The Architecture of America

The historic, majestic homes of the past are being passed over in favor of newer homes, left to fall apart or being demolished. The craftsmen of the past of being dishonored by the “hurry up and finish the house” companies of today.

I lived in a small subdivision just outside of the heavily vacationed in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. I was one of the first in the subdivision so I had to endure the building around me to fill in each and every lot of the subdivision. I watched, on numerous occasions, houses springing up throughout the small area. The houses were built, from grading to move-in ready in about 30 days, barring the weather issues in the Myrtle Beach area. As you can read in my earlier article, Is Your New House A Safe Investment, quick is never the better choice.

Houses built before 1900 were constructed with pride, integrity and out of quality products, so unlike the majority of today’s homes. Craftsmen took the time to make a quality product that they didn’t mind putting their name on. Good luck finding something today that has the actual craftsman’s name on it, most would be ashamed put attach their name to anything they constructed. No one today seems to care about putting integrity and pride into the job they do, just how much they can make from it and how quickly.

There are too many styles to list, but some examples of exquisite architecture are Queen Anne Victorians, Princess Anne Victorians, Gothic Revivals, Federal Style, Colonial Style, Greek Revivals, Second Empires. There are many eras to choose from and the architecture of each era is splendid. They simply do not build homes like this anymore.

We have relocated from Myrtle Beach to a small Pennsylvania town to restore one of these majestic beauties. The 1893 Queen Anne Victorian still stands proud, though in desperate need of love and care. She had been abandoned for more than 10 years, had no water, no type of heating system and windows boarded over. She was pleading for a family to show her the love she had been sorely lacking for many years. We heard her sobs and answered. Most people think it’s takes a considerable amount of money to purchase one of these lovely “old gals”, when in actuality it’s less than a quarter of a new house in the purchase price for a “handyman special.” And, if you have the tenacity to follow through and are willing to put in a good deal of sweat equity you could end up with a home you can take pride in, as well as preserving the past, from which we all came.

Our beauty has more than 3600 square feet on the first and second floor. When you enter the double front door, with original leaf carvings, you are greeted by a 10 foot ceiling with leather wallpaper and the original tiled floor in the entryway. Then you enter the foyer, which has the original quarter sawn oak staircase, with two pivotal landings. On the back wall of the foyer is a small fireplace, with beautifully decorated tiles and an ornate tile trim work around the edge of the fireplace. Behind a set of quarter sawn oak pocket doors on your right is a large parlour, complete with a fireplace and highly decorative radiators. The 114 year old window glass has small imperfections and it seems, when you look through it, that you are looking through an old bottle. Atop the large picture window in the parlour, overlooking the porch and street, are three stained glass windows. The floor has intricate inlaid floors using walnut, oak and cherry. Through the parlour you enter a huge living room with a floor to ceiling built-in cabinet with glass doors on top and drawers in the bottom. There is a deep fireplace on the back wall by which you warm yourself. The bay windows allow for so much light to enter this room you barely need any additional lighting during the day. The inlaid floor uses the same material as in the parlour, only in another pattern. The dining room has wainscoting reaches seven feet up the wall with exposed beams of quarter-sawn oak. There is a deep fireplace on one side of the room and a built-in china cupboard on the other wall. At the end of the dining room is a window seat at the bay window with leaded glass allow for natural light in the dining room. Under the window seat is a bronze decorative radiator for consistent warmth in the winter, in addition to the fireplaces for ambiance. The floors are quarter sawn oak throughout the dining room. To the left of the fireplace in the dining room is a “telephone room”, with leaded glass in the window there. Through the dining room you enter the butler’s pantry, filled with quarter sawn oak from floor to ceiling with oak flooring. When you enter the kitchen, you notice the pine flooring and trimwork. The wainscoting in the kitchen is made to match the trim and flooring. There is a floor to ceiling built in for all your kitchen supplies. Off the kitchen there is a half bath, with an original marble sink mounted to the wall and a toilet with the wall tank. In addition to the butler’s pantry on the dining room side, off the living room there is a sun room with original windows (simply covered over by previous owners). From the kitchen you have exterior access to a large back yard leading to a two story carriage house. Also from the kitchen there is a door to enter the basement and one leading to the upstairs. Entering the second floor from the kitchen is a maid or nanny’s room with a walk-in closet for storage. Beside that is a full bath, which is accessible only from the hallway. There is another stairwell leading to the fully floored attic with two stained glass windows on the east and west sides and three windows on each north and south facing walls. The attic has all exposed beams and measures almost 10 feet. The third floor also has a full bathroom, a much later addition to the house. Returning back to the second floor there is a small room with a second floor exit, which we have turned into a laundry room. Leaving the laundry room to go down the hall you pass through an arch craftfully made when the home was built. The next room, “extra room” has 9 1/2 foot ceilings and two closets, though not deep, with plenty of shelving and a large bay window. The room across from the “extra room” is the master bedroom, with two closets, a fireplace with a gorgeous handmade mantle and intricate tile work. There is also a full bath located in the master suite. The large bay window allows for a seating area in the bedroom. Adjoining the master suite, either through the hall door or the door adjoining the room itself, is a child’s room with high ceilings, a fireplace and hand made mantle and tiles affixed. Either through the hallway or the adjoining doorway you can reach the second child’s room, which contains the turret. The turret in the child’s room contains a curved glass window and below it a window seat over a silver ornate radiator. This bedroom has a raised, walk-in closet. Both children’s rooms have stained glass windows above the window facing the front of the home. There is also an additional, smaller, stained glass window in the second child’s room. All the doorways contain transom windows for radiating the heat in the winter. The entire house has 10 inch baseboards throughout. The quality of the woodwork in this home is exceptional. There is very little damage, even after 114 years to any of the woodwork in the home (with the exception of the horrid paint colors someone used when it was dissected into apartments). The stained glass in the house greets you as you walk up the front stairwell and throughout all the rooms on the front of the house. In the rear of the house is a two story carriage house made of stone, slate roofing and 10 foot ceilings.

Now tell me that as you read that description you couldn’t picture the beautiful handcrafted woodwork throughout the home, the vivid colors of the stained glass windows, the thick plaster covering the walls, the hardwood floors beneath your feet as you took each step. Isn’t that the kind of house you want? When I saw her for the first time she was in complete disrepair, neglected, abused, dissected into apartments….but yet, I saw the beautiful home we now occupy, completely preserved (with a few upgrades in the bathrooms and kitchen). The antique furnishings, lovingly handmade by my husband (an antique restoration specialist) and upholstered by me, fill this home. The cracked plaster is forever restored. The windows have been uncovered and repaired, weights reattached and in proper working order. A wood burning boiler has been put in to assure us warmth for such a large home during the coldest of winter months. We have wood stoves, which I sometimes cook on for nostalgic reasons. This is truly like stepping back into the past where life was simple, but easy by any means. We still utilize wood stoves so we do not forget the past and how difficult it must have been for those who came before us. We honor our “old gal” by preserving her so that future generations will see what we have seen, architectural excellence.

My husband is a true “woodworker”, which means he does his woodworking the old fashioned way. Yes, it takes him longer to complete a project but when it is completed there is nothing in today’s market that would come close to the quality workmanship that he produces. And, yes, he is willing to put his name on his woodworking because there is pride and integrity put into every piece. There is no comparison in today’s market for that kind of workmanship, unless it comes from those who treasure our past as we do.

The historical homes, all around the country, are being destroyed and all its beautiful architecture is being lost. Take a small portion of your online time and check out the websites I’ve added to this article. Be thoroughly engrossed in the beauty of the woodwork, the ornate details, stylish colors of these grand old homes. Most of these historic homes on the websites listed have been restored and/or preserved, but there are many out there that are in desperate need. Don’t leave our history in the past, keep it alive by preserving these old homes. They will be well worth your time and effort. The architecture of the past is sturdy construction built by men who knew what pride and integrity in their work was, and if you look in these houses that craftsmanship is still alive today. It stands the test of time so much better than the “disposable” America we live in today! Think twice before you make a home purchase and look into the preservation/restoration of an old home. There are tax advantages to preservation as well, are there any for new homes? They are too beautiful, even in disrepair, to be neglected and demolished.

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