Friday, July 26, 2013

The Benjamin Franklin Webster House, Portsmouth, NH

Benjamin Franklin Webster House, Portsmouth, NH. 1880 Photo: Patti Gravel

Benjamin Franklin Webster was a prominent builder in Portsmouth, NH, a city famous for its colonial architecture, who was responsible for many Victorian buildings in the area. This impressive structure is his own house that he designed for himself and his wife in 1880. The house is well preserved and is owned by a funeral home that is committed to preserving the beauty of the home (kudos to them!). The house follows the irregular plan, an appropriate choice for a house built on such a grand scale. The plan is not exactly followed, since the recessed wing has one extra bay than usual, and the tower is far higher than usual. The skill of Webster can be seen, however, in that the lengthening of the facade is balanced out by the heightening of the tower. Overall, the house is flushboarded, an impressive treatment for an entire facade.

The late date is no doubt responsible for some of the elaboration of details, which strongly reflect the designs of the 1870s. Everywhere on the house, the careful thought of an architect is evident in the fine and sometimes unique details. The window hood moldings have pediments on shelves supported by carved brackets with a strip of dentil molding. The pediments alternate between simple triangular ones and round ones which are broken by a keystone. An unusual feature is that beneath the porch, the windows have no moldings, but instead have long brackets helping to support the roof, an interesting and no doubt practical feature. The corners of the house have wooden quoins. The porch itself, supported on a lovely stone and wood base, has arched openings, somewhat odd Corinthian capitals, and brackets. It bows around the Renaissance Revival front door at the base of the tower. The cornice has the unique feature of having groups of triple brackets, with a long bracket flanked by two smaller ones. Dentils and a frieze of rosettes enliven the design.

The tower is a particularly beautiful design. It has pairs of windows going all the way to the top, eschewing the expected arched windows or triple windows on the stop stage that are usually found. The treatment of the paired windows is elaborate, with pilasters and wooden fringe defining them. Above the third stage of the tower, it transitions from being a square to an octagon with chamfered corners. This is handled with beautiful curved scrollwork that responds to the shape's transition. The octagonal top stage has windows on four sides with the intervening sides blind with arched panels. The whole is topped with an elegant balustrade. In every way, the home is fantastically preserved, and shows the careful thoughts of a designer rather than a builder.

 The bracketed windows under the porch.

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