Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Washington Park: The Agnes Vaughan House, Troy, NY

The Agnes Vaughan House, Troy, NY. 1855
For the next series of posts (as I have found series of posts are best), I will be exploring the Washington Park historic district in Troy, NY. Troy is probably one of the country's architectural delights, not only because it has a nearly intact 19th century downtown with a music hall by George B. Post, but because it has Washington Park, one of the only private residential parks in the country. The streets along the park retain almost all of the original houses, of which the majority are fine, sophisticated, and very urban Italianates. The houses are well cared for and the owners knowledgeable and invested in their town, no doubt partially due to the Washington Park Association, to whom I owe a great debt for much of my historical information.

The park itself was established in 1840 when the property lots were divided, though the original lots were quickly resold. By 1860, most of the park was built up along its north (Washington St.), south (Washington Pl.), east (3rd St.), and west (2nd St.). Some of the houses are attached, but many are freestanding, although they follow general row house principles. While Italianate dominates stylistically, the ensemble is precious for having great examples of Gothic and Greek Revival as well. In general the other sides developed more quickly than the east. The inhabitants were upper middle class businessmen, factory owners, and merchants, and seemed to form a distinct social set. Although the area declined in the early 20th century and Troy itself began to decay drastically in the mid-20th century, it was revitalized in the 1960s and there was a renewed interest in Victorian design.

For my first house, I will be starting in the south-west corner. Built in 1855 at 199 2nd Street, it was inhabited by Agnes Vaughan from 1877 whose husband stole from his law firm and divorced her. Nonetheless, Agnes stayed in the house and eventually remarried. This house is one of my favorites. It follows a row house form, but has a central entrance, so one can call it symmetrical (without much of the centralized emphasis). The house's façade however is far from symmetrical, however, since the right hand bay is elongated, something one sees in many side hall houses in upstate NY, surely to accommodate a larger drawing room. The façade my be stuccoed or painted stone with corner quoins. The houses around the square are generally sparing in ornament, giving the whole a strong dignity and Anglo-Italianate flavor (shown also in the rusticated base); the segmental arched windows and door surround are simple moldings. It seems some iron balconies have been removed on the first floor. The windows feature interesting Venetian tracery wedged into a segmental arch, something that seems common in Troy. A projecting box window surmounts the entrance, another extremely common upstate NY feature; often these are the most ornamental parts of urban homes. The cornice is paneled with s scroll brackets. All in all a sophisticated design.

The southern part of the square has no Italianates proper. Rather the whole side is taken up by one long, unified Greek Revival row; however, the temptations of Italy seem to have won out over the Hellenic, since many of the houses feature Italianate doors and box windows. The survival of this row, once a common feature of 19th century cities, is truly impressive. It's pictured below.

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