Friday, June 21, 2013

The Dodson-McKenny House, Petersburg, VA

The Dodson-McKenny House, Petersburg, VA. 1859 Photo: Among the Ruin

Photo: Wikimedia
This house, across the street from the Ragland house, is another fine example of Italianate architecture in Poplar Lawn, a neighborhood named after a green park around which some wealthy Petersburg families grouped their homes in the late 19th century. The house was built in 1859 for John Dodson, a mayor of Petersburg. It was later owned by William McKenney, who donated it as a public library in the 1920s, a function it still serves today, although a new library is planned. The house is a five bay house that is particularly severe in its decoration. The design has some Anglo-Italianate influences in the closely spaced brackets, the classically detailed porch, and the simple surrounds. The cornice as well is very plain with some dentil molding and a strip serving as the architrave. The house is stuccoed without belt courses or other dividers between floors; the lack of definition in the basement (no rustication or belt course or anything) is surprising. The basement windows and those on the third floor are segmental arched, while the first floor has tall round headed windows. Each window is topped by a simple cast iron hood molding; the first and second floors include a keystone.

One thing I like about this house and have seen only in a few others (an example in Savannah comes to mind) is the tripartite window over the entrance that has flat sidelights and a segmental arched center. In essence, this is a sort of watered down Palladian. It is an uncommon window format, but an attractive one to me. Another thing to notice is the paired arched windows on the side. I've noticed that the Ragland house as well as some others have only two round headed windows in the center on the side. Perhaps this is another element of the Petersburg style. The house includes some servant outbuildings. Petersburg should be proud that many of its homes retain their original outbuildings. The current use as a library seems to have left the interior intact. One writer talks about the romance of wandering through the maze of shelves crammed in this house and about the experience of being surrounded by Victorian bric-a-brac as an enhancement to their library experience. One hopes that even if a new library is constructed, this house will remain a public building. There are a couple interior views here and here.

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