Architectural Monographs: The Simple, Unpretentious Farmhouses of Massachusetts

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Setting a standard for farmhouse architecture in New England to this day, these early dwellings of Massachusetts bearing simple pitched roofs, economical lines and pleasingly uncomplicated proportions were ideal for the working Colonial classes. Though they became less popular by the end of the 18th century as communities grew more prosperous and landowners’ houses decidedly more grand, these unpretentious homes remain a distinctive part of the region’s architectural history.

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This issue of the historic White Pine Architectural Monographs traces these early farmhouses from their humble beginnings, as they began to expand and grow more complex in later years. This often included additions, with the houses rapidly changing and growing new service wings “until it often ran slam into the big barn itself.”

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“This was the almost invariable method on the farm, where land was plenty and the living requirements of the family itself changed but little from generation to generation… in the Colonial village or town, however, so simple an ‘addition’ met neither the needs nor conditions that were most likely to exist.”

See how these distinct approaches to adapting architecture for new needs over time varied at the White Pine Monograph Library.

Architectural Monographs: 18th Century Builder’s Guide to Style

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Practicing architects in 18th century America relied on British handbooks packed full of hand-drawn moldings, cornices, entablatures and other architectural details to produce many of the nation’s oldest homes. The White Pine Monograph Series made this guide publicly available once again in 1931, and now modern-day architects can enjoy it at

The guide, “The builder’s companion demonstrating all the principle rules or architecture,” is a re-print of the handbook made by William Pain in London in 1762. It was discovered among the working library of one of America’s most famous carpenter-builders of the eighteen century, the oldest dating to 1724, offering “elementary problems in geometry” and plates of the five orders as well as details of construction.

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“The knowledge that these books on architecture were owned by ‘practicing architects’ in America in the middle of the eighteenth century strengthens our conviction that the handbooks were generally within arm’s reach of the amateur designer. They were published at a time when almost every man of culture in England interested himself in architecture and when a high standard of lay criticism existed.”

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“Believing that those interested in the sources of colonial work would joy having a reprint of one of the best and least familiar of these books, we have selected ‘The Builder’s Companion’ by William Pain. The modern designer will be convinced, we feel sure, that William Pain, Architect and Joiner, endeavored to catch the spirit of classic proportion and ‘by an entire New Scale’ to show the significance of the orders and to make it easy for anyone to adapt the proportions to modern usage.”

 Read more at the White Pine Monograph Library.

Architectural Monographs: The Classic Montpelier House, Maryland

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Built sometime in the late 16th century, the ‘Montpelier’ house of Prince George County, Maryland was praised as a beautifully executed brick Colonial home in this 1930 edition of the White Pine Series of Architectural Monographs and still stands today, nearly a century later. It’s a great example of immaculately preserved early American craftsmanship, and was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1970.

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Officially known as the Snowden-Long House, the mansion was constructed for a family whose wealth came from the iron forging industry, and remained in ownership of that family until 1890. It’s notable not just for its age and historic value, but for the many stunning hand-wrought decorative architectural elements that can be found inside.

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There’s the plaster entablature in the hall with its ornamental frieze of wheat, fruit and flowers, and the unusual southeast drawing room with its carved wood mantel, wainscot, china closet and cornice. The author of this monograph notes that one of the most successful features of the home’s interior design is the asymmetry, something that adds a lot of character and is not often seen in modern homes.

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The Montpelier House was shown off to the public in 1976 as part of national bicentennial celebrations, and has since become a tourist attraction that can be rented out for weddings, conferences and other events. Read more at the White Pine Monograph Library.

Architectural Monographs: Small Colonial Houses

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Even the most modest of colonial houses – those built for poorer residents – maintain the sense of structural integrity and simple elegance of their larger and more ornate neighbors. Lacking the same level of detail and visual interest as the mansions that have been preserved in the centuries since they were built, these little houses are often overlooked. This issue of the White Pine Historic Monographs takes a look at the various types found across the early United States.

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There’s a reason why most of the small, economical houses of that period were nearly identical in any given state: the design worked. The author notes that the plan used to create modest colonials in Connecticut was so ubiquitous, it’s still known as the ‘Connecticut Plan.’

Rather than opening directly into the living room as most houses do today, these homes nearly always had entranceways that were closed off from the living spaces in order to save heat. People couldn’t afford to let heat escape as they went in and out of the house.

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There’s something we could all learn from these houses, that many of today’s builders seem to have forgotten: orienting the plan to take advantage of the natural heating power of the sun. “In these early houses very respectful attention was paid to the points of the compass, since with the entirely inadequate heating arrangement of the Colonial period, the natural heat of the sun was utilized to its fullest capacity. Thus the Dutch houses almost invariably faced the south…”

Read more at the White Pine Monograph Library.

Architectural Monographs: A Tasteful North Carolina Home

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The houses of the wealthy aren’t always the pinnacle of class and taste – that was true in 1927, when this issue of the White Pine Monographs was written, and it’s still true today. Author Kenneth Clark notes that “the merchant prince of today parades his fortunes before the world, by building a palace” that is filled not with the things that make a home, but objects to show off. In contrast, the rich men of the American Colonial period “radiate the warmth of feeling that inspired their conception and bespeak in a quiet, dignified, yet powerful voice the qualities and characteristics which went into the making of the American Nation.”

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Offered up as a prime example is the Smallwood-Jones Residence of New Bern, North Carolina. Located in the eastern part of the state, this three-story brick home may not look like the mansion to modern eyes, but it was never meant to be ostentatious in the first place. A survivor of the most prosperous period in the early days of New Bern, the home features noteworthy carvings and other details created with extraordinary skill and craftsmanship.

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The names of the architect and builder have been lost to time, but this monograph celebrates their work, from the sense of scale to the interior molding. Of the details in the second floor drawing room, Clark writes “All is dovetailed and dowelled together in the manner of the ancient cabinetmaker who had the time and the inclination to do things right, once, and for all time.”

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Read more at the White Pine Monograph Library.

Architectural Monographs: Colonial Textures in Vermont

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What is it that draws us to colonial houses, aside from their history as America’s earliest European-built dwellings? The author of this 1922 write-up in The White Pine Series of Architectural Monographs argues that it’s actually an unconscious appreciation of the color and texture as well as the form of these structures. While onlookers often rave about their solid construction, often with comments that people really knew “how to build” in those days, the same results are much more easily and economically achieved through modern construction methods.

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What we see when we look at these buildings is a certain charm and simplicity, though there’s no lack of variety in the details. The author notes “the dark roofs with their huge old chimneys, the green shutters, hung against broad white clapboards, shingled or weather-beaten surfaces, as well as the perfect detail of the ornament used on old doorways, cornices, and porches.”

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Bennington, Vermont and nearby towns were on the “frontier of colonization,” sheltered from the trends of the coastal towns and developing their own particular architectural quirks. One example is a detailed triple window used over front entrances, with an arrangement of arches and pilasters that isn’t often seen elsewhere.

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“The General David Robinson House has the most developed treatment of texture, the strong whites of the porch against the gray of the clapboards, pilasters, and wall, with the exquisitely divided sash softening the dark openings flanked by shutters. The detail throughout is delightful in scale. This house is perhaps one of the most beautiful of the examples in this Monograph.”

Read more at the White Pine Architectural Monograph Library.