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OLD NEW ENGLAND 
DOORWAYS 



.., ■ 4i::*-t^ f. 



OLD NEW ENGLAND 
DOORWAYS 

BY 
ALBERT G. ROBINSON 



WITH MANY ILLUSTRATIONS 

FKOM THE AL-THOK's UNIQUE COLLECTION OF PHOTOCEAPHS OF 

OLD-TIME NEW ENGLAND HOUSES AND DOOKWAYS 



rssT^ 



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NEW YORK 

OURLES SCRIBNER'S SONS 

1919 




COPTKIOHT, 1010, BT 

CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS 



Published September. 1010 



THE ftCRtBNER PRESG 




DOORWAYS 





DOORWAYS 

HUNTING for old doorways Is a harmless 
and interesting amusement, much like bot- 
anizing or collecting postage stamps. In 
addition to that, there is "the joy of the road" 
whether one travels afoot, in carriage, or in auto- 
mobile. In New England particularly, many in- 
teresting doorways are to be found quite away from 
the main highways of travel, on the side streets of 
villages through which automobilists rush with the 
apparent purpose of getting somewhere rather than 
of seeing something, or on the little-used side roads 
in the country where an automobile is still a device 
of some wonder and even of alarm. City doorways 
and those in the villages may be found easily enough 
by inquiry or by strolling about the streets. The 
more isolated, the farmhouses in the country, are 
much less readily discovered and they sometimes 
come as quite delightful surprises. 

Old doorways are, usually, most abuni 
the old villages that have, in recent years, 
[3l 







DOORWAYS 



into large towns or small cities, like Warren, in 
Rhode Island, or Guilford, in Connecticut. The 
latter claims more than a hundred houses built be- 
fore the Revolution. But the very growth of such 
places tends toward change in the old buildings. 
They are modernized, or they become real-estate 
derelicts or, not infrequently, tenement-houses 
rapidly falling into disrepair and soon to be torn 
down to make room for more profitable investments. 
Naturally, the most fruitful fields are the areas of 
earliest settlement, the Massachusetts shore, the 
bay of Rhode Island, the towns along the Connec- 
ticut shore, and along the Connecticut River valley 
as far north as Greenfield. Few of the early houses 
remain in the larger cities. Most of the people of 
the first century of settlement built in village groups 
or not far apart along the main street. The system 
had its origin in the danger from attack by Indians. 
Usually, the town centre was the village green, or 
common, a tract of varying area held for the com- 
mon use of all for the pasturage of their cattle. A 
straying cow was easily killed by a marauding 
Indian, and so was a cow-owner searching afield 
for his wandering beast. If a town was raided, the 
compactness of its settlement made possible a 

[4I 



DOORWAYS 



prompt concentration of the inhabitants for its de- 
fense. So they built their houses around or near 
the common where also were the church and the 
schoolhouse and, usually, a stoutly built watch- 
house in which the men and their families could 
seek refuge, and from which the plan of defense 
could be carried out. 

As the danger from Indian attack lessened, not- 
ably after King Philip's war in 1675 and 1676, many 
of the colonists built their little houses on the lands 
bought by them or allotted to them, on the out- 
skirts of the settlement and even farther afield. 
Some of the more venturesome went several miles 
away. Some of these early buildings were mere 
"dug-outs" and more were log cabins. They served 
their purpose for the time, but all of the "dug-outs" 
and cabins are now gone. Some of the settlers paid 
a heavy penalty for their adventure in pioneering, 
as did the people in Deerfield, which was destroyed 
by a raid from Canada, in 1704, in spite of its con- 
centration and its protecting blockhouse. Losses 
by individual pioneers were numerous but few 
records are left to tell the story. But, with the 
coming of greater safety, the towns expanded, and 
the settler's frame house might be built a mile or 

[5] 



DOORWAYS 



more from the village. As a general rule, it may 
be set down that the greater the modern growth 
of the old settlements the fewer will be the old houses 
within their borders. Many of them have been 
commercialized out of existence, and rows or solid 
blocks of stores or shops stand where stood the an- 
cient dwellings. Not a few still remain, modernized 
out of all recognition. This is perhaps most notice- 
ably shown in the towns along the Connecticut shore, 
such as Fairfield, Stratford, Milford, Branford, 
Guilford, and the rest. The same condition appears 
in most of the old Connecticut valley towns, and 
in the suburbs of Boston. Each passing year marks 
the end of an appreciable number of these old build- 
ings. Here and there, an old house is bought by 
the State, or by some Historical Society, and held 
as a memorial of the early days. The pity of it is 
the great difficulty with which funds are raised for 
this highly commendable purpose. 

