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My Top 10 Unique Historic Properties (I’ve Seen) in the Mid-Atlantic!

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Today, Historic House Blog is passing two milestones!  This is our 150th article and we just got our 1,000th  “Like” on Facebook.  In light of this, I am feeling lucky and I guess a bit nostalgic.  I also just returned from Fair Haven, Connecticut, where our team from the University of Delaware’s Center for Historic Architecture and Design (CHAD) documented the last known surviving New York City oyster barge in the United States.  Super cool.  While climbing around that amazing piece of history, I had one of those moments where I thought, ‘Geez, I see so many unique historic places . . . I should share some pictures of them!’   So that’s what this article is about.  And since I also get to see mini horses . . . I’ll share a pic of one of those, too: 

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Anyway, below are 10 cool historic “property types” I’ve encountered over the past year.  In the world of historic preservation, “property types” are a way to categorize buildings by architectural style, or floor plan, or historic use, or whatever might distinguish it from other historic buildings.  The following list features 10 unique historic buildings I’ve had the pleasure of documenting or visiting since I moved to Delaware.  So without further adieu, here’s the ‘countdown’. . .

10) A “Plank House”

Marcus Hook Plank House (Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania)

Reputed to be the 17th century home of “Margaret,” one of Blackbeard’s mistresses, this house in Marcus Hook was built during the late-1600s or early 1700s.  Pretty cool.  But it’s most special because it is a rare survivor of an early construction type — built of thick, vertical “planks” that are notched together (similar to a log cabin).  The Marcus Hook Preservation Society is currently trying to raise funds to restore the house.  The president, Michael Manerchia, is a really great guy who donated the house and also leads a pirate reenactment group called the “Plank House Crew.”

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The house is small and currently covered in stucco and vinyl siding, and you’d probably never guess its significance from the outside.

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IMG_1295 copyHere, you can see how the planks were pinned together with wooden pegs (sorry for my out-of-focus photo):

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9) A “Country House,” “Country Place,” or “Country Estate”

“Granogue” (Brandywine region, Delaware)

One of the du Pont family mansions built as part of the American “country house” movement, “Granogue” was constructed in 1927 by Irenee du Pont — a former DuPont company president and one of the 20 wealthiest Americans by the 1950s.  The view from the rear patio overlooks the formal gardens and the beautiful Brandywine hills and is truly majestic.  Granogue wasn’t just a house; it was a village.  Farms existed on the vast estate, and workers’ housing, roads, bridges, a water tower, and even a railroad station!  I was able to visit Granogue last spring during a charity event.  What is most amazing to me is that Irenee, Jr. still lives at Granogue, but generously opens his house — and the vast property — to the public for various parties and events.

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Granogue looks like a castle perched at the top of a high hill.

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Just one wing of the house:

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Another side of the house:

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The “music room” features an organ that is two-stories tall!  The space behind arched, lighted openings on the left wall house the organ.

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Me pretending to be a rich guy for a few minutes on the patio.

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8) An “Oyster Barge”

The Last Surviving New York City Oyster Barge (Fair Haven, Connecticut)

OK, this one isn’t “Mid-Atlantic,” exactly.  It’s more like “Upper-Atlantic.”  But I just returned two days ago from documenting this remarkable structure.  Here’s how they worked: during the 19th and early 20th century, the oyster barges — hundreds of them — would dock along the waterfront in Manhattan, shoulder to shoulder.  The facades of the boats looked like storefronts, so the lines of oyster barges looked almost like a Main Street.  Except they were on the water.  Sloops and schooners would sail up behind the barge, on the water side, and unload baskets of oysters.  The barge acted almost like a tunnel from the water to land.  On the main deck of the barge, workers graded the oysters by size, sorted them, and then shipped them out — shell or shucked.  And at its height, New York City saw six million oysters per day unloaded from the barges.  Six million, per day.  Some have compared oysters back then to hot dogs now.  Anyway, this barge I documented last week has been on land for a long time, and the hull is mostly buried underground.  So it looks like a fairly normal historic building, except it’s really long.  During much of the 20th century, it was used as a bar, and restaurant, and it is reputed to have been a speakeasy during the Prohibition days of the 1920s.  The historic photo below shows some other oyster barges in NYC, but the rest are of the Fair Haven barge.

