MOUNT VERNON – historic home of George Washington – PART ONE

Photo 11-14-2015 by Tracy Ward

It’s a healthy (and grateful) reminder to today’s reader – the eighteenth century held leisure for only a rare few and only during exceptional moments.  The life of most colonists (not to mention slaves and natives) was difficult and dangerous.

The average child had a 50-50 chance of reaching adulthood. All cooking was done in or around a blackened fireplace, which was the sole source of heat too. Of course, any lighting was limited to candles or moon beams.  Travel was extremely slow via either waterways or horsepower (i.e. actual horses!).  Indoor plumbing was but a dream as no level of wealth could avoid chamber pots, outhouses, or incoming & outgoing buckets of water.  Nonexistent was anesthesia for surgeries or childbirth.  George Washington himself fatally experienced the outmoded (aka medieval) medical treatments for just a sore throat. In short … life was tough.

The Farmer‘ by Junius Stearns (1810-1885). Printed by Lemercier, Paris, ca 1853

The overwhelming majority of colonial inhabitants were rural farmers – very few were city dwellers.  Washington’s “farm” depicted above, Mount Vernon (inherited after his father and older brother passed away), was not unlike the masses as described above – survival, not luxury, was a daily effort.  The improvements and maintenance of the farming operation required ongoing work … quite arduous hard work.  Albeit slaves and servants (both indentured and otherwise) were available to perform the vast majority of the monotonous physical sweat and toil. 

But still, the oversight and management of such a working plantation as Mount Vernon required focused intellect, intense work ethic, God’s blessing of health & humor, at least an adequate formal education (George had the minimum), as well as … significant money and political connections.  George & Martha Washington’s world (1732-1799) was strongly characterized and methodically organized by the all-important ties of blood, marriage, and political kinship. 

Consider these now famous personalities as but a sampling of GW’s impressive social connectivity:

Detroit Publishing / ca 1900-1912 / John Trumbull (Lib. of Congress)

John Trumbull (1756-1843) was an American painter, diplomat and architect. He is noted for his four large history paintings in the Capitol Rotunda, which depict pivotal moments before, during and after the Revolutionary War. Born in Lebanon, Connecticut in 1756, his father, Jonathan Trumbull, was later Governor of Connecticut (1769–1784).  During his brief service as an officer and General Washington’s aide-de-camp during the Revolutionary War, he sketched significant people and places of the conflict.  Resigning his commission as colonel in 1777, he continued to paint and then went to England and painted scenes of the American Revolution and life portraits of featured individuals.

Marquis de Lafayette in uniform / P.S. Duval, 1851 (Lib. of Congress)

Marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834) was a 19-year-old French nobleman who defied the orders of King Louis XVI and joined the American Revolution in 1777. Congress assigned the wealthy aristocrat to Washington’s staff. The teenager impressed Washington with his passion for the American cause and courage after being wounded at the Battle of Brandywine. “Treat him as if he were my son,” Washington ordered doctors, and the childless general indeed treated Lafayette, 26 years his junior, as a surrogate son. Washington’s “trust in me is deeper than I dare say,” Lafayette wrote during the harsh winter at Valley Forge. After the war, Lafayette named his only son after Washington and during the French Revolution sent him a key to the Bastille as a symbol of freedom and friendship, which is on display at Mount Vernon’s central hall.

James Monroe, Copyrt A.T. Stata 1914, based on portrait by Gilbert Stuart (Lib. of Congress)

James Monroe (1758-1831) was Washington’s minister to France while it was at war with Great Britain. Monroe, who was critical of the 1794 Jay’s Treaty, was released from his post by Washington in 1796.  He resumed his political career in 1799, when he became governor of Virginia, and held this office for three years until President Thomas Jefferson requested that Monroe return to France to help negotiate the purchase of New Orleans. Of course the deal turned into the entire Louisiana Territory for $15 million. In 1808, Monroe ran for president against Madison and lost. However, Monroe proved to be a strong asset to Madison as America battled Britain. He served as secretary of state until March 1817, when Monroe became the fifth president of the United States 1817-1825.

Alexander Hamilton / portrait by John Trumbull (Lib. of Congress)

Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804) was valued for his intelligence and ability to wield a pen, and served Washington as an aide-de-camp during the Revolutionary War even though he was just in his early twenties. “There are few men to be found of his age who has a more general knowledge than he possesses and none whose soul is more firmly engaged in the cause or who exceeds him in probity and sterling virtue,”  Washington wrote of Hamilton. As with Lafayette, Hamilton had a filial relationship with Washington. Recruited by Washington to be the country’s first secretary of the treasury, Hamilton served as chief architect of the American financial system. Even after leaving the cabinet in 1795, he remained a chief advisor and collaborated with Washington on his famous Farewell Address.

Philip Schuyler, 1792 portrait by John Trumbull (Lib. of Congress)

Philip Schuyler’s  (1733-1804) parents had migrated from Amsterdam in 1650. Philip Schuyler began his military service during the French and Indian War, and began his political tenure as a New York State Assemblyman 1768-1775. On June 19, 1775, he was commissioned by General George Washington as one of only four major generals in the Continental Army.  After the evacuation of Fort Ticonderoga, General Horatio Gates sought Schuyler’s dismissal, and Schuyler resigned from military service in April of 1779.  He reentered politics and served first as a delegate from New York to the Continental Congress and then in the New York State Senate. He served a term as a United States Senator from New York but lost his seat to Aaron Burr.  

A great example of my goal with these short bios is to show how these important Rev.-war figures were intertwined – Alexander Hamilton married Schuyler’s daughter, Elizabeth 🙂 .

Major-General Henry Knox / based on portrait by Gilbert Stuart (Lib. of Congress)

Henry Knox (1750-1806) was a bookworm (and bookseller) from Boston.  He served as one of Washington’s most trusted officers and the Continental Army’s chief artillery officer. As a self-taught expert on battlefield tactics and weaponry, Washington entrusted him with the plan to transport British cannons captured at Fort Ticonderoga, New York, over 300 miles of frozen rivers and snowy mountains on oxen-pulled sleds to Boston, where they forced the British evacuation of the city. Knox managed the logistics for Washington’s 1776 crossing of the Delaware River and, years later, served the first president as Secretary of War.

Thomas Jefferson / 1801 portrait by Rembrandt Peale (Lib. of Congress)

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) served as Washington’s secretary of state. In contrast to the federalist Hamilton, Jefferson opposed the central Bank of United States, favored a weaker national government, and sought closer ties with France than Great Britain. After resigning from the cabinet in 1793 over Washington’s support of Hamilton, Jefferson orchestrated Republican opposition and in private correspondence condemned Washington’s leadership, attacking him as a monarchist and senile devotee of Hamilton. Washington felt betrayed by the man who would be elected president in 1800 in what Martha Washington called the “greatest misfortune our nation has ever experienced.” [Oh the drama!]

Edmund Randolph / portrait by Constantino Brumidi (Lib. of Congress)

Edmund Randolph (1753-1813) was born to a prominent Virginia family and served as an aide-de-camp to General George Washington in 1775. Randolph greatly admired Washington and presented himself to Washington with letters of introduction from various important Virginians. Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson wrote, “This young gentleman’s abilities, natural and acquired, his extensive connections, and, above all, his desire to serve his country in this arduous struggle, are circumstances that cannot fail to gain him your countenance and protection.”  In 1786, Washington wrote to Randolph: “It gave me great pleasure to hear that the voice of the Country had been directed to you as chief magistrate of this Commonwealth.”  In 1789 Washington appointed Randolph as the nation’s first Attorney General, and later he replaced Jefferson as Secretary of State.

John Jay, Esquire / based on portrait by Gilbert Stuart (Lib. of Congress)

John Jay (1745-1829) was an important Federalist figure during the early days of the American republic, and a close political ally of George Washington and Alexander Hamilton.  Jay’s public service career included his positions as the nation’s first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and as Governor of New York.  He helped negotiate the Treaty of Paris in 1783 which ended the conflict between Great Britain and the new United States of America.  Washington sent Jay to London in May of 1794 to work out a solution that would avoid armed conflict and the resulting agreement is popularly known as Jay’s Treaty.  John Jay helped pass a gradual emancipation law in 1799 that led to the eventual end of slavery in New York in 1827. 

John Adams / based on portrait by Gilbert Stuart (Lib. of Congress)

John Adams (1735-1826) was a Massachusetts delegate to the Continental Congress, and actively pushed for Washington’s selection as Continental Army commander. “This appointment will have a great effect in cementing and securing the union of these colonies,”  Adams wrote. The Harvard-educated lawyer served as the country’s first vice president, but Washington notably excluded him from his inner circle of advisors and cabinet meetings throughout his presidency. Adams had the unenviable task of succeeding the popular Washington as president and lost his re-election bid in 1800 to Jefferson.

Phillis Wheatley, unidentified artist, 1773. (National Portrait Gallery/Public domain)

Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784) was an enslaved woman from West Africa at just seven years of age. She received instruction in Greek, Latin and poetry from the daughter of her owners. By age twelve she began writing poetry and by eighteen had become well-known for the publication of an elegy she wrote commemorating the death of a prominent preacher. In the winter of 1775, Wheatley sent George Washington a letter containing a poem to the newly appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army which concluded: “Proceed, great chief, with virtue on thy side, / Thy ev’ry action let the goddess guide. / A crown, a mansion, and a throne that shine, / With gold unfading, WASHINGTON! Be thine.” Washington responded kindly to Wheatley in a letter, and although there is no proof that the two met in person, General Washington invited Wheatley in March 1776 to call on him at his headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Signing DOI July 4, 1776 / Ormsby, W.L., engraver / Trumbull, John, artist (Lib. of Congress)

We are each influenced, in various degrees, by those individuals who work and play and live around us. George Washington’s (& Mount Vernon’s) circle included men and women from all walks of life and from all locations around the world. He and Martha constantly welcomed all travelers to rest at Mount Vernon; plantation records indicate one particular year received 667 visitors! He was loved and admired, or at least respected, by each of them. As Henry Lee, aka Light-horse Harry Lee, so succinctly spoke at Washington’s eulogy in December 1799:

To the memory of the Man, first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countryman.”

