Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Windsor Ruins, Claiborne County, Mississippi

Historic American Buildings Survey, James Butters, Photographer. Mar, 20, 1936. FRONT VIEW (WEST ELEVATION)
Image via the Library of Congress

Most of what was once the largest ante-bellum home in Mississippi is gone. "Windsor," a magnificent Greco-Roman Revival structure of three stories, topped by a cupola-ed hipped roof, was the casualty of a spectacular fire on February 17th, 1890; this disaster was supposedly caused by a careless guest who tossed a cigar into debris left by workmen doing repairs on an upper floor. The inner wooden construction coupled with the rural location meant that little survived except the encircling colonnade.

Yet, year after year, numerous visitors from near and far journey to rural Claiborne County, to see what is left: 23 of 29 stucco-covered brick Corinthian columns with cast-iron capitals, on tall bases, now-silent shafts which originally surrounded the L-shaped structure. Hollywood has also made the pilgrimage to these enigmatic ruins, and memorable scenes from both "Raintree County"(1957) and "Ghosts of Mississippi(1996) were filmed here.

(Some of the cast-iron balcony railings and an original stairway of the same material--probably one of four--were given by the family to nearby Alcorn State University where they decorate the exterior of the handsome Greek Revival Chapel.)

"Windsor" was built for wealthy planter Smith Coffee Daniel II and his family between 1859-1861; it was one of many large houses in the neighborhood, most now gone, that reflected the flush times there on the eve of the Civil War. Alas, Daniel died shortly after the structure was completed, but his relatives weathered the vicissitudes of the War, and lived in the house in greatly reduced circumstances until the fire. In 1974, the remaining family members donated the site to the State of Mississippi.

The exact appearance of "Windsor" is uncertain, since all family papers were destroyed in the conflagration; on the other hand, the creation of fantasy reconstruction views by both Mississippians and others has been a recognized activity since the fire! Historians and architectural aficionados were rewarded in the early 1990's by the discovery in Ohio of a Civil War era sketch made by a passing Yankee soldier, and this very amateurish view confirmed the general suppositions; needless to say, that impression has fueled other visual fantasies!

The building--presumably accompanied by various dependencies, all now destroyed-- has been attributed to the local contractor David Shroder( the documented designer of nearby "Rosswood", similarly neoclassical, but much simpler), and its rather conservative plan was remarkable mainly for its massive scale. The ground floor held service spaces, the first and second floors were living- and bedrooms, and there were additional rooms in the attic-- stories of both a ballroom and a fishpond there are completely ridiculous, however! The wing extending to the east held the kitchen, a dining room and pantry, and bedrooms. The size of the house would imply that the cupola was spacious, and Confederate soldiers were said to have used this spot as an observation post. The Mississippi River is nearby, but it is not visible from the house today.

"Windsor"'s ruins, now and in the past, continue to draw artists and photographers seeking to capture its haunting beauty; ironically, the "gone-with-the-wind" atmosphere is actually the result of an event that happened much later! Pre-1890 photographs have yet to surface--and one would suppose that they exist, presently unrecognized--but some of the most famous post-fire views are featured here. Enjoy!

Many thanks to historian and native Mississippian, Ed Polk Douglas, who greatly contributed to the research and writing of this post. Mr. Douglas is the author of "Architecture in Claiborne County, Mississippi" (Jackson MS, 1974) and lives in Lyons, NY.

"The Enigma (Windsor Plantation, near Port Gibson, Mississippi)", 1941. Clarence John Laughlin, photographer
Image via Carrie Haddad Photography

"Valentine Windsor", 1998. Sally Mann, photographer
Via Gagosian Gallery

"Windsor Ruins", Jack Spencer, photographer
Image via jackspencer.com

The Ruins of Windsor, ca. 1935
 by Eudora Welty (American, 1909-2001)
Image via the Gibbes Museum, Charleston, SC

Untitled, Windsor Ruins, Mississippi, early 1980s. William Eggleston, photographer.
Image via The Paris Review

Thursday, October 28, 2010

the architecturalist on tumblr

I've started a new venture. I'm now doing a companion blog to the architecturalist on tumblr. A collection of images, new and old, that I find inspiring (and hope you do too). Let me know what you think.

Friday, October 8, 2010

On the Block - Airliewood

photograph via www.airliewood.com

Airliewood, one of the South’s premier Gothic Revival houses, located in historic Holly Springs, Mississippi will be auctioned this Saturday.

