Georgian Architectural Styles appear on Prince Edward Island – Part 1
A Plethora of Architectural Style Names: Georgian, Neoclassical, Palladian and Picturesque.
For the beginner in the study of domestic, and more imposing, architectural styles in British Colonial Canada, the list of names they quickly encounter can be intimidating and off-putting.
Georgian refers to the period, 1714 – 1830, when the Hanoverian kings called George – all four of them – reigned. The period is extended seven more years, 1830-37, when William IV reigned, and which continued the Georgian style up to the time of Queen Victoria who came to the throne in 1837.
Neoclassical refers to the practice, inherited from the Renaissance and Baroque ages to build structures and apply decoration based on the art and architecture of Greece and Rome promoted by architects in practice and by their publications.
Palladian refers to a particular version of Neoclassical detail that appeared around 1550 in the architecture of Andrea Palladio. Starting around 1725, and promoted by Lord Burlington and others, it spread through Britain and Europe so extensively as to push aside older traditions that were not based on strict symmetry and Roman temple characteristics. These consisted of a heavy base or podium, a temple portico or porch and a square or rectangular two-storey structure often topped with a dome or cupola.
Picturesque is an offshoot of Palladianism that extends from the main house, often with lateral wings, into a vast, often deliberately constructed landscape gardens that brought to mind the paintings of the Seventeenth Century painters Claude Lorraine and Nicolas Poussin.
To clarify the story of the styles I will deal separately with the Central Plan House, the Frontispiece House, the Gable End House and the urban phenomenon of the Row House.
This first post is divided into two parts because of its length.
The Central Plan House – Part 1
In my last post I discussed how the Georgian neo-Palladian style originated, developed in England, and was brought to the North American colonies by officials and settlers who were influenced by popular publications on how to establish yourself elegantly in the country. I introduced you to this most rare and extraordinary document in the Public Archives, an engraved estate plan, arranged in the European style, that depicted in detail not only the house built by Robert Grey who had come to the Island in 1787, but his whole estate as well.
Spring Park House
It was around 1810 that Colonel Grey gained possession of a very large piece of land in the Charlottetown Common and cutting into the Royalty which became his estate of over 76 acres. Imagine such an impact on the topography of the city of Charlottetown that this must have made, taking out of circulation all those acres originally set aside by the Surveyor Thomas Wright for the use of the citizens of the city where they might have pasturage and space for gardens.
Spring Park Estate, Royalty Map from Meacham’s ATLAS, 1880.
This growing tendency on the part of colonial administrators to deal with a free hand in the distribution of choice estates in both the Common and the Royalties is distressing in its contempt for the supposed rights of the citizens, but, if it has a good side, it presented at a quite early stage in the city’s development a dramatic example of how an estate in the colony might be arranged so that others might be inspired in developing their own grants of land.
Where, at this time, when Charlottetown was still a scruffy collection of perhaps two dozen small log and frame houses in muddy streets, would a man of substance go for a design not only for a grand house, but also an articulated plan for a town estate in the newly fashionable Picturesque style?
John Plaw (perhaps), A Plan of Spring Park in Prince Edward Island, The Property of Robert Grey Esqr., engraving, 44x35cm, PARO 0642.
John Plaw Appears
In 1807, John Plaw (1745-1820), a fashionable London architect who promoted the Picturesque style of building, emigrated with his family to Prince Edward Island, where, except for trips to Nova Scotia, he would remain until his death in 1820. In architectural history Plaw is remembered for three elegant pattern books which were reprinted in facsimile in 1971 and ’72. They are, Rural Architecture; or Designs from the Simple Cottage to the Decorated Villa, Ferme Ornée or Rural Improvements and Sketches for Country Houses, Villas, and Rural Dwellings.
There is a well-known list of buildings Plaw designed for Charlottetown including a proposal for a jail in 1809, a courthouse in 1810, an eccentric building for the English firm of Waters and Birnie, and a round market building for Queen’s Square in 1819. No list of his private commissions during his early years survives so it is not unreasonable to suppose that the wealthy and influential would have approached him not only for house plans but also for the articulation of small yet substantial estates within the Royalties and Common of Charlottetown. Plaw needed money, and work of this kind would have been vital in supporting his family.
