South of the Berkshires

ONE of the most interesting peculiarities of Early American domestic architecture is its “localism,” its adherence to type within the confines, often, of a very restricted locality.

There are, of course, the broad, general divisions of types, or styles, with which we are gen- erally familiar — the domestic architecture of the New England States, of the Middle Atlantic States, and of the South.

These broad divisions, however, would by no means serve to identify all Early American dwellings, because there were sub-styles, and distinctly local styles, many of which were radically at variance with the “typical example.” In the South, for instance, all the great houses did not have classic colonnaded porticoes.

Besides the Creole type of the far South (a type absolutely peculiar to the locality), there were a great many differing varieties of the style of the Classic Revival, and there were also the detached houses found in Richmond, Charleston, Norfolk, Annapolis, Alexandria, Baltimore and elsewhere in Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and the Carolinas. All could be classed as “Southern,” but there are wide differences in their characteristics.

In the Middle Atlantic States there are the varieties developed by the early pioneer settlers of Pennsylvania as well as by its later more prosperous families. Different, again, is the farmhouse of the Dutch colonists, who built in the northern part of New Jersey, on Staten Island and Long Island, through New York State well up into the Mohawk Valley, and, on the west bank of the Hudson, throughout the Ramapo Hills and the Catskills.

In New England is found further variety, with widely different types, seen in isolated farmhouses and in the substantial homes of the merchants and ship-owners of Salem, Newport and New Bedford.

It is the purpose of this monograph, however, to show how a particular type of house, its identity traceable through detail, appears scattered in an irregular line southward from the Berkshires to the vicinity of Danbury, in Connecticut. And a remarkable proof of the close localism of Early American types of domestic architecture is seen in the fact that the examples illustrated, although found but a few miles from Litchfield, possess characteristics pronouncedly different.

A departure of a few miles from Connecticut is made in the inclusion of the unusually interesting houses in and near Old Chatham, which is over the New York State line due west from Pittsfield and Lenox, and due northwest from Stockbridge and Great Barrington, Massachusetts.

It is permissible, however, to include these old Chatham houses with the Connecticut examples found at Sharon, Kent, Danbury and adja- cent townships, because their architectural affinity is at once apparent. The houses show far more imagination and sophistication in matters of detail than those of Litchfield, the use of Palladian windows being the most conspicuous common feature.

Nothing in Litchfield, however, resembles the fine old house at Chatham Center shown in the illustrations on pages two, four, five and six. Fan-lights and side-lights were frequently used, and the Palladian window above the entrance appears to have been the sine qua non of the really pretentious house of this type.

It was also a favorite device to plaster the under side of the hood in the forms of cylindrical or elliptical barrel vaults, instead of the plas- tered quarter-spherical treatment of typical Pennsylvania origin, the “Germantown hood.” It would seem, further, that it was the fashion to paint the plaster in these early Connecticut porch-vaults (including the Chatham, New York, examples) a rich shade of blue.

Share

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *