Category Archives: History

It’s Greek to Me

Our house seems to be a hodgepodge of Greek Revival styles. It has the accentuated pediment of the earlier Greek Revival New England design but has the layout and window placement of the later ‘Midwestern Greek Revival farmhouse’. I don’t know if this means that our house was a a pre-courser to the midwest farm house (dating between the two) or a modified version after the Midwestern house became popular.

A book I really enjoyed using to look up specifics is Greek Revival Architecture in America by Talbot Hamlin. It isn’t a field guide, or a even a picture book (although it does have 322 black and white photos as illustrated on its cover) – but it does have very detailed descriptive passages about period details and I recommend the book to anyone who wants names and specifics of popular architects and their works of the era.

Below are two quotes that apply to our area of Upstate NY;

It was in the newer centers that the Greek Revival most clearly set the character – in the towns growing up in the Susquehanna and Delaware valleys, like Green, Unadilla, Otego, Oneonta and the Finger Lakes region… This triumphant Greek Revival work of the 1830’s in up-state New York was definite and polished, quite different from the tentative earlier approaches. It made much of the monumental types of house with a two-story central body fronted with a pedimented portico and flanked by one story wings, as well as of bolder and more original if less ostentatious types – cottages with nearly flat roofs and low frieze windows with decorative cast–iron grilles for the upper floors, or story –and a half gabled cottages. In all of these, freedom of planning and creative modifications of Greek precedent are outstanding and in many there is evidence of the use of the Lafever books. page-266

Western New York in those days was a country of experiment, of striving for the new – a restless, Utopian country. It was the home of religious cults of all kinds, the birthplace of Mormonism. It was a serious, idealistic, perhaps at times even a little ‘touched’ and something of this quality seems to have permeated its architecture, given it vitality, made it eager to seize and to use the new Greek forms and to use them and modify them in a new an experimental ways so that even in the experiments there seems to be little that is tentative – on the contrary they indicate a strong affirmation. There is an enormous variety of house types; many of the different schemes found further west in Ohio and Michigan had their seeds sown in New York State. page 269

Floor Plans

This is just a little ‘illustration’ I did of the house facade in Photoshop to help me envision what the house would look like without the extended enclosed porch. I just couldn’t help but post it along with the floor plans. The proportions read better right? as you can see there would still be the original ‘inverted’ porch which is a classic Greek Revival farmhouse element.
p.s this is the facade of the front of the house , from the top of the floor plans

This is the floor plan of the house when we got it – 3 separate apartments,each shaded in a different color. For a sense of scale you can see the 10′ square I included in the illustration

This is the house with the changes we have made in red – most of the changes we have made are the unsexy ones, like replacing the collapsed septic – patching the roof leaks, removing moldy drywall and insulation from said roof leaks, and just opening up old doorways that were turned into closets. I have pages and pages of lists of all the little annoying things we had to fix (some of them accomplished others not) but mostly we wanted to get a feel of what the house was like at different times of year, how it sat in the site etc, etc before we made any major permant changes.

This is the floor plan drawn up by the previous, previous owners who actually did the renovations in the 60’s. I almost cried when my realtor dug it out of her papers – the things I learned about how the house was orignally constructed and used is invaluable. As you can probably tell I am a bit of a historic nut – and there are lots of details here I just wouldn’t have been able to know without this plan.

One of the most interesting details in this plan is how part of the house used to be a woodshed – the back el of this house actually has huge hand hewn beams – which I cant wait to uncover. This summer during a particularly grueling demo day I was rewarded by realizing that the ceiling is hung off on (rather new) 2x4s running parallel to the length of the structure – which means structurally that they aren’t holding up the roof. The roof Which I have a feeling is also pretty new (the proportions feel kind prefab / mobile home-ish) is being held up by a few massive and barn-like beams. So the hope is to strip down this back area to the barn-like core and have it as a great room for the eventual kitchen, dining and living and studio area. You can sort of see the beams in this picture of the converted wood shed below- they are hidden by the dropped ceiling in the rest of the building.

p.s -Ignore the Bavarian beer hall decor of this back room – we will be making it a far simpler and more appropriate choices – although every guy I have shown this house LOVES this room in particular. I personally love the scale – but think the decor is insane. The ‘chandelier’ is actually an old yoke with red glass lanterns. The creepy red light it throws totally freaks me out.