It has always seemed likely to me that Plaw had a hand in designing the houses and estates of both Spring Park and Belmont. He was in the right place at the right time, had advanced surveying skills and was the freshly arrived arbiter of taste from London. He was also a skilled graphic artist, having engraved many of the plates in his own published works. People like the Greys and Wrights must have been hanging onto his coat tails to have him come and set them up in the proper fashionable English style of the day.
Spring Park was very grand, and the conceptual drawing of the house above may well have been modified to make it even grander. From using a known dimension like the width of a window, and a ruler, I tentatively suggest that the house was about 32 feet wide. There might, like at Belmont, have been a veranda from which to contemplate the beauty of the grounds with their streams and reflecting pond. The door seen in the detail above is not the one that could be seen just before the house was demolished. It was certainly not part of the Italian Revival changes done in the 1870s but was much earlier, dating, in my opinion, to the time of the original construction.
To go with this grand door was an impressive formal vestibule, separated from the rest of the hallway where the grand staircase was located by an elliptical arch supported by brackets or modillions. This was very elegant; very Plaw. The ceiling above the vestibule had been coffered by the addition of a fine cornice that defined this formal space even more clearly. In the centre there was an ornamental plaster rose from which hung the chandelier.
No plan of Spring Park exists but the fact that the two great chimney stacks were placed against the end walls tells us how the interior of the house could have been articulated.
Chimneys are very versatile structures and what you see protruding out of the roof of a house need not be expected to descend in a straight line to the basement foundation. For many centuries brick chimneys have been known to climb on a diagonal halfway down from the roof, or using the corbelling technique, split and go down into separate rooms far below.
Duldregan, Hawkesbury, 1821. Adapted from MacRae and Adamson – p 232.
If this were the case at Spring park, it is possible to assume that there would have been four fireplaces on the ground floor, one a complicated structure with an attached oven in the kitchen. This plan above is adapted from such a house built in Ontario. Only one chimney would have protruded from the roof at each end.
The Grounds at Spring Park
In the manner of traditional estate plans – this one the first of its kind on the Island – on the engraved plan the property is drawn to scale, with dimensions and acreage, with fields and woodland all identified and named, as if it had been in this place, in English hands, for centuries. So important do I consider this precious battered document to be that I provide you with a pdf of the full-size document so that you can study it in great detail and with pleasure.
High resolution file of the estate map:
Spring Park Estate – PARO 0642
Here is how Grey’s 76 acres of the Charlottetown Common – and a bit of the Royalty – were divided. Note how carefully the various fields and open spaces are named in an intimate fashion as if the owner or designer had been aware of every square inch of these 76 acres: Orchard in Wood; Home Mead; Hatchet Meadow; Farther Meadow, Little Mead and Clover Mead. It is not surprising that in later years the grounds were opened to the public as a sort of great public park for such things as church picnics.
Here is the area of the house, with its ornamental drive and lawns, outbuildings, garden and orchard. The drive has survived to this day as Duvar Crescent. Roads penetrate the wilderness to bring order to chaos, and to provide pleasant vistas of this beautiful property.
And here is a detail of the map showing the location of the spring that gave the estate its name.
The stream has been dammed to produce a reflecting pool or picturesque pond as part of the highly controlled design of the estate. When the next great estate, Government House, was mapped by George Wright in 1847, a similar attention to every farm and landscape detail was carefully shown.
After Colonel Grey died his family rented to a number of prominent people. In 1856 the Greys parted with the property, selling it to the pharmacist Theophilus DesBrisay. For some strange reason he changed the name of the estate to De La Cour Place, a family name which did not outlive him.