The particularly interesting fact about the door- 
ways of these old dwellings is that the same designs 
are found all along the Atlantic coast, from Maine 
to South Carolina. This, of course, argues some 
common origin for the designs. Using the term in 
its modern sense, there were no professional archi- 

[6] 



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J<..-^'^- 



DOORWAYS 



tects in America in the seventeenth century, and 
few who may properly be classed as professionals 
in the first half of the eighteenth. In fact, most of 
the best work in architectural designing prior to 
the Revolution was done by men who may be re- 
garded as amateurs, using the word as meaning 
those who cultivated and studied an art without 
practising it professionally. Among the amateur 
designers of the eighteenth century were George 
Washington and Thomas Jefferson; the physicians, 
Kearsley and Thornton and Bulfinch; Andrew 
Hamilton, the lawyer; Joseph Brown, the retired 
merchant; and Smibert, the portrait-painter. 

If there is, in New England, an ornamental 
doorway that can, with any certainty, be assigned to 
the seventeenth century, it has escaped my notice. 
It is at least probable that such doorways were 
used in some of the larger and more costly city 
houses of that period, but I know of no such house 
still standing. Here and there a more or less or- 
nate entrance appears on a house credibly claimed 
as of seventeenth century construction, but such 
are, quite certainly, an addition of a later time. 
There are several survivals of the early years of 
the eighteenth century, among them the Parson 

[7] 



DOORWAYS 



Williams house (1707) in Deerfield, the Porter house 
(1713) in Hadley, and the Dummer house (1715) 
in Byfield. It is impossible to speak positively 
regarding old doorways. Some and perhaps many 
of them were added long after the house itself was 
built. As such doorways became fashionable, orna- 
mental designs were substituted for the originals. 
This is sometimes determinable by the design or 
by the quality of the workmanship. Thus, the older 
part of the Samson-Frary house, in Deerfield, ap- 
pears to have been built in the later years of the 
seventeenth century, but its porched doorway cer- 
tainly was not. House and ornamental doorway 
were not always of contemporary construction. 
While there were a few exceptions, the era of decora- 
tive doorways may be regarded as beginning with 
what is known as the Georgian period, the date of 
which, in the colonies, may be given as about 1720. 
The doorways of houses built after that year may 
generally be assumed to be contemporaneous with 
the building. 

Practically all of the houses of the seventeenth 
century, and most of the country houses of the 
greater part of the eighteenth century, were the 
design and workmanship of local carpenters. They 

[8] 




DOORWAYS 



were, generally, a persistence of the English type 
modified by local ingenuity to meet the conditions 
of the new country. The matter of the ornamented 
and ornamental doorways stands in somewhat dif- 
ferent case. As already stated, the correspondence 
of designs in all of the States east of the Alleghanies, 
from Maine to South Carolina, argues a common 
origin. This is found in books on carpentry, pub- 
lished in England, notably, perhaps, those of which 
Batty Langley was the author. His books appeared 
at various times from 1726 to 1756. They were 
intended for the use of carpenters, and gave mea- 
sured drawings of columns and pilasters, entablatures 
and architraves. From Langley and others, selec- 
tions were made by the local builders who might 
follow the drawing with exactness, or might modify 
or vary the design to suit their own taste and judg- 
ment. Most of these men were masters of their 
craft and, moreover, were men of artistic sense. 
They knew the importance of proportions, and their 
work shows their close attention to that feature, 
vital in all good architecture. The leading archi- 
tects of the present time can produce nothing, in 
door\\'ays, superior to many of those produced by 
the master-artisans of the eighteenth centur}% and 

I9] 



DOORWAYS 



few give to the matter of proportions the careful 
attention that was given by the carpenter-builders 
of the seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries. 

While stone of different kinds, and clay for brick- 
making, were found in endless abundance in New 
England, the timber-supply was no less ample. The 
settlers in that region had been accustomed to tim- 
ber-framed houses in the land from which they 
came. Moreover, the wood of the country was more 
easily and readily worked than stone or brick. In 
many of the decorative doorways there is seen the 
result of a translation of the stone doorways of Eng- 
land and Europe into wood in this country. In 
the older lands, a stone column or pilaster supported 
a stone entablature or a pediment. Here, the de- 
signs of those portals were repeated or imitated in 
wood. In many of the entablatures and arches of 
wooden doorways in New England there appears a 
design of a central block that corresponds to the 
keystone of the stone portal copied or imitated. 
So in the wooden columns and pilasters we have 
the Corinthian, the Ionic and the Doric capitals. 
While some of the earlier work of this kind is some- 
what over-heavy in design and a little rough in work- 
manship, it is seldom if ever offensive or objection- 

lio] 



DOORWAYS 



able to even a keen artistic sense. WTiile the work 
might have been open to criticism when it was new, 
time has touched it with a softening hand, and some 
of the oldest doorways are among the most charm- 
ing. 

Because it is quite unsafe to accept the estab- 
lished date of the erection of a house as necessarily 
the date of its entrance, it is difficult to say w-hat 
particular design of ornamental doorway was first 
used. Also, practically all of the old city houses, 
where ornamental designs were doubtless first and 
most generally used, have disappeared, leaving no 
clew to the pattern of their entrances. Accepting 
the asserted dates of their erection, and assuming 
that the doorways are the originals, the design some- 
times called the " sw an's-neck " appears among the 
earliest. It show-s on the Parson Williams house, 
in Deerfield (date given as 1707); on the Porter 
house, in Hadley (given as 1713); on the long since 
destroyed Clark-Frankland house, in Boston (given 
as 1713); and a few other ancient structures. The 
earliest type, of course, was a mere flat boarding, 
or casing, at the sides and top of the opening. In 
many of the seventeenth-century buildings, any- 
thing more than this was not possible. In one-story 

[11] 



DOORWAYS 



houses, the top of the entrance was only a few inches 
below the eaves, and in many two-story houses the 
lintel was just below the overhang of the second 
story. As the use of the overhang was common in 
the seventeenth century, we must assume that the 
ornamental doorway was quite infrequent in that 
period. There are, however, houses of that time 
with more or less elaborate doorways. In not a 
few cases it is found that, at some later time and 
perhaps to make an ornamental doorway possible, 
the face line of the projecting second story has been 
carried down to the ground, thus giving a uniform 
surface to the whole front. This was done, for in- 
stance, on the House of Seven Gables, in Salem. 
The practice, probably not at all uncommon, often 
accounts for an apparent discrepancy between the 
age of a house and the design of its doorway. 

But, after all, few of us care very much about 
the architectural technicalities of these charming 
relics of the days of our ancestors. We are told 
that this house or that has "chamfered beams," 
and we must go to a specialist or to the dictionary 
to find the meaning of the term. We are told that 
the early New England architecture perpetuates 
the "half-timber" method of house construction 

[12] 



DOORWAYS 



common enough in old England. But most of us 
care little and know less about that. Our interest 
lies far more in the picturesque or the historical 
features. Regarded as ornamental doorways only, 
most of us doubtless find more interest in the elab- 
orate and graceful porched entrances of the later 
Georgian period than we do in the simpler types of 
the early Georgian, a difference illustrated, perhaps, 
by Salem or Portsmouth as compared with such 
places as Warren, Wickford, or Guilford. Both 
groups have their own particular charm, but the 
latter greatly exceed the former both in number 
and in variety of design. 

It is a fair inference that people built houses 
with ornamental doorways, or added such door- 
ways to houses already built, because it was fashion- 
able; because their neighbors had them. This is 
clearly indicated, in a number of areas, by the use 
of the same or similar designs on houses of different 
ages. In his Essay on Building, Lord Bacon de- 
clared that "Houses are built to live in, and not to 
look on." This view appears to have been endorsed, 
generally, by the Americans of the seventeenth cen- 
tury. Their houses were of simple, rectangular 
lines. Their doorways were mere openings, arranged 
[I3l 