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The last remaining NYC oyster barge is probably on its last legs, unless someone intervenes, moves it, and restores it.

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A photo I took of a photograph from better days:

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Me with the barge earlier this week.  I have a miner’s lamp on my head, since we had no electricity inside:

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The reputed “speakeasy” bar made of bead board (yellow section on the left).  Notice the curved roof of barge:

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7) A “Hall-Parlor House” (sort of)

The Cannon-Maston House or “Ickford” (Seaford, Delaware)

Hall-Parlor houses were some of the earliest built in America, and exhibit some post-medieval features such as a steeply pitched roof and irregular fenestration.  In America, they were composed of just 2 rooms — a “hall” and a “parlor.”  The hall was the primary living room, where most activities occurred, including cooking at a large fireplace.  The smaller parlor was the more private space that usually acted as a bedroom.  Often, the entire house measured only 20′ x 16′.  These were really common in the Chesapeake and were called “Virginia houses” for a time.  That’s what’s partly interesting about this one — its geography.  Cannon-Maston, now called “Ickford,” is in Delaware — but it is in southern Delaware, the part of the state that is more oriented to the South.  This house is also perhaps not your standard “hall-parlor” because it was built in 2 stages.  As you can see in the photos, originally (in 1727) it was simply a one room house .  However, just a few years later (1733) the Cannons added a large second section, which resembles the parlor of a hall-parlor.  The house features flemish bond brickwork, which is cool.  More history here.

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The 1733 section (the parlor) is closest to me here.  Notice the buzzard looming ominously overhead.

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Incredibly cool date brick chiseled into the original section.  There is also a 1733 brick on the addition’s gable end.

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Fireplace wall and winder stair in the original hall portion.  Notice the 4 generations of fireplace visible.

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The (crumbling) wall between 1727 hall and 1733 parlor.

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6) A “Sweet Potato House”

Chipman Sweet Potato House (Laurel, Delaware)

I had never seen a sweet potato house until I moved to Delaware.  Sweet potatoes were big here, in southern Delaware, from about 1900 until a blight ended their viability around 1940.  Sweet potato houses were built with a lot of ventilation, in order to properly cure the sensitive crop.  It was really cool to see the Chipman sweet potato house in person.  The walls are slatted, and there is even a cool chimney-like chute that runs the entire length of the center of the building, allowing air to circulate through multiple levels.  Since sweet potatoes needed certain conditions to cure properly, local farmers would often rent out bins in the local sweet potato barn, rather than spend the money to build their own.  The owner of the sweet potato house might rent stalls, but would often take a percentage of the crop as a commission.  The Chipman sweet potato house in on the National Register, but unfortunately, its owner is going to demolish it soon.  It’s one of the last survivors of its type, so that is a real bummer for me.

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Above, measure drawings of Chipman sweet potato house.  Below, it was overgrown the first time I saw it.

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A better view, shot in wintertime from the other side.

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The bins that farmers would rent, with hand-painted bin numbers. Notice the air circulation chute down the middle of the floor.

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I found this on the side of an old crate — “Jersey Sweets!”  Sounds like a mafia name to me.

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5) A Real “Lighthouse

East Point Lighthouse (Heislervile, New Jersey)

The first time I saw this place, the sun was setting over the water of the Delaware Bay (which looks like the ocean from here, even though it’s not that far south).  The lighthouse glowed in the early evening light, almost ghostly in appearance.  You can kind of get a sense of that in my photos.  Anyway, the East Point Lighthouse is the 2nd oldest lighthouse in New Jersey.  Built in 1849, it predates the Civil War by 12 years.  Which is pretty cool.  The light was extinguished when World War II started, and was never re-lit after the war ended.  In fact, it was abandoned until 1971, when the Maurice River Historical Society campaigned to save it (even after someone lit it on fire).  Which is lucky for us, because it is a real treasure.  It’s a bit off the beaten path, however, so if you ever make it out here, you might have the place to yourself!

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It’s hard to get a good shot, since there is vegetation growing very close to it.  But the convergence sorta adds to the effect.

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Same here, from the other side of the facade.

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An aerial I borrowed from the NJ Friends of Lighthouses website.