Photo 09-30-2016 by Tracy Ward

We’ll explore the Potomac River geography, American history, and family ancestry of Mount Vernon, as well as its fascinating architecture in future posts on this great American topic … stay tuned!

References:

Uploaded June 2020 – DTW’s Blog #0048

D. Tracy Ward, Architect

Our Original Posts, including images when applicable, are copyrighted © 1993-2020 by D. Tracy Ward, Architect and Benchmark Design, PC.  “By wisdom a house is built, And by understanding it is established; And by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches.”   (Proverbs 24:3-4)

Olde Capitol of Central America

Antigua Guatemala is the ancient former capitol of Central America, and is today a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

In 1981/82 I began architecture school at MSU as a totally naive 18-year old kid. I was completely overwhelmed with college and had no idea whether i’d survive to actually become a registered architect. But one of the first realizations was this – A professor told us that architects should continually travel to learn from places all over the world. I found that encouragement to travel a grand idea!

I’ve just returned from an extraordinary place – Antigua Guatemala – surrounded by mountains and volcanoes. Some of those volcanoes are still active; we actually could see the red glow at night!

While my design practice will likely never include Spanish Colonial stylistic requirements, the “ideas” within this place are boundless and applicable to almost any architect’s work. The colors & textures, the proportions, the urban vistas/views, the lush courtyards, the food, flora and people… all amazing and inspiring!

I took home photos and ideas …. derived from 500-year-old structures designed and built by local Guatemalans working with transplanted Spanish Colonists. But THAT was not the original impetus for the trip itself, which was to learn about a wonderful organization – Caoba Windows and Doors.

Employee parking lot – yea i know right?

For over 30 years, Caoba Doors has been a family owned and operated manufacturer of architectural windows, doors and millwork, specializing in luxury residential, hospitality, commercial and historic restoration projects. Located in the central highlands of Antigua, Guatemala, their 150,000 sq. ft. factory is situated on 10 acres, has 6 additional wood drying kilns and over a million board feet of lumber storage area and approximately 260 employees.

New friends were made here, and the weather is what I imagine for Heaven. This place is a paradise, and I fully intend on a return trip soon!

References & Recommended Resources:

Uploaded February 2020 – DTW’s Blog #0050

D. Tracy Ward, Architect

Our Original Posts, including images when applicable, are copyrighted © 1993-2019 by D. Tracy Ward, Architect and Benchmark Design, PC.  “By wisdom a house is built, And by understanding it is established; And by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches.”   (Proverbs 24:3-4)

Historic Courthouse Architecture (Part II)

Our book series about County Courthouses of the Southeast U.S.

(Note: this article gathers my notes and talking points for a presentation at the Historic Courthouse in Decatur, Georgia on March 7, 2020 in association with the Southeast Chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art.)

“History repeats itself.  It has to.  No one is listening.” ~ Steve Turner

Our publications are all about the history of a unique and special place – the county courthouse.  Books on county courthouses can be found… even one beautiful production that came out recently about Georgia’s courthouses.  But these publications tend to be snapshots of only current conditions.  My personal opinion is a disinterest in most examples from the past 40-50 years.  We wanted to go further back in time and pull out postcards and archived images of what came originally.  We wanted to know the history of these people and places.  The quote above from the English writer Steve Turner is a sarcastic reference to our human tendency to mistakenly repeat the blunders of the past.  But if there is any aspect of history worth repeating … it’s the great architecture of our forefathers!

Marshall County – Holly Springs, Mississippi – photo D. Tracy Ward

Psalm 9:1 – “I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.”

To “recount” history is to remember, recall, recollect, or reminisce the things of the past.  It’s simply good and healthy – and fun – for us to remember and memorialize the events and people who came before us.

Greenwood Cemetery in Jackson, Mississippi – photo D. Tracy Ward

The image above – I was recently asked to join the Board of advisors for the historic Greenwood Cemetery in downtown Jackson, Mississippi.  We’re working to restore this urban park space (its memorials, its plantings, its safety, its reputation & status in the community) and tell the stories buried within.  In fact, one of the board members has spent years researching a handful (via random selection) of persons buried here and published the collection of their fascinating life stories.   We all have them and each of us spends this short life creating and recallingour own unique and individual story – our legacy. Architects, designers and draftsmen seal their legacy in pen and paper – see below.

courtesy of Special Collections Dept at MS State University

This image above is a cropped view of a 1915 construction documents page of a courthouse in Pontotoc, Mississippi.  The architect was one of Mississippi’s most famous – Mr. Noah Webster Overstreet.  In 1915, his firm’s drawings were just as fantastic as the built product.   Just stare at that artistry and eye-to-hand coordination!  CAD drawings just can’t do that. 

N.W. Overstreet (1888–1973) was a prolific architect in Mississippi during the early 20th century. He was the first registered architect in the State and is credited with over 900 buildings in his 50+ year career span – an amazing accomplishment. He designed many beautiful courthouses and other civic structures that remain standing today.

Jefferson County is represented in the MS book, and I share this postcard view because it gives a glimpse of the research results which often revealed fascinating side stories wrapped into and around this subject matter.  This was once a prosperous part of the wealthy cotton belt in southwest Mississippi.  Personally, its one of my favorite courthouses for its OVER-achieving effort to show off with that crazy clock tower!  But time takes its toll on these buildings if not properly maintained and cared for. 

Economies change.  Social standards change.  Farming processes change.  And natural degradation never takes a day off.  Financial wealth comes … and then it goes away. The bulk of the clock tower was removed by a tornado and then a fire took it down entirely a few years later. Now we’re left with a sad remnant of its former glory (see below).  It looks like a badly designed basketball gym 😦 . You might recognize the rusticated entry portal in this photo, as its the only element that survived from the original masterpiece. Extraordinary architecture that now is just a memory.

Fayette, Mississippi – photo D. Tracy Ward

So – let’s gather all this talk of memories … and get back into a conversation specifically regarding county courthouses of the Southern States.  Not so long ago, one of the places in “town”, that almost always hosted the most memorable events, was the town center courthouse grounds.  All of life’s excitement was centered here – literally and figuratively – from celebratory family reunions to wild political debates or morbid/newsworthy criminal trials. https://dtracywardarchitect.wordpress.com/2019/01/11/small-town-courthouse-square/

Before television and now the internet, the courthouse square was THE place to be, and where “it all happens”. . . as well as where “its all stored“. Courthouses often held within their basements and backrooms records of such important and vital information regarding marriages, births, deaths, property ownership and other personal and legal items. Now of course much of this type of county information is stored and available in the cloud. And thankfully personal/private data is better protected than just aging in old metal filing cabinets in dark and forgotten rooms.

Bloomington, Indiana – town center / courthouse square

But outside – the most important aspect of a courthouse is its position or place in the built community.  The private/commercial/capitalistic businesses surround and support the important central placement of the governing body – the courthouse.  The courthouse and public square seem to have been acknowledged within the American colonies by the early 1700s. The public square may have first been conceived as a market square … and later accepting the importance of “count seat” of justice.

In fact, it’s the courthouse square that establishes one of the most distinctive & recognizable “places” in our communities.  Often a literal square and a park-like setting, the grand and ornate courthouse usually claims the center of town, and often at the highest elevation.  It’s the visual and geographical focal point or nucleus of the community’s town grid.

Image courtesy http://www.courthousehistory.com (Fort Payne, AL ca. 1940’s prior to demo)

I believe there is a natural and innate desire in we humans to study and explore the past.  We all have (to varying degrees throughout life) a built-in curiosity to learn about our fore-bearers. . . because with that information we’ll understand ourselves better. Especially for us in the world of design – we are fascinated by the man-made, built environment of the past… aka, the architecture of our history.

Milan Kundera, a world famous novelist from Czechoslovakia (and now 90 years old) once wrote:

“The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting”

Historic county courthouses are the perfect emphasis and focus of that curiosity and craving for archaeology and history – WE MUST NOT FORGET!  The town square is that extraordinary “Place-maker” element in history that is so often missing in new developments, and therefore worth our efforts save those places when possible. . . or at the very least in our memories.

“One place understood helps us understand all places better.”~ Eudora Welty

“Read history. By all means read history.” – David McCullough

Marion County (Columbia), Mississippi – D. Tracy Ward photo 2012

References & Recommended Resources:

Uploaded December 2019 – DTW’s Blog #0049

D. Tracy Ward, Architect

Our Original Posts, including images when applicable, are copyrighted © 1993-2019 by D. Tracy Ward, Architect and Benchmark Design, PC.  “By wisdom a house is built, And by understanding it is established; And by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches.”   (Proverbs 24:3-4)

What is ‘GREEK REVIVAL’ ? (part II)

A series discussion of architectural styles in the U.S.

(Note: this article gathers my notes and talking points for a presentation at Green Leaves during the upcoming Natchez Fall Pilgrimage tentatively scheduled for Friday evening September 27th , 2019)

‘Green Leaves’ Greek Revival entry portico details – Triglyph, Metope, Guttae, Mutule, etc.

We’ve written previously a short piece about Benjamin Henry Latrobe (https://dtracywardarchitect.wordpress.com/2018/02/08/father-of-american-architecture/).  Latrobe (1806-1878) was one of the foremost architects of the early 19th century in America, and his architectural practice featured the Grecian influence almost entirely. He said:

“My principles of good taste are rigid in Grecian architecture”.

Within another previous piece we began a multi-part (https://dtracywardarchitect.wordpress.com/2018/11/16/what-is-greek-revival/) discussion about the first style in America that was recognized, understood and accepted nationwide.  The Greek Revival architectural style or typology is uniquely and readily found typically on the Eastern half of the U.S.  In simplest descriptive terms, Greek Revival was (and still is) a design effort to reuse/reinvent/re-purpose the pleasant shape and form of an ancient classical Greek Temple into modern day buildings and usages – not just the colonnaded Southern mansion “house” – but town-houses, church-houses, court-houses, jail-houses, school-houses, bird-houses, boat-houses, green-houses and even out-houses!

Audubon’s Landscape of Natchez, 1822. Collection of the Greenville Museum of Art, SC

Our ‘Part I’ post studying Greek Revival considered a broader national overview, but for this investigation let’s focus on (1) the Old Deep South … (2) the Mississippi Territory … (3) the 300-year-old town of Natchez, Mississippi … and (4) a specific early Greek Revival family home (in-town vs. on the farm) known as “Green Leaves” ca. 1838, pictured below.

Green Leaves‘ high on a terrace above S. Rankin & Washington Streets in Natchez, MS

As an architect working across the Southeast for 30 years, I”m probably in the prime of my career as I write this. But looking back, if only I’d paid more attention as a child growing up in NE Mississippi.  Apparently, I was indeed affected by the distinctly classical architecture all around me – undoubtedly, and yet subconsciously, it befell within my soul.  I became a registered architect … but more specifically a fan of southern architectural history, which is of course a vital and inseparable part of America’s larger story.  I spent my early years ages 2-15 in (https://dtracywardarchitect.wordpress.com/2018/06/15/25-years-already/) Columbus, Mississippi – very similar to Natchez in its extraordinary architectural assemblage and also on a navigable river, the Tombigbee.   Columbus’s impressive historical record begins about 200 years ago somewhere around 1817, the year Mississippi was accepted into the Union.  But Natchez

logo enlargement detail from 1886 Sanborn fire insurance map

Natchez, named for the Native American Indians that inhabited this area AD 700-1730, goes back over 300 years of European history to around 1717, and back thousands of years with Native history! (http://www.mdah.ms.gov/new/visit/grand-village-of-natchez-indians/)   Impressive to consider – the Jaketown Mounds (about 2.5 hours north of Natchez and just above Belzoni) features ongoing archaeological digs, and is the site of some of the earliest Indian earthworks dating back to the Archaic/Poverty Point Period ca. 1500-1350 BC. (http://trails.mdah.ms.gov/mmt/ the MS Mound Trail)

Rear courtyard HABS photograph 1936 Green Leaves – District Officer A. Hayes Town!

Although our focus today is specifically Green Leaves and its early Greek Revival architectural history, let us keep in mind the remarkable aspects of the town of Natchez that nurtured all that would produce this house: (1) the nationally popular architectural style and design, (2) the available builders and talented craftsmen, (3) the access to materials and international suppliers, (4) the sub-tropical weather and climactic impacts on daily life, and (5) the extraordinary financial resources to make it all happen.

Obviously the architecture is more than fascinating, but here it’s always about the mighty river … and the access paths to it. The oldest and most famous trailway is the “Natchez Trace” – of great interest to amateur historians as well as professionals in OTHER fields of anthropology (the literal “civilization” of early America happened here); geology (one of the planet’s largest natural features is the Mississippi River); sociology (Natchez experienced an extraordinary amalgamation of multiple worldwide nationalities in one region); archaeology (prehistoric human activity is being recovered and explored here dating back thousands of years) … and of course all their related associative and derivative studies of nature, human history, as well as ancient extinct creatures. Just last year, two boys playing in a Mississippi field uncovered remains of an Ice Age mastodon perhaps 100,000 years old! (eternity note: a friend reminded me that some of us believe God created the world only 6,000 years ago – a congenial conversation for another post :)) 

The Mississippi River bridge at Natchez

This unique town’s majestic setting high on a bluff overlooking the Old Man River makes for a beautiful background photograph.  But the excessive span of the mighty river currents and flood height variations makes it difficult (and very expensive) to provide modern vehicular roads and bridges that would link Natchez to all points west. Unfortunate from a viewpoint of “prosperous progress”, but lucky for us – no modern interstates bulldozed their way into the city during the 1960’s period of urban renewal. By the way, many destructive urban highways of the 1950-60’s around the country are literally being deconstructed now. Natchez was virtually ignored by real estate developers – thank the Lord! Most updates, renovations, restorations or alterations were appropriately small-scale, organic and piecemeal … developed locally which is extraordinary in this age of franchise monotony: https://dtracywardarchitect.wordpress.com/2018/01/26/indigenous-vernacular/

Therefore most of the original town grid and character remains unspoiled as it was in mid-19th century Natchez, which for 5 decades held more millionaires than any other city in America!  Consequently Natchez still relies on a prehistoric pathway for its primary (and most famous) vehicular access from the north.  

The Old Natchez Trace – Historic American Building Survey – Library of Congress

The Natchez Trace is that 444-mile long primeval trail (first created by migrating animals such as buffalo and used later by Native Indians) that today is a beautiful national parkway connecting Natchez with Nashville, Tennessee.   In earlier days, it was also called the Devil’s Backbone because of its rough and dangerous wilderness as well as its criminal inhabitants and highway bandits.  Andrew Jackson gained his nickname of “Old Hickory” on his travels along the Trace during the War of 1812 between New Orleans and Nashville. And at least one famous Kaintuck, a young Abraham Lincoln, made two trips down the Mississippi River, and like many others he walked home via the Natchez Trace. 

Such a lengthy history can be confusing – here’s an abbreviated timeline of the Natchez District using circa year designations:

1200 – archaeology shows the presence of native Mississippian culture

1600Grand Village south of Natchez became the centerpiece of native Natchez people reaching possibly 200,000 population

1700– French Jesuit priests makes contact with the native peoples

1716Bienville builds fort Rosalie here on the bluffs

1763 – Britain takes control of French territories

1776 – the Natchez District is established

1788 – the Natchez District totals a population of 2,679

1791 – an official town plan is drawn. And Andrew Jackson marries Rachel Donelson just north of town. “It is not unreasonable to believe the Natchez tradition at Linden became associated in Jackson’s mind with his beloved Rachel and their honeymoon in Natchez. Though it did not affect the first house they built together nor the second Hermitage of 1819-1820, after Rachel’s death and his own election to the presidency, Jackson returned to the past, to the memory of Natchez and of Charleston. The third Hermitage, of 1831, incorporating the first and second, included a biloggial portico, designed by David Morrison under Jackson’s supervision. Together, they created two memorials to Rachel; the first was the house itself, a close representation of Linden… ” (Greek Revival America)

1798 – Natchez becomes the first capitol of the Mississippi Territory

1800 – Natchez District population reaches 4,500 including estimated 2,400 slaves

1817 – Mississippi becomes 20th state

1820John Audubon visits – “there is much romantic scenery around Natchez. . . I took a very rude causeway in order to reach the summit, and was relieved to come upon an avenue of those beautiful trees called, here, the Pride of China.  The streets of the upper town lay at right angles and were quite well lined with buildings of painted brick or board.  Heaps of cotton bales and produce that congested the streets were a reminder of the agricultural richness of the country.” (Classic Natchez)

1820’s“Until the middle 1820’s, aged heroes still teetered about, chiding and remonstrating, themselves a remonstrance.  When they were gone, Americans became comfortable with themselves and were free to embark upon a Greek Revival.  The ‘classic’ in America, had until then still carried some inhibiting association with republican simplicity and with austerity.” (Greek Revival America)

1833 – Natchez’s first Greek Revival building … The Agricultural Bank; later known as Britton and Koontz First National Bank. Also significant because George Washington Koontz purchased Green Leaves in 1849 and his family descendants still own and maintain the property today.

1835 – the Mississippi Free Trader newspaper writes: “Buildings are going up in every part of the city, carpenters and joiners, painters, etc. have more work than they can accomplish (and) are realizing fortunes.”

1836/38 – the Koontz house, or Green Leaves, is constructed.

1942 watercolor by New Deal artist Virginia Snedeker – a family descendant cousin

The whole of Natchez is certainly greater than its parts, but one significant part … is a house called Green Leaves rendered above.  Since it’s groundbreaking classical design and construction in 1838, its evolution over the past generations tells us uniquely American stories of joy and pain … success and failure … lost and found … decay and rebirth … invention and implementation … wartime and peacetime.  This 180+year-old family home is an invaluable suburban prototype of contemporary privacy, security, comfort … and a neighborhood showpiece of academic Greek Revival formality, as well as a living testimony to early American frontier efforts for intellectual achievement in the decorative arts.

1886 Sanborn fire insurance map excerpt – Green Leaves was 48 years old at this time.

Greek Revival was bold, psychological and cerebral. And yet it was attainable (and constructible) by both the wealthy and the commoner.  The proverbial and colossal columned house on a plantation has become the visual representation of slave society, with all the modern-day negative baggage it rightly carries.  While we can’t deny the social wrongs of America’s past, there is a scholarly and esoteric beauty that I prefer to study today. And our focal point of conversation is a house in an urban setting … not on the plantation or farm … featuring breezy porches perfect for a favorite libation, majestic landscaping with huge evergreen shade trees, large and lushly furnished rooms for dining and regular social interactions with neighbors and traveling visitors – the core beginnings of what we now affectionately refer to as “Southern Hospitality”

The grand, and hospitable, home we today know as ‘Green Leaves‘ (plan diagram below) was conceived and constructed in the late 1830’s – a part of a new style, a new movement in the arts world, a statement of personal achievement in a new society of agrarian businessmen working within international market capitalism.

Plan of Green Leaves – via The Louisiana Furniture Inventory Project 2012

“The American Greek Revival was seldom very Greek and never used exact antique models.” (Greek Revival America)

So perhaps a better term is Free Classicism‘. But good, proper, creative, and academic Classicism requires the involvement of talented professionals, and Greek Revival made an intellectual statement therein.

Door and window openings in the central passage and double parlors are framed by elaborate frontispieces designed with symmetrically molded pilasters with caps carved in egg-and-dart motif, wide friezes, and overhanging cornices with enriched-talon bed molds.

“because they were built by clients who knew a great deal about architecture and deserve credit for knowing enough to choose some very gifted architects…(Greek Revival America)

Among those “gifted architects” of the day were celebrated names such as Robert Mills, William Strickland, George Hadfield, Benjamin Henry Latrobe, Ithiel Town and Alexander Jackson Davis.

“Something extraordinary was needed to bring Americans into a long campaign to conquer the region above the fall line and to bring it within the international market system. Whitney provided that something, and the Greek Revival belt of Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi was the result. None can compete with the true architect of the Southern Greek Revival: Eli Whitney.” (Greek Revival America)

front cast iron gate detail – made in Ohio and delivered right to the door!

“As one travels from Savannah all the way to Natchez, one can observe that however ugly an economy may be, it does not always produce ugly buildings. And … Georgia ‘Greek Revival’ is unlike any other except for that of the Mississippi Delta between New Orleans and Natchez …, from which and to which there was traffic in architects and carpenters.” (Greek Revival America)

River view of Natchez with “Green Leaves” located in upper right.

Summarized from the 1979 NPS form:

“Built ca. 1836, during the initial popularity of the Greek Revival style in Natchez during the 1830s, the Koontz House is significant for architectural excellence and integrity of interior design, which have, along with the grounds and the house contents, been carefully preserved by the family occupying it since 1849. The rich architectural detailing lavished on both interior and exterior transform the relatively simple structure into an encyclopaedic array of stylish motifs and correct re-creations of various Greek orders. In addition to its main architectural significance, the house retains an impressive collection of period decorative treatments and objects, which makes it . . .

. . . one of the most valuable national documents of mid-nineteenth-century taste.”

Classical details at front entry portico – ‘Green Leaves’ ca. 1838 (Koontz House)

References & Recommended Resources:

Uploaded July 2019 – DTW’s Blog #0045

D. Tracy Ward, Architect

Our Original Posts, including images when applicable, are copyrighted © 1993-2019 by D. Tracy Ward, Architect and Benchmark Design, PC.  “By wisdom a house is built, And by understanding it is established; And by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches.”   (Proverbs 24:3-4)

THE HERMITAGE – historic home of Andrew Jackson

Julianna Conner described her visit in 1827 to the Hermitage mansion as follows: “You enter a large and spacious hall or vestibule, the walls covered with a very splendid French paper – beautiful scenery, figures, etc. – the floor an oil cloth. . . To the right are two large, handsome [drawing] rooms furnished in fashionable and genteel style. . . To the left is the dining room and [General and Mrs. Jackson’s] chamber. There was no splendor to dazzle the eye but everything elegant and neat.”

1934 Historic American Buildings Survey

Jackson’s Irish parents (Andrew, Sr. and Elizabeth), as well as two older brothers, Hugh and Robert, landed in the Carolina’s in 1765. Andrew, Jr. was born on March 15, 1767 near Lancaster, South Carolina.  Sadly, one at a time his family members perished leaving young Andrew alone at the age of 14.  Jackson was now an orphan, but he was anything but “tender” even at this young age.  He was in service in 1780 to the Continental Army at just 13, and when he refused to clean the muddy boots of a British soldier, Jackson bore the facial scar all his life from the angry soldier’s saber.  

According to the Hermitage.com website: Jackson briefly resided with members of his mother’s family but soon went to Charleston and embarked upon a campaign of youthful adventure and mischief.  About this time, Jackson received a modest inheritance from a grandfather still in Ireland. When his money ran out, Jackson finished school and, although he disdained studying, worked as a schoolteacher for a short period. Tall and lanky with red hair and piercing blue eyes, Jackson was known for his fiery temper, fearlessness, playful personality and daring spirit.”

IMG_9034
Image courtesy D.T. Ward, September 2018

Per the 1978 Historic Register Nomination Form:  “. . .625 of the original 1,200 acres, are located north and south of Rachels Lane west of its intersection with Lebanon Pike (Route 24) at Hermitage, Tennessee. The Hermitage mansion, outbuildings, garden, and family cemetery stand on the north side of Rachels Lane and are surrounded by open, rolling fields.  Jackson purchased his Hermitage plantation in 1804 and for the next 15 years occupied a group of log buildings already standing on the property. These included a two-story blockhouse, which had been used as a store before it was converted to a dwelling, and three one-story cabins used as sleeping quarters for the family and guests.  In 1819, with the profits from a three-year boom in cotton prices, Jackson was able to build the original Hermitage mansion (the center section of the present house) on a site selected by his wife Rachel.”

Image courtesy D.T. Ward, September 2018

In the 1820’s, Southern builders in America preferred Greek Revival but the style’s details and materials could vary significantly depending on local vernacular influences … and such an eclectic mix of personal twists on the academic details of the style is not-surprisingly apparent at The Hermitage.  In 1831 Andrew Jackson hired David Morrison, born in Pennsylvania in 1797, to enlarge The Hermitage, originally built in 1819-20.   

Mr. Morrison had worked in Maryland prior to arriving in the Nashville area, and his portfolio was significant – including the State Penitentiary, the largest building in the state of Tennessee at the time.  Morrison wrote to his employer Jackson in December 1831: “I have the satisfaction to inform you that the additions and improvements to The Hermitage are completed. . . The Hermitage as improved presents a front of 104 feet, the wings project 9 feet in front of the center building and are connected by a colonnade of the same breadth.  The colonnade consists of 10 lofty columns of the Doric Order.  The entablature is carried through the whole line of the front, and wreaths of laurel leaves in the frieze. . . The upper story consists of a Portico surmounted by a pediment which breaks the monotony of the composition in a very satisfactory manner. . . The old kitchen is removed. . . The wing at the East end contains the Library, a large and commodious room, and overseer room, and a covered way that protects the three doors leading to the library, overseer room and to the back parlor.”   These conditions survived only a short time as the home burned almost completely in 1834.

Image courtesy D.T. Ward, September 2018

Subsequent to the 1834 fire, a comprehensive redesign and rebuild was required.  Architects Joseph Reiff and William C. Hume oversaw the project.  As was typical of the day, design clues were derived from pattern-books of New England architect Asher Benjamin“In this redesign the entrance facade to the Hermitage was transformed into a fashionable Greek temple by adding six, two-story columns with modified Corinthian capitals across the front porch.” [www.thehermitage.com]  

Because President Jackson had a few things to do in Washington, DC 😊 (he was POTUS 1829-1837) his nephew and adopted son Andrew Jackson Donelson was asked to manage the hectic process of rebuilding.  Just days before his 1829 Presidential Inauguration, his beloved Rachel Donelson Robards Jackson had died in late 1828, and Jackson relinquished:

“I would be satisfied to see it restored to what it was before it was burnt, but as I know I shall not be long on earth to enjoy its comforts. . . you may exercise your own discretion.”

Image courtesy D.T. Ward, September 2018

Interestingly, in 1836 as the rebuilding of The Hermitage approached completion, Jackson asked Robert Mills, architect of the Washington Monument and Architect of Public Buildings in the Capitol City, to calculate the amount of zinc metal needed for the home’s new roof and to order the material.  

Andrew Jackson died in 1845, and in 1856 The Hermitage was sold to the State of Tennessee.  The property almost became a military academy if it weren’t for the Civil War interrupting the process.  After the War between the States, it was suggested as a Confederate Veterans’ home.  The Jackson family occupied the home for decades, but it was deteriorating … and quickly.  In 1889 the Ladies Hermitage Association acquired ownership and management – inspired by the similar fate of George Washington’s estate and its saving grace known as the Mount Vernon Ladies Association.  

Considered by many historians to be the best-preserved early U.S. presidential home, the mansion at The Hermitage has welcomed approximately 16 million visitors from around the world since opening as a museum in 1889.  Today, original furniture, wallpaper and family possessions give visitors a glimpse of what life was like for the family in the years of Andrew Jackson’s retirement.

Image courtesy D.T. Ward, September 2018

At seventy years old, “Old Hickory” (a label he acquired on the Natchez Trace) came home to The Hermitage on March 25, 1837 handing the Presidency to his trusted vice-president, Martin Van Buren. He had served as America’s 7th President soundly defeating John Quincy Adams and remaining in office for 2 full terms.

Jackson had led a rough and tough life, even killing a man in a duel – although it’s a further testament to his fair-mindedness, as he allowed the other man to shoot first, and Jackson carried the bullet inside his chest near his heart (quite literally) for the rest of his life.  Yet he was soft in his loyalty to friends and family – during his retirement at The Hermitage, he cared for and educated six children. 

But long before then, “during the War of 1812 at the Battle of Tallasehatchee, (present day Alabama) a dead Creek woman was found clutching her living baby. The other Indian women refused to care for the infant boy, so Jackson brought him home and raised him as his son, naming him Lincoyer.” (Bill Federer)

As with all politics and politicians, Jackson’s personal life was always under public scrutiny. His wife’s marital backstory (prior to their marriage) is quite extraordinary and still discussed today with controversial conclusions. There are no official marriage papers to be found, but it is believed they married near Natchez, Mississippi in the early Spring of 1791. He was very familiar with both ends of the “Devil’s Backbone” (Natchez Trace) from Nashville, Tennessee to Natchez, Mississippi where Rachel lived. One fact is clear – Andrew loved her with all of his being, and he visited Rachel’s grave everyday he could …for 17 years!  And when he died on June 8, 1845, Andrew Jackson was buried next to her at the stone domed memorial in the family cemetery adjacent to the mansion.

Illustration by Harry Coughlin; from the book Sons of the South

His undeniable and inexorable imprint on early American history is incredible, controversial, fascinating and enduring. Yet, much like Washington’s Mount Vernon and Jefferson’s Monticello (https://dtracywardarchitect.wordpress.com/2018/04/13/monticello-the-historic-home-of-thomas-jefferson/), Jackson’s home at The Hermitage always remained his escape from the intense stress of political life.

Andrew Jackson expressed a longing to retreat home to Nashville in a letter to John Coffee (1772-1833), whose tombstone epitaph was written by Jackson:

“Could I with honor . . . I would fly to [The Hermitage], there to bury myself from the corruption and treachery of this wicked world.”

References:

Uploaded May 2019 – DTW’s Blog #0046

D. Tracy Ward, Architect

Our Original Posts, including images when applicable, are copyrighted © 1993-2019 by D. Tracy Ward, Architect and Benchmark Design, PC.  “By wisdom a house is built, And by understanding it is established; And by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches.”   (Proverbs 24:3-4)

Columbian Chicago 1893

The Chicago World’s Fair, also known as the Chicago Columbian Exposition, was a monumental event held in Chicago in 1893 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus‘s arrival to the New World in 1492.

The Chicago World’s Fair opened to the public May 1, 1893 (126 years ago this day) and continued a brief six months until October 30 when the brutal Chicago winter weather overwhelmed the mostly-outdoor venue of over 1-square mile.  Virtually all the 200+ structures created for the fair were intended to be temporary, and yet the imagery and creativity will last forever in its extraordinary legend and lore! The ironies, macabre horrors, social contradictions, strange mysteries, the incredible crowds (27.5 million), and the human-interest stories are almost endless and quite often … downright unbelievable.

A German immigrant named Frederick “Fritz” William Rueckheim, and his brother Louis, invented Cracker Jack – a snack consisting of molasses-flavored caramel-coated popcorn and peanuts.

I’m not sure even fiction author John Grisham could make this stuff up. There was local, national and international political intrigue galore. The fair played host to many ‘world’s first’ inventions and traditions such as the Pledge of Allegiance, Cracker Jack popcorn snack, Aunt Jemima pancakes, and the Ferris Wheel which was intended to be the American engineering response to the Eiffel tower recently featured in the 1889 World Exhibition in Paris.  During all the excitement, a handsome doctor hid the murdered female bodies in the basement of his new hotel under construction (a feature film is pending).  Among the massive crowds, we notice an impressive list of famous who’s-who including Nikola Tesla, Harry Houdini, Thomas Edison, Scott Joplin, Frederick Douglass, Woodrow Wilson, and Teddy Roosevelt.  And while the world watched, Chicago’s still-famous crime grabbed headlines with the assassination of a local head of state.

More than 100,000 parts went into Ferris’ wheel, notably an 89,320-pound axle that had to be hoisted onto two towers 140 feet in the air. Launched on June 21, 1893 by
George Washington Gale Ferris Jr., a 33-year-old engineer from Pittsburgh whose company was charged with inspecting the steel used by the fair.
Read more: https://www.smithsonianmag.com

It was a period in American history consisting of the final years of an amazing 19th Century, as well as the last breaths of what later would be termed The Gilded Age. President Grover Cleveland was midway through his second (nonconsecutive) “Bourbon Democrat” administration. The fair, also known as the World’s Colombian Exposition, could be considered as the inspirational beginnings of the subsequent Progressive Era which ushered in widespread social activism and political reform. We must remember this was still a time of American recovery from the bloody war between the States little more than 25 years earlier.

Former slaves were slowly gaining social respect and standing. Women were pursuing the simple right to vote. Native Americans and Chinese immigrants were in the fray of assimilation procedures.

In fact, this Exposition featured a Women’s Pavilion (the first was in Philadelphia 1876) that allowed the ladies to highlight female values and abilities in society.  The building itself was designed by a young female architect, Sophia Hayden, who had just graduated from the School of Architecture at MIT.

Affectionately, and sarcastically, deemed The White City because of the overwhelming use of lightly colored temporary and ephemeral materials – think of plaster-paris theatrical stage sets. (Not to mention black Americans were excluded from participation in the fair.) But the preparatory efforts to forever impress the world were anything but momentary musings. The country’s best (probably the world’s best) land planners, architects, landscape designers, builders, financiers and political powers gathered together to plan how best to show off to other nations all the extraordinary qualities and benefits of the US Midwest and the city of Chicago in particular. After all, Chicago was proud to have been chosen to host the fair over its rivals St. Louis, Washington DC, and New York City.

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The Fair’s ‘Palace of Fine Arts’ is one of the few original structures still standing. Its now the Museum of Science and Industry, still featuring its Greek caryatids.

The dream team of American Architects:

“(Daniel) Burnham met the eastern architects Monday evening, December 22 (1890), at the Players Club, for dinner.  Their cheeks were red from the cold. They shook hands: (Richard M.) Hunt, (Charles) McKim, (George B.) Post, and (Robert) Peabody – Peabody, down from Boston for the meeting.  Here they were, gathered at one table, the nation’s foremost practitioners of what Goethe and Schelling called “frozen music.”  All were wealthy and at the peaks of their careers, but all also bore the scars of nineteenth-century life, their pasts full of wrecked rail cars, fevers, and the premature deaths of loved ones. They wore dark suits and crisp white collars. All had mustaches, some dark, some gray. Post was huge, the largest man in the room. Hunt was fierce, a frown in a suit, with a client list that included most of America’s richest families. Every other mansion in Newport, Rhode Island, and along Fifth Avenue in New York seemed to have been designed by him, but he also had built the base for the Statue of Liberty and was a founder of the American Institute of Architects.”  (page 79, The Devil in the White City)

With barely two and a half years until opening day, in January 1891, ten architects (including Chicago’s own Louis Sullivan) were authorized a fee of $10,000 each (about $300k today) by the Committee on Grounds and Buildings.  They, along with landscape mastermind Frederick Law Olmstead, had 30 months to not only design and detail Jackson Park and its 200+ structures on paper … but to fully construct them as well!  It was an almost impossible undertaking, yet an entrepreneurial challenge to these men (and a few women) who possessed and displayed an extraordinary focus and self-discipline to achieve success. 

Meanwhile, another project was under construction, outside the fair’s footprint – “a hotel just comfortable enough and cheap enough to lure a certain kind of clientele …”.    The builder, and self-made architect, created a multi-story masonry edifice that was mildly habitable, with a great roof view of the city as well.  The highlight?  That was the cellar, where proprietor Dr. H.H. Holmes installed a brick kiln that heated up to 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit.  Although a very strange accessory to a hotel, nobody seemed to care.  Today’s safety reviews by building officials didn’t exist yet.  And the times were hard – thousands of workers laid off in other parts of the country flocked to Chicago for jobs … any job at any price … without questioning their employer.  Later, too late for many, it would be revealed that Holmes was a psychopathic killer who used the kiln to destroy the evidence – the bodies.  He would later write “I was born with the devil in me, I could not help the fact that I was a murderer, no more than the poet can help the inspiration to sing.”  (The Devil in the White City)

As the fair came to an end, so did it’s impressive economic impact.  Now, ten thousand construction workers had to find new jobs. 

Not many jobs were available at this time but luckily, many of the fair’s artists and artisans were subsequently hired to decorate the magnificent Beaux-Arts style Thomas Jefferson Building at the Library of Congress completed in 1897. More on this topic in a future post. https://www.aoc.gov/capitol-buildings/thomas-jefferson-building

Pig iron production fell by fifty percent.  Rental properties went vacant.  The fair was over and Chicago’s criminal violence crept back in force.  Case in point, on October 28th (2 days before the fair’s last) at approximately 8pm, Chicago’s mayor Harrison was shot and killed by a man who simply didn’t get the position the mayor promised him.  The New York World newspaper stated at the fair’s closing that hundreds of persons had gone missing during the previous 120 weeks, and the Chicago police had no answers. 

“The White City had drawn men and protected them; the Black City now welcomed them back, on the eve of winter, with filth, starvation, and violence.”  (The Devil in the White City)

https://jarphys.files.wordpress.com/2015/09/map-001.jpg

At its closing end, Daniel Burnham, a prominent Chicago architect himself and the fair’s Director of Works, could finally take a breath after several solid years of constant effort.  He had organized and orchestrated the entire thing to a successful completion.  His White City was a classical creation that proudly featured ancient Greek and Roman forms in its master-plan vistas and views, its sculptural art, and of course its architectural massing forms and ornamental details…with few exceptions.  (So spectacular, the scene inspired Frank Baum when he imagined The Emerald City in the 1939 movie: The Wizard of Oz) These gleaming white structures sparkled and glowed due to the finished covering being primarily plaster of paris and hemp fiber, which was then sprayed with a whitewash using the latest technology – an electric pump.  Of course, this material was never intended to be permanent – no, just the opposite – it made the project faster to build, lowered the costs, and allowed quicker demolition and recovery at the end.  And the fair’s end did come.  But new beginnings came too.  A new century was just around the corner. 

The fair soon thereafter had paid for itself and inspired new ideas and excited creative ingenuity all across America!  Seriously now – lets consider – it was a massive, extremely inventive, event that first featured the likes of Hershey chocolate, Juicy Fruit & Spearmint chewing gum, Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, Vienna sausage, the zipper fastener, and the first ever brownie!  That’s what I call a great American success story!    

References:

D. Tracy Ward, Architect

Uploaded May 1, 2019 – DTW’s Blog #0039

Our Original Posts, including images when applicable, are copyrighted © 1993-2019 by D. Tracy Ward and Benchmark Design, PC.  God bless America!  Treasure Liberty always and pass it on!   “Architecture aims at Eternity.  [CHRISTOPHER WREN, Parentalia]

Greenwood Cemetery

My family were not “Old Jackson”, so I had no local kin buried in Greenwood Cemetery, but I grew up near it. It was the view from the sleeping porch at our house on North Congress Street. We could look right down on it. I used to go over there and play. Of course, back then nothing was citified. There was no city look to Jackson then. It was a country town.” (Eudora Welty)

View looking south toward the New Capitol building

** “There’s nothing like bones to remind you of your Heritage.” **

Graveyard / cemetery / catacomb / coemeterium / columbarium / mausoleum / tomb – these terms represent varying forms of human burial processes and procedures throughout recorded history.  Human beings have always wondered what happens afterwards … after our brief time on earth is completed.   But as urban populations have swelled, society has been forced to deal with death NOW, not just as an intellectual or religious exercise but as a health concern – an immediate need to deal with a deceased body.  A dead, decaying, smelly corpse that obviously MUST be separated from those of us still alive – what are we to do? 

How do we respectfully say goodbye to our dearly departed loved ones, while we also maintain a healthy distance … obliging the Biblical datum that they “will return to the dust” ?

You will sweat and work hard for your food. Later you will return to the ground, because you were taken from it. You are dust, and when you die, you will return to the dust.” (Genesis 3:19)

The ancients embalmed (preserved) the body to delay decay in preparation for the afterlife, or the next life.  The process would take days.  But the Israelites buried their dead on the very day of death.  They wrapped the body with a 12” wide, 60-foot long cloth soaked with spices to overwhelm the stench until the body could be placed inside a cave or stone sepulcher.  In more modern times, a similar embalming process is used to give family mourners time for a memorial funeral event.  But funerals are quite expensive, so many families are turning to cremation as the “body disposition” of choice. Cremation simply speeds up the process – we become dust again, either way. 🙂

In the earliest days of Jackson, Mississippi, one can look back to history’s record and perceive what were the imperative priorities of the city, state and national founders.  While Jackson’s master plan was created in 1822 by Peter Van Dorn, (according to NRHP research documentation) the original city plan neglected a provision for a public burial ground.  To rectify the omission, the Federal government ceded adjacent lands in 1823 to the state who subsequently ceded the acreage to the city of Jackson in 1837.  As a contextual reminder – the young city’s namesake, Andrew Jackson (1767-1845), was one of the most famous personalities in America, and the world, at the time.

Early city plan for Jackson, Mississippi

For decades it was simply known as The Graveyard or the City Cemetery, which was expanded about 1850 to the current 22 acres.  The name was changed to Greenwood Cemetery in 1899, and is considered today as the city’s oldest historic site … its soil accepting the first burial in 1821.

Wild flowers blanket the ground in the early spring 2019

“Within its 22 acres lie seven governors, 15 Jackson mayors including the first, 6 Confederate Brigadier Generals, 6 State Supreme Court Justices, clergymen, the first presidents of both Belhaven and Millsaps Colleges and the noted author Eudora Welty.  Up until the turn of the century nearly everyone who died in Jackson was buried in Greenwood Cemetery – rich, poor, black, white, slave, free, for it has been an integrated burial ground ever since its inception.  Even some of the State Penitentiary prisoners who paid for their crimes by hanging are buried there.”  (page 4, Voices Heard from the Grave)

Did you catch that? It was integrated from the very beginnings … almost 200 years ago! Greenwood Cemetery is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and a Mississippi Landmark, and remains the largest green space in the city of Jackson.  The city owns the cemetery, but much of the maintenance is done by the Greenwood Cemetery Association which also raises funds for ongoing repairs, landscaping maintenance, as well as organizing rehabilitation and improvements projects.

This old Oak, Magnolias and Crepe Myrtle trees are extraordinary … especially in the center of an urban environment.

Urban garden cemeteries are an integral piece of American cities, and as densities increase, these inner city green spaces deserve loving attention – Greenwood Cemetery is no exception to this trend and need for recognition. A Philadelphia, PA news outlet, recently speaking of the national movement for urban cemetery revitalization, states “People used this place(s) as an escape from the city and as a park before the park system existed. They came to look at the trees, to look at the art, visit famous people and their loved ones. It was a tourist destination. Other Victorian-era cemeteries around the country are taking the same approach, in hopes of fostering community within their spaces rather than languishing into forgotten, weed-ridden sites.”

Imagine, while we maintain respect for those interred here, if we used this green garden park as exactly that – Jackson’s Central Park ? Why don’t we enjoy it as a regular location for outdoor movies (“cinema in the cemetery”), group dog walks, stargazing, yoga, Easter egg hunts, family picnics, and more.

Cemetery detail – official map of the city of Jackson, MS / Daniel, Henry C. / 1875
http://www.mdah.ms.gov/arrec/digital_archives/series/maps/detail/191409

Greenwood is looking at those same aspects and options to reinvigorate local interest and daily enjoyment of this beautiful and historic green urban park space. Join the effort! Give a financial donation or dedicate your talents to the goal of making Greenwood Cemetery into Jackson’s valuable beautiful & green “central park” garden destination. Visit and support now https://www.facebook.com/Greenwood-Cemetery-Association-Jackson-MS-320287349696/

Beautiful craftsmanship illustrated in this cast iron family plot enclosure.

References:

** Quoted from the 2011 documentary film: Monumental: In search of America’s National Treasure

Uploaded March 2019 – DTW’s Blog #0044

D. Tracy Ward, Architect

Our Original Posts, including images when applicable, are copyrighted © 1993-2019 by D. Tracy Ward and Benchmark Design, PC.  “By wisdom a house is built, And by understanding it is established; And by knowledge the rooms are filled With all precious and pleasant riches.
Proverbs 24:3-4 

What is ‘FEDERAL’ Style ?

A series discussion of architectural styles in the U.S.

Monticello VA090
Jefferson’s Monticello represented his personal design ideas for a National or Federal style.  Interestingly architectural historians later created an alternate name . . . “Jeffersonian“, which i’m guessing the man himself would not approve.

By the mid-18th century, as our British mother country began to overstep her governmental overreach, American colonists began to look at their options and alternatives.  How could these hardworking men and women settlers make the most of the opportunities available in this new land . . . without “outsiders” constantly interfering?  Long, fascinating story shortened – Americans decided to become independent citizens who would forge their own unique forms of government, law, procedure & process, and a globally-imperative . . . STYLE.

The incipient, newborn nation sought to find its footing and take its place on the world stage in a way unique to its peculiar cultural and aesthetic environment (. . . UNIQUELY AMERICAN).  With Thomas Jefferson leading the charge, the Founding Fathers pursued a unified national vision for its architectural panache . . . sometimes referred to as Federal style.  Jefferson felt strongly that the art & architecture of the new Republic were vitally important to its ultimate success.  For Thomas Jefferson, architecture & art were among the most important cultural creations to place the young United States in a global spotlight, and to launch a competitive and recognizable American brand and style demanding respect and praise from the haughty European establishment.  Therefore, it’s no surprise architectural historian Fiske Kimball called Jefferson “the father of our national architecture”.  MONTICELLO – the home of Thomas Jefferson

Just as the Founders had created our own civil government drawn on a sympathetic and syncretistic undertaking of the ancient Hebrew and Roman Republics, so too could the visual arts reflect a mastery of the varied architectural precedents of the ancient Greeks and Romans. For example – one of those geographical & political areas of early settlement and still visible today is the “Mississippi Territory”, or more specifically the town of Natchez on the Mississippi River.

The mansion known as Auburn, built 1812, exhibits a strange combination of classical details – a two-story Roman Ionic portico with a Corinthian entablature – as well as a geometrical staircase copied from popular carpentry books of the day.  The fact these details were “copied” from books is why the Ionic and Corinthian were wrongly merged. . .academically speaking of course.  Even so, this beautiful house is considered to be the first in the pioneer territory that utilized the academic classical Orders of Architecture.

img_1331 auburn 1812
Auburn ca. 1812;   http://auburnmuseum.org/

A grisly murder in New York City precipitated the introduction of Classical architecture to the Mississippi Territory.  Levi Weeks, a carver and master builder from New England, came to Natchez about 1809, opened a cabinet and chair shop and established himself as a builder.  Born at Greenwich, Massachusetts, in 1776, Weeks had worked in New York City between 1798 and 1803 for his older brother Ezra, who was also a housewright.  But Levi was accused of murdering his lover, Julia Sands, and throwing her body down a well.”     (page 27: Architecture of the Old South – MS and AL)

Although Levi was acquitted, his reputation and career in New York was destroyed. Weeks finally settled in the Mississippi Territory and in 1812 began the design of the Natchez home called Auburn, of which he described as “the first house in the territory on which was ever attempted the orders of Architecture.”    In the mid-18th century, English builders had copied the monumental forms of ancient public buildings as published in the works of the late Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio and his English popularizers.  In turn, the craftsmen who came to Natchez from the East, particularly from New England, brought with them knowledge of Roman porticoes, Tuscan columns, fanlights, and Palladian windows, cascading spiral stairs and swirling patterns of surface decoration, which are characteristics we now know in America as the Federal style.

img_1319 auburn 1812
Auburn ca. 1812; http://auburnmuseum.org/

So we’re still attempting to define Federal style in a way that distinguishes from other early American architecture?

The best-selling book by Virginia and Lee McAlester (A Field Guide to American Houses – 2013 edition) describes the Federal style’s identifying features:  “Semi-circular or elliptical fanlight over front door (with or without sidelights); fanlight often incorporated into more elaborate door surround, which may include a decorative crown or small entry porch; cornice usually emphasized by decorative moldings, most commonly with tooth-like dentils; windows with double-hung sashes usually having six panes per sash and separated by thin wooden supports (muntins); windows aligned horizontally and vertically in symmetrical rows, usually five-ranked on front facade, less commonly three-ranked or seven-ranked; windows never in adjacent pairs, although three-part Palladian-style windows are common.  A side-gable is the most common Federal roof over a simple box form.

Encyclopedia Britannica states it thusly:   “. . . American revival of Roman architecture, especially associated with Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Latrobe (Father of American Architecture). It flourished from 1785 to 1820 and later in governmental building. The Federal style had definite philosophical ties to the concept of Rome as the republic that the new American country thought it reflected.”  We’ve discussed previously What is ‘GREEK REVIVAL’,  but what is ‘ROMAN REVIVAL’ ?  Shall we use that simply as a brief subtitle . . . Roman Revival = Federal style?

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Built in 1798, the “new” State House is located across from the Boston Common on the top of Beacon Hill. The land was once owned by the first elected governor of Massachusetts, John Hancock. The building was designed by Charles Bulfinch, the architect of the US Capitol, and is considered a masterpiece of Federal-style architecture.  The Massachusetts State House was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1960.

“Federal” style architecture has, for myself, always been somewhat difficult to identify.  However one defines it, the heavy British influence was prevalent during the 1780-1820 period, which is certainly why it flourished in the northeastern states.  Therefore, understandably some of the best visual representatives of the style are found in Boston.  Some historians may blend “Colonial” and “Adamesque” together to form the “Federal”.  To make things even more indeterminate, many “Federal” characteristics continued/dissolved inside the succeeding “Romantic” period styles such as “Italianate” or “Greek Revival“.

Our efforts to define it shall happily continue!

References:

D. Tracy Ward, Architect

Uploaded February 2019 – DTW’s Blog #0038

Our Original Posts, including images when applicable, are copyrighted © 1993-2019 by D. Tracy Ward and Benchmark Design, PC.  God bless America!  Treasure Liberty always and pass it on!   “Architecture aims at Eternity.  [CHRISTOPHER WREN, Parentalia]

Smoke in the White House

courtesy HABS Library of Congress

America’s Executive Mansion or the President’s House – now commonly referred to as the White House – sits prominently at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC.  The monumental edifice was originally conceived by George Washington who, along with DC City planner Pierre L’Enfant, dreamed of a classical residence that would give the young country needed prestige and distinction.  The Irish-born architect James Hoban won the 1792 competition for the architectural design.  It is not surprising, therefore, that the White House resembles a private Neo-Classical residence in Dublin; and some speculate another similar precedent in France also gave Hoban his inspiration. We’ll delve into more specifics on the original architecture in a separate blog story.

The architect was not allowed much time to dilly-dally with the design process (not much has changed in the industry 🙂 ) as building construction began immediately in 1792. But George and Martha Washington were never able to occupy the home as it was not habitable until November 1800 when John and Abigail Adams became the first to call the White House ‘home’.  But they didn’t stay for long as President Thomas Jefferson acquired residence in the unfinished executive mansion just four months later in March 1801.  Following the British effort to burn down the Capitol City during the War of 1812, then President James Madison called back the first architect James Hoban to rebuild, and the mansion was inhabited again by President James Monroe in 1817.  In 1825-1830, the north and south porticoes we know today were added – part of a series of changes that has seemingly continued unceasing.

Each succeeding Presidential administration has put their thumb print on the structure – some in drastic fashion – others just aiding the necessary maintenance for the building to survive through the ages.  After WWII President Truman chose to gut everything but the outer walls . . . by his own choice! But one of those renovations was forced upon the residing President Herbert Hoover in 1929, in similar fashion as it did in 1814: the result of smoke & fire damage! 

A serious fire in the White House is documented only these two times.  The first was set intentionally by our British enemy and the second cause was assessed to be faulty wiring, and remained contained within the area we now call the “West Wing”.  Thankfully it hasn’t happened again since that fateful Christmas Eve at the close of the “Roaring 20’s” decade.

courtesy Library of Congress Jan 13, 1930 – President Hoover walks through the fire debris on his way to lunch

White House fires created choking smoke from burning building materials in 1814 and 1929. But in the 200+ year history of the building, smoke was ironically a regular, daily occurrence. The building has seen many US politicians and employees, and Presidents too, indulge in the pleasures of tobacco smoke in the form of pipes and cigars.  It’s well documented that John Adams, James Madison, John Quincy Adams … and so many POTUS’s after them, enjoyed the delight and entertainment of fine tobacco. 

George Washington, in a letter to the Continental Congress in 1776 said – “If you can’t send money, send tobacco.” 

Many meetings, administrative negotiations, as well as political haggling & debates have been wrought within one of the mansions’ rooms when filled with the blue-gray gentle haze of several cigars. This 1848 political cartoon image depicts Zachary Taylor facing a representative with drink in hand and cigar in his mouth. (Library of Congress)

President Hoover in particular was an avid cigar man. It is estimated he enjoyed 10-20 sticks a day!

Artwork by Ellen Adams

The American History Guild, and its subsidiary The Liberty Cigar Company, has recreated the exact blend and vitola (Corona) cigar that President Hoover enjoyed almost a century ago.  In coordination with the White House Historical Association’s 2016 Christmas Tree Ornament featuring President Hoover (http://shop.whitehousehistory.org), the Herbert Hoover cigar was presented to the public in September of 2016. Our Hoover cigar is a fine blend of Connecticut Shade wrapper, Indonesian binder, and a filler of Cuban seed Ligero, Seco Piloto Cubano, Santo Domingo and Habano. It’s available for order via https://libertycigars.com/collection/herbert-hoover/ as a single stick or as part of an elegant 1930’s Art Deco Era box set of 7.

Courtesy of Liberty Cigar Company – custom blend & graphics – The Herbert Hoover cigar is part of a special President’s Series
Sept. 29, 2016 cigar tasting event at the White House Historical Association, featuring Liberty Cigar’s new “stogie” – The Herbert Hoover !

References:

 

D. Tracy Ward, Architect

Uploaded January 2019 – DTW’s Blog #0034

Our Original Posts, including images when applicable, are copyrighted © 1993-2018 by D. Tracy Ward and Benchmark Design, PC.  God bless America!  Treasure Liberty always and pass it on!   “Architecture aims at Eternity.  [CHRISTOPHER WREN, Parentalia]

The Courthouse Square

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For about 9 years, our team has been mired (happily of course) in ongoing research and production of a multi-volume book series called HISTORIC COURTHOUSE ARCHITECTURE.  Each publication is organized by state, county, and county seat.  Mississippi was first published in 2012, while Alabama was published in 2015.  Georgia is in the works now and will be published as two volumes because of its unusually large quantity of counties – 159.  The image above is one of the featured courthouses from Canton, Mississippi.  The book series is primarily focused on the exterior architecture of monumental American courthouse buildings.

But this story considers perhaps the most important aspect of a courthouse – its position or place in the community.

In fact, it’s the courthouse square that establishes one of the most distinctive & recognizable “places” on earth.  Often a literal square and a park-like setting, the grand and ornate courthouse usually claims the center of town, and often at the highest elevation.  It’s the visual and geographical focal point or nucleus of the community, and the host of important local events – from public political soap box speeches and various community ceremonies to the backdrop of private family photographs.

0030 Bloomington, Indiana square

As with many aspects of our historic built environments in the United States, the early inspiration was derived from European examples where urban pivotal spaces were religious (church), judicial (jail), and a marketplace (private sector capitalism).  As new towns in America were created, many vied vehemently to attain the status of county seat, for it would surely become the largest town as well as the trade and commercial center of the county.  Some of the stories of dramatic, often illegal, efforts to deceive competing municipalities are fascinating.

As one Alabama story goes in 1901, town folks lured the sheriff out of the county seat with a false story about a murder.  While the law officers were pursuing the fictitious killer, a group of men stole the county’s courthouse records, and delivered them to a new courthouse in a neighboring town…and there they remain today!

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Mississippi Department of Archives & History – ca. 1829 town plan for Livingston, MS

Land for the public square was often donated by a single land owner, who of course profited by the resulting real estate development and speculation.  Sometimes, the town square was built but the town was never awarded the preeminent status of ‘county seat’, or subsequently lost its prestige to a neighboring town in the county.  But from this author’s perspective, a valuable “central park” was often the result…and sometimes accidental consequences of intentional land planning turn out for the best.

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2009 proposal for rebirth of a historic county seat featuring a new replicated courthouse in the center square.

There is gold at the end of a rainbow… and there’s always a courthouse on Main Street. 

Of course these sayings are not always the case (unfortunately) but the classic and romantic notion of “Main Street” is usually attributable to the presence of an extraordinary courthouse and its adjacent supporting businesses.  The geometric layout of adjacent streets will vary, affecting the approach and vista to/from the courthouse square.  Occasionally the courthouse landed on the edge of town to be closer to the railroad, making it today a pleasurable challenge to find one of these jewels of the past.

Although most courthouses are no longer the center of community activity (sadly it’s been replaced by Starbucks!), they are still valuable to the fabric of our lives and a necessary link to our past, as well as an architectural topology, unique in the built world, to be studied by amateurs and professionals alike.

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Old courthouse (now a museum) in Vicksburg, Mississippi

References:


D. Tracy Ward, Architect

Originally composed August 2015; Edited and uploaded January 2019 – DTW’s Blog #0030

Our Original Posts, including images when applicable, are copyrighted © 1993-2019 by D. Tracy Ward and Benchmark Design, PC.  God bless America!  Treasure Liberty always and pass it on!   “Architecture aims at Eternity.  [CHRISTOPHER WREN, Parentalia]

American Christmas Traditions – part 1

Christmas card given by Mamie Eisenhower to Dwight Eisenhower in 1915, True blu CROPPED
Christmas card given by Mamie Eisenhower to Dwight Eisenhower in 1915, True blu – National Archives Identifier: 6871993

At Christmas play and make cheer

For Christmas comes but once a year

Good bread and good drink, a good fire in the hall

Brawn, pudding and souse, and good mustard withall:

Beef, mutton and pork, shred pies of the best:

Pig, veal, goose and capon and turkey well drest:

Cheese, apples and nuts, jolly carols to hear,

As then in the country is counted good cheer.

Thomas Tusser (ca. 1520-1580)

merry christmas greeting photo
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Today in the US, our Christmas celebration has numerous customs and rituals. For followers of Christ, it is first and foremost a festival of the birth of our Savior.  But regardless of faith or religious beliefs, this time of year is notable with great pageantry and magnificence all over the world.  And of course, as is typical throughout human history, some aspects of Christmas have evolved or lost their original significance.

So. . . from where did these traditions come?  Who initiated this comportment, behavior and imagery?  What were the original meanings of the vocabulary terms we now associate with the Christmas season?

