Timber Houses in America," Post Medievul Archaeology, Vol. 3 (1970), pp. 100-21.
5. Harold Shurtleff, The Log Cabin Myth (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1939).
6. Lila O'Neale, Yurok Karok Basket Weavers, Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology, Vol. 32, no. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1932).
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