That Zenith Of Prairie Architecture—the Soddy

Pioneer farmers had neither wood nor brick to build with, but there sure was plenty of good earth

“My father was one of the early homesteaders in Red Willow County, Nebraska. His homestead was located a few miles north of the Kansas line on high, flat divide land. … If he looked toward Kansas, what did he see? He saw nothing but sod. If he looked to the north, what did he see? He saw the sod. In all directions what did he see? He saw the sod. Consequently he used the sod to build his home.” Read more »

A Sweep Of Bridges

“De railroad bridges’s A sad song in de air…”

In 1801 James Finley, a justice of the peace in Pennsylvania, connected towers on both sides of a creek with cables, hung a platform between them, and thereby invented the modern suspension bridge. It seems more than coincidence that this vital structural form had its genesis in Yankee ingenuity, for America, more than any other country, benefited from the engineering conquest of its natural barriers.Read more »

The Carpenter-architects Of Key West

Key West, southernmost city in the mainland United States proper, was also in 1880 the largest and most prosperous city in Florida; by 1930, in dizzying contrast, it had become one of the most depressed areas in the United States. It has suffered not only from recurrent overexpectations—perhaps a national affliction—but from recurrent disasters, both human and natural. The wavy ups and downs of Key West’s spirits have left their traces on the sand and coral of the small island on which the city stands.Read more »

American Gothic

The revival in the nineteenth century of medieval motifs in architecture extended from villas and furniture to farmhouses and vineries

Many of the visitors who admire the classic calm of Monticello would be startled if they knew of the original intentions of Thomas Jefferson. In 1771, after he had begun work on the estate, he seriously contemplated building a battlemented tower on a neighboring mountain; and he also planned, though he did not actually erect, “a small Gothic temple of antique appearance” for the graves of his family and retainers. As usual, the master of Monticello was ahead of the times.Read more »

A Wrecker’s Dozen

There are places on this earth, in Europe particularly, where conservation is taken to mean the preservation of the notable works of man as well as nature. Magnificent old railroad stations and churches, public buildings, historic houses, architectural landmarks of all kinds, are valued for their beauty or for the memories they evoke, for the sense of continuity they give a place, or, often, just because they have been around a long time and a great many people are fond of them. But here in America we don’t—most of us, anyway—seem to feel that way.Read more »

Oak Bluffs

Newport it was not; but to judge by its summertime throngs, its religious fervor, and the exuberance of its architecture, there was nothing to match the likes of the “Cottage City of America.”

Ulysses S. Grunt never said much during his brief stay at Oak Bluffs. He rode about in a carriage with Mrs. Grant, waving to the crowds; he watched the fireworks from a balcony at Dr. Tucker’s cottage, and he attended Sunday services at the Methodist tabernacle. According to one of his pastors, he found his peace with God at that meeting, but Grant himself never said whether that was so, and nobody seemed disappointed. Nobody expected him to say much of anything.Read more »

The River Houses

Along the Mississippi the spirit of vanished culture lingers in the ruined columns of the great plantations

In southern Louisiana, along the misty, turbulent lower Mississippi, can be found some of the most evocative relics of the American past. These plantation houses—a few preserved, but most in ruins now, nearly hidden by the humid lushness of cypress and hanging moss—are what remain of the last great non-urban culture in the United States.

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Mr. Smith’s American Acropolis

Washington would be a capital of Egyptian pillars and Roman splendor if this hardware merchant’s grandiose plan had been adopted

In 1900 the United States had an inferiority complex. It had come of age in practical affairs. It had developed, as Mr. Franklin W. Smith of Boston pointed out in his Petition to Congress, the world’s best form of government. For a century its energies and skills and intelligence had been devoted to material development, to the creation of mines, factories, transcontinental railroads, and tunnels under the Hudson. But the nation that had built palaces of business and mansions for luxurious living had erected no temple of culture.

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They Keep Tearing It Down

The other day they were tearing down the Irving House. It is too old; it has been built at least ten years… New York is notoriously the largest and least loved of any of our great cities. Why should it be loved as a city? It is never the same city for a dozen years together. A man born in New York forty years ago finds nothing, absolutely nothing, of the New York he knew. If he chance to stumble upon a few old houses not yet leveled, he is fortunate. But the landmarks, the objects which marked the city to him, as a city, are gone.

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