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: 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.

Architectural Monographs: Inspiration from Northern Virginia

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Concerned that twelve years and one hundred thousand miles of touring America looking for exemplary houses had exhausted the supply, the editor and writer of the White Pine Monograph Series were surprised to find that the country has even more beautiful Colonial-era architecture than they had imagined. But some of it is hidden away, designed by no-name architects or otherwise obscured from public awareness.

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“One never ceases to wonder at the quantity of good work done by the early builders of this country; the consistency with which they erected houses, churches, public buildings, that have stood the test of time and through changing conditions of living and public taste have survived to be admired and appreciated by those who study them.”

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In 1931, their travels took them on the road between Washington, D.C. and Fredericksburg, Virginia. In this issue of the Monographs, they detail some of the most elegant and admirable structures they found in Northern Virginia.

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“Virginia, perhaps with greater claim than any of the early Commonwealths, can be numbered among the first family of Colonies. Its history, full of romantic episodes and famous names, is written large upon the pages of Early America. The contributions of this colony to the outstanding architectural examples of the Colonial period are as numerous and significant as any of the original thirteen.”

Read the whole issue 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.