White Pine Architectural Monographs: Colonial Houses of Providence

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The colonial architecture of Providence, Rhode Island, may not be as renowned as that of Salem or Portsmouth, but it’s just as historically important, with seaside dwellings dating to the beginning of the eighteenth century. Written in 1918, Volume IV, Issue III of the historic White Pine Architectural Monographs highlights some of the most important structures that survived into the twentieth century.

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One example is the Christopher Arnold House, built about 1735, which features the oldest doorway in Providence with carvings that were likely inspired by those on even older furniture. Likewise, the Crawford House has “a very remarkable door with large, bent-over leaves above the caps of its pilasters, and the curious bending up of the back band in the middle of the lintel… doors like this are rare.”

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“The second quarter of the century, especially the years just before 1750, and, of course, even more the years just before the Revolution, when the money from privateering in the Old French War was flowing into the town, saw the rise and spread here, as in the rest of New England, of the central-entry type of plan – that in which a long hall runs through the back, with two rooms on each side.”

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“Most of the houses of this kind in Providence are of brick; thew olden house of early date on that plan is not common. At any rate, it has not survived in any numbers. It is to be seen it its glory for Rhode Island, in Newport and not in Providence.” Moving into the nineteenth century, after a period of construction inactivity during the Revolution, three-storied wooden mansions began to spring up. Read more at the White Pine Monograph Library.

Architectural Monographs: Houses of the Middle and Southern Colonies

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In the latter eighteenth century, American architects rediscovered the simple and classic Colonial style found in the earliest architecture of New England, and brought it to the middle and southern colonies of the United States. Written in 1916, Volume II, Issue I of the White Pine Series of Architectural Monographs explains how this revival came about, and shows off examples throughout Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey and other modern-day states.
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A personal account of travels to these homes by architectural historian Frank E. Wallis, this monograph is an ode to what Wallis deems the true American typology of architecture. The buildings in which many of our nation’s most important historical events have occurred, including the signing of the Declaration of Independence, was Colonial.

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Fresh from a trip to Europe, Wallis drew comparisons between the venerated architecture of the Old World and the unpretentious Colonial style, nothing that “architecture does catch some of the characteristics of those people who create it; the manners and customs of the people, who must necessarily express themselves in brick, wood, and stone and color, must be and are reflected in the buildings.”

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Virginia gets special attention in this historical record. “The streets in the little villages of the South are lined with these charming and restful homes, and you will also find in the type which we will call the outhouses of the great mansions, the same care in design and the same restraint in composition and ornament which are illustrated in the charming Williamsburg, Falmouth, and Fredericksburg examples: all of them supreme in their place, and all of them creating a restful atmosphere such as you may find between the covers of ‘Cranford,” writes Wallis.

Read more at the White Pine Monograph Library.

An American Classic: The Windsor Chair, Made with Eastern White Pine

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The Windsor chair likely originated in Buckinghamshire, England in the 16th century, but the design was refined by American woodworkers in the 18th century thanks to the bounty of Eastern White Pine found in New England. This classic furniture design features chair spindles that are based upon wheel spokes. While the original British Windsors typically have elm seats, Eastern White Pine is the wood of choice stateside. Its softness makes it easy to carve into a comfortable, deep-saddled seat.

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Master carpenters in New York, Boston and Philadelphia refined the shape of the chair, often giving it a hoop back, with legs joined by three stretchers. Its popularity led to a presence everywhere from rustic farmhouses to the courthouses of the big cities. Compared to other furniture of the period, it was lightweight, inexpensive and fast to make.

According to Gummel Chair Works
, George Washington himself was a big fan of American Windsor chairs, purchasing twenty-seven of them for his Mount Vernon home. Thomas Jefferson was said to have signed the Declaration of Independence while seated in a Windsor. Windsors were also the seating of choice for the assembly when the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4th, 1776.

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The many different varieties of Windsor chairs in America can be attributed to the spread of the Colonial population along the eastern seaboard, with furniture makers choosing differing varieties of wood. While English furniture makers had to use what few wood species were available to them, Americans benefitted from lush forests. Today, many modern furniture producers making Windsor chairs still choose Eastern White Pine for the hand-carved seat.

