An important stop along the development of New England’s colonial architecture, simple farmhouses of the early to mid 18th Century shed some of the compulsory Gothic trappings carried overseas to the first English American settlements for a more streamlined, humble, fuss-free appearance. The second edition of the White Pine Series of Architectural Monographs ever to be published, written in April 1916, catalogues notable examples across Massachusetts as they stood over a century ago. Some of these homes are still incredibly well-preserved today, including Dalton House, pictured above in recent years and below in the early 20th century.
These dwellings had uncomplicated pitch or gambrel roofs and were typically one room deep and two stories high, built with one ridge pole and two end gables. In later years, as settlers grew more prosperous, the homes were often altered or expanded, with ‘service ells’ added to the rear or side, or the houses were doubled, with an identical-plan addition set right behind the first.
The General Putnam House in Danvers, Massachusetts, built around 1744, is an example of a gambrel-style colonial home with a service ell added in the rear. Says the writer of this monograph, “This house presents as much of a contrast as is possible to the Dalton House at Newburyport. While variously dated as being from 1750 to 1760, the photograph of this house speaks for itself, presenting an unusually spacious and generous treatment of the gambrel roof slope (now slated, while the house has a new end bay and suspiciously widely spaced columns at the entrance!) The whole design nevertheless shows much more refinement of handling than is apparent in the other example mentioned.”
Built in 1720, the Dalton House is generally held to be an example of “a plain house of the purest colonial type,” yet it was a mansion in its time (and many of us would still consider it one today.) Visits from George Washington, President Monroe, Thomas Jefferson, John Quincy Adams and John Hancock are among the reasons it’s considered an architectural and historical treasure. Having always been occupied by wealthy people since it was built, it has never deteriorated, and its porch is a particularly fine example of colonial woodworking.
Read more at the White Pine Monograph Library.
As the style of New England Colonial architecture continued to evolve into the eighteenth century, certain settlements made their own modifications, developing variations that are particular to those locations. These shifts in things like materials, window style, roof pitch and overall proportions might be influenced by the local economy, climate or contact with people from other parts of Europe. In Massachusetts, the classic and unpretentious farmhouse outgrew its English Gothic origins and became a vernacular of its own.
Written in April 1916, Volume II, Issue II of the White Pine Series of Architectural Monographs takes a look at how this particular region adapted its farmhouses through the latter part of the 1700s. For example, the authors note that although builders broke from Gothic tradition to pitch roofs at a more Georgian proportion, it wasn’t really a stylistic choice. They needed to ensure that coastal rain was properly deflected from the sides of the houses, and make use of the shortest and smallest rafters they could get away with.
Being purists primarily interested in the least compromised forms of Colonial architecture, the Monograph authors typically turned their noses up at any Greek influence, but here acknowledge that the first blending of Greek revival style with English architectural traditions “produced such beautiful and dignified results.”
This issue explains how factors like growing prosperity caused changes over time, like rapid expansions that led to houses growing until they “ran slam into the big barn itself.” Check it out for lots more details and over a dozen beautiful black-and-white images of historic structures, including some that still stand today.
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.
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.”
“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.
Continuing the centuries-long tradition of classical New England craftsmanship, Massachusetts furniture maker Bostonwood offers unfinished real wood furniture products made of Eastern White Pine. All of the furniture is built locally, with the workshop located just a few miles from the retail stores, and use sustainable materials grown in the region.
“Being an environmentally aware company we proudly produce our products using eastern white pine which is harvested from sustainable sources in New England,” says the company. “Each of our suppliers is a member of the Forest Stewardship Council, an International non-profit group that supports responsible forestry management. This means you can rest assured that the piece your are purchasing is not the result of irresponsible clear cutting forestry such as many of the import hardwoods in use.”
Bostonwood even donates the sawdust created by its tools during the furniture making process to local farms for bedding. They also recycle the small pieces of wood cut off from the ends of large boards for things like step stools and small drawers, or give them to local elementary schools for craft-making.
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.
“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.”
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.
Like nearly any town in America, the village of Essex, located 26 miles north of Boston on the river of the same name, has changed dramatically since the early days of its founding. In 1920, the author of this issue of the historic White Pine Series of Architectural Monographs lamented the ways in which the town had lost its initial sea-flavored character, though at the time, those changes mostly consisted of a misguided Greek Revival and the addition of a couple bridges on the river.
Author H. Van Buren Magonigle would likely be shocked to see Essex as it stands today – a still-charming village, no doubt, but one that has inevitably evolved to fit 21st century life. Essex was founded by shipbuilders in 1634, and was the center of a prosperous shipbuilding trade until the early part of the 20th century. Today, the main sources of income for the town are the shellfish industry and tourism.
Magonigle’s account of historic Essex architecture, written just at the time when the shipbuilding industry had declined, is a colorful and poetic read.
“There are no black wharves now if ever there were, nor slips, and the sea tides barely reach it; the last Spanish whiskered who swaggered through her streets has long since been gathered, beard and all, to his fathers – but as by the perfume of a memory Essex is haunted still by ‘the beauty and mystery of the ships and the magic of the sea,'” he writes.