DOORWAYS 



for convenience, and without embellishment. They 
were openings affording passage through outside or 
inside walls. This was not because all were poor, 
and could afford no decoration. Many were quite 
well-to-do. It was the custom of the place and time. 
Simplicity was the fashion in garb and in house. 
This prevailed for nearly a hundred years, although 
there was a gradual lessening of its force, more par- 
ticularly in the matter of apparel. But, in the early 
years of the eighteenth century, the Baconian idea 
was somewhat disputed. A certain attention was 
paid to the house from the standpoint of those who 
might "look on" it. The decoration of house-fronts 
by means of an ornamental doorway became steadily 
a common practice. The simple rectangle of the 
building itself persisted and the decorative doorway 
really served to enhance the charming simplicity 
of the structure. A little later, this extended to 
a simple but effective decoration above the window- 
openings, and, still later, to somewhat elaborate 
and ornate cornices. An occasional oddity appeared, 
as in the case of the House of Seven Gables, but for 
nearly two hundred years the New England fashion 
in houses was the simple type of rectangular build- 
ing with doorway, window-opening, and cornice 

[14] 



■•- -J. 



DOORWAYS 



decoration, sometimes singly and sometimes in com- 
bination. The city "mansions" of the later Geor- 
gian period differed from their predecessors only 
in size and elaborateness of portal and other decora- 
tion. 

So many old houses have disappeared leaving 
behind them no plans, no working drawings, and 
no pictures, that it is difficult if not impossible to 
fix with any exactness the beginning of what may 
be called the "porch period.'' There are many old 
houses with a porch projecting from above the door- 
way. Many of these are a part of the original struc- 
ture; probably most of them are. But many are 
of a date long after that of the building of the house. 
The two sections of New England in which may be 
found the greatest number of old houses and old 
doorways are, broadly, eastern Massachusetts and 
western Connecticut. These were the fields of the 
largest of the early settlements. I have made no 
count of the individual cases, but my impression, 
amounting almost to a conviction, is that the porch 
is common in Connecticut and unusual in Massa- 
chusetts. This is in reference to old and not to mod- 
cm houses. At some undetermined time, the Mas- 
sachusetts area adopted the recessed doorway, some- 

I15] 



DOORWAYS 



what unusual in the Connecticut area, and serving 
the purpose of the porch, namely, shelter for one 
who might have to wait for entrance. Before the 
use of these devices, the user of the doorway, on a 
rainy day, was obliged to stand in the dripping from 
the roof, not in early days provided with metal 
gutters nor, in many cases, even with a wooden 
trough. The porch and the recessed door also af- 
forded their measure of protection from the rays 
of a hot summer sun. The physical reason for their 
construction is obvious, but we may assume that 
they were also regarded as ornamental. 

In not infrequent cases, a porch appears hiding, 
largely, an elaborate doorway. In most instances 
of that kind, we may infer that the sheltering porch 
is an addition of somewhat later date than the erec- 
tion of the house, or of its adornment by an orna- 
mental entrance. Most, though by no means all, 
of these porches are narrow, barely more than the 
width of the door itself. Frequently, where the 
door has side-lights, the porch includes them. These 
little projections afford an interest even aside from 
the doorways. All may seem quite alike to the care- 
less observer, but their variations are many, almost 
endless. Many village houses built in the last half 

[i6] 



DOORWAYS 



of the nineteenth century show a small canopy pro- 
jecting above the entrance and supported by brackets 
instead of columns, but this device is not often found 
on the older houses. While other shapes are not 
unusual, the more common form was pyramidal, 
a small gable with pilasters on the house wall and 
columns at its outer end. The columns vary in 
design; round, square, fluted, with plain and with 
decorated capitals, with and without pedestals. 
In both the gable and the other designs, there is 
wide variety. The flat entablature runs all the way 
from the severely plain to the elaborate, with dentils 
and carved frieze. In the gable, or pyramidal, type 
the inner line or ceiling may follow the slope of the 
outer line, or it may be arched. Not infrequently, 
it is flat, the face of the pediment showing the con- 
ventional "tympanum." They frequently show 
some simple decoration, dentils or a device of the 
Grecian Doric order, or both. From such informa- 
tion as I have been able to gather from professional 
sources, it would appear that while porches were 
used to some extent prior to that time, the device 
did not come into any general use until the early 
years of the nineteenth century. The veranda, 
frequently miscalled the "piazza," is of a later date. 