Photos: Chicone School of Windsor, Rundell & Rundell, FM Windsor

Colonial Houses of the Early 18th Century in New England

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Volume I, Issue II of the White Pine Monographs explores the colonial houses of the early 18th century in New England, which were primarily constructed using locally grown and milled Eastern White Pine. The simple, unornamented structures that were common during that period focused on ease of heating in the winter, and of defending against enemies, “climactic and human.”

These two major considerations produced houses with small rooms and low ceiling heights with principal supports hewn from native timber. The heavy support beams made the houses so strong, many of them are still standing today. Writes Frank Choteau Brown, an expert in colonial architecture, “When these structures have remained unaltered by succeeding generations, they are rarely anything but beautiful in their direct outlines and sturdy proportions; the composition of sky-line and chimney with the ground contour, and the grouping and proportions of the wall openings being always notably successful.”

Brown notes that the early carpenters producing these homes did occasionally take an opportunity to show off their skill in entrance doorways, mantels or staircases. The area around the central chimney was always one of the most spacious and well-thought-out areas of the home, as it’s where people spent most of their time.

Read about these colonial houses at the White Pine Monograph Library, a series published in the 1940s which has been made available by NELMA.

Colonial Cottages: Eastern White Pine in 17th Century Massachusetts

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Built in 1636, the oldest wooden house in America remains in remarkably good condition after nearly four hundred years, and it’s made of Eastern White Pine. The Fairbanks House of Dedham, Massachusetts represents just one example of this natural and sustainable building material’s history in American architecture. Featured in Issue 1, Volume 1 of The White Pine Series of Architectural Monographs, a periodical produced in the 1940s, the home and others like it reveal the fine craftsmanship and attention to aesthetics that can still be found in the colonial architecture of New England.

This monograph details how Eastern White Pine was used in beams, joists, flooring, siding and finely wrought architectural details. These early houses of Massachusetts differ from later, more well-known colonial architecture. They tend to have steeper roofs, long and thin chimneys, and simple lines punctuated by decorative elements in domestic Gothic style. Another notable difference is that the wood used to build these homes was typically not painted, letting the beauty of the wood remain the single most striking visual element of each home.

Read the whole story and see photos of these colonial cottages at the Monograph Library, preserved and made available to the public by NELMA.

The Tree That Sparked the Revolutionary War: Eastern White Pine’s Colonial History

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The strength and size of Eastern White Pine is so renowned, it may have been a bigger factor in the start of the Revolutionary War than tea and taxes. Light, strong, easy to work with and resistant to rot, Eastern White Pine grew in great abundance all over what would become the Northeast United States, and was in great demand for shipbuilding. With trunks measuring nearly two hundred feet in length, these pines were ideal as the masts of large vessels. Colonists used them for their own ships, and sent them across the sea to other nations. But Great Britain began to claim the largest, strongest trees for their own, sparking discord in an already troubled relationship between the world’s most powerful nation and its independence-craving colony.

With most of its own forests cut down for firewood in the 17th century, Britain was forced to look elsewhere for timber, and the closest sources, in the Baltic region, required competition with other nations like Spain and France. King George I assumed ownership of the tallest Eastern White Pines in the forests of New England, appointing a legion of surveyors to mark their choices with a symbol of three hatchet slashes known as The King’s Broad Arrow. This indicated that they were for use by the British Royal Navy only. They were shipped back to Britain on special barge-like vessels that could carry up to 50 pine trunks at a time.

Already rankled over the issue of taxation on tea, many colonists whose livelihoods depended on Eastern White Pines disregarded the mark and harvested the trees anyway. When six mills in New Hampshire were searched for trees bearing The King’s Broad Arrow, the owners were charged with disobeying the King’s law, and many townspeople rioted in protest. Clashes between the local settlers and the British authorities in these incidents and many others throughout New England became known as ‘The Pine Tree Riot.’

Some historians believe that this conflict was a key in bringing about the American Revolution and the first real acts of rebellion against British rule. The Eastern White Pine was such a potent symbol for colonists that it became the emblem emblazoned upon the first colonial flag.

Though extensive logging in the 18th and 19th centuries took down a great number of majestic Eastern White Pines, this species is still sustainably managed in mixed hardwood forests for building applications to this day. Favored for its ease of finishing, smooth surface, light weight and durability, Eastern White Pine is in demand for interior and exterior applications including siding, cabinets and flooring.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons