Most of you already know we are passionate about historic preservation here at Keperling Preservation Services. And it is our goal to share that passion with others not only by physically preserving the built environment, but also by providing educational materials via blog posts, “coffee break” videos, email newsletters, and podcasts

 

To our surprise and delight, we were recently featured on a list of “11 Great Podcasts for Historic Preservation Fans” posted by Nicholas Som of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. We sincerely appreciate this “shout out” and hope that it encourages people to take the time to not only listen to our podcasts, but the other great podcasts featured as well. All of these podcasts provide access to a wide-variety of historic preservation information – we’ve been known to discuss anything from preserving unique local barns to paranormal encounters – and there’s a little something for everyone.

One of the most rewarding things about it is getting to connect with people in other niches of preservation who are just as passionate as we are. We hope these connections can connect our audience, too.

We’d like to thank you, for tuning in. 

“The past is not the property of historians; it is a public possession. It belongs to anyone who is aware of it, and it grows by being shared. It sustains the whole society, which always needs the identity that only the past can give.” – William J. Murtagh

You might have guessed by now, but we’re passionate about the preservation of our built history.

Old buildings aren’t just interesting to look at, they serve as the foundation of our culture – time capsules from the past that are just as worthwhile, curious, and interesting as the people who lived, consorted, governed, gathered, and otherwise inhabited those buildings.

Second only to our passion for those grand old buildings that grace our streets is our passion for sharing what we know about preserving the contributions their architecture makes to our sense of place.  As with many things in life, there’s a lot of misinformation out there and wading through the mud and muck can sometimes be overwhelming.

So we do it for you.

It’s our nature to stay informed about all kinds of things preservation related, and we’re more than happy to share.  Our Resource Center is full of educational (and sometimes quirky and entertaining) content to help you learn more about what preservation is (and what it isn’t), how it happens, who’s doing it and where, what techniques artisan craftsman use in the traditional trades, the guidelines for preserving a historic building, how to’s for those who like to tinker, and so much more.

Knowledge is Power, as they so often say.

The dissemination of information is vital to a healthy and thriving culture.  And it’s just as important for healthy and thriving historic buildings.  We believe that the more you know, the more you can do, and as far as we’re concerned there’s no such thing as too many people “doing” historical preservation – the more the better.

Please be sure to stop back often, we’re always adding more information.

THIS IS A RE-POST OF A PODCAST INTERVIEW WE ORIGINALLY POSTED February 2019:

Susan Dippre from Susan Dippre Designs joined the Practical Preservation podcast to discuss how working at Colonial Williamsburg combined her love of history and landscaping. She has recently begun her own company to provide the general public with Williamsburg inspired designs from natural materials.

Contact information:

[email protected]

Williamsburg Farmers Market

Bio:

Susan Dippre began her career in Colonial Williamsburg’s gardens in April of 1980. Her first assignment as a Gardener was at Carter’s Grove Plantation, at it’s beautiful location on the James River. She assisted with the holiday decorations there and fell in love with the beauty and creativity.

In 1990 she was promoted to Foreman, responsible for the maintenance of the gardens and grounds at the Williamsburg Inn and Lodge, and later, Merchant Square. During this time she renovated the rooftop garden at the DeWitt Wallace Museum.

She became a Supervisor in the Historic Area in 1995; inheriting the responisiblity of decorating the whole area for the holidays. She, with the assistance of a dozen Gardeners and a half dozen Carpenters, were decorating well over 100 buildings in the Historic Area, Merchant Square, and a majority of the Hotel Holiday decorations, including all interior and exterior trees and the front of the Williamsburg Inn, streets, and parking lots for over 20 years.

The favorite parts of her job were the demonstrations and workshops also working with all the designers to create the beautiful and original designs that graces the many buildings throughout. Recently she has begun a business so she can continue the design processes throughout the year.

Resources:

Colonial Williamsburg Decorates for Christmas

Christmas Decorating for Williamsburg

Christmas Decorations Walking Tours

Becky LaBarre, executive director of Renfrew Museum and Park, located in Waynesboro, PA, joined the Practical Preservation Podcast to discuss the site, as well as special Christmas events. We covered multiple topics, including:

  • Becky’s background, including how growing up near Greenfield Village sparked her early interest in History and Preservation
  • The history and preservation story of Renfrew, including the phenomenal woman who started it all, Emma Nicodemus 
  • Highlights of Renfrew Museum and Park, such as the house museum, bank barn converted to visitor’s center, extensive John Bell pottery exhibit, and 107 preserved acres culminating in a comprehensive Pennsylvania German Heritage Site
  • Unique events, from hearth cooking classes to Christmas on the Farm
  • Challenges and trends for house museums, including declining attendance over the past decade, as well as limitations of COVID, and distinctive approaches for addressing these such as experiential, living history events

 

Contact/Follow:

Website

Facebook

Instagram

YouTube

Linkedin

General contact information 

Becky highlighted the importance of getting to historic and cultural heritage sites in person to get a truly immersive experience. Currently, Renfrew offers events such as hearth cooking classes seasonally, and Christmas on the Farm December 4, 5, and 6, 2020 (tickets may be purchased online or at the gate day of) with COVID-friendly measures in place.

However, if you prefer not to visit or attend events with others, you may visit the park and hike (for free!) or attend virtual events, typically listed on their Facebook events page, here.

UNIQUE HISTORICAL FEATURES SERIES On this 4th Tuesday of the month, we focus on another historical feature designed for form and function. It provided light, air circulation, and sometimes identifying information for homeowners and businesses, while also maintaining security. This month’s feature is: TRANSOM WINDOWS. 

Transom window featuring “Bullseye” glass at the John Maddox Denn House.

 

What is a transom window?

According to Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary, a transom window is:

“A window above a door or other window built on and commonly hinged to a transom.”

 

These windows initially enjoyed popularity in the gothic period of the 14th century in Europe, and really became popular in the 18th century during the Georgian architectural period. Some authors suggest that the fanlight transom design that was so popular during the Georgian period came about as a natural aesthetic extension of Palladian designs, which tended toward arched windows. Stained glass was traditionally used in church transom windows and later used in private homes in the Victorian era and subsequent design periods. These windows provided more than visual enjoyment, as they also served practical purposes. Some buildings utilized transoms as the location of a painted or stained glass address number or location of the owner’s or building’s name. In buildings without electricity or fewer windows (like row homes), they provided extra light. Both exterior and interior transoms also allowed for increased air circulation. And because of their locations high above doors, these benefits were afforded without sacrificing privacy and security. Transoms were so ubiquitous in use that their open state in publishers’ offices theoretically allowed aspiring authors to pass on their unsolicited, amateur work directly to the publisher by throwing them through the opening. This led to an idiom used in analogous situations, as follows:

 

“It came in over the transom.”

 

Examples of Transom Windows:

 

A lovely stained glass transom window from St. Anne’s Episcopal Church in Lowell, MA has an even lovelier message behind it – click here to learn more about its meaning and gain a stunning illuminated view of the window. The church was built in the Gothic Revival architectural style between 1824 and 1825.

 

 

Image source: EmwBear ye each others burdens, main entrance transom window; Saint Anne’s Episcopal Church; Lowell, MA; 2012-05-18CC BY-SA 3.0.

 

In striking juxtaposition to the purpose behind the previous image, here is a beautiful example of a personalized transom window from the former Storyville Madam Lulu White’s address, a vestige of the long-gone structure, Mahogany Hall; it was built sometime between 1897 and 1917 during Storyville’s heyday, and demolished in 1949.
 

 

Image source: Infrogmation of New Orleans, Storyville exhibit, Historic New Orleans Collection – Lulu White TransomCC BY 2.0.

 

Stained glass transom window (and sidelights) in foyer of the John L. Wisdom House, in Jackson, TN, built in the Queen Anne architectural style between 1880 and 1881

 

 

 

 

The image above was taken by staff of the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS), in 1933. Image source: Library of Congress

 

Transom fanlight window above door at the Chretien Point Plantation in Sunset, LA. Built in the Greek Revival architectural style in 1831
 

 

 

 

The image above was taken by staff of the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS), in 1947. Image source: Library of Congress

 

Transom Windows Today

Where to see them.

  • Scavenger hunt – Hit the pavement in a historical neighborhood and spot as many transom windows as you can. Also look at historic churches.
  • (Virtual) museum and other tours – Check out historical house museums in-person or virtually. Many Georgian style homes are guaranteed to have transoms in the form of fanlights. Victorian era and later homes may have stained glass transoms.
  • Photo gallery – View transom window images on flickr here and here.

Where to get them (i.e., how to design or create one). 

  • Antique/Salvage Business – If your home is missing a transom window, consult resources in this article to create one if you have the space. Try to find salvaged or antique materials to be most accurate (and sustainable) – here is some inspiration. 
  • Restoration and Design tips – Find inspiration to restore your existing transoms here, here, and here

For further resources and reading:

  • For thorough information on window restoration in general, check out NPS guidelines for windows, here
  • Read more about the history of transom windows here and here.

 

Stay tuned each month for a new installment in this UNIQUE HISTORICAL FEATURES SERIES! See last month’s post on “Haunted” Victorian Houses.

 

SHARE WITH US!

DO YOU HAVE AN ORIGINAL OR MODERN TRANSOM WINDOW IN YOUR HOME?

FEEL FREE TO SHARE BELOW!

 

John Renne, Ph.D., AICP, professor in the department of Urban and Regional Planning at Florida Atlantic University, located in Boca Raton, FL, joined the Practical Preservation Podcast to discuss the ways in which urban planning, transit oriented development and historic preservation intersect. We covered multiple topics, including:

  • John’s academic background and how work with his mentor, David Listoken, Ph.D., inspired study of the connections between historic preservation and transit oriented development (TOD)
  • John’s current roles in TOD as a land use and transportation planner, looking at how land use and transportation systems interact with one another      
  • Defining aspects of TODs, being dense, walkable, pedestrian-oriented, mixed-use communities centered around functional rail systems 
  • Connections between historic preservation and transit oriented development (TOD) – including how most TODs are in historic locations but only 1/3 of active train stations are in TODs
  • Challenges and trends related to TOD, including its current correlation to gentrification and unaffordable housing prices, incentives that work against preservation when planning high-density development, as well as moving the 60-70 year trend of centering urban planning around the automobile back to being centered around people

 

Contact/Follow:

CUES Website

Youtube

Linkedin

General contact information

The Center for Urban and Environmental Solutions (CUES) at FAU includes periodic free programming, such as virtual webinars on relevant TOD, planning, climate change information, and historic preservation’s relationship to these topic areas – check the linked website above to stay up-to-date. 

Read John Renne and David Listoken’s Guide to Facilitate Historic Preservation through Transit-Oriented Development.

John reminds listeners that historic places tend to be more interesting, vibrant, and sustainable – something for prospective buyers as well as planners, developers, and officials to consider!

Coffee Break RECAP: Shutters

COFFEE BREAK RECAP – This month’s “coffee break” video recap focuses on identifying shutters by style and age, as well as how to strip louvered shutters for repairing and repainting. Watch below.

 

VIDEO SUMMARY:

  • Focus: Shutters, including stripping paint from louvered shutters, differences between original, modern, and regional shutters, and Danielle’s pet peeves with fake shutters 
  • Question: How do you restore louvered shutters – specifically, how do you strip the paint to prepare them for restoration?
  • Solutions: Danielle and Jonathan discussed answers to the question and provided other relevant shutter information:
       

    1. RESTORATION – follow the 80/20 rule of restoration
           – Consider doing (some of) the work yourself. 80% of restoration requires only semi-skilled labor, and the other 20% requires skilled labor. Following this rule saves you a lot of money in the long run. Start by stripping paint yourself. But remember: stripping paint – especially from louvered shutters – is time-consuming and labor-intensive. It can take approximately 16 hours per shutter.
           – Use Bahco scrapers made from carbide – they come in various sizes so you can pick the right ones to fit between louvres. They can also be sharpened with a diamond sharpener, lengthening their life.
           – Find a local craftsperson to repair the shutters.
           – Paint the repaired shutters yourself.
           – If it can’t be restored or saved, find a local craftsperson to custom build new “old” shutters
      – strong, sturdy woods such as white oak, mahogany, or sapele are best
    2. STYLES of shutters
           – Historic, classical shutters include various styles. Board-and-batten shutters, solid raised panel shutters, and louvered shutters are common in historic homes. 
           – Post-WWII shutters are usually mass-produced and less functional, and in many cases, only decorative. Dupes of traditional louvered shutters are identifiable by “tells” including glue or biscuits in place of mortise and tenon joints, easy rot, shutters that are not comparable in size or shape to the window they adjoin, or shutters that are affixed directly to the wall behind them.
    3. PROBLEMS with modern shutters – pet peeves and DON’TS that make you shudder!
           – Visually unappealing – especially when they don’t match size or shape of adjoining window
           – Glue or biscuit-attached louvers are more likely to break apart and rot
           – No copper caps on top of shutters lead to more rot
           – 2nd growth wood – poor quality and leads to rot
           – Affixed directly to the wall behind them – increases propensity to rot or create negative chemical reactions

POORLY DESIGNED MODERN SHUTTERS COST MORE MONEY IN THE LONG RUN
than restoring sound historical shutters!