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4) A “Stackhouse”

Abraham Hoy House (Mauricetown, New Jersey)

I had never heard of a “stackhouse” until my Capstone class went to Mauricetown, NJ for two weeks to document a bunch of historic houses there.  (Mauricetown, by the way, is a really neat sea captains’ village in the marshes of Down Jersey).  While “stackhouses” may not be unique to Mauricetown, or even New Jersey, there is a high concentration of them here — and they are remarkably similar in form.  And this may be the only region where they are called “stackhouses.”  Basically, these were working class houses — simple, one-room houses on the first floor with an additional room stacked above it.  The stackhouses in Mauricetown are often squat, looking as if they are only one and two-thirds stories (1 2/3)  in height.  They also commonly feature one-story additions to the side or back, which would have added a second room on the first floor.  To access the upstairs, a steep “winder stair” wound around the chimney stack or elsewhere on the chimney wall.  The Mauricetown Historical Society has preserved and restored one beautiful example of a Mauricetown stackhouse, the Abraham Hoy House, which is in the modern photos below.  The historic photo directly below shows a similar stackhouse in Mauricetown, after it was altered with asphalt siding and a front porch.

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Here, you can easily imagine the one-room over one-room configuration, with a one-room wing flanking the 1st floor.

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Entrance to the side addition, on the rear of the house.

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Interior photograph showing fireplace wall and door to a winder stair.

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3) A Colonial Episcopal Church or “Chapel of Ease”

Old Christ Church or “Old Lightwood” (Laurel, Delaware)

This place is just incredible.  Originally an Anglican church when it was built in 1772, before the Revolutionary War, it was also technically located in Maryland before the Mason-Dixon survey established this area as Delaware.  Built of untreated, heart-of-pine wooden planks, the nearly all-original (and never painted!) interior of the church has taken on a warm, golden hue and is really mesmerizing.  It’s basically like stepping back in time to the colonial era, and receiving an architectural hug from a building.  There is so much wood craftsmanship.  The first thing you notice upon entering is the soaring barrel-vault ceiling.  Then the box pews, with original carved doors.  Then the beautiful, raised pulpit with sounding board above.  The “slave gallery” still sits above with wooden benches.  The windows still swing open and are secured with wooden pins that appear to me to be original.  From the outside, a passerby might think this is a plain-looking schoolhouse or something.  But once inside, you are treated to an architectural treasure.  It’s on the National Register, but it’s even more special than that — someone should nominate it as a National Historic Landmark.

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Picturesque (but relatively understated) exterior.  Notice the white shell walkways:

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Pictures don’t even do it justice, in my opinion.  But here is one of my better ones without people in the way.  The carpenters of this church, which is not far from early shipbuilding centers, was built by ship carpenters.  You can kind of imagine that here:

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That’s me, on cloud nine, in the original raised pulpit with sounding board above (to project the minister’s voice).

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2) A “Quaker Pattern End House”

Dickenson House (Alloway, New Jersey)

I love the pattern-end Quaker houses of New Jersey.  If fact, I’ll probably write an article soon featuring a bunch of them.  So I will keep this short.  But basically, in the early 1700s, Quaker families in the southern New Jersey (mostly Salem and Burlington counties) started building brick mansions with patterns on the ends.  The patterns were created by using vitrified headers, or “glazed” bricks, which turn glassy (and often blue/grey) when fired.  Some of the houses just featured simple patterns, such as zig-zags or diapering (diamonds).  But many of them featured the date of construction and the builders’ initials — both the husband and wife’s.  The family surname would be represented by the initial at the top, then the husband and wife’s initials were placed side-by-side below.  One of the most dramatic pattern-end houses (some say the best example) is the “Dickenson House” in Alloway Township, New Jersey.   Built in 1754, two decades before the American Revolution, the house not only features the date and initials, but also fancy diapering and other design motifs.  It’s truly awe inspiring to me.  And it’s located on a sleepy back road — you have to know where to look for it.

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Taken from the road:

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Me looking pretty happy to see the house again.  The owners weren’t home; I hope they wouldn’t be angry at me.

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A close-up of the brick design from the base of the house.

