Archive for the ‘Gothic’ Category

Happy Friday readers! As some of you may know, Ash and I went to grad school in Vermont. (We got our Master’s in Historic Preservation there, in addition to our undergraduate degrees in preservation from a school in Rhode Island) To celebrate Ash’s upcoming birthday (it’s a big one), we decided to go back to Vermont for a little trip and revisit some of the places that we used to love in Vermont. With that in mind, and due to the fact that I will not be around next Friday to post, today’s fantasy is  a Vermont treasure: the Justin Smith Morrill Homestead (Vermont’s first National Historic Landmark).

The Morrill Homestead in Strafford, Vermont is a Downingesque Cottage with Carpenter Gothic trim (see this post on Downing for a refresher). Justin Smith Morrill was born and raised in Strafford, where he attended school until the age of 15 (so around 1870).  After that time, he was removed from school to help his family earn a living. Morrill wanted to attend college but didn’t have the means, so he taught himself in fields that interested him, including architecture. It was this love of learning that led him to become a senator and sponsor the 1862 and 1890 Land Grant Acts that established Land Grant colleges for students who wouldn’t otherwise have the means to go.

The Morrill homestead just went through a big restoration. If you are in Vermont anytime you should check it out!

Have a great weekend!


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TGIF Readers! I feel like this is Friday #2 this week, with the holiday on Wednesday. Speaking of the 4th of July, since I am still coming down from my post-fireworks euphoria, I have decided to theme today’s Fantasy in honor of our recently passed holiday. As you may know (or may not, as I do have some foreign readers), Independence Day (often better-known as the 4th of July, for the date the holiday falls on) is an American Holiday in which the citizenry celebrates the signing of the Declaration of Independence, by which the Founding Fathers of our nation stated that America was its own country and should be free of British rule. This act of treason led to war between Britain and the American colonies, which eventually led to the creation of the country we know today… and it all began on July 4, 1776 (granted, that’s the thumbnail sketch of the founding of the United States, as there were many acts of rebellion that led up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the Revolutionary War, not to mention some confusion among when the Declaration was actually signed, but to avoid writing a book that’s been written several times over, I’ll leave us with the understanding that the holiday is on July 4th and we’re celebrating America).

Today, the 4th of July represents patriotism and love of country, both of which I can wholeheartedly support.  In honor of those sentiments, today’s Fantasy is tied to one of America’s most beloved Presidents: Abraham Lincoln. Abraham Lincoln was America’s 16th President, responsible for leading the Union through the Civil War, writing the Gettysburg Address and the Emancipation Proclamation, and he was also assassinated.  What many people don’t know about President Lincoln is that, although he loved the White House, he actually dearly loved another house in Washington, DC, more. This other  house was a seasonal retreat for Presidents.  It was (and still is) a cottage on the grounds of what was known as the Soldiers Home (Now known as the armed forces retirement home).

(Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) Photo, by way of wikipedia)

The Cottage was built in 1842 for George Washington Riggs (who later went on to found Riggs National Bank… Yeah, I’ve never heard of that bank either, but the guy had enough money to found a bank, so there you go….) in the fashionable Gothic Revival style. However, it did not remain a private home for very long, as President Lincoln had taken up residence there by the summer of 1862. It is even said he wrote preliminary drafts of the Emancipation Proclamation in the cottage. (Photo from lincolncottage.org and Armed Forces Retirement Home)

The cottage underwent a major restoration beginning in 2005, and opened to the public for the first time in 2008.  The site was declared a National Monument by President Clinton in 2000, as well as a being included in the National Register of Historic Places as a National Historic Landmark.   Today is is maintained and run by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. (Photo from National Geographic)

Hope you enjoyed this look at President Lincoln’s Cottage. If you are in Washington, D.C., you should check it out. If you won’t be in the D.C. area anytime soon, you can visit the Cottage Website here.

Have a great weekend!


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Happy Halloween readers! What is it about this holiday that makes us think of haunted mansions and abandoned homes looming on darkened television screens in commercials for Halloween stores and in made for TV movies? Is it the fact that we LIKE to be scared? After all fear releases endorphins… Or is it that as Preservationists, we love how these big “creepy” mansions  are celebrated, if sometimes for their run-down appearance, because we always see the potential and history in these homes?