When the Italianate Revival in architectural styles came to Charlottetown at the end of the 1860s Spring Park was changed into an Italianate house with a hipped roof, new paired large-paned windows, and a large classical porch. All the original architectural features of the house, such as eaves, corner boards, window and door frames and even doors had been removed and replaced by the models fashionable at that time. As a result we do not know what the exterior of Spring Park House looked like when it was built, but we can compare it with is contemporary, Belmont House in East Royalty, which still has most of its exterior details intact. I have a suspicion that the front door, with its little Palladian semi-round transom, was the initial idea. From my examination of the great front door before the house was demolished I venture to believe that the door was the original one, more like Belmont, with side lights and a rectangular transom to bring light into the large entrance hall.
When I first saw Spring Park in the early 1980s it had become a cheap battered tenement house, like other once great houses in the city. What was left of the original estate caught the eyes of developers and by 1996 its fate was sealed. In spite of the most energetic efforts of the great heritage activist Catherine Hennessey, Spring Park was torn to the ground. What a tragic end for the great estate of a great man who brought to Charlottetown his dream of an English country estate and who made it come true, in every way, even to producing an exquisite, engraved map to move us deeply, and to instruct us.
The Grey House in its last manifestation, before it was demolished in 1996.
At some time more material on Spring Park house may emerge from unexpected sources that will tell me more about this great Charlottetown house and correct any errors introduced by my speculations. It remains a monument deserving great admiration and more study.
This is the area of Spring Park Estate as it has been absorbed by the city of Charlottetown. When it was demolished in 1996 it had the street name of 8 and 10 Duvar Court.
Map and aerial photo are courtesy of Google Maps.
The Hon. George Wright (1779-1842) was a surveyor, colonial administrator, had a role in the military, the law and was also a businessman. He married a woman called Phoebe Cambridge (1780-1851) whose parents were landowners and businessmen. Wright and Cambridge had dammed the powerful stream at Wright’s Creek and there they built a brewery and carding and grist milling operations. By 1813 the Wright family was in complete control of the various businesses. Two Royalty lots, 207 and 209, also were transferred to the Wrights and it is upon this that the estate house and farm were built.
We have a credible hint of when the house was built, and it involves examining the birth sequence of three children. The first two, born in 1809 and 1810 do not have a birthplace recorded, but for the third one, born in 1812 the birthplace is listed as Belmont Farm. A date of 1812 is quite credible and the house and even though adorned with an open second storey pediment and a fashionable picturesque veranda, is very similar to Robert Grey’s house, Spring Park, built at about the same time. Perhaps the houses, and the picturesque layout of their grounds and farmland were planned by the same individual, John Plaw, the great English architect of the Picturesque who had resettled with his family in Charlottetown in 1807.
Detail of a large lithographic illustration of the Belmont estate taken from Meacham’s 1880 ATLAS, p. 29.
Detail from Map of the Charlottetown Royalty, Meacham’s ATLAS 1880, p. 144.
The present dimensions of the house are 54 x 38 feet. When the house was planned it was decided to put a tall open portico over the front entrance and build verandas to the corners. The present depth of the veranda is 8 feet. Twenty-two years after Belmont was built the width of the veranda at Government House was only 6 feet. Is the wide veranda a Victorian addition? It would be worthwhile to measure the width of the portico entablature to determine its width. In correct practice the top columns should rest directly on the bottom ones. Today that is off by about 2 feet.
Architects like John Plaw used verandas of varying kinds in their designs, and they were associated with a rustic location. The earliest image we have of the house is from the large view of the estate that appeared in Meacham’s ATLAS in 1880.
Detail from Meacham’s ATLAS, 1880, p. 29.
This is how the house was built. It consists of a five bay façade and this is reflected on the second level. However the lower level, above the floor of the veranda, consists of only three bays, framing the door and the windows that flank it. Like the window in the portico above, these windows are almost double the width of the others on the rest of the house. Because the placement of the veranda columns had to match the proportions established by the main portico, there was room only for three bays on the veranda. These bays made it necessary that the responding elements on the ground floor wall could only be three in number and had to be large enough to appear framed by the openings. It is a powerful argument for the assumption that verandas were included as part of the original design.