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1) A “Flurkuchenhaus House” or “Continental Plan House”

Henry Antes House (Montgomery Co., Pennsylvania)

. . . And my #1 property type, if not my overall favorite building I’ve seen in the Mid-Atlantic.  The Henry Antes House is an early (1736! ) Germam-Moravian example of a “flurkuchenhaus.”  These are really unique when compared to English-derived houses, and its medieval-looking features are especially cool.  The house has a very steep roof (in fact, it has an attic above the attic!) and irregular window placement, and the stone wall surfaces are beautiful.  The window openings are comparatively small.  The large chimney is off center.  Like most flurkuchenhauses, the Antes House features 3 rooms on the main floor.  Unlike most English houses, the main entrance of the house opens into a large kitchen (kuche) with a large cooking hearth.  A doorway from the kitchen leads to the living room (stube), where the family would live, eat, and pray.  The stube was heated through a hole in the chimney stack from the kitchen, which transferred fire or warm air like a vent through the wall.  Behind the stube was a single, unheated bedchamber (zimmer).  I’ll write more about this house in a future article.  But it’s a treasure, and if you ever have a chance to tour it — do it.  It retains an astonishing amount of its original 18th century material, and is another house where you step inside and feel as if you’ve been transported 250 years — if not the medieval period.  (Also, another great flurkuchenhaus…the Hans Herr House).

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From the parking area across the road.  I was already in love at this point.

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WOW.

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If you look really carefully, you can spot a square hole between the two upper windows — for draining wash pans.

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I love the pent roof at the attic level on the gable ends.

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Splayed window in the stube. The the plaster ceiling being level with the exposed beams is a European, medieval technique.

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The zimmer (bedchamber).  There were interesting circular markings above the bed on the red, vertical plank wall.

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Look at this amazing, heavy timber framing in the lower attic!  Yes, there is a sizable attic above this attic.

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So that’s it for my top 10 unique property types!  Watch for my “Top 10 Historic Houses” article, which will be coming soon.  In the meantime, browse my Index of Articles — now featuring 150 articles about historic houses!

10 Comments so far »

  1. by Julia Brink, on 02.09.14 @ 12:50 PM

     

    AWESSOME!

  2. by Donna Seger, on 02.09.14 @ 12:50 PM

     

    Beautiful! Thanks and congratulations.

  3. by Katie Keller, on 02.09.14 @ 12:59 PM

     

    Thank you, thank you! Historic House Blog is absolutely one of my very favorites. Loving old houses can be a depressing business in our culture of big, granite filled, open floor plan houses. Your site is such a treat- please (!) keep up the good work…

  4. by Michael, on 02.09.14 @ 1:09 PM

     

    @Julia…Thanks, Mom!
    @Donna….Thank you, Donna; I enjoy your site, too!
    @Katie…Thank YOU! I agree with your sentiments, and I am glad others feel the same. I hope to publish more articles in 2014!

  5. by CIRCA Old Houses, on 02.09.14 @ 1:51 PM

     

    I have a particular love of very early American homes, and all of these are just spectacular! LOVE the Henry Antes House and the Dickenson House! And the brick date on the Cannon-Maston House. LOVE LOVE LOVE.

    Elizabeth

  6. by Michael, on 02.09.14 @ 2:39 PM

     

    Thanks, Elizabeth! I love the old ones most, too!

  7. by Armando Martinez, on 02.18.14 @ 12:45 AM

     

    Michael,

    I’m the owner of the Dickenson House and glad to see it made your top 10 list. It truly is a remarkable place!! Noticed that your pics were fairly recent and captured some of the restored elements as we’re in the first phase of a big restoration project. I have odd hours but if you’re in the area and see me, stop by and say ‘hello’. Regards and best!! Armando

  8. by Michael, on 02.18.14 @ 8:24 AM

     

    Hi Armando,

    I’m glad the homeowner didn’t seem mad about my photo! :-) I first saw the house a year or so ago, but yes, this photo was taken during a return trip just 6 weeks ago. It would have been great to have met you! I don’t make it over there often, but I hope we can connect sometime. I’d love to hear about your restoration!

    -Michael

  9. by Erika, on 02.19.14 @ 3:28 PM

     

    Just found your blog and love it. I am so happy to see this posting. I was fortunate to do a little hearth cooking in the Henry Antes house and it is truly a very special building.

  10. by Michael, on 02.19.14 @ 3:35 PM

     

    Hi Erika…Thanks for the compliment! I am jealous of your hearth cooking experience in the Antes house. My own visit to the house was pretty cool, too, since I was there as part of a conference about historic architecture. So there were lots of old house experts on hand to explain the house, which was amazing. Thanks for reading!
    Michael@HHB

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