 

Further resources:

  • History of shutters, here.

Mike Kennedy of Lower City Joinery, located in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, joined the Practical Preservation Podcast to discuss his custom woodworking business. We covered multiple topics, including:

  • How home improvement shows served as Mike’s original inspiration to do woodworking
  • Mike’s varied background in the industry, from working for a new-build window and door manufacturing company to eventually starting his own business and being persuaded to move into “heritage” woodworking
  • How living in an area that values shared heritage influences local preservation and his work
  • Notable projects including doors in Dundurn Castle and Griffin House
  • Challenges and trends in preservation, including debunking the notion that newer or “maintenance free” is better, while recognizing that more people are becoming educated about or open to heritage and preservation work

 

Contact/Follow:

Website

Instagram

Contact information – general inquiry or email Mike directly at [email protected]

Lower City Joinery primarily serves customers in Canada, particularly those within hours of the Hamilton, Ontario area.

Mike reminds listeners that old windows and doors should always be considered for repair vs. replacement, and that “maintenance free” new models generally aren’t cheaper in the long run!

 

VETERANS DAY – A day to honor those who served. This day has been observed in some form for a century, but preserved structures of all kinds – from memorials, to monuments, to buildings – provide tangible evidence of that observance, solidifying the impact of veterans’ actions in the conscious memory. Visiting these physical traces keeps that history alive long after those they honor are gone. 

Photo of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, located at the Northeast intersection of King and Queen Streets (with the Watt and Shand façade in the background), in Lancaster, PA. Photo courtesy of the author’s father, Bob Kise.

 

A Brief History of Veterans Day

The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the year 1918 is significant for its designation as the cessation of hostilities of World War I (“The Great War”) on the Western Front. It was marked by the signing of the final armistice with the last opponent (Germany) of the allied forces. Although various complexities meant that true formal peace was not negotiated until the Treaty of Versailles’ signing nearly a year later, Armistice Day was celebrated on the November 11th. It became a day to honor the men who served in WWI and was observed as early as 1919 across the world. As the years went by the name and date of observance evolved in several countries. In the United States, the name was officially changed to Veterans Day in 1954 by President Eisenhower after a grassroots push to honor all veterans of all wars. The date was temporarily changed to the fourth Monday of October in the late 1960’s due to the federal government’s Uniform Monday Holiday Act, but was returned to the original date a decade later after much disproval from American citizens and state governments, based on their conviction about the historical significance of November 11th. 

 

Pennsylvania’s Preserved Military History

Just like preservation happened well before it was formally legislated, and much earlier than anyone thought of preservation as a career, dedicating historical military sites and honoring veterans throughout the United States also occurred on an informal level prior to Armistice and Veterans Day. As the American Battlefield Trust notes, in the mid-nineteenth century caring individuals started saving Revolutionary War battlefields, and during the Civil War, almost as soon as the battles were over, veterans erected monuments and memorials to their fallen comrades. By the end of the nineteenth century there were 5 national battlefield parks – one of the most famous being Pennsylvania’s own Gettysburg Battlefield. 

Even after these battlefield parks were established, however, there were conflicts over how and what should be preserved or restored, and disputes continue to this day (a recent example includes the battle over the Cyclorama building at Gettysburg), including arguments about the necessity of preserving historic commemorations of the original historical people, objects, and places vs. the actual thing being commemorated

Regardless, we are fortunate that people saw the necessity of saving these places in the past. This sense of place is key to making this history meaningful hundreds of years after the battles. A sense of place often requires more than construction of monuments, memorials, or signs to be truly felt, but also battlefields and other relevant lands and buildings. In Pennsylvania, we have numerous examples of preserved military history where people can gain a greater understanding of past conflicts as well as a better appreciation for what past and present veterans experienced and contributed. And to paraphrase Philip Kennicott’s summary in his 2013 article for the Washington Post, it’s best to engage and be engaged in this sense of place to truly make it meaningful.

