Saturday, May 18, 2013

Henderson Hall, Williamsburg, WV

Henderson Hall, Williamsburg, WV. 1856-59 Photo Wikimedia.

Photo: Mike on Flickr.
This house should look familiar. It is extremely close in design to the Charles Brearly house we looked at recently in Trenton, NJ. Italianate architecture was spread through the all important 19th century pattern books, carpenters, engravings, and people simply looking at others' houses. Although I can't speak to what influenced the similarity of these two houses, I suspect that it was one of these factors that caused houses separated by hundreds of miles to look so similar. While the Brearly house was built in an urban setting, Henderson Hall was constructed as a somewhat rural plantation house. The house was built by George Henderson, a slaveholder, who operated a plantation from the house, but Henderson by the time of the Civil War had a change of heart and became a supporter of the Union. Construction began in 1836, but between 1856 and 1859, the house was enlarged and gained its current Italianate appearance. The family continuously lived in the house until 1984 when it became a museum. The Hendersons never threw anything away, and thus their house is a fantastic time capsule of their family's history. An interesting article describes the history of the house and features interior photographs.

The house resembles the Brearly house in its general design. Like the Brearly house, it follows the symmetrical plan. It features the same treatment of the façade: paired flat windows on the first floor, arched tombstone windows on the second, and triple arched windows on the third. Even the distribution of the brackets and pilasters is similar; the style of the brackets themselves resembles the house in Trenton. However, the house also differs. Unlike the Brearly house, the dentil motif is less strong here. The belt course doesn't wrap around the pilasters and is not dentilled. The cornice is toothed rather than featuring dentils. There is no central projection or pediment here; the house is mostly flat. The façade may have been stuccoed with its stone trimmings, but the even brickwork suggests that it might not have been (when a house was stuccoed, bricklayers often did not lay the bricks in such a careful way). Henderson Hall's door is a Greek Revival throwback, probably from the 1836 construction with its sidelights and transom, but it is incongruously surrounded by a rather Italianate looking porch, with unclassical columns and simple decoration. There are no side porches on this house like the Brearly house, but the hip roof is surmounted by a cupola with a row of seven small arched windows. A nice thing about Henderson Hall is that it features shutters; many Victorian homes featured shutters that have since been removed. That's not to say they were ubiquitous, but they did occur more frequently than one sees today. The view below, also from Wikimedia, shows the back of the house, which probably shows the original 1836 elements. I'll admit that from this angle, the whole affair looks kind of silly, but plantations were businesses centered on the home. Additions and changes thus had more pragmatic importance than aesthetic concerns.

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