Let’s look at just five recognizable examples:

Garland – a circular or spiral arrangement of intertwined material (as flowers or leaves).  Garland is now associated with Christmas decorations, but it likely began in Europe as a more general home ornamentation.  Because many plants are dormant during this time of year, evergreens (holly, spruce, pine) naturally are the focus of these decorations…adding smell to the sensitivities associated with Christmas.  And the use of evergreens during the bleak Winter symbolizes the hope of the renewing Spring around the corner…just as the birth of Christ offers hope of an eternity with God.

Mistletoe – a semi parasitic green shrub with thick leaves, small yellowish flowers, and waxy-white glutinous berries.  It is believed a mistletoe tree could propagate from bird droppings, therefore the Anglo-Saxon meaning of the word is “dung on a twig”.  The famous saying “kissing under the mistletoe” has its origin in Norse mythology and Celtic rituals.  The cutting of the mistletoe from an oak tree signified a young boy had transitioned into manhood.  Perhaps its correlation to Christmastime is a result of its prominent visibility in the woods during the winter months.  Mistletoe is an evergreen ball usually high up on a barren deciduous tree limb…and a lot of fun to bring down pieces with a shotgun!

Nutcracker Ballet – The Nutcracker Ballet was first presented in St. Petersburg, Russia, on December 17, 1892. Peter Tchaikovsky was commissioned to compose the ballet score based on Alexandre Dumas’s adaptation of E.T.A. Hoffman’s fairy tale “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” – a story about a family’s dreamy Christmas Eve experiences.  The ballet performance first appeared in England in 1934; in San Francisco in 1944, and is now considered a classic Christmas story and tradition across the globe.  As traditions should be – this music will forever take me back to my childhood Christmases, generating visions of my beautiful mother whistling to the Nutcracker while she prepared the Christmas meal for my family.  (I’m listening to Nutcracker Suite, Op. 71a now as I write!)

North Star – Mariners have understood the importance of always knowing the location of the North Star. As the only fixed point in the night sky, the North Star is a constant companion and sure reference for setting one’s course.  The Bible tells about a star that helped the three wise men to find the route to the dwelling place of Jesus Christ at the time of his birth, and is found in the Book of Matthew 2.  “After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.” (Matthew 2:9-10)  Because Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, the North Star is often synonymous with the Biblical worldview: Christ enthroned at the Father’s right hand.

Yuletide – aka Yule Time or Christmastide is the festival season from Christmas Eve until after New Year’s Day … originating from Germanic peoples, as are many of today’s Christmas traditions.  The actual date of Christ’s birth was not recorded so the early Christian Fathers simply ascribed it to Yule-tide, changing the occasion from the birthday of the sun… to that of the Son.  The birthday of Christ was celebrated on dates varying from the first to the sixth of January; or on the dates of certain religious festivals such as the Jewish Passover or the Feast of TabernaclesPope Julius, who reigned 337-352 A.D., determined that Christ was born on or about the twenty fifth of December, and by the end of the fifth century that date was generally accepted by Christians. The transition from the old to the new significance of Yule-tide happened so quietly that it was easily absorbed by the masses.

What unique traditions are practiced in your home?  Can you trace their origins through your ancestors?  Those wonderful and comforting moments of the past are sure to bring joy as you share and continue them for your descendants to experience year after year.  Next year (part 2) perhaps we’ll explore the Presidential Christmas traditions within the White House.

Wishing you and yours a Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year!

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“Its a Wonderful Life” – 1946 American Christmas fantasy comedy-drama film produced and directed by Frank Capra

References:

D. Tracy Ward, Architect

Originally composed 2014; Edited & Uploaded December 2018 – DTW’s Blog #0021

Our Original Posts, including images when applicable, are copyrighted © 1993-2018 by D. Tracy Ward and Benchmark Design, PC.  God bless America!  Treasure Liberty always and pass it on!   “Architecture aims at Eternity.  [CHRISTOPHER WREN, Parentalia]

What is ‘GREEK REVIVAL’ ? (part I)

A series discussion of architectural styles in the U.S.

Rivendell
Rendering courtesy of D. Tracy Ward 1986 – Columbus, Mississippi ca. 1852

Well, certainly it must have something to do with a resurgence of all things from ancient Greece, right?  Grecian precedent yes … but Greek Revival is not ALL things from the historic Mediterranean world.  Like most things “reborn” or “revived”, the new creation is different from the original in at least some capacities, as is the case herein.  Academic historians state the American Greek Revival style falls into the wider category called the “Romantic” period, which encompasses the era 1820-1880 and includes Exotic, Greek and Gothic Revivals, Italianate, and Octagon styles.  It should be noted that at the end of this period as defined, sometimes more elaborate versions appeared – now labeled as High Victorian Gothic or High Victorian Italianate.  Many instances blended multiple details from varying styles, so identification isn’t always easy or obvious!

Although, relatively easy to identify and diagnose is the Greek Revival (GR) style specifically in America.  At least visually, the GR was largely a specific acknowledgement to the unique “temple” form that is so recognizable in the examples of the Temple of Hephaestos, Temple of Aphaia, the Parthenon, Temple of Zeus at Olympia, and others.  As historians like to do with perfect hindsight, we now put this American style period in a box branded with the label: 1820-1860; although as you might imagine, it didn’t exactly  (and still doesn’t) quite fit within those precise confines.

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Image courtesy of http://teachersites.schoolworld.com – Temple of Hephaestos – Athens, Greece built ca. 400s BCE

The fascination with ancient Greek architecture began in the mid-1700s when British architect James Stuart visited the country and began incorporating the elements of the Grecian style into his own design projects … even publishing the multi-volume The Antiquities of Athens and Other Monuments of Greece in 1762.  The style had declined in Britain and Europe by the 1820s.  But, in America, the style’s recognizable forms reigned for several decades as the primary choice for church houses, court houses, school houses, bird houses, and even out-houses!

Kennedy’s ‘Greek Revival America’ excerpt page 199:    . . . John William Ward spied the paradox in the relationship of Old Hickory to Cincinnatus.   Americans “rejected Europe” in the Jacksonian period, but their imagery, verbal and architectural, was “saturated” with classical references implying “an obeisance to European tradition rather than alienation from it.  Americans were so fond of classical imagery because they imagined themselves to constitute a return to the uncorrupted state of the past, before the fall, so to speak, while contemporary Europe seemed a corruption of the virtues of its own past.  It was logically possible for Americans in their rejection of Europe as degenerate to have become antiquarians and to have exemplified Europe’s present fall from grace by reference to a golden past.”   Ward summed up with a line written by a Jacksonian dramatist and put into the mouth of one of the victors at New Orleans in 1815:   “Our western wilds preserve the ancient glory”.

Politically and ideologically, the popularity and prolific use of the style perhaps is owed to the successful model of Democracy that the Greeks offered.  Following the War of 1812, America naturally rejected its traditional ties to England.  While the Federal Style faded in popularity, the Greek Revival imagery offered a new, potentially nationalized, style that could be customized to be . . . Uniquely AMERICAN.  As stated earlier, by the 1820-40s American architects (almost all of them self-trained) and builders were waist-deep in new building designs, pattern book publications, and a general fascination entrenched in the new Greek classical stylistic language.  In fact, it was often called the National Style and made popular by such famous architects as Benjamin Latrobe (1806-1878), William Strickland (1788-1854), Robert Mills (1781-1855), and Ithiel Town (1784-1844).

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HABS drawing courtesy of Library of Congress – Huntsville, Alabama courthouse built ca.1835; demolished 1914

The best-selling book by Virginia and Lee McAlester (A Field Guide to American Houses – 2013 edition) describes the style’s identifying features thusly:  “Gabled or hip roof of low pitch; cornice line of main roof and porch roofs emphasized with wide band of trim (this represents the classical entablature and is usually divided into two parts: the frieze above and the architrave below); most have porches (either entry or full width) supported by prominent square or rounded columns, typically of Doric style; front door surrounded by narrow sidelights and a rectangular line of transom lights above, door and lights usually incorporated into more elaborate door surround.”

One of the most familiar architectural typologies in America is the colonnaded Greek Revival mansions of the southern states.  The Civil War basically concluded the wide use of Greek Revival, and subsequently the latter Romantic Styles (mentioned previously) occupied its place for the remainder of the 19th century.  If one judges today the sins of America’s past, we might be tempted to divorce ourselves from a style and bravura that may represent (for some) the evil treatment of human beings by other human beings.  But instead, I suggest the forms, details, proportions, visual geometries, etc. of Grecian architecture were developed 1,000’s of years ago, based on those same qualities found in God-created nature, and therefore are not inherently wicked.  On the contrary – aesthetically speaking, let’s acknowledge together – Greek Revival in the United States is simple, stunning, stately and splendid architecture to be appreciated and enjoyed in all its wonder and beauty … by all.

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Contemporary, or present-day, projects can still blend the bold elements of Greek Revival into a strikingly handsome estate, even for smaller massing forms and/or when guided by a constrained budget.  This project illustrated above – a private and modest residential estate – is soon to be under construction in Madison County, Mississippi.  Its design was inspired and guided by the vernacular and regional historical derivatives (dogtrot for example) of the Greek Revival found all around the state…as well as the Southeast in general.

My personal favorite example of the southern Greek Revival style embodies more than the tangible characteristics discussed and identified above.  This place (in Columbus, Mississippi) has a personal and profound position along my path to becoming a registered architect.  This is a place that first impacted my understanding and fascination of architecture and history.  This Greek Revival gem embodies all the dramatic triumph and tragedy of the pioneer South.  This is . . . A Place we call RIVENDELL.

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“Rivendell” ca. 1850 – Natalee Ward in 2009

References:

 

D. Tracy Ward, Architect

Uploaded November 2018 – DTW’s Blog #0033

Our Original Posts, including images when applicable, are copyrighted © 1993-2018 by D. Tracy Ward and Benchmark Design, PC.  God bless America!  Treasure Liberty always and pass it on!   “Architecture aims at Eternity.  [CHRISTOPHER WREN, Parentalia]