The origins of the word veranda seem to date from 1711 and are a bit complex. “Veranda, in architecture, [is] most frequently, an open-walled, roofed porch attached to the exterior of a domestic structure and usually surrounded by a railing. The word came into English through the Hindi varanda, but it is related to the Spanish baranda, meaning “railing,” and thus most likely entered Hindi via Portuguese explorers of India” (Britanica.com).
This photocopy of a very battered early Twentieth Century photo from the internet shows Belmont with a completely modified veranda, consisting of Romantic-style trellised overlays attached to the original pairs of Tuscan Doric colonettes that supported the veranda.
Earliest known photograph of Belmont, probably 1920s. From the internet.
The portico, sitting on top of the veranda, continues to be supported by its original paired colonettes. The fancy woodwork of the veranda is a much later addition, certainly added after 1880, when such trellised designs had been appearing in American pattern books for over a generation. It is an old-fashioned design and it seems to have lasted at least until this photo was taken in the 1920s.
Time passes and styles change and in this later, perhaps 1930-40 view of the house, we see that the cedar pole fence on the right is gone and that a car track now comes up from Belmont Road, passes the house on the left and continues to the lane that leads to the Saint Peter’s Road. The Victorian-inspired veranda has been stripped away and the original pairs of Tuscan Doric columns have been revealed again, revealing the original widely spaced colonnade.
We can conclude that the portico and veranda are original, perhaps meant to be seen as a colonnade topped by a pedimented portico, and the attempt to turn it into a veranda in the late Victorian period was in response to new Romantic styles that were appearing in many American books starting in the 1840s with the designs of architects like Andrew Jackson Downing.
Although the present veranda and portico have been rebuilt in recent times, perhaps as recent as the 1950-60 period, they reflect the proportions of what we see in that very blurred and fragmented early photograph. The upper part of the portico has been changed into a balcony by substituting paired doors for the window that once matched those below. A guard rail has also been added.
The veranda or colonnade consists of paired slender Tuscan Doric columns. In the centre bay they are stacked and form the support for the pediment and entablature. In normal classical practice the upper columns should rest directly on top of the ones below. This is no longer the case as the veranda has been extended outward. One assumes this is a later change, departing from tradition to have a wider veranda. Perhaps this was done when the veranda supports were completely covered with fashionable trellises in the late Victorian period.
The capitals of the columns are very fine. We assume that these are originals although there is no documentary proof that this is the case. At any rate, they are correct.
The window frames are treated as miniature temple fronts with a base, pilasters which are topped with an entablature. This is typical Georgian practice and may be found on many Island houses of that period. It is not unique to Belmont.
These details, when the trim was dark green, show more of the frame elements.
The internal proportions of the façade have been greatly harmed by the addition of the two picture windows at the second-floor level. They were probably installed at the same time the veranda and portico were rebuilt. Nonetheless the sheer perfectly proportioned volume of the building completely dominates its present landscape, sadly consisting of modern housing developments. The fields are gone but their memory and implied presence are still very much there.
The eaves have been stripped of their original cladding and all has been replaced with plastic siding. In the process of doing this the flat modillions that had been there originally were ripped out. Their base is still easily visible.
The pilasters, which we now associate with the island Greek Revival style, are like those found on a dozen or so buildings in the area of Charlottetown. The heavy stiles enclose a floating panel, exactly like on a traditional door. Their use on Belmont links the design to John Plaw, who first introduced it on his 1811 Courthouse in Queen’s Square. Isaac Smith would adopt this pilaster with modillion design as his response to the Greek Revival style that would soon sweep through the region in the 1830s.
In this detail you see a break of panel, base and resumption of panel – all very complicated – just to mark the original location of the line of the veranda roof and the base of the upper portico. Classical architecture is full of demands that must be met if the elements of the style are to be correctly realised.
The formal door to Belmont is located on the garden façade. To increase the monumentality of this principal door, there is a transom window with delicate curved muntin bars that enclose clear glass. The door itself is given treatment identical to the monumental window frames with pilasters standing on a block base leading to an architrave or frieze course marked out by the thin semi-circular moulding called an astragal, and all topped with a cornice made up of mouldings that frame an S-curve profile called a cyma.