“But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract.”

– Lines from President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, delivered November 19, 1863

 

Examples of unique preserved military sites in Pennsylvania:

 

Fort Mifflin. One of the few remaining intact Revolutionary War battlefields – and the only fort in Philadelphia – this site has functioned well beyond its initial purpose, serving various needs through the Civil War, as well as both world wars, until it was decommissioned, fell into disrepair, listed on the National Register in the 1970s, and saved in the 1980s to become a significant historical museum. Read more about it here.

 

Photo above courtesy of Bob Kise.

 

Gettysburg Train Station. Constructed in 1859, this station is more than a station. Not only did it host President Abraham Lincoln when he arrived to provide the Gettysburg Address, it served as an advantageous spot – with its cupola – for soldiers to post themselves during battle, a hospital for wounded soldiers as well as the point from which wounded soldiers were transported to other locations. Read more here.

 

Photo above courtesy of Bob Kise.

 

Lee’s Headquarters at Gettysburg. Built in 1834, this home that was owned by Thaddeus Stevens and occupied by the widow Mary Thompson during the Civil War, this unassuming farmhouse became Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s headquarters due to its prime location. It also served as a hospital for wounded from both sides. It became a museum as early as the 1920s and was significantly altered before restoration by then-Civil War Trust in 2016. Read more here.

 

Photo above courtesy of Bob Kise.

 

Observing Veterans Day

 

Visit or Engage.

  • Self-guided tours – Many sites and parks are free and open to all, allowing for plenty of social-distancing. You can visit some of the sites (or at least the outside of them) pictured above, but may also consider cemeteries, or sites listed here.
  • Guided tours – some sites are still offering guided tours with mandatory precautions in place for COVID-19. Find information on Gettysburg Battlefield tours here.
  • Virtual events – The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs blog lists virtual events for 2020, in light of the pandemic, here.
  • Live events – Gettysburg is holding a special day honoring veterans on November 12, 2020, information here.
  • Preservation – Consider these suggestions for preserving sites honoring veterans, or consider donating to or becoming a member of the American Battlefield Trust, here

 

For further resources and reading: 

  • Read more about battlefield preservation here, here, and here.
  • Read about the history of battlefield preservation here and here

Kaitlin O’Shea of Preservation in Pink, joined the Practical Preservation Podcast to discuss her blog and how preservation is a part of so much of everyday life. We covered multiple topics, including:

  • Kaitlin’s desire growing up to live in a walkable neighborhood, and how she eventually connected that to preservation
  • Kaitlin’s varied experiences as a professional preservationist, and how her passion brought her to where she is today
  • The impetus for her blog, including a desire to remain connected with former preservation classmates, but also to connect to a wider audience, writing about preservation in a relatable way
  • Kaitlin’s goal to shed light on the connections between everyday life to preservation in the minds of others by focusing on common ground
  • Continued existing challenges in preservation, as well as a new challenge of determining where to draw the line between purist/traditional and practical preservation tactics
  • The positive trend of preservation becoming more inclusive in the past few years

 

Contact/Follow:

Website

Instagram

Linkedin

Email[email protected]

You can read more about Kaitlin, the story behind the blog name, and her little mascot, “Pip,” here.

Kaitlin also has a wonderful series of blog posts on basic preservation information, here. We recommend starting with “Preservation Basics.”

Kaitlin is currently most active on Instagram, and would like to remind everyone that preservation is not about officials telling you what to do with your home; preservation is about valuing what you have. 

Tim Freund of Lancaster Cemetery in Lancaster, PA, joined the Practical Preservation Podcast to discuss the history, preservation, and ongoing use of the cemetery. We covered multiple topics, including:

  • How Tim’s living in close proximity to the cemetery coupled with his civic-mindedness inspired his current membership on the cemetery board
  • The challenges of maintaining any cemetery – particularly historic ones with fewer families remaining to care for family plots – including limited funding and intensive landscape and monument preservation needs
  • The history of the cemetery, similar to other Victorian-era cemeteries, and its origins as a church’s burial site for a dead congregant population that exceeded the capacity of the original churchyard 
  • Famous and notable occupants of the cemetery, including native Lancastrian Major General John F. Reynolds who was killed on the first day at the Battle of Gettysburg, and Augusta Bitner of “walking statue” notoriety
  • Conservation and preservation efforts, including regular consultation with expert conservators, as well as cemetery conservation workshops
  • The cemetery’s mission to be a “proactive gathering space” hosting unique events open to the public that help support the cemetery but also educate and maintain respect for this and similar spaces

 

Contact/Follow:

Website

Facebook

Instagram

General contact information

Tim encourages people interested in visiting or supporting Lancaster Cemetery – or any cemetery – to consider volunteering or donating funding (here), or to visit (hours, rules, and directions can be found here). Most events are postponed this year due to COVID, but you can follow their Facebook events page to stay up-to-date on events that help support the cemetery in the future.

