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  • #46
    Looking Around: Common Houses Before the Second Industrial Revolution mcmansionhell:
    Hello Friends! Today’s post is about the earliest American common houses, those built before the age of the Second Industrial Revolution, which completely changed the landscape of not only architecture but commerce, society, and culture.
    Transcontinental and local rail, perhaps the most dramatic transformation of the Second Industrial Revolution brought all kinds of goods, including homes, to people all over the country, transforming the way Americans worked and lived. Before rail travel, most everyday houses were exceedingly small, relegated to local materials found near the site of the home and often self-built by those who lived in them, sometimes with the help of local craftsmen.
    Log House in the Forest of Georgia, 1829. Via Library of Congress.

    The appearance of these early houses were more determined by geography than aesthetics. They were built to suit the needs of people who lived in certain climates, with easy access to location-specific materials. For example, the saltbox houses of New England featured deeper plans in order to have more protection and room for living during the prohibitively harsh winters. Their characteristic steep sloping roofs helped mitigate potential collapse from the rooftop accumulation of heavy snow.
    Before railways, most commodities, including building materials, were shipped along waterways, hence why so many cities were built along their banks. Outside of cities and farms connected by water, the cost and labor of transporting goods by horse and carriage was prohibitive to most, leaving those in rural areas little choice but to build homes using only the materials around them (McAlester, 119).
    Regional Construction Techniques & Material Use

    Along the East Coast and into the Midwest, vast forests provided plenty of timber for local construction. Many modes of timber construction were brought over to the New World from European building techniques. In New England, the British established building traditions of massive open timber frames covered with shingles or boards.
    Edmund Rice House (1643), Wyland Massachusetts. Public Domain.
    In the coastal South, the English methods of timber frame construction remained popular, aided by masonry from the large deposits of clay found in the area. These houses were smaller than their New England counterparts, likely because the mild winters didn’t require as much time spent indoors. Later in the 18th Century, these houses often featured front porches with shed roofs, for added shelter from the sweltering summers. (McAlester, 126)
    Tidewater house in Missouri. Via Library of Congress.
    Midland (Mid-Atlantic) traditions combined several traditions brought over from German immigrants. These traditions follow the techniques of what we traditionally consider “log houses” in that beams of wood were sawed into interlocking pieces and stacked vertically to build a solid wall, sometimes cemented together with clay masonry (McAlester, 127). These traditions spread south along the Appalachians, and because of its efficient use of materials soon became the dominant technique in vernacular house construction.
    Marrs House, Mercer County, Kentucky. Via Library of Congress.
    In the Midwest, where timber was scarce, early settlers borrowed frequently from the masonry traditions of Native Americans. In the heart of the Great Plains, houses were frequently constructed from bricks fashioned from the thick sod that covered most of the land - an approach that was continued well into the late 19th Century, though as wood became more available it replaced sod as the primary material for roof construction.
    Building a Sod House in Western Nebraska, 1890s. Via Library of Congress.
    Pre-Industrial Floor Plans

    What is interesting to note is that while these early houses seem crude by today’s standards, the basic composition of their floor plans continued well past the Industrial Revolution. This is especially the case with the homes of the Tidewater South, whose floor plans persisted into the modern era.
    One Room Plans
    Many of the earliest houses south or west of New England, as well as houses built by settlers or those with fewer resources consisted of only one room. Of these one-room houses, the single variation is that of whether or not the entry is on the long-end (side) or the short-end of the house:
    One-Room Side-Entry house, English frame construction. New Jersey. Public Domain.
    One-Room Short-End Entry house, Midland log construction. New Jersey, Public Domain.
    These houses were often either temporary, or were modified, extended, or otherwise incorporated into larger structures as needed. This type of floor plan dwindled away after the Second Industrial Revolution, when technological advances made it easier and cheaper to build larger, yet still modest homes.
    Two-Room Plans and One-Room-Deep Plans
    Often called “Hall and Parlor” (if one or one-and-a-half stories) or “I-houses” (if two stories) these plans were found in all parts of early America. The idea of a central hall was brought to America via English building traditions, and evolved throughout the 19th century. The main divisions amongst houses built around a central hall consists of the number of stories and the positioning of the entryway, which opens either into the central entrance hall or directly into either the hall or the parlor. Overall these houses mostly consisted of 2-3 rooms, with 2-story variants consisting of 2-6 rooms.
    1.5 Storey Hall-and-Parlor Center Passage house in Missouri.
    Extended Hall-and-Parlor house in North Carolina.
    There are of, course, many variations regarding stove, stair, and front door locations - these are merely the most common. Houses built in the German tradition often feature asymmetrical facades, where the front door is on either the left or the right side of the house, like the parlor-entry I-house example below:
    Two-Room-Deep Plans
    These are often called Central Passage or Georgian Plans. These plans tend to be divided into three categories: Central Passage, Central Chimney, and Germanic or Asymmetrical plans. The Saltbox (one-and-a-half room deep) plan found in New England is a transitional form (mix of one-room and two-room deep styles.)
    Two-Room-Deep Central Passage Type, 1700s. Tennessee. Via LOC.
    Two-Room-Deep Germanic Plan House, Erie, Pennsylvania. Via LOC.
    Side-Hall Plans
    Our final plans for today are the Side-Hall type plans, which are derived from two-story attached rowhouses. These began to become common in the early 1800s. They were usually 2-3 rooms deep and 1 or 1.5 stories tall. The total number of rooms ranged from 4 to 8. Plans based on this layout were popular and continued well into the 20th century, often morphing into their own typologies.
    Typical Side Hall. Nebraska, 1800s.
    Extended Side-Hall, ME. Date unknown.
    Worker’s cottage (AKA Shotgun House), built c. 1870s.
    The Worker’s cottage represents a transition into the industrial age, a period that will be studied in-depth in next week’s’ installment of Looking Around! I wish you all a lovely start to your week, and be sure to stay tuned for Thursday’s Missouri McMansion!
    If you like this post, and want to see more like it, consider supporting me on Patreon! Also JUST A HEADS UP - I’ve started posting a GOOD HOUSE built since 1980 from the area where I picked this week’s McMansion as bonus content on Patreon!
    Not into small donations and sick bonus content? Check out the McMansion Hell Store- 100% goes to charity.
    Copyright Disclaimer: All photographs in this post are publicly available and are used in this post for the purposes of education, satire, and parody, consistent with 17 USC §107. Manipulated photos are considered derivative work and are Copyright © 2017 McMansion Hell. Please email before using these images on another site. (am v chill about this)
    Works Cited:

    Carter, Thomas, and Elizabeth C. Cromley. Invitation to vernacular architecture: a guide to the study of ordinary buildings and landscapes. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2008.
    Gottfried, Herbert, and Jan Jennings. American vernacular buildings and interiors 1870-1960. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2009.
    Hubka, Thomas C. Houses without names: architectural nomenclature and the classification of Americas common houses. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2013.
    McAlester, Virginia, and A. Lee McAlester. A field guide to American houses: the definitive guide to identifying and understanding Americas domestic architecture. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015.
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    • #47

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