Flanking the door are sidelights, also given full architectural treatment to increase their impact upon the visitor. The whole arrangement is a break-up of the now accepted Palladian window to give it monumentality.
The door leads through a central hallway that goes right through the house, interrupted only by a grand staircase. I do not have a floor plan of Belmont but offer, for the time being, a generic central plan/central hall house plan that shows the arrangement of the hall
It also shows how the two great chimney stacks, in the centre of each of the flanking rooms of the house, break up the space and provide fireplaces for four rooms. In this diagram the room divisions have not been indicated.
After Kalman, p. 104.
In the manner of all these early Georgian houses the stair rail terminates by curling in upon itself. On a larger scale the lowest step does the same thing. When we come, a little further on, to the Peake house of 1836, you may be surprised to discover that the bottom stone step of the front door, at street level, also curls in upon itself. We also see this design feature at the bottom of staircase newel posts in dozens of other Island houses from this period. What is the origin of this decorative detail?
I think it is connected – way back – to a staircase Michelangelo designed in Florence, where there was a fluid design on the stair edges. One can argue. 🙂
When we come to the top of the stairs at Belmont, we are overcome by a huge Palladian window that takes up most of the wall space. It is very dramatic and carries the formality of the downstairs hall, with its massive door and arch mouldings up to the second floor.
Seen from the outside, above the door of the house facing the main highway and the entrance to the barnyard, the window in the wall has a function like that of the front portico, but on a lesser scale as befits the inferior façade of the house.
The Formal Rooms
Only the most limited access to Belmont has been provided to me because it is now a tenement house with all the rooms rented separately. However, I was extremely fortunate to receive a gracious reception when I knocked on a door in the large vestibule of the house. The door led into what must have been at one time a sitting room or drawing room. STILL INTACT!!! was the mantelpiece that had once dominated the fireplace and chimney front. To my surprise enormous trouble had gone into making IONIC columns to support the mantel shelf.
The Ionic style cannot be turned on a lathe like the Tuscan Doric capital but must be carved out of a block of wood that has been carefully shaped and with the pattern of the capital, with its two volutes, carefully pencilled in. From then on it is chisel work with a bit of saw work along the outside curves.
The finished capital must then be attached to a thick pilaster which serves as the column shaft so that both Ionic columns can support the mantel shelf, in this case, quite thick plank. The column shaft is fluted, that is, semi-circular grooves have been cut in parallel fashion, because the Ionic style required that. This too is careful and demanding work. Unfortunately, the base of the column was obscured by the tenant’s personal property, and I was too shy to as if I could see it.
At times extraordinary coincidences happen and recently, at an auction, my friend Claude Arsenault came across this mantlepiece which he immediately bought. It is highly likely that it has been ripped out of Belmont House in recent renovations.
Here you can see in this detail all the elements of the Ionic mantelpiece in Belmont House. As required, the column has been fluted, or had parallel grooves cut into it, as is the style, and the base has traditional mouldings similar to the ones you see in this detail from an Eighteenth-Century plate illustrating the Ionic order.
Detail from Julien David LeRoy, Les ruines plus beaux des monuments de la Grèce, Paris, 1758 (Plate XX)
How these rooms were used
Today our formal or living rooms are filled with furniture that for the most part is stationery. It always in the same place. Back in the time when Belmont was built, fixed positions for articles of furniture did not yet exist. That would come a generation later in the mid-Victorian period. In the early 1800s a pair of armchairs might flank the fireplace, which was the only source of heat for the entire room. It would be necessary to have a small, light movable table or tables that could be used for a variety of purposes – for writing, teacups, or glasses, or as candlestick stands. If a group activity was planned near the fire, such as playing cards, a suitable table, often of the tilt-top variety, would be set up and chairs brought away from the wall where they were stored. This should be kept in mind, and such books as The World of Mary Ellen Best by Caroline Davidson should be studied to “get the feel” of an early Nineteenth Century interior.
