Library Notes: Walls and beams

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 16, 2022

By Gretchen Witt
Rowan County Library

Salisbury-Rowan has some wonderful old houses full of spectacular features enhancing the look of the exterior. Those who have gone on the yearly OctoberTour have had the opportunity to see the inside elements as well. Even if your house isn’t in one of the many historic districts, you might be interested in finding out about the special features or architectural style of your home. The History Room has just acquired two new books that might be of interest. Virginia Savage McAlester’s “A Field Guide to American Houses” examines house shapes and attributes from Colonial times to the present. There is a terrific “pictorial key” illustrating the differences between gabled and hipped roofs, varieties of dormers and roof elaborations, porch supports, railings and window shapes. The volume is full of drawings as well as beautiful photographs illustrating the types of homes and variations within categories — for example the chapter on Romantic Houses 1820-1880 includes Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, Italianate, Exotic Revivals and Octagons. McAlester explains how house shapes like the American Four-Square also have variants like the Prairie or Craftsman styles. She ends with a chapter on the Millennium Mansion, houses most likely to have been built after 1985.

The second book is entitled “Barber’s Turn-of-the-Century Houses.” George F. Barber was a mid-western builder and architect but there are quite a few of his houses in North Carolina.

Barber published nine house plan catalogues as well as a monthly magazine in the late 1800s. There were at least two dozen or more houses built in North Carolina according to his plans. Some of his clients include industrialists R.J. Reynolds and Benjamin N. Duke as well as textile magnate Charles Holt. The book includes floor plans, illustrations of the completed houses as well as estimated prices.

If your interest lies in finding out the history of homes, these books are supplemented by a set of books in the “Nearby History Series” which explains how to explore the history of structures including “Houses and Homes,” “Local Businesses” and “Places of Worship.” Produced by the American Association for State and Local History, these books suggest resources and patterns of research that will help discover the history of a particular place and its position in social history.  “A house is made of walls and beams; a home is built with love and dreams.” History Room materials are available for research whenever the library is open; all materials are non-circulating.

Gretchen Witt is History Room librarian and supervisor at the Rowan Public Library.

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