Saturday, August 10, 2013

281 High Street, Middletown, CT

281 High St. Middletown, CT. 1850s?

I don't know a lot about this house. It currently serves as the anthropology department of Wesleyan, but it's a particularly nice looking one.This house follows a plan we haven't seen very much of. It is very similar in design to the side tower plan, and it is oriented in the same way as the Sloan house in Oswego with the tower and side projecting pavilion oriented toward the street. This orientation changes the entire way the house is grasped, giving it, from the street facade, the appearance of being thin and vertical. Because only one narrow bay and the tower are the only parts readily visible from the street, it also makes the house look much more grand. This type of orientation is such a specific feature, that from now on, I am going to say that houses following this plan follow the rotated side tower plan. It might not be the most elegant phrasing, but it gets the point across. Interestingly, this house manifests a variety of images. On the right facade, it has a modified side tower plan without a central receding section. On the left facade, which is also visible because it sits on a corner lot, it has a modification of the irregular plan. It is all just a side tower plan that's been futzed with a bit. This rotation of the plan allowed architects to fit a large house with interesting facades on a very narrow lot. When an expansive style like Italianate is confronted with narrow property, goofiness is bound to occur.

This is one of my favorite houses on High Street. It bears a strong resemblance to the work of Henry Austin in New Haven, particularly the Norton house, although I do not think he designed it. The facade is stuccoed and from the street you can see the projecting principal bay, which has a shallow gable, has a box window surmounted by a triple window topped by a large wooden awning. The front door sits at the base of what should be the tower (I don't believe this house was constructed with a tower) and is recessed into an arched porch, a very elegant feature. The detailing is not overly elaborate; the window on the tower has a bracketed pediment over a simple surrounding molding. The house has thickly spaced brackets with an architrave molding, a strong characteristics of early 1850s design. The left facade is rather normal, with an interesting series of window types, until you get to the back where there is an odd gable that suggests a projecting pavilion but in reality does not correspond to a change in volume. This suggestion of a pavilion is reinforced by the two story box window with a tent roof (an odd feature). The right facade is a solid mass with a projecting bay window pavilion.

What I really like about this house is partly the finish, which I think is able to do a lot without being too ostentatious. The color scheme is appropriate, and reflects those in Riddle's 1861 book. Even though it lacks a tower to make it even more vertical, I think it is able to communicate what its builders hoped.

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