Anticipated events and ongoing services include a wreathe sale, conservation workshops, and genealogical research services – contact Tim to learn more!

UNIQUE HISTORICAL FEATURES SERIES – On this 4th Tuesday of the month, our focus isn’t on a specific feature per se, but more on a combination of features; a whole architectural style, in fact. And we’re focusing on how mutable cultural values created and then reviled that style, resulting in its being the focus of nightmares in popular culture. To honor Halloween season in a preservation-minded way, instead of covering traditional hauntings, we will examine how the aforementioned phenomena collectively created our modern vision of what is “creepy.” This month’s feature is: “HAUNTED” VICTORIAN HOUSES. 

Prototypical image of a “haunted” Victorian house. Photo by Matthew T Rader on Unsplash.

 

Why are “haunted houses” usually Victorian in style?

Many authors (here, here, here and here, to name a few) have pondered and analyzed this question. Sarah Burns (2012) summarized it best in her article “Better for Haunts”: Victorian Houses and the Modern Imagination, querying: 

“If we consider the Victorian house in its own time and place…there is nothing ominous about the mansard-roofed house…Half a century later, however, that very same style had become a signifier of terror, death, and decay. How, when, and why did the ghosts take over?”  (p. 3)

 

The answer comes down to what Burns refers to as a “shifting context” (p. 3), where architectural changes coincide with and are influenced by cultural and social reforms. There are many reasons for these shifts.

People deem all kinds of trends – from fashion, to food, to entertaining, and even to architecture – to be out-of-date or out-of-touch after a time. Many people naturally rebel against what their parents’ generation considered en vogue. The generations after the Victorians were no exception. The fact that the height of Victorian homes’ popularity coincided with the old tradition of laying out the dead in the family parlor (prior to the advent of the funeral parlor) did not help their image and may have added to the “creepy” mystique as trends moved away from wakes at home. These small scale reasons contributed to aesthetic preferences shifting away from Victorian style.

On a greater scale, aesthetics were influenced by social reform and philosophical ideals. The Victorian era – especially the latter-half – was a time of great economic (and other) disparity. Traditional Victorian homes visually represented this disparity with ostentatious displays of wealth, frequently characterized by conspicuous consumption by the nouveau riche. Heavy ornamentation and detail indicative of most Victorian styles – inside and out- represented the wealth of a small portion of the population. Some of this ornamentation was also made possible due to the second Industrial Revolution (itself a partial cause and manifestation of wealth disparity). Mass production enabled cheaper, quicker access to materials. But this also meant the wealthy became wealthier, the middle class became wealthier, and the poor stayed poor. In fact, the increase in urbanization made for overcrowded, unhealthy living conditions for the poor (who made up the greatest number of factory workers). They were also practically chained to their factory jobs and seen as inhuman machines by their employers.

Social reforms, including the arts and crafts movement and the labor movement, gained ground in government but also influenced architectural design. Many reformers (arts and crafts movement) saw industrialization as an undesirable replacement for craftsmanship as well as a social problem, and advocated craftsman style in architecture in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Home interiors were not immune to the changes, as the sanitary or hygiene reform movement also impacted design, especially in the bathroom; wood and heavy fabrics were seen not only as outdated but also unsanitary. These architectural style changes became an expression of political, economic, and social values in addition to quality materials and workmanship. Architecturally, craftsman styles flourished through the 1920s. By the 1930s and 1940s, modernism and colonial revival styles took hold, continuing to move away from Victorian style.

