Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Farmhouse is a Genre, Greek Revival a Style

See at end of this post.  This is a 1960s photo of Gov. Fuqua's house at 301 Napoleon Street.  A new photo is at the head of my post here for May 1, 2013.    This photo is in the Baton Rouge collection of the East Baton Rouge Parish Library, Ernest Gueymard Coll., ID Gue089. 
 An Inquiry into Greek Revival in houses down the River Road
I dedicate this post to Wood Grigsby, one of my oldest friends and a native to Southern LaFourche parish, for introducing me to these houses, now nearly 30 years ago, so that some of the Kodachrome shows deterioration, but we took views for the architecture, not for publicity.  I dedicate it also to an even older friend, Pershing Jung, a friend for 60 years now, who in 1990 hunted down a copy of J. Frazer Snith's White Pillars (1941) and sent it to me.
I also must thank J. Michael Desmond, John Sykes, H. Parrott Bacot, George Weaver, and Ervin Dunham for all sorts of help, though none of them knew what I intended to do here!

Another view of the house that Wood Grigsby was personally interested in.


Farther south, in St. Charles Parish as Wood recalls, we saw a much larger Creole farmhouse, yet formally like the one above; its sides are gabled, it is a single story, and it may have a dog-trot hall down the center.  One of the secondary houses at Madewood is quite similar to this one.



That brings us to the wonderful house, Madewood itself, at any rate the one that most impressed me on the day we saw half a dozen.  It is the work of Henry Howard (1818—1884), his earliest known work, since the acquisitions of Thomas Pugh himself date it in the 1840s.  Now, I wouldn't call Henry Howard "forgotten", though J. Frazer Smith, perceptive architect that he was, providing perhaps the best description and appreciation of Madewood, while he knows all the history, does not mention the architect, and the Wikipedia has no biographical entry for Howard.  It is earlier than Woodlawn (demolishd), much earlier than his Belle Grove (burned in 1952 but not before Clarence Laughlin photographed it), while Nottoway (1859) is Italianate rather than Greek Revival in style.  Plainly, Howard's style reveals his early training at the Mechanics Institute in Cork, where he was born, and his being a builder's son.  And he designed Madewood while still in his twenties.
(See Ferguson, John C. "Henry Howard."  In KnowLA, Encyclopedia of Louisiana.  Ed., David Johnson, Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, 29 Jul. 2011.  Web. 23 May 2013.  The National Park Service article on Madewood itself is also excellent)
The above photographs show that Madewood is truly Greek Revival of a distinctively intense kind (comparison with Spiro Kostov, A History of Architecture, OUP, 1985, fig. 22.21a suggests that the young Howard may even have doted on Robert Adam's masterpieces).  It is unlike Louisiana plantation houses, which usually have colonnades on all four sides, a type well established by Robert Adam's own generation in the mid-18th century (see Parlange in Pointe Coupee parish, though built by a Frenchman: Kostov, fig. 24.5a).  Whatever the date of Rienzi Plantation, down by Thibodaux, with its lovely oak trees, or Vacherie's "Oak Alley" (which they called beau séjour), Kostov, fig. 24.27—two other family houses at Vacherie are St. Joseph's and Laura), Rienzi, too, has columns on all four sides.  Yet it is hardly that Madewood is any less prestigious a plantation house than they are.  It simply unites, very deftly, exceptional Greek Revival with the traditional Creole form.
Howard's urban designs in New Orleans are different, so I won't discuss them here.
Pure Greek Revival in Baton Rouge and Marietta Georgia
After heading a general essay with Governor Fuqua's house at 301 Napoleon Street in Beauregard Town, I found one house (and still only one) that is exactly like it, Colonel Brumby's of 1851 in Marietta, GA.  It is tucked away in the plates of the McAlesters' Field Guide, looking quite unlike the other Greek Revival houses there.



The Marietta house (or hall, as they call it), is available on line in an article in MariettaPatch and on several other promotional pages.  Its emphasis on geometrical clarity and on vertical alignment are just like Governor Fuqua's house, despite being Doric (Greek Doric without any column bases, too).  Now, as Erv Dunham pointed out to me, the Fuqua house does not appear on the Sanborn property-insurance maps for 1911 and earlier; they show a house of a very different shape.  On the 1916 map a house rendered as a square with six columns facing Napoleon Street and built close to the northern property line does appear and, evidently, is the Fuqua house still there today.  Now Henry Fuqua's Hardware Company has been in business since 1883.  Then, from 1916 he was also Warden of Angola Prison, where he seems to have made it the rather exceptional institution that it is even now.  He was governor, though an important and estimable one, only for the last two years of his life.  For more, see the Wikipedia, s.v., Henry L. Fuqua and references listed there.  But it is the house that concerns me here.  Erv Dunham suggests that it must have been moved to its present site, as many were.  John Sykes confirms the practice of moving houses, when everything that went into a house made it more economical than the present habit of demolition and rebuilding, and not least in Baton Rouge.  As to the date of the Fuqua house, its very striking resemblance to Colonel Brumby's of 1851 lends credence to what Gov. Fuqua's widow told John Sykes in 1954, that the house was then already a century old.  That is not a document,  of course, and I have seen it dated c. 1835.  
What, finally, is the chance that when Henry Howard went to Georgia he left his mark there, even though during the War he was working for the Confederate war effort?  
Fact is, that thinking of our visiting the River Road plantations in the early 1980s (probably 1983 or 1984), I kept thinking of seeing such pediments there.  When I went to my scanned files I found that indeed it was Madewood that had made me like the Governor's house at sight.
Of course, building in wood the houses in Marietta and Baton Rouge are lighter (and smaller, too).
What makes Greek Revival style so difficult is their working from those wonderful big books, from Thomas Jefferson's using the actually tiny Temple of Athena Nike on the SW bastion of the Athens Acropolis (or was it the not much larger Maison Carrée at Nîmes?), all laid out for him in beautiful engravings, for the Virginia Capitol, just as Robert Adam had used earlier folios of Rome and Pompeii.  One would think that Henry Howard was steeped even as a boy in such books.  His formation is in fact, I think, more Jeffersonian than of Latrobe's kind.  But I can't find pictures of houses by Latrobe.  
I forget who it was who pointed out that the history of architecture is strongly conditioned by the cost of important buildings and building projects and their involving great private wealth when they didn't in fact involve public monies.
So I have spent a lot of time speculating and trying to ground speculation in whatever else I could find. For example: what was going on in Baton Rouge just before war broke out in Europe?  Why are so many things datable c. 1912: the three most prestigious houses in Roseland Terrace (for which we have Mr. Cazadessous' photographs), the eight-story skyscrapter of Mr. Roumain on 3rd Street and his very opulent house at 201 St. Charles in Beauregard Town?  Has it anything to do with the Bayou Sara flood at St. Francisville in 1912?  Could a house be moved the 25 miles, more or less, to Baton Rouge from the Felicianas?  Well, perhaps that's too fanciful.  Was Henry Fuqua's Hardware Company profitable enough (but in 1912 he was 47, the prime of life) to enable him to move such a house from wherever it had been?