From the ground, and from the air, the sight of Belmont today is very sad. Except for the great plantation of Royalty Oaks nearby all the rich fields have been filled with modern development, all jammed together in a very constipated fashion. Belmont itself is shoved aside by a completely featureless modern apartment house.
The Mormon Temple is at the back door. Confusion reigns supreme. All sense of history, landscape and scale has disappeared in the most wildly irrational fashion. Dog training, glorious ancient oaks and the Book of Mormon are only a few hundred yards apart.
Somehow, in this monument to topographical confusion, the mind that planned this great estate in the most beautiful landscape possible, caressed by Wright’s Creek and the rolling fields, reappears – for the briefest of moments – when you stand in front of the house. Even when seen with Google’s curious distorting eye, for a few seconds, Belmont lives again.
Photo: Google Maps
The Coming of the Loyalists
The American Revolution (1775-1883) caused a great split in the loyalty of the British colonists who had settled in America since the Seventeenth Century. Those who chose to fight for Britain in this struggle were promised all sorts of things, and in the end, it came down to land for settlement in British North America, particularly in areas that had been developed by the French and Acadians before they were deported.
Some went to Ontario and Quebec where there was lots of land next to good water transportation but many others were attracted, or led, to areas of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.
The Island was a new experimental colony, planned to the very last detail of where settlements were located, and also the manner in which these farms would be controlled. Everything was planned on the archaic and obsolete feudal system of landlord and tenant. The tenants had little hope of ever owning their land but had to develop it in order to live on it and to pay a yearly rent usually with labour, produce and stock.
Walter Patterson, the first Governor of the Island of Saint John, was terribly eager to attract colonists to the Island because the process of colonisation that existed had slowed down to the point where the future of the colony was uncertain. Having persuaded the landlords to give up one quarter of their holdings as bait to attract Loyalists, who had excellent reputations as colonists, he circulated this plea across the country.
Whereas the Proprietors of this Island have very generously given up a considerable portion of their estates to be distributed among such of the Refugees, Provincial Troops or other American Emigrants as are desirous to become its inhabitants, the lands to be granted by the Governor and Council in the same proportion and on the same terms as are offered in Nova Scotia, and to be given out of the different townships by Lot, in the fairest and most equitable manner, according to the quantity assigned for by each proprietor … in a few days after [the Refugees’] arrival at Charlottetown, they shall be put in possession of such lands, as they shall be entitled to, free of every expense. That they may depend upon the lands being good, neither mountainous, rocky nor swampy, contiguous to navigable harbours, many ports convenient for the fishery, and in every respect preferable to any lands unoccupied throughout His Majesty’s American Dominion.
Shelburne, Nova Scotia eventually became a point of departure for Loyalists and disbanded troops and in 1784 about 800-1000 civilians and military personnel came to the Island looking for land grants. About 208 such grants were made to disbanded troops who preferred the eastern part of the Island for the fishing and farming available there.
In 1784 and 1785 153 civilian Loyalists received grants and they were located in the western part of the Island, in the area of the old French/Mi’kmaq settlement of Bedeque. Here are the maps of the Lots where Loyalists settled in Prince County. Full size compressed pdf files of these huge maps are available below.
Maps of Lots 26, 26 and 27 from Meacham’s 1880 ATLAS.
Lot 25 and 26 – Meacham 18800186
Very soon problems developed in a number of places when proprietors refused to give up title to the land they had promised to Patterson, wanting the Loyalists to become tenants. This caused a major uproar, and many left the Island. This was only solved in 1793 and by that time potential colonists of the best possible quality sought their fortunes elsewhere.
1807 – The Nathaniel Wright House, Bedeque
We do not know who the first Loyalists were who tried to obtain land grants in Bedeque. The soil was good, having been drained and cleared by the Acadians and transportation by water was excellent. The first group of Loyalists arrived from Shelburne, Nova Scotia in 1784. Arrangements were made with the Colonial government that lots of land could be bought in that area at $2 per acre.