[17] 



DOORWAYS 



It is now regarded as an almost indispensable feature 
of a house in the country, whether large or small, 
but our forefathers got along without them for some- 
thing like two hundred years. 

The lights around the doors are another interest- 
ing study. The name given to the light above the 
door, "fan-light," because of its shape, like a lady's 
fan, would seem to indicate that as one of the earliest 
patterns used. In many of the older houses of one 
story, and in not a few of those of two stories, the 
door opened immediately into a room. In many, 
and in probably most, of the two-story buildings 
it opened into a little box of a hall, six feet or so 
square. A part of this was occupied by a narrow 
and' steep stairway proceeding by angular turns to 
the floor above. The early custom of building a 
house around a middle chimney, with fireplaces in 
the rooms about it, prohibited the use of a central 
or spacious hallway. The fan-light was evidently 
adopted as a means of lighting, to some extent, the 
little box that served the double purpose of an en- 
trance-hall and a place for a stairway. In the more 
modest structures, a row of small panes, usually 
rectangular, afforded the desired lighting. When 
in the form of a segment of a circle, the fan-light is 

[i8] 




DOORWAYS 



often an ornamental design, of simple but graceful 
lines, the glass usually set in lead. Side-lights were 
much less commonly used than fan-lights. They 
range from panes of common glass, arranged ver- 
tically, to ornamental designs. Not infrequently, 
they appear in combination with fan-lights. A 
modern improvement in the lighting of these little 
hallways is found in the use of doors with glass 
panels instead of wood. 

Salem is probably the most widely known and 
best advertised field for hunters of Old New England 
doorways, but Portsmouth is quite inclined to re- 
gard itself as, at least, a rival claimant for the honor 
of presenting the most and the best. These hold 
their pre-eminence mainly by reason of the portals 
of houses built after the Revolution, although some 
of the "mansion houses" of both were built prior 
to that event. But there are other centres, some^ 
what less well known, that are, in their way, quite 
as interesting as Salem or Portsmouth. There are 
a number of excellent examples in Providence, and 
there are many in the near neighborhood of that 
city. Somewhat to my surprise, Newport had little 
to offer. In earlier days, there must have been many 
in that city, notable as it has been for many years 

I19J 



DOORWAYS 



as a centre of wealth and fashion. The modem 
multimillionaires who have built their costly palaces 
along the shore did not make the place. In the 
years immediately preceding the Revolution, New- 
port was a busy and highly prosperous conmiercial 
centre, with rich merchants who built for them- 
selves houses that were more or less palatial in their 
day and time. Most of those buildings are now 
gone, and most of those that still remain show little 
sign of their earlier grandeur. But some of the 
towns in the vicinity of Newport are fruitful fields 
for doorway-hunters. Many excellent designs may 
be seen in Warren, Bristol, Wickford, and a few 
other places. Most of them, however, are of the 
simpler type, that is, pilasters w^ith entablatures or 
pediments rather than the built-out porches with 
both pilasters and columns such as appear on many 
of the later Georgian mansions. 

Most of the cities of New England occupy the 
ground on which stood the villages of the seven- 
teenth and eighteenth centuries. The old village 
site is, in most of them, covered by modern struc- 
tures of brick and stone and steel. Here and there 
stand a few old houses that, when they were built, 
were on the outskirts of the village. But, aside 

[20] 



.!_-ii :i 



DOORWAYS 



from >uch \\ell-knc»\x'n nelds as Salem and I\»rt>- 
mc»uth, the larirer cities have little to show in the 
way of L^ld-time d'X~^rv\ays. The best centres, in 
my experience, are the towns and villages of early 
settlement. But even such places present the charm 
of uncenainty. There are old towns with old-time 
houses but with few or no interesting doorways. 
From various excursions, my conclusion is that the 
Connecticut valley from the Sound to the Vermont 
line is, on the whole, the most fruitful area. Inas- 
much, however, as that rield covers approximately 
four thousand square miles, the difficulty of cover- 
ing it exhaustively is obvious. The northeastern 
quarter of Massachusetts, with excursions across 
the border into southern New Hampshire, is another 
good hunting-ground. So, also, is little Rhode Is- 
land, which Doctor Holmes declared to be '' a small 
but delightful State in the neighborhood of Paw- 
tucket." 

But the pleasure of hunting for old doorways 
in New England lies almost as much in the search 
as in the discovers 



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