“19th Century Pattern Books in wide use…”
The coffee table book, Plantation Heritage by Kenneth F. and Blanche Marsh, 1962 attempted for the first time to attribute houses to individual antebellum contractors in the upcountry sections of S.C. The slightest mention of an individual often stimulated extensive searches for documentation that they would have never dreamed of having assisted in securing. Their publication has impacted numerous works to help unravel the story of 19th century construction. This mention on page 45, “the Blair house was designed by Mr. Heffner, a Dutch architect” fostered research into the Hafner Group and the family’s work in both York and Chester counties. See more of this house at: Sam Blair’s Plantation.
Linking the antebellum contractor, and their subsequent use of pattern book designs is also a very important and highly rewarding aspect of Roots and Recall’s mission. For years, visitors to fine house museums have inadvertently assumed these antebellum structures were built by the individual owner or their slaves. That did seem to be the popular belief some fifty years ago and has been romanticized by well meaning docents all across the southern U.S. Several years ago while touring a home in lowcountry, S.C., an elderly docent proudly proclaimed, “this home was constructed by the skilled artisans owned by their master.” Funny thing was, the individual living in the house was a long-term renter, not a slave owner! The myths continue even though there is ample evident to show that it was skilled individuals, not slaves who did most of the work. That is not to preclude dozens of very skilled, free and enslaved, artisans who also constructed houses professionally. They, however, were the exception and not the rule.
Tracking the use of and adherence to pattern books by local artisans and contractors is somewhat difficult because artisans seemed to enjoy picking from numerous design books and combining elements that were pleasing to themselves and their clients. It was not much different than picking modern designs from websites or Southern Living magazines and replicating elements of numerous pages. Chip and Joanna Gaines would have been quiet at home!
Roots and Recall has provided members an abbreviated list of artisans, The SC Artisans Database. This list consists of some 16,000 recorded artisans from across S.C., who worked prior to 1870. It lists carpenters, brick layers, stone cutters, blacksmiths, brick makers, mechanics, contractors, carvers, and dozens of other professions related to the construction industry. Unfortunately, only a handful of these individuals can be married to a specific structure, or for that matter, the pattern book from which their designs were chosen. We hope you can assist in furnishing additional insights!
Four frequently used 19th century architects and their pattern books included: Asher Benjamin, A.J. Downing, Samuel Sloan, and Wm. H. Ranlett. R&R’s blog for the following several weeks will showcase examples of their work in S.C. as well as those of artisan groups that worked as family units building some of the region’s finest architecture. We will feature the work of several artisans including: #1 – The Hafner Group, #2 – Isenhower Family Group, and #3 – Yorkville’s Threesome.
Enjoy learning a little each week about how contractors, pattern books and clients worked together to shape some of the region’s most interesting structures. And don’t forget, R&R wants to hear what you can contribute to the conversation!
R&R Note: You have certainly noticed the requirement to login and become a member to enjoy Roots and Recall. It is interesting in that older folks have found it threatening, younger users have no qualms. The R&R experience remains free and will remain so, providing information on some 33,000 sites across S.C. Opportunities for sharing data with R&R and our linking pages remains a priority as does working with volunteers. A number of members have volunteered to help in taking photography and much more. We appreciate these sentiments and want to work closely with you. So, don’t wait for R&R to call, just go to work in your own communities and send in your flash-drives with images and information. We will download it and return your flash-drives allowing you to collect even more, thanks for those of you who already are making this a habit!