It is practically a fact that haunted houses must be Second Empire in style. If you want proof, look no further than the home of the Addams family, this inflatable haunted house for your front lawn, or one of my personal favorites (and way high up there in nostalgia and cheese factor) the house from the 1980s Disney TV movie, Mr. Boogedy, or for even more of a treat, check out the “Haunted Dollhouse” that the ever amusing Bloggess has been cooking up.    By the way, the Addams family photos came from a great little site called Hooked on Houses, which you should definitely check out.

Now, this isn’t to say every haunted, or creepy house has to be  Second Empire. Take the eclectic mix of Octagon, Gothic Revival and Second Empire that makes up the Munster’s abode , or the Institutional Gothic pile from American Horror Story.  (Is anyone else obsessed with that show like me?… I love it so much, but it’s so messed up that I feel I may have been born in the wrong era… if I lived back when Queen Victoria reigned I’d probably have taken photos of all my dead relatives and made their hair into wreaths, lockets and pins.) Photos below from tvclassichits.com and iamnostalker.com

So, aside from Hollywood’s choices for iconic ‘haunted’ houses, why is it that these (to use the real estate parlance) “Victorian” homes are what we think of when we think of the macabre, ghoulish and downright creepy, and not, say, a nice mid-century ranch or cape? Death can happen in a new house just as easily as an old one. Is it the scale and massing of these houses, making the visitor feel like a doll in some giant’s dollhouse? The possibility for secret passages and rooms behind book cases, where unspeakable horrors can hide? Is it the fact that they have seen more life and seem to hold onto memories of past occupants? If you want my opinion, I think that it is all of those things, plus the fact that grand old houses with spacious drawing rooms, upper stories that go on forever and vast basements make perfect funeral homes, and that whenever you see one of these funeral homes (and you know just by looking at one that it is a funeral home) the seed of fear of death and dying way down deep in your subconscious nags at you.  Just like holding your breath when you drive by a cemetery or being afraid that if you die in your dream, then you will die soon in real life.

So whatever your plans tonight, whether they involve a ghost hunt at a haunted mansion, or staying home to dole out candy to the little goblins at the door, if you have a fright-flick marathon (like the American Horror Story marathon on FX staring at 10), make sure to really examine those big, creepy old houses, because under the chipped paint and “beware” sign there is very often an architectural gem… and maybe a ghost or two as well.

Happy Halloween!


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Hello Everyone! Happy Monday.  I apologize for the delayed post, but things were very busy at Old Stuff, Inc. last Friday, and I kept getting pulled away from the computer.  Without any further ado, on with the show (and tell).

Today’s Fantasy comes to us right out of the pages of  the A.J.’s (Andrew Jackson Downing and Alexander Jackson Davis).  Both of the A.J.’s were big proponents of the Gothic Revival style.  A.J. Downing, who is regarded as the father of modern Landscape Architecture in addition to being a prominent Gothic Revival architect, felt that every American has the right to a good, solid and attractive home, and therefore, proceeded to design three types of homes: Villas, Cottages and Farm Houses. These three dwelling archetypes, which appeared in his book, Cottage Residences, were intended to offer a home that could meet anyone’s needs. Villas for the wealthy, Cottages for working class townsfolk and Farmhouses for farmers.  Downing also though that beautiful home design effected the morals and civility of the homeowner, and that beautiful homes would lead to a better citizenry, which would lead to a better America.  A.J. Davis was a noted architect at the time and together the two were practically responsible for the Gothic Revival Movement in America.

Today’s house is Roseland Cottage in Woodstock, Connecticut, which is owned and operated by Historic New England.  It looks so idyllic it might as well be a lithograph plucked from the pages of Cottage Residences. Combine that with its Downing-principled landscape and Roseland Cottage is a dream home for all, whether you’re a steam punk enthusiast, a Poe lover or an Anglophile (and many other categories in between).

Roseland Cottage was built in 1846 as a summer cottage for Henry and Lucy Bowen. Henry Bowen, a native son of Woodstock, made his fortunes in New York City as a purveyor of silks, ribbons, lace and other fancy goods.  Once he had established himself in business, married, and started a family, Bowen sought to create a retreat from the summer heat, while also renewing his ties to his childhood home.  Bowen commissioned English-born architect Joseph C. Wells to create the cottage and landscape, and Wells gave him this Gothic Revival style masterpiece, complete with a naturalistic landscape straight from Downing’s books, and a boxwood parterre garden the likes of which would be more commonly found on a French estate.

The house and grounds were enjoyed by three generations of the Bowen family before Historic New England bought it from them, in order to preserve this 19th century treasure.

Much more info can be found at Historic New England’s website, along with more photos.

Have a Great Week!


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