Monday, March 14, 2016

The John Magill Houses, Troy, NY

The John Magill Houses, Troy, NY. 1872
Moving up Second Street, north of Washington Park, we can see that the same high quality of architectural design continues in the streets around the square. These two rowhouses at 146 and 148 are fine examples of upstate design. According to one resident, "both were built built by John Magill in 1872, replacing a smaller building on the property. Magill was a masonry contractor and later became a police commissioner for Troy in 1882, the year of Troy's dueling police forces. Magill lived in 148 and died in 1911, his wife until 1920. Nine children. I am fairly sure the first floor parlor was his office. The building was designed by renowned architect Marcus Cummings, who also designed old Troy City Hall (burned 1938, now Barker Park), 33 2nd St. (Daisy Bakers), the Plum Memorial Building at Sage College, and many other prominent buildings in the city. I am aware that Magill was the contractor on City Hall and Oakwood Crematory." Magill was later indicted for taking bribes.

As architect designed houses, the buildings show a high level of refinement. They follow the row house plan, with a typical side hall entrance and a brick facing. But the real delight of these houses is the details. The brownstone details are particularly nice, consisting of crisply cut drip moldings over the segmental arched windows which work with string courses and drops to frame the windows beautifully. The rusticated base as well offers a solid foundation. The houses' woodwork on the box window over the door is exquisite, with brackets that terminate in fine Greek Revival palmettes that are emphasized by steep engaged pediments. Above the window eclectically combines traditional Italianate designs with Gothic quatrefoils (clover leaves) and Eastlake incised carving. The show stopper cornice continues the quality of the box window woodwork and resembles closely the cornice seen on the Connors-Boland house, with a row of Gothic pilasters forming a blind arcade. This seems to be a particular vernacular in Troy. I particularly like the central projection in the cornice, which counterbalances the horizontal thrust of the brownstone string courses. Both these houses retain their original details perfectly. The interior of one can be seen here.

The third house in the picture, 144 Second Street, is a bit more austere but clearly reflects the design of its taller neighbors and was most certainly built around the same time. Taking a more traditional approach, this house has a pretty cool alternation of pediments, with rounded pediments on the first floor, triangular on the second, and flat moldings on the third. The same quality of woodwork continues, though the cornice has been altered to the arched type with a row of semicircles rather than a pilastered arcade. The central projection definitely echoes the Magill houses, and I'd suspect the same architect designed all three.

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