For all of the above reasons, Victorian homes fell out of favor, and people moved away from the old neighborhoods, leaving Victorian homes to be broken into apartments, turned into boarding houses, or derelict looming figures thanks to demolition by neglect, their once grand neighborhoods dilapidated and run-down. This likely furthered the view that these homes were “haunted” or “creepy.” This status was perfect creative fodder for authors and artists, who subsequently demonized these types of homes. As entertainment technology evolved, movies and TV shows followed suit (e.g., The Addams Family, The Munsters, and Psycho) further solidifying a negative view of these homes in the popular imagination.

The conglomeration of influences cemented Victorian homes as the style of haunted house for generations to come. The issue is that by doing this, in some cases, it has damaged the reputation of these houses leading to improper care for them, or even destruction of them. Luckily, enough of the population cares for these homes to have saved many of them, and we can see examples of Victorian architecture in nearly every town and city in the United States today. 

Letting Victorian homes wither away or even demolishing them due to misplaced fear is much scarier than actually saving and preserving these historic treasures. Anything that is dilapidated and not maintained will look creepy!

 

Examples of “haunted” Victorian architecture:

 

Gothic Revival architectural style seen in the caretaker’s home at Woodward Hill Cemetery (burial site of President James Buchanan) in Lancaster, PA. The gravestones seen in the foreground add to the foreboding ambience. Build date unknown. 

 

 

 

 

Photo above courtesy of Laura Kise.

 

Another Gothic Revival building at Woodward Hill Cemetery in Lancaster, PA. Build date unknown.

 

 

 

 

 

Photo above courtesy of Laura Kise.

 

View of the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California. Primarily identified with Queen Anne architectural style, this now-infamous home that began as a simple farmhouse was renovated and added onto by Sarah Winchester (widow of William Winchester) from 1886 to 1922 in an effort to protect herself from vengeful spirits. Purported to actually be haunted, the architectural design elements as well as Sarah’s purposeful twists, turns, and “booby-traps” make for a creepy home inside and out, despite its obvious beauty.

The image above was taken by Liz Jandoli, for Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS), date unknown. Image source: Library of Congress.

 

The Biltmore Estate – home to the Vanderbilts and America’s largest home – in Asheville, North Carolina, is constructed in the Châteauesque architectural style, and was built between 1889-1895. This home is also rumored to be actually haunted, but anyone might feel intimidated by this imposing, gorgeous structure.

 

 

 

The image above was taken by Frances Benjamin Johnston for the Library of Congress, in 1938. Image source: Library of Congress.

 

Victorian Architecture Today

 

Where to see it. 

  • Scavenger hunt – Hit the pavement in most towns and see how many Victorian houses you can find; despite the negative connotations over the years, we are lucky to have many fine examples of Victorian homes throughout the United States. 
  • (Virtual) museum and other tours – Check out historical house museums – if you’re lucky enough to find an open museum right now following CDC guidelines, visit in-person. Otherwise, see if their website has a virtual tour. Biltmore Estate can be toured virtually at the bottom of this page. You can virtually visit the Winchester Mystery House here. You may also choose to visit a purportedly haunted house (assuming you feel safe during this time of COVID) and given the time of year, there are many options as we get closer to Halloween.
  • Photo gallery – View Victorian architecture images on flickr or explore sites like Library of Congress. 

Get (or protect) your own.

  • Real estate – There are many ways to find your own Victorian, and by doing so, you can help save these treasures and contribute to a more positive view of these historic structures. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has archives of real estate agents who specialize in historic properties, here. They also include listings of properties for sale, here. You can also peruse independent sites such as Circa Houses and Cheap Old Houses
  • Protecting, preserving, and maintaining – Not maintaining your historical home will guarantee that it looks creepy, so maintain your home so you don’t contribute to the negative mystique! Visit the many resources on our website (or contact us for help), and view our Fall Maintenance post, here. Visit The National Trust for Historic Preservation, as well as The National Park Service for more information on protecting and preserving your historic home. 

 

For further resources and reading:

  • You can read Sarah Burns’ thorough analysis of the “haunted” mystique of Victorian homes – and JSTOR is currently offering free access if you create a login – here.

 

Stay tuned each month for a new installment in this UNIQUE HISTORICAL FEATURES SERIES! See last month’s post on Butler’s Pantries.

 

SHARE WITH US!

DO YOU OWN A VICTORIAN HOME? DOES IT HAVE A REPUTATION FOR BEING CREEPY OR HAUNTED? OR, IS THERE A VICTORIAN HOME THAT YOU DON’T OWN BUT LOVE?

FEEL FREE TO SHARE BELOW!