Building the House: Materials, Construction, and Community in Virginia's Lancaster and Northumberland Counties, 1830-1860

Hull, Henry, Architectural History - School of Architecture, University of Virginia
Nelson, Louis, Department of Architectural History, University of Virginia
Crane, Sheila, Department of Architectural History, University of Virginia
Wilson, Richard, Department of Architectural History, University of Virginia

As a building culture study, this thesis examines the influences of materials, tradespeople, and the community in shaping the construction and appearance of houses in Lancaster and Northumberland counties from 1830 to 1860. Although previous building culture studies have focused on the construction process, this thesis interprets a building culture as a collection of intangible emotions, experiences, and customs that are held by a community that are sometimes expressed through construction. During the antebellum period, the building culture of these two counties in Virginia's Northern Neck was transformed by accessible mass-produced architectural components, changing roles of the craftsperson, and the community's interest and investment in its architectural surroundings more than ever before. Through fieldwork and archival research, this thesis illuminates the understudied architectural legacy of the counties' houses in the antebellum period, which has been overshadowed by the counties' eighteenth-century architecture. Therefore, the emphasis of this thesis is not placed on the significance of the two counties' contributions to a widespread architectural movement, instead, these two counties provide an example of an insular community's response to newer architectural products and tastes made available through industrialization, transportation, and architectural pattern books. Chapter I considers the tremendous impact that mass-produced materials had on the physical appearance of houses. The accessibility of these materials increased during the 1840s and 1850s as the steamboat connected the two counties to Baltimore and Norfolk, which supplied material culture in exchange for agricultural goods produced in the counties. Chapter II explores the contributions of tradespeople in responding to the changes in materials and their sourcing. The increased importation of building materials from Baltimore and Norfolk reduced the need for handcrafted materials, which reformed the ways in which houses were constructed. Chapter III focuses on the third agent of building production, the client, but interprets the client's role as an individual contribution to the community's involvement in the antebellum building culture. This final chapter expands the building culture created by materials, construction tradespeople, and clients into a building community, where all members of the community are stakeholders in the architectural fabric of the two counties.

MARH (Master of Architectural History)
Northumberland County, Lancaster County, antebellum architecture, Greek Revival architecture, Chesapeake Bay watershed architecture, steamboats, tradespeople, building culture, Minard Lefever, Asher Benjamin, pattern books, Northern Neck of Virginia, building receipts, architectural fieldwork
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