When it was built in 1858 for William Henry Coxe, the twelve acre estate was the finest house in Holly Springs, a town full of extraordinarily fine houses. So grand was the house that it was used by Major General U.S. Grant as his headquarters and residence during the winter of 1862 - 1863.

The current owners completed a comprehensive restoration of the house in 2002 overseen by Mississippi architect Sam Kaye. A new wing containing a kitchen, great room, master suite and garages was added. The project received an Award of Merit for Restoration and Rehabilitation from the Mississippi Heritage Trust.

If you ever should decide to leave the grandeur of your own antebellum mansion, remember that Holly Springs is also home to Graceland Too and Memphis is just 30 minutes up the road.

photograph via www.airliewood.com

Above photos: Airliewood photographed for the Historic American Buildings Survey in 1975. Via the Library of Congress.

A massive cast-iron fence manufactured by Wood and Perrot of Boston encircles the property. The gate is identical to the one at the U. S. Military Academy at West Point.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Pope Villa

When you think of Lexington, Kentucky, you may think of horses and bourbon and perhaps college basketball. But Lexington is also home to one of the most avant-garde buildings for its time, built by America’s first professional architect, Benjamin Henry Latrobe.

Born in England and educated in Europe, Latrobe came to the United States in 1796, after the death of his first wife. Latrobe studied in England under neo-classical architect S.P. Cockerell and engineer John Smeaton and brought his diverse talents to the new republic. First in Virginia, then in Pennsylvania, Latrobe quickly found commissions to design houses and public buildings, including the Bank of Pennsylvania, the first example of Greek Revival architecture in America.

In 1803, President Thomas Jefferson made Latrobe surveyor of public buildings. His duties included overseeing the construction of the U.S. Capitol. While in Washington, he met John Pope, an attorney and U.S. senator from Lexington, Kentucky. Pope needed a summer home in Lexington to serve as a political base where he and his wife, Eliza, could entertain guests and he asked Latrobe to provide him with a design.

Latrobe's elevation drawings showing his two and three story variations.
Image via The Library of Congress.

Latrobe presented the Popes with plans for an elegant cube-shaped brick villa with a one-story white portico composed of two Greek columns flanked by arches. Latrobe’s design incorporated elements of neo-classical architecture and the picturesque, and showed his genius in combining the two.

Guests would enter the house through a doorway flanked by Ionic columns and large sidelights. Once inside, they would be welcomed into either Mr. Pope’s office or his wife’s parlor on either side of a square hall, or proceed upstairs, where Latrobe placed the main reception rooms of the house.

The square entrance hall and the stairs located to the side would be an unusual experience for someone who was used to the long central hallways that were the fashion of the time. Latrobe hated these long hallways where the guests, household members, and servants mixed. In his design, all the services for the house, the kitchen, laundry, etc., were hidden behind the reception rooms, so the servants could move discreetly from floor to floor using their own private staircase. Latrobe also disliked the “ell” extensions on the backs of houses, where the servants typically performed their labors, so he placed the kitchen and bake house into the block of the main house, despite the fact that it must have made the house quite hot in the long Kentucky summers.

Original plans by Latrobe.

Once on the main floor, guests walked through a double set of columns and entered a grand domed circular rotunda with an ocular skylight; a rare sight at that time for a public building in America and unheard of in a private house. Columns and niches filled with statues lined the walls. In the front of the building were the drawing room and dining room, the primary spaces where guests were entertained. Both rooms had elegant curved walls and large windows that looked onto the front lawn. Bedrooms and a butler’s pantry occupied the remainder of the upstairs. In his original design, Latrobe also included plans for a third floor: attic. story.

Around 1812, the Popes proceeded to build their new house, using local builder Asa Wilgus and making changes as they went along, including enlarging the windows on the second floor. Unfortunately, the Popes’ time in their villa was short-lived. John Pope lost his reelection bid for the Senate and left Lexington, leasing the Pope Villa just three years after it was built.

In 1819, Latrobe left Washington for New Orleans, a city in which he saw great potential, to oversee the new waterworks system proposed by his son at his behest several years prior. . Latrobe had to finish the project after his son had contracted yellow fever and died. The following year, exactly three years after his son’s death, Latrobe also died of yellow fever. His remains were most likely taken to a mass grave “lye pit,” where victims of the epidemic were buried.

Pope Villa showing later additions, including a cupola. Image via Mesick, Cohen, Wilson, Baker Architects.

The Popes were finally forced to sell the Pope Villa in 1829. Successive owners made additions and changes to the interior in accordance with the architectural fashions of the day. Eventually the house was converted into four and then ten apartments for the local university students, and Latrobe’s design was largely forgotten.

