Since my last blog post I have traveled to New Bern, North Carolina. I photographed about 10 different structures that were built prior to 1800 and then chose about five that I will examine further. Before I leave campus for the summer I will also choose which five homes in Williamsburg I would like to analyze, and I will photograph those.
At first I thought I would have a difficult time narrowing down which houses I wanted to evaluate. To begin the process, I decided I would only look at homes that were built prior to 1800. From there, I read a bit on the homes to see if they had undergone major renovations. If homes were notably altered, I eliminated them as possibilities as they would no longer be representative of the time they were constructed.
Some of the homes I had chosen were eliminated once I arrived in New Bern and tried to photograph them because it was too difficult to photograph them from public property. I photographed about 10 homes and included what I saw as the best seven at the end of this blog post. Some of these homes were interesting purely from an architectural standpoint, such as the Isaac Taylor House, which is a brick townhouse that looks very different from the many of the other Georgian homes of the time. Additionally, I chose several homes because they had common architects or interesting stories about the home’s occupants.
My next step will be choosing homes in Colonial Williamsburg that can be compared meaningfully to the homes I have documented in New Bern. From the brief research I have already done, many of the homes built in Colonial Williamsburg were built earlier in the 18th century than those in New Bern. One of my goals is to compare homes constructed at the same time. As the houses in New Bern seemed to be built later, I am planning to choose houses in Williamsburg that were built later as well.
I would also like to examine houses from different economic brackets, if possible. In New Bern, most of the houses still standing belonged to wealthy occupants which could be why they were preserved. Although I did find a few smaller houses and outbuildings dating from the 18th century, these homes were heavily altered and enlarged. In New Bern many older homes were demolished in the mid-20th century whereas Williamsburg was more restoration-focused and so a more diverse array of homes may still be standing.
Something I didn’t expect, but also wasn’t surprised by, was the willingness of the people of New Bern to help with the project. If I mentioned my project, store owners jumped in and offered insights about particular homes and also recommended others to speak to. Although I didn’t have time during this visit to talk with many locals, it was great to see how invested the community is in the town’s history.
Another opportunity I wasn’t expecting was being able to enter several of the homes. The Isaac Taylor House, a large brick townhouse located centrally downtown, has an art gallery downstairs. When I entered, several artists were actively painting and had their artwork displayed around the front room downstairs. This opportunity provided me two insights. One was that I got to see the interior of the home. Although I’m not focusing on the interior architecture, having an idea of what the inside of the home looks like can provide me information about the economic status and the tastes of the homeowners. I also had the opportunity to get a glimpse into how the use of the homes has changed over time. In contrast to Colonial Williamsburg where the homes have been restored to an earlier time period, the surviving historic homes of New Bern have been shaped and changed by the decades. As New Bern has grown and changed, the town’s buildings have taken on new purposes. The progression of New Bern compared to the time-encapsulated Williamsburg will surely have important consequences for the research that I am doing. Essentially, the Williamsburg homes can be taken at face-value, more or less. The facades of these structures have been restored to their original 18th century design. In contrast, the homes of New Bern have been modified and expanded since their construction. For instance, the Smith-Whitford House has a Georgian front which was likely original and a Victorian-style porch added to the right side decades later.
In my next blog post I will discuss the Williamsburg houses I’ve chosen to analyze. Additionally, I will meet with Mr. Klee, the architectural historian in Colonial Williamsburg, and discuss my progress and plans for analyzing the houses with him. The last step of my research will be to compare the homes I have chosen in each town. The preliminary steps needed to select the homes has taken longer than I had expected, but I’ve learned a lot more about the towns and their history than I had hoped. Reflecting on the process so far, I can see that some aspects of my project were far more ambitious than I expected. In order to study the individual houses I will need a basic understanding of both the towns and of the architecture of the time period. I’ve gained some of this knowledge along the way, and I’m looking forward to getting into more specific information as it pertains to each house as I go along.