In my last post I discussed my visit to New Bern to select and photograph homes. The next part of my research process was to select houses that I would analyze in Williamsburg. Initially I thought I would be able to compare homes of very similar ages but this turned out not to be the case. Although I had selected the oldest homes in New Bern, most were still built significantly later than those of Williamsburg. The homes in New Bern were built in the latter part of the 18th century, while many homes in Williamsburg were built in the early or mid 18th century. Additionally, the New Bern homes were all grand in size, most having two or more stories. In contrast, the majority of homes I researched in Colonial Williamsburg were more modest in size.
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.
This summer I am researching the architecture of historical buildings and how they were perceived at the time of their construction. I’ll be looking at 18th century homes in Colonial Williamsburg as well as in coastal North Carolina. My firsts step in beginning my research process was to meet with Mr. Klee the architectural historian for Colonial Williamsburg. I had the opportunity to meet with him to discuss my project at the end of last semester and he provided me with valuable insights which have guided the direction of my research this summer. My original plan had been to analyze three towns in addition to Colonial Williamsburg but Mr. Klee suggested that this would be too ambitious given the time allotment of the research. Being familiar with both Bath and Beaufort, North Carolina, he warned that Beaufort’s history contains lots of myths and legends mixed in with facts. Sorting through all these stories would make it difficult to decide between fact and fiction. He recommended I just focus on New Bern, the second oldest town in North Carolina, which is the best-documented. My current plan is to compare several structures in New Bern, North Carolina to similar structures found here in Colonial Williamsburg.
Frequently architecture is viewed based on today’s standards. Design, layout, size and appeal are considered in terms of our current society. Through my research project I’m looking at the past — not from a current perspective looking back — but at historical buildings in the context of the society at the time they were built . I’m focusing on the architecture of historical homes in the three oldest towns in North Carolina — Bath, New Bern, and Beaufort. Essentially, I am interested in learning what the architectural composition of the structure can tell us about the society in which it was built. The project seeks to capture the phrase “if walls could talk.” Architectural features of interest include those that signify wealth, those considered beautiful and features of the construction simply meant to be functional. I will study notable features in each town and evaluate their historical purpose. In addition, I will research the architects and builders responsible for constructing each building. Finally, I will explore the differences in these historic homes resulting from the economic status of the owners, the era during which the houses were constructed, and the purpose the home has served over its lifetime, including how this purpose might have in turn shaped its structure. To explore these concepts the study will focus on three houses built during the 18th or 19th century in each of the three towns.