In 1987, a fire set by an arsonist destroyed the roof and damaged sections of the second floor. A local preservation group, The Blue Grass Trust, acquired the property and put forward a plan of restoration and conservation that continues today. Their extensive research revealed that the house’s construction followed Latrobe’s original designs much more closely than was previously thought. When the restoration project is completed, the university plans to use the building for its Historic Preservation program and as a space for architecture and design exhibitions.

Windows restored and old porch removed.

Remnants of the original "Pebbles and Flowerpots" wallpaper in the dining room. Reproduced today by Adelphi Paper Hangings.

Surviving design elements.

The rotunda today with a new roof.

Original niche for statuary.

Clockwise from top left: Entry flanked by Ionic columns; KY historical marker; detail of column; newly constructed portico; new back door and side lights; Pope's office under restoration. All photos by the architecturalist.

All images, unless noted, via The Bluegrass Trust for Historic Preservation.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

John Folsom "Lure of the Lowcountry"

The ethereal beauty of coastal South Carolina and Georgia has been captured by Photographer John Folsom is his series of photographs, Lure of the Lowcountry, now on exhibit at the Gibbes Museum in Charleston, SC

Folsom hand tints each photograph and adds layers of wax and oil paint to produce each exquisite landscape. Each photograph will be paired with an early Lowcountry landscape from the museum’s collection. On display through April 18th 2010.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Compass & Rule

A new exhibit at the Yale Center for British Art explores the relationship of mathematics and architecture and features drawings by Inigo Jones, Sir Christopher Wren and King George III.

An online version of the exhibition can be seen here.

In the spirit of the exhibit, here are a few of my favorite drawings from the practice of Quinlan & Francis Terry Architects that were exhibited at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition showing their expertise with the compass and rule.

All photos via Quinlin & Francis Terry Architects

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Inspirations - John Dugdale

In 1993 photographer John Dugdale photographed his Hudson River Valley farmhouse for the New York Times magazine. At that time, he was best know for his atmospheric portraits and still-lifes using the cyantype process, an early form of photography. The photographs were published just before an AIDS related stroke took almost all his sight and left him hospitalized for months. Since that time, he has continued to work with the help of an assistant, sketching and titling each image before it’s made. Recently, he has shot a campaign for the Broadway revival of “The Miracle Worker”. Here he explains the process he now uses as a blind photographer.

All photographs by John Dugdale for the New York Times.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Romantic Ireland

Statue at Henrietta Street

High on my list of new books for Christmas was Romantic Irish Homes by Robert O’Byrne and photographer Simon Brown. But somehow Santa forgot to include it with this year’s stack. While I’m waiting for Amazon to deliver the goods, I’ll have to make do with these photos from Simon Brown’s web site.

Fireplace, Henrietta Street

Decanters & Candelabra

Mount Rivers Scrolls

Monday, January 11, 2010

Inspirations - Peter Hone

With an eye towards Sir John Soane’s Museum, Peter Hone has filled his London flat with urns, busts and architectural fragments collected from his travels as one of England’s leading dealers of garden furniture and antiques.

A simple color palette prevents the visitor from being overwhelmed by the vast collection. Marble, Coade stone, alabaster and plaster mix with scrubbed floor boards to produce a pleasing effect.

To add a little architectural charm to your own home, visit Ben Pentreath Ltd. to purchase a fragment from Peter Hone’s collection.

all photos via www.lightlocations.com

Saturday, November 14, 2009

William Gatewood House, Charleston, SC

Architect Gil Schafer has a distinct talent for designing houses that look as if they have always been there. He knows the history, the materials and how to infuse a certain timeworn quality into each building. So, he was a natural choice when the owners of the William Gatewood house in Charleston, SC wanted to make their old house look, well, old again.

Built in 1843, the house is a mixture of Greek Revival and Classical revival styles. The building’s foundation and masonry were reinforced and all the brickwork required re-pointing. An elevator was removed from the porch or piazza (as it’s known in Charleston) allowing the windows and archway to be reopened. The porches were replaced on the attached kitchen house and the original doorways reopened.

Inside, all the moldings were returned to their original appearance. A cast-plaster ceiling medallion was duplicated for the dining room from an original in the parlors. and other elements were gently returned to their original appearance.

Window looking onto the piazza.

Tuscan columns on the piazza.

Triple-hung windows in the parlors give access to the piazza.

De Gournay wallpaper in the dining room.

Kitchen house.

All photos via gpschafer.com