American Home Surprises
Next months at The Beautiful Home; remodelings and additions to the website, articles by guest authors, video house tours, architect interviews, products and home surprises.
Below, houses that caught our eye, houses worth sharing. Hope you enjoy.
Bacon’s Castle, 1665, Surry, Virginia.
Along Bacon’s Castle Trail after crossing by ferry the James River I pulled the little convertible onto the long drive and there before me, Bacon’s Castle. The one detail of the house I recalled from graduate school, “Oldest brick house in the United States.” Sure enough, the first sentence from the front desk guide, “Oldest brick house in the United States,” then “Bacon never lived here. Never saw the place.” You might remember Nathaniel Bacon, recidivist who battled the Powhatan, and then a Royal Governor who was not keen on war with the Indians. Behind the brick house, a clapboard Tidewater structure that experts call a barn, though it seems to me an excellent example of a Tidewater house. The original house of the property (predating the Jacobean style Bacon’s Castle) has never been found.
Wye House, circa 1785, Easton, Maryland.
When biking the farm roads of Maryland’s western shore on one of those days when sumac burns and cicadas sing in high corn, I right-turned down a drive uninvited and there before me, Wye House. The old farm was established in 1650 by the upstanding Puritan Edward Lloyd whose great-great grandson became infamous for owning Frederick Douglass, mulatto who composed Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. Yes, after Jefferson wrote, “All men are created equal…” the world’s practice of slavery diminished, though has yet to end, as in China and here in the sex-trade across our southern border. You will not be surprised to learn that the Lloyd’s yet inhabit the farm and continue in friendship with descendants of the plantation’s slaves. Again … when in graduate school I was told that the house marked the transition from Georgian to Federal, which in truth it does.
General Grant’s Headquarters, 1751, Hopewell, Virginia.
One summer weekend I took a shore house in out-of-the-way Hopewell and was delighted to discover several remarkable properties nearby. Most remarkable, General Grant’s headquarters during the Petersburg Campaign of our War to End Slavery. There, at City Point (the confluence of the James and Appomattox rivers) there yet stands many service buildings, a handsome main house, and other houses occupied by the liberating forces, though the huge warehouses (food storage for 100,000 soldiers, 65,000 mules) and several hospitals (sufficient for 10,000 wounded) long ago fell into disuse and ruin. Here, where General Grant (with Gen. Sherman) planned the assault that ended the war, Grant hosted Secretary of State William Seward, Vice President Andrew Johnson, and President Abraham Lincoln. For beauty, for history, for respect, the site deserves a visit. Should you visit, plan a busy morning or a lazy afternoon to tour the well-appointed Georgian headquarter house, the diorama, the bookstore, et cetera, and you might do as I did, picnic.
Roosevelt’s Inaugural House, 1838, Buffalo, New York.
When last I was in Buffalo, New York, the city seemed a place under siege, occupied as it was by an invading force that planted its flag on every pole, every flowerpot, bicycle and tricycle, so you can imagine my delight in finding one city lot not conquered by Pride, a little patch of grass on a little rise that yet hosted an American flag. Delights are like this, expecting one thing, finding another, disappointment and then surprise, as when visiting an art museum packed with treasures of every place of every time and stepping into a long-neglected room of pictures and statues where you sigh and say, “Ah, this feels like home.” Roosevelt’s Inaugural House feels like home, a Greek Revival home, the place where Roosevelt was impromptu inaugurated president after President McKinley was assassinated by a Socialist anarchist.
Sinatra House, Twin Palms, 1948, Palm Springs, California.
Every month but August is a good month to bike Palm Springs. The city seems always to be in bloom, there are crossing breezes, broad streets, blue skies peopled by passing clouds, snowcapped mountains in vista, fine, fun and funny architecture of the Spanish Revivals, the Mid-Century Modern, and then there are the people, the looking, the lookers, the lewd … one longs for the bygone days of the cool cat, the hipster, and the Rat Pack, Dino, Sammy, Frank and the gang. You can yet feel some of this and some of them on the streets … should say, I can yet remember the streets as they were (my family has been here nearly 70 years) and I can remember the world as it was. Once, I designed an interior renovation of a famous house in the Movie Colony, once I gave up looking for Frank Sinatra’s house and then found it, once I heard that Frank Sinatra would visit those suffering bad luck to share with them his good fortune and fortune. Yes, despite what you have been told, that was a better, kinder, Christian time, a time when people were awake to beauty and to life.
These, some few of my discoveries. Wonder what you might find this summer … wonder which beautiful American home will be your surprise.
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American Home Surprises