Architectural Monographs: The Eastern Shore of Maryland

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When you’re looking to get a sense of the history of a particular place, look no further than its architecture – especially when various forms of it have been cobbled together in a mishmash that’s unique to that particular locale. While ‘pure’ architecture that’s built entirely in a certain style leaves us with what are essentially museum exhibits remaining in their original context, they’re few and far-between, having been demolished, renovated or added to over decades and even centuries.

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On the Eastern shore of Maryland, in 1916, the writers of the White Pine Series of Architectural Monographs went looking for original Colonial architecture. What they found was a unique breed of structures that retained the simplicity and gentility of the period, but “lacing the spirit of thrift possessed by the Puritans,” combined it with the spaciousness of Southern plantations.

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When this issue was written, the peninsula still contained “many quaint old towns that possess such of the charm of earlier days and innumerable old farmsteads, many of which are still owned and operated by descendants of the original settlers.” Preserved in black-and-white photographs, these homes likely do not look the same almost exactly 100 years later, if they still exist at all.

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See the whole series of photos and read about what makes this collection of architecture unique at the White Pine Monograph Library.


Architectural Monographs: Historic Gunston Hall in Virginia

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Thomas Jefferson called George Mason, the United States Founding Father who built his family’s 18th century estate in Virginia, “the wisest man of his generation.” The Georgian mansion that Mason built near the Potomac River is a fitting legacy, remaining a historic attraction in Mason Neck, Virginia to this day. Gunston Hall has an exterior that’s classically Colonial, while the interior is a mix of rococo, Gothic and chinoiserie styles.

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That’s a fairly stark contrast to the rustic, simple lines typically seen in homes of the era and those that the authors of the historic White Pine Monographs preferred to cover. All of the ornate details seen within are b elieved to have been carved by two indentured servants from England, William Buckland and William Bernard Sears, including the woodwork.

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While, in the words of the authors, the house “suffered some defacements” after it passed out of the hands of the Mason family, it was restored by a later owner in 1912 and became a museum in 1949 after being willed to the state.

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“Of all the seats on the Potomac River, Gunston Hall is the most well studied adaptation of the English Georgian style and presents a splendid picture of a Tidewater Virginia house. Although only a story and a half high, and simple in design, it was evidently the work of one who knew and valued the virtues of proportion and dignity and delicacy of detail.”

Read more about Gunston Hall and other historic Colonial architecture at the White Pine Monograph LIbrary.

Architectural Monographs: 17th Century Connecticut Houses

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This issue of the historic White Pine Series of Architectural Monographs explores the earliest wooden structures of Connecticut, celebrated as excellent surviving examples of simple yet elegant colonial architecture. Thanks to a certain notorious American traitor, who ordered his British command to loot and burn the town of New London in 1781, this monograph focuses on 17th century Connecticut houses in the river towns and their offshoots, especially New Haven. Some of these date back as early as 1636.

“That means to say that most of our material is drawn from the New Haven settlement, for, thanks to the gentle incendiary attentions of Benedict Arnold, the burning of New London left but little of the seventeenth century work undestroyed in that city.”

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The number of affluent, influential landowners who settled in these towns led to substantial estates, but there are also houses built by people who weren’t quite as well-off, which are described by the authors here as “by no means contemptible.” Many still stood by 1919, when this monograph was written, leaving behind a good idea of the average 17th century Connecticut dwelling.

Of course, over the years, the houses have been modified, so that the way they appear today is much different than they did nearly a century ago, let alone in the 17th century. The authors note that the additions that had already been made by 1919 were “revolting examples of proprietary vandalism.”

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“All the windows, save those that have escaped the intolerable desecration of recent sashes with large panes, exhibit the double hung sashes with small panes and wide munitions that supplanted the earlier diamond-paned leaded casements in the fore part of the eighteenth century.”

Read more at the White Pine Monograph Library.

Architectural Monographs: Connecticut’s Charming Old Hill Towns

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Only the hardiest settlers made it through the “hideous and trackless wilderness” on the Connecticut Path to access the hills that would later be known as Woodstock, Connecticut in the late 1600s. The first of them came from Massachusetts, establishing a community that looked out over the countryside from a vantage point that protected it from altercations with the Native people and later, from industrialism.

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The location also prevented the aesthetics of the Victorian era from wiping out the simple, refined charm of the Colonial architecture in the late 19th century, preserving the earlier period. Even after stage-coach routes made the hill towns of Windham County accessible, these places retained their character. The townspeople married amongst each other, eventually creating a population that was “knit together in one great family circle.”

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This issue of the historic White Pine Architectural Monographs explores the history of this area, its standout structures, and its people. One particularly humorous anecdote recounts the story of a dark summer night in 1750 amidst fears of the French and Indians, when “a roar and tumult filled the town.”

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“The people, perplexed and greatly frightened, stayed behind barred doors and listened with horror, no one venturing out to face the foe. Next morning it was discovered that it was only a migration through the town of noisy bull-frogs in search of water, their own pond having dried up. Much to the mortification of the Windham people, the story flew all over the county and the country.”

Architectural Monographs: Essential New England Charm in Stotham

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Stotham, Massachusetts is celebrated as an “unspoiled New England Village” in this 1920 issue of the White Pine Series of Architectural Monographs. It’s a decidedly humble village, but a longstanding tradition of restrained, conservative building that’s particularly characteristic of the region has been followed for centuries and can still be spotted there today.

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“The terms typical and unspoiled are used advisedly, as a reference to the illustrations will show,” writes author Hubert G. Ripley. “There are, possibly, no especially striking or far-framed structures, no wealth of fine carving or ornamental detail, no grand estates or mansion houses, yet from its early simplicity, and quality of chaste primness, the village has slowly developed, until, as it now stands, a characteristic chapter of New England endeavor lies spread out on the gently undulating plain, lapped by the salt waters of the inland cove on one side and stretching out by the fertile meadows of the river on the other.”

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As they usually do, this issue of the Monographs goes deep into the history of the town, starting with its earliest founders, explaining how the architecture came to be built and passed from one generation to the next. One particularly notable anecdote refers to the Rogers Mansion, better known under its local title as the “Haunted House,” or the “House of Buried Treasure.”

Read more at the White Pine Monograph Library.

Architectural Monographs: Alexandria, The Great Port that Almost Was

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But for a dramatic 1814 attack, Alexandria, Virginia could have been Baltimore. The Potomac River city that began as a Doeg Indian settlement and grew into a flourishing village funded by the tobacco trade was poised to act as one of early America’s great ports, but it wasn’t to be. British frigates took the town and the officer in charge of the fort that was supposed to offer protection blew up his arsenal, acknowledging the futility of the effort.

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Just over a decade later, a fire swept the town, destroying 53 houses and Alexandria’s remaining hopes for rapid growth. Baltimore picked up where it left off. But as recorded in this issue of the White Pine Series of Historic Monographs, this series of events has led to a sort of frozen record of the architecture of the time.

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“Alexandria’s loss, however, is perhaps the gain of architectural students and antiquarians today, for in the little town the march of progress has not swept aside so much of the simple, lovingly detailed work of the late eighteenth century and the early years of the nineteenth as in other places where the work of these years has so largely been destroyed in the making of what were fondly thought to be improvements.”

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“Most widely known among the buildings that still remain, wholly or in part, are three that have unusual significance, not only architecturally but as settings for historic events in the early days of the republic. These are Christ Church, the Carlysle House and Gadsby’s Tavern.”

Read more at the White Pine Monograph Library.