Nathaniel Wright (1765-1825) was born in Westchester County, New York and during the Revolution served in the British militia. After the war he arrived in Shelburne and made his way to Saint John’s Island, arriving on July 26, 1784 when he was given a land grant of 300 acres in Prince County. One portion was on the south side of the Dunk River and consisted of 150 acres. The balance of the grant was on the boundary between Lots 25 and 26. He chose not to settle in the Bedeque area but moved to Tryon where his father was already established. According to Laird (p 13 ff) life in Tryon was very jolly and Nathaniel’s home had partitions removed so that there could be a large space for frolics and dances. At that time, he was still a bachelor, but in 1788 he married Nancy Lord of Tryon and soon they had seven children. In 1807 he left Tryon and settled on his land in Bedeque, south of the Dunk River, which can be seen in this Meacham map of Centreville, in 1880 listed as belonging now to Murdoch McLeod.
Detail of Centreville, Meacham’s ATLAS, p. 31.
The reason for this move is not entirely clear but it may be connected to the possibility of losing a land grant that had not been settled and developed. Apparently his wife’s sisters had also moved to Bedeque and that may have increased the attraction of the place. It is believed that he built this house at that time.
Nathaniel Wright house as it appeared in 2010. Address: 1214 Callbeck Street, Route 171, Bedeque
The house is a central hall three-bay building, a storey and a half with two chimneys each serving half of the house. A gabled porch, original to the house, or of considerable antiquity, protects the front door.
A spacious hall with an elegant staircase, with the banister and bottom step terminating with the volute design I described earlier in this post, leads up to an equally spacious upstairs hall.
This hall celebrates a very important moment in the history of all the storey and a half houses. You may recall from earlier posts that central chimney hallways were tiny because of the huge chimney, and had no light. When the central chimney was abandoned and chimneys in the sections on either side introduced, there was much more space in which to move around, but it was still a dark space. At what I consider a critical moment in the evolution of the central plan house, somebody got the idea to insert a small window in the back hallway in the space allowed by the line of the floor and the rise of the gabled roof. There, contrary to centuries of convention, a small sash window was installed that provided both light and ventilation. This is what you see in this photo, even if it is partly obscured by a chair. The next great invention, which I will discuss in my next post, was the dormer arrangement that dominated the hall. It provided not only a lot of light but also a new work area that such houses had never known.
The mantelpiece in the sitting room is original and is made of heavy wood plank painted black. Like all other mantles of the time, it is a little temple with two pilasters supporting an entablature made up of a lower narrow architrave, a protruding round moulding or taenia that separates it from a wide frieze. Above the frieze is a compound moulding that forms the cornice, and all this supports a wide plank mantel shelf. It is very masculine and handsome and typical of the Doric style converted from three-dimensional columns to simple plank construction. It is very “carpenter Doric” but all the details are classically correct.
The house is now privately owned by a person who has been carefully restoring it for quite some years. He has consulted extensively with both architectural historians and a restoration expert.
Although the wide corner boards may at first suggest that this is a Greek Revival house built after 1830, that does not appear to be the case. The Greek Revival style on the Island is almost exclusively defined by modillions issuing from the centre of the pilaster and supporting the soffit of the return, such as can be seen in this composite picture.
It is possible that the return, coupled with a wide board that seems to be an extraordinarily wide fascia, is in fact a Doric entablature, an American design brought by the Wrights. Maybe they built what they knew. It is essential that this area of design be explored.
There is a blurry photograph of the Wright house as it appeared when it still looked the way it had been built.
From The Wrights of Bedeque, by Doris Muncey Haslam, 1978. p?
It appeared in The Wrights of Bedeque, a very large, 900-page carefully researched genealogical study by Doris Muncey Haslam published in 1978. In spite of the unclear detail we are able to see that the fascia board running under the eaves is very wide, and equally wide pilasters with central panels reach up from the corners to meet up with it. Pilasters must have capitals, and sadly in this photo they have been painted a dark colour, but it is safe to assume that they were Doric in style. A Doric entablature runs along the entire long side of the house. It is not something one encounters very much in this region, and seldom on the Island. Here is a two storey house from Georgetown, much bigger but with the same Neoclassical style as the Wright house and dating, I think, from the first quarter of the Nineteenth Century. A picture such as this can tell us at once that the Wright house was modelled on this Neoclassical, probably American memory.
Neoclassical house in Georgetown. Early 19th Century.
Here is a detail of such an arrangement on a house in Debert, Nova Scotia. I have always associated it with American models of the early Nineteenth Century.
Corner detail of a house near Debert, Nova Scotia. Photo R. Porter, 1982.
With very little information to go on the present owner of the house has, I think, correctly interpreted the design element of a Doric entablature running below the eaves at the front of the house.
Restoration of an old house that has lost much of its essential detail requires detective work to locate original fragments that can be copied. We should always be guided by drawings of the orders, no matter how far-fetched it seems. As a final word to those who restore a classically-derived part of a building, always go back to the source. Study the parts in direct relationship with what your building is telling you. There will be a moment of insight, and you will know what to do. Here is the source. The questions that came from the Wright house entablature had their answers here.
Photo by Doug Sobey, 2017.
As it stands today the Nathaniel Wright house is a monument to the Loyalist presence in Bedeque and the sense of style with which the owner chose to define his home. It is a most important transitional structure that contains elements of similar houses in America that were replaced by the unique early Nineteenth Century styles of domestic architecture that appeared on the Island during the periods of influence exercised by John Plaw (1807-1820) and Isaac Smith (1817 -1848).
Nathaniel Wright and Methodism
Little did the young Nathaniel Wright and his new wife Nancy Lord know, as they frolicked with gay abandon in the party room in the house at Tryon that one day soon, all that would become a subject of shame and to be exchanged for a more sober existence based on fire and brimstone sermons and the reading of the Bible. The Wrights move to Bedeque coincided with the first sermon given by the celebrated preacher Rev. James Bulpit who had just sailed to the Island in a boat owned by Wright and who went on to Prince County to seek out new converts to Methodism. The first sermon, according to various accounts, was in Wright’s barn. There were very few believers there at that time, perhaps a congregation of only six. In time a chapel would be needed in Bedeque for the growing congregation and after a slow beginning, in 1818 one was finally dedicated on the site of the present United Church in Centerville, on land probably donated by Nathaniel Wright. In this detail from the map of Centreville in the Meacham ATLAS one can see the chapel surrounded by land belonging to Murdoch McLeod which once belonged to Nathaniel Wright.
Nathaniel’s former property is on the right. Detail from the Centreville map in Meacham’s ATLAS.
The chapel, following the strict Methodist custom of building in an Eighteenth Century Neoclassical style, would have been simple, and perhaps similar to the Geddie Memorial Church at Springbrook (1836-37) where, in the bright, most austere interior, adze marks are still to be seen on the gallery posts.
Photo: R. Porter
Nathaniel Wright has certainly left his mark on Bedeque with his transitional style central plan house, with its great Doric entablature and upstairs hall floor level window – the prototype of the dormer window. And the formerly frolicking Nathaniel, once converted, became the Father of Methodism in Prince County.
The next post, The Central Plan House Part 2, will continue our examination of domestic architecture on the Island that favoured the Palladian central plan arrangement.
Roy Campbell for providing before and after photographs of the Wright house.
Faye Pound for obtaining the dimensions of Belmont and Ravenwood.
Doug Sobey for providing information on the Wright House at Bedeque.
Kind persons have provided support for the expenses incurred in producing this blog. I wish to express my deep gratitude to these individuals who have helped me cover the costs of archival scans, photographs, learned journals, books and professional services, and to those who have shared photographs and documents in their collections.
Dr. Edward and Sheila MacDonald
Robert L. Scobie
Dr. Douglas Sobey
__________ The United Empire Loyalists’ Association of Canada, Loyalists of the Maritimes, IV – LOYALIST SETTLEMENT ON PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND, pp. 21-26.
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