When immigrants settled in the Midwest one of their first priorities was shelter. This might be a log cabin or a small, hastily built frame house. As the family became established in their new home, earned some money and had more children, their original home no longer was sufficient. Some abandoned their old log house and used it as a barn or shed. Others built additions onto their simple home and added fashionable Greek Revival or Victorian ornament to display the family's growing prosperity. Indeed, many Midwestern log cabins and first generation claim shacks survive to this day cocooned in siding and surrounded by later additions.
This presents us with many opportunities to play "house detective" and attempt to determine the history of a particular building. Consider this example: A Greek Revival farmhouse built somewhere in Michigan. Take a look at the photo below and try to be a house detective yourself. How many additions do you see? Which section is the oldest? In what order were they built? See what you can figure out and then continue reading to see if you agree with me
|A ca. 1905 photograph showing a proud Michigan family and their Greek Revival farmhouse.|
Which section is the oldest? It it impossible to say with absolute certainty, but I believe the section to the right is the oldest. The Greek Revival was an early building style popular towards the middle of the 19th century, suggesting it was likely built first around the time of the Civil War. The multi-paned, nine-over-six window glazing is characteristic of the style as are the the fancy gable returns and frieze boards. This section likely had a hall-and-parlor layout with two rooms on the first floor with an entrance situated at the center of one of the sides.
How do I know that the house wasn't built this way originally? Because of the kitchen's wide siding. Although the builder added some Greek style molding along the eaves along with decorative posts on the wash porch, the wide siding suggests it was built at a different time. Furthermore, since there is some wide siding on the story-and-a-half section, this suggests that original, narrow clapboards were removed when the kitchen addition was built. When the new entrance door was added at the right corner they used the new kitchen siding on the older section of the house. The original, centrally located entrance door became the interior door leading to the kitchen addition. Since the kitchen window is also a multi-paned, this time six-over-six, I suspect the kitchen was added fairly early in the house's history.
This leaves us with the section to the left. It is distinct from the kitchen addition due to the narrow, clapboard siding. Although the builder again continued the band of molding across the front and added gable returns, the plain, one-over-one window glazing suggests this was a much later addition. In fact, I suspect this addition was rather late since six-over-six sashes were long out of style and one-over-one sashes common in the 1880s or later. Although it is possible that the window is a replacement of an original, the very simple casing around it suggests a later date.
|One-over-one window sashes with|
So, how did I do? Do you agree with me? If not, post a comment and let me know!
The next time you are driving about in the country, look around and see if you can identify an early farmhouse. Then try your hand at house detective and discover a bit of a family's history.