University of Rochester Library Bulletin: The American Dream on Mt. Hope: Nineteenth-Century Building by Ellwanger and Barry

Volume XXXV • 1982

The American Dream on Mt. Hope: Nineteenth-Century Building by Ellwanger and Barry


Along a brief stretch, less than half a mile, of Mt. Hope Avenue, a remarkable group of six buildings clearly shows the exuberant variety of mid-nineteenth-century American architecture. The structures in this small area, built between 1854 and 1871 for the Mount Hope Nursery, for Patrick Barry, co-founder of the nursery, and for the Ellwanger and Barry Realty Company, express the growing nation's moral and social aims as well as its developing aesthetics and architectural ideals. The Ellwanger and Barry nursery office, at 668 Mt. Hope Avenue, delightfully enrobed the center of a flourishing business in the quintessence of the romantic Gothic revival. The Patrick Barry House, at 692 Mt. Hope Avenue, exemplifies the "Italian villas" created for the American well-to-do in the 1850's and '60's: comfortable and stylish and expressive of culture, refinement, and a religion of domesticity. Finally, four smaller houses at 548, 554, 560, and 566 Mt. Hope Avenue represent the Gothic "cottages" designed at mid-century for "honest mechanics" and workmen and make visible the American ideal of a lawn-fronted, single-family home for every man.

The Ellwanger and Barry families built or remodeled five additional houses along this half-mile stretch after this period. The present 625 Mt. Hope, the five-bay Federal house built in 1839 and bought by George Ellwanger in 1867, now has a façade in Tudor half-timbered style. The present 609 Mt. Hope, just north of 625, was constructed by Henry Ellwanger in the 1870's. It is a brick house in the Eastlake style with extensive wooden trim. The former 709 Mt. Hope, once just south of the Patrick Barry House, was built by Frederick Barry between 1870 and 1880. This Queen Anne-Eastlake frame house was demolished in 1970. The present 630 Mt. Hope, just north of the Patrick Barry House, a five-bay, center-entrance, brick Georgian Revival house, was built by W. C. Barry, Jr., and Grace G. Barry in 1906; the present 590 Mt. Hope, just north of 630, a five-bay, center-entrance, brick Georgian Revival house, was built by A. A. Barry in 1921-22.

What forces created the six Victorian buildings on Mt. Hope and shaped such a complete expression of the mid-century American dream? The forces were economic and social as well as aesthetic and moral. The population of the United States grew from 9,638,000 in 1820 to 31,443,000 in 1860. Such spectacular physical growth kept the nation's economy booming in spite of several financial panics. The burgeoning society Washington Irving called the "Land of the Almighty Dollar" needed housing: 71,720 dwellings of all types were erected in New York State between 1855 and 1865. 1 Perhaps more striking than sober figures are the comments of contemporaries: architect Calvert Vaux, in the preface to his 1857 Villas and Cottages, describes the building industry thus:

Every American who is in the habit of traveling, which is almost equivalent to saying every American, must have noticed the inexhaustible demand for rural residences that is perceptible in every part of these Northern States. Nothing like it has ever yet occurred in the world's history; and although hard times undoubtedly occur in America, as well as elsewhere, at occasional intervals, it would seem that the profits which one man fails to make manage, somehow, to slide into the pockets of other more successful operators; for the carpenters and masons appear to be always getting a full percentage of the floating capital, and the ball is kept merrily rolling under all changes of individual circumstances.2

Vaux's enthusiasm may lead him to overestimate the freedom and wealth of the average American, but his sense of the yeasty optimism of a newly rich laissez-faire economy is abundantly clear. The compiler of another architectural manual, published in 1859, commences on the same confident note: "In this country everybody builds a house-perhaps several of them. Everybody, then, should know something about domestic architecture, in order to build to the best advantage-to secure the largest amount of convenience, comfort, and beauty in his dwelling which his means and materials will permit."3

Just when the growing population and developing economy created the need for buildings in the 1830's and '40's, American architectural theory and American architecture began to come of age. Building in the first fifty years of the republic had been dominated by the Greek Revival style; buildings recreated the formal, traditional, and rigidly symmetrical facades of classical temples. The dominance of the Greek Revival was assured and extended in a young country with few architects by the proliferation of builders' guides, which taught local carpenters how to recreate in wood the details of the classical orders-Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian. Thousands of "temples," in stone and in white-painted wood, were built all over the new United States, and the popularity of the style for every conceivable kind of building created a problem pointed out by its detractors: "It would certainly be difficult for a stranger in some of our towns, where the taste for Grecian temples prevails, to distinguish with accuracy between a church, a bank, and a hall of justice."4  Those who resented such rigid adherence to classical forms in a new land also pointed to the incongruities forced upon "Greek" buildings by function and, especially, by the climate: how ridiculous, said sculptor Horatio Greenough, to see a large brick smokestack looming up behind the dignified classical façade of the Second United States Mint in Philadelphia.5 The new spirit of egalitarian individualism signalled by the election of Andrew Jackson in 1829 seemed to call for freer, less restrictive styles.

In his 1837 address "The American Scholar," Emerson warned his countrymen, saying "We have listened too long to the courtly muses of Europe. The spirit of the American freeman is already suspected to be timid, imitative, tame." Four years later appeared the first work by Andrew Jackson Downing (1815-1852), "the man most responsible for [the] shift in architectural practice."6 Downing started American architecture along a new path. Originally a landscape gardener from Newburgh, New York, he moved from recommending picturesque houses that would blend better with natural landscapes to the development and dissemination of a new, national architectural theory. Downing's theory emphasized the picturesque, a "romantic longing for the old, the distant, and the emotionally exciting,"7 diversity of style, and the moral influences of domestic architecture. His chief works are Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening. . . with Remarks on Rural Architecture (1841), Cottage Residences (1842), and The Architecture of Country Houses (1850). From 1846 to 1852 he edited The Horticulturist, and after his heroic death in a Hudson River steamboat disaster a group of his editorials from the magazine were published in Rural Essays (1853). (Patrick Barry contributed to The Horticulturist and succeeded Downing as its editor from 1852 to 1854.)

Because Downing was not an architect himself, his works acknowledge designs and assistance from architects who shared his aspirations for American building. His chief collaborator was Alexander Jackson Davis (1803-92), "the most successful architect of his generation, and one of the most successful in American history."8 Davis was a superb draftsman, who began his career by doing "views" of the sights of Boston and New York for engravings and who could supposedly charm any client into building anything by presenting him with an exquisite watercolor rendering of the elevation (a projection onto the page of the elements perpendicular to the ground plan of a building, that is, the facade). Davis designed buildings in many styles during his long and enormously successful career-even in the Greek Revival style despised by Downing-but all the styles are romantic. He "never outgrew his childhood taste for Gothic novels":9

In his teens, enchanted with the unhappy heroines of Mrs. Ann Radcliffe's novels, he lived for the hours in which he could steal to the attic and sketch the mountainous retreats in which those ladies were imprisoned. For days he would puzzle over the plans of "some ancient castle of romance, arranging the trap-doors, subterraneous passages and drawbridges." Only at his older brother's urging would he pry open a book of history or biography, or ponder the riddle that was mathematics.10

A friend of Thomas Cole, Herman Melville, James Fenimore Cooper, William Cullen Bryant, and William Gilmore Simms, Davis was also an astute businessman: "Well aware that every customer could not afford to have him supervise designs, he worked up a handsome mail-order trade in plans that could be carried out by local carpenters."11 These plans usually sold for between $50 and $100 a set.

Most of the other architects who contributed plans to Downing's works popularized their ideas by publishing "pattern books." These books, imitating Downing's The Architecture of Country Houses, supplanted the old builders' guides, and "this new and enormously popular genre offered dwelling plans, perspectives, descriptions, and price estimates-not only to the carpenter or builder, but to the prospective homeowner as well."12 Gervase Wheeler, author of Rural Homes (1851) and Homes for the People in Suburb and Country (1855), was an Englishman who came to America in the '40's. Downing used one of his designs as Design XXV in Country Houses-"A Plain Timber Cottage Villa"-and Wheeler designed the Patrick Barry house in 1855. Another Englishman, Calvert Vaux (1824-95), came to America as Downing's protégé. New York's Central Park, designed by Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted, is "closely related to [Downing's] picturesque mode of landscape design."13 Vaux's Villas and Cottages (1857) is part of the Ellwanger and Barry library. These volumes of house plans and others like them "transformed the nature of architectural manuals and at the same time created a revolution in the styles of rural buildings."14

The pattern books follow Downing in their "turning-away from the newly developing industrial scene." Like that of the painters of the Hudson River School, "his yearning for the country was a consciously romantic reaction, and like the country toward which they moved at this period, Downing's country also was essentially suburban." 15 In addition to plans, elevations, and cost estimates, with practical chapters on heating, ventilation, and sanitary arrangements, the pattern books presented

an ideal vision of a domestic retreat for every man-mechanic or millionaire-the rural, suburban, or small-town home [with] a significance beyond mere function. It was evidence of culture, an expression of individualism, a social, moral, patriotic, and democratizing force. The rules of ancient Greece were set aside. For the Romantic, the appeal of the past was the freedom it offered from the present.16

The mixture of Gothic and Italian structures in the half mile of Mt. Hope Avenue, like the similar mixture on many college campuses, especially those built after the Morrill Land-Grant College Act of 1862, originates with Downing's insistence on variety in American architecture:

A blind partiality for any one style in building is detrimental to the progress of improvement, both in taste and comfort. The variety of mean's [sic], habits, and local feelings, will naturally cause many widely different tastes to arise among us; and it is only by means of a number of distinct styles, that this diversity of taste can be accommodated.17

In addition to variety, Downing and his followers emphasized the picturesque, function and fitness, and "associations" or relative beauty in architecture. They sought to create picturesqueness for the most part through irregularity or carefully composed irregularity of plan and structure: "The most popular styles were the Italian villa, which was patterned after the irregular domestic architecture pictured by Claude and the Poussins in their paintings, and the Tudor or Jacobean Gothic."18

An irregularity of plan was desirable not only because it seemed to follow the scheme of nature and hence enable an irregular building to fuse more easily with its natural surroundings than would one more formally composed, but also because it would produce by its alternating projections and recesses "a variety of light and shadows, at different times of day, and from different points of view."19

A building, they believed, should also be united with the scenery around it by an irregular skyline, by the gables of a Gothic rooftop, the pavilions with roofs at different levels and the campanile of an Italian roof, or by the chimneys of both.

Classical architects of both the Palladian and classical revival movements had been embarrassed by northern chimneys, but the advocates of the picturesque gloried in them. . . . Their vertical and irregular accents produced delightful patterns of light and shade and caused the top of the house to blend agreeably with the neighboring foliage.20

The same desire to have buildings blend with their natural surroundings caused the new school of American architectural theorists to deplore "positive colors" such as red, yellow, blue, green, and black for houses and utterly to reject the previous favorite, white. "Nothing can be in worse taste," writes Daniel Harrison Jacques,

than the very common practice of painting country houses white. This color is glaring and disagreeable to the eye, when presented in large masses; it makes a house an obtrusive and too conspicuous object in the landscape; it does not harmonize with the hues of nature-standing, as it were, harshly apart from all the soft shades of the scene. Use any other color rather than white.21

"Light, cheerful, but unobtrusive colors, harmonizing with the prevailing hues of the country," says Jacques, "are most suitable.

Take the colors of the various earths, the stones, the trunks and branches of trees, mosses, and other natural objects for your guides, and you will not go far wrong. A quiet fawn color or drab and a warm gray-that is, a gray mixed with a very little red and some yellow-are the safest colors to recommend for general use.22

In stressing "function" and "fitness" -sometimes described as "Adaptation to Use" and "Expression of Purpose" or "Truthfulness"-Downing and his followers were reacting to all those Grecian temples. Their romantic rationalism wanted buildings that expressed feelings and embodied beauty suitable to their functions. From recommending that structures be carefully adjusted to their sites, the architectural theorists of mid-century moved to a real functionalism. Although based on a sense of moral and social propriety- "For the artisan, a cottage; for the merchant, a villa; for the gentleman, a mansion" 23-these precepts of "adaptation to use" came to embrace every aspect of a house:

For the same reason, a country residence should not resemble a city dwelling, and a farmhouse should be unlike the cottage of the mechanic. And the law of fitness applies to all the details of a house as well as to its general form. It should be our guide in the arrangement of rooms; in the disposition of doors, windows, stairs, and chimneys; and in the provisions made for warming and ventilation.24

Finally, Downing and his followers rejected classical and Renaissance ideas of absolute beauty in architectural forms. They did not admire the beauty of a perfect cube, graced by perfectly formed columns and an impeccable pediment-clean geometrical forms designed to remain distinct from their surroundings and best viewed from the fixed standpoint of Renaissance perspective. The new architectural theorists valued beauty that grew out of "associations, "  a relative beauty dependent upon the viewer's ability to feel in response to architectural elements and their surroundings.

The value of an object or a view depended on the deeply rooted symbolic associations it evoked. However, Downing and the other American pattern-book writers challenged the idea that all associations were based on highly educated perceptions, for this had decidedly elitist overtones; instead, they asserted that many architectural forms-and particularly those of domestic buildings-elicited universal responses. Therefore, all houses needed certain domestic symbols to articulate the feelings Anglo-American culture connected with the home. . . . Chimneys and overhanging roofs with high gables and deep eaves evoked home, as did the welcoming entry porch and the comfortable side piazza. Delicate ornament, such as Gothic trefoil tracery over a window or a carved Italianate bracket under the roof, reminded a viewer of the elegance and handiwork within. Gothic details also reinforced the religious ties of a Christian home.25

Italian or Gothic styles, therefore, generated not only pleasing associations about the civilizations that had nurtured them-ideas of medieval heroism or chivalry out of Sir Walter Scott, for example-but also, supposedly, specifically moral messages. These messages fostered what might be called the Victorian religion of hearth and home. In his preface to The Architecture of Country Houses, Downing writes,

There is a moral influence in a country home-when, among an educated, truthful, and refined people, it is an echo of their character-which is more powerful than any mere oral teachings of virtue and morality. That family whose religion lies away from its threshold, will show but slender results from the best teachings, compared with another where the family hearth is made a central point of the Beautiful and the Good. And much of that feverish unrest and want of balance between the desire and the fulfillment of life, is calmed and adjusted by the pursuit of tastes which result in making a little world of the family home, where truthfulness, beauty, and order have the largest dominion.26

Downing also claims, in the same preface, that "the mere sentiment of home, with its thousand associations, has, like a strong anchor, saved many a man from shipwreck in the storms of life."27

Did Patrick Barry and George Ellwanger want moral uplift when they built the office of their Mount Hope Nursery in 1854? "Why should a business office for a commercial enterprise have been constructed with the outward trappings of a medieval castle? Certainly the proprietors could not have planned to defend their nursery stocks from the battlemented tower of their office."28 No-Ellwanger and Barry simply wished to build in the height of fashion. Many designs by Alexander Jackson Davis had appeared in The Horticulturist under the editorships of both Andrew Jackson Downing and Patrick Barry. Because Ellwanger and Barry were familiar with the works of both Downing and Davis- both The Horticulturist and Downing's books are in the Ellwanger and Barry library-Davis was the logical choice as an architect for the new office. "Nostalgia for the heroic past," writes one modern critic,

was generally kept in check by middle class propriety. Few houses were built on rocky crags, and there was some doubt about the suitability of the castellated style for peaceful modern residences whose quiet inhabitants have not the remotest idea of manifesting anything offensive or defensive to any of. . . [the] peace-loving neighborhood.29

Battlements and crenelations came to be reserved for the most part to colleges, military schools, and prisons, and spiry echoes of Gothic cathedrals for churches. Was Davis, still dreaming of Mrs. Radcliffe's heroines, particularly persuasive with tongue or pen? Were Ellwanger and Barry thinking back to castles on the Rhine or in Ireland? Davis's memoranda preserved in the print department of the Metropolitan Museum of Art indicate only the dry bones of a business transaction:  "Feb. 10 [1854]. P. Barry, with James Vick [Rochester publisher of The Horticulturist] called at libe. and selected a design for office at Rochester. Feb. 16. Made out a set of drawings for office. . . paid $30.00."30 Davis's designs for an "Artist's Villa" and a "Villa for a rocky hill," sent to Mr. Vick, elicited Patrick Barry's admiration in November 1854, and Davis drew two plans for houses, now at the Metropolitan, for George Ellwanger, which were never used.31

Whatever its origins, in whim or in hard-headed business sense, the office is a gem. Excluding churches, it is the major example of the Gothic Revival style in this region and "an outstanding example of a business office designed to harmonize with its residential and agricultural setting."32 Such buildings are certainly rare today; they have always been rare. T-shaped in plan and two stories high with a three-story battlemented Gothic tower on its west side, it is built of brick with stucco finishing scored to represent stone. (Downing and Davis did not feel that such suggestions violated their precepts of truthfulness in architecture, unless the builder actually sought to deceive the viewer by lightening the lines between the "stones" to suggest mortar.) The ends of the building are finished with screen gables. A cluster of three chimneys rises through the ridge off the north part of the building. "The entrance was originally on the Mount Hope Avenue [west] side but is no longer used, and the building is now entered by the small porch on the north side."33 It has a pointed roof and narrow lancet windows. An oriel window adorns its south end. The office lacks the more elaborate carvings and window treatments of some Gothic houses designed by Davis. Though this relative simplicity may stem from a desire for economy, the restraint accords well with the scale of the building. The vines that climb its sides and a magnificent purple beech beside it enhance its air of Romantic gloom, until one can almost imagine it a mini-Udolpho with a hapless heroine immured within. An addition measuring 16 by 23 feet, probably made early in the 1890's,34 lies to the east of the original structure. Its roof has a screen gable on the north side, and its outline and detail harmonize with the original building. Alterations have destroyed the original interior of the Ellwanger and Barry office, but pre-alteration descriptions suggest its character:

The rooms are simply disposed on the inside. The front office runs across the entire street side of the building and includes the lower story of the tower. A narrow staircase hall left of the north entrance opens into another room across the back. The arrangement is similar in the upper story. The original paneling is in place. A grill has been added to the old counter (rather like a bank counter), but otherwise the interior is substantially unchanged. 35

The clerk's office on the second floor, with the apex of its vaulted ceiling lost in the dim light, evokes visions of the figures that once stood at the high desks ranging the center of the room, recording the world wide transactions of the famous firm.36

Alexander Jackson Davis, proficient in so many styles-Greek, Gothic, and Italian-"seems to have regarded his adaptations of the Italian villa as the most truly American of his attempts, since the words 'villa in the American style' appear frequently in his diaries accompanying these designs," 37 but the villa just south of the nursery office was designed not by Davis but by his fellow contributor to Downing's works, Gervase Wheeler. Wheeler, like several other successful Italian villa architects, was a recent immigrant from Britain. "Italian' or 'Tuscan' villas had become popular in England during the eighteen twenties and the fashion spread to America about ten years later. American Italianate houses are second cousins to the real villas of Italy."38 The tenuousness of this influence or revival indicates the true character of the Victorian architects' activity:

There was no battle [of styles] but peaceful coexistence of many styles. The most accomplished Victorian architects worked in the greatest variety of styles. . . . Instead of clinging to traditional rules and academic schemes, the Victorian builders attacked each new problem in a spirit of vigorous experimentation. . . . Their styles were only convenient labels to make new designs more salable and please the clients' cultural aspirations. The historicizing flummery usually covered a very sound body.39

Emotion and sentiment, together with a strong desire for comfort and convenience rather than any desire for historical accuracy, seem to have shaped a villa such as the Patrick Barry House. In its era, "for the first time there was no single dominant style and an almost complete freedom of choice was possible for the architect or the patron." 40 A high, wide, and handsome structure such as the Barry house seems to epitomize this new freedom in American Victorian houses:

Their ground plans are open and informal, featuring bay windows and sliding doors; the outward aspect is an interesting free arrangement of blocks and wings; the roofs have wide overhangs; the first floor rooms open onto terraces and loggias for outdoor living.41

Another general celebration of the Victorian house seems eminently applicable to 692 Mt. Hope Avenue:

The Victorian house broke free from this academic scheme [the rigidly symmetrical façade of the Greek Revival house]. It is planned from the inside out, the free layout of rooms determines the outward look; the broken, 'picturesque' exterior makes the most of effects of sunlight, shade and foliage. These are good houses to walk around, to view at different times of the day and year. Inside they have a happy, hide-and-seek quality of surprise.42

Patrick Barry's Italian villa, built 1855-57, is of rose brick with beaded mortar and trimmed with limestone. The woodwork of its windows and doors is painted gray-buff and highlighted in dark red. Typical of the Italian villa designs of Wheeler and others are its low-pitched roofs and contrasting chimneys; graceful octagonal end-tower; coupled, shallow arched windows; windows with prominent moldings; wooden canopied verandas supported by slender Gothic columns; broad, overhanging eaves with bracketed wooden cornices; and the sprightly finial atop its tower. Its double-leaved front door, within an arched semi-enclosed stoop, is also typical. The exterior reflects Downing's functional and associative architectural priorities: his "preoccupations with forms which are picturesque and varied and at the same time voids in the composition; and secondly, the associative values of cultivation, refinement, or whatever, which are read into the forms."43 Downing writes that large windows indicate "large and spacious apartments within" and that

the most prominent features conveying expression of purpose in dwelling houses are the chimneys, the windows, and the porch, veranda, or piazza, and for this reason, wherever it is desired to raise the character of a cottage or villa above mediocrity, attention should first be bestowed on these portions of the building.44

Further, Downing says,

a broad shady veranda suggests ideas of comfort and is suggestive of purpose, for the same reason bay or oriel windows, balconies, and terraces increase their interest, not only by beauty of form, but by their denoting more forcibly those elegant enjoyments which belong to the habitation of man in a cultivated and refined state of society.45

Even the Italian tower aimed to be comfortable as well as picturesque: inhabitants were to enjoy the breezes there on otherwise sultry days.

The floor plan of the Patrick Barry House provides for easy access and circulation; the chief rooms on the first floor are two parlors, a library, a breakfast room, a dining room, and a kitchen-all grouped around a large central hall. (The kitchen was originally in the basement and was moved to the first floor during renovations in 1964-65. The present breakfast room was originally Patrick Barry's study.) "Fitness" for Downing applies to the ordering of the plan; he feels that the "convenient arrangement of the rooms" is the most important aspect of planning. The "ideal of domestic accommodation" is "each department of the house being complete in itself, and intruding itself but little on the attention of family or guests when not required to be visible."46 Such provision to preserve privacy perhaps differentiates Wheeler's comfortable Italian villa most clearly from the comfortable house of a hundred years later, with its "areas" designed to flow into one another. The Patrick Barry House appears to modern eyes to have an extraordinary number of doors-magnificent doors, 11 feet high, grained to resemble rosewood, but many, many doors. Two stairways have curving balustrades with elaborate spindles and newel posts. All windows have interior shutters, and the heavy interior window cornices are carved and inlaid with gold leaf. The plaster walls are painted and stencilled, and plaster ceiling moldings are decorated with color and gold leaf.47 Eight fireplaces in various colors of marble have round, arched openings; most are surmounted by mirrors in carved gold frames. Hundreds of details- interior and exterior-indicate that Wheeler designed the Patrick Barry House to accord with his aspirations for the suburban villa or "Villa Rustica" shown in his Rural Homes. He wished, as did Downing, to further the building of rural homes that would "harmonize with our lovely rural landscapes," and which would also exhibit a "pure moral tendency . . . as domestic feeling that . . . purifies the heart."48

When Downing and his followers designed villas, they also designed "cottages." Downing cites Ruskin to the effect that

Domestic architecture should express the owner's "condition" or class, his occupation and background. . . . He felt that distinctions were necessary and that no one should try to present a grander image than was appropriate. "But unless there is something of the castle in the man, "he wrote, "it is very likely, if it be like a real castle, to dwarf him to the stature of a mouse."49

Perhaps this pigeonholing of people (male heads of family, actually) sounds antidemocratic at first to modern readers. The aspirations of the mid-nineteenth-century architectural writers actually express the dream of an egalitarian democracy: every American is considered worthy of a comfortable, even elegant, home: "What we mean by a cottage, in this country," writes Downing,

is a dwelling of small size, intended for the occupation of a family, either wholly managing the household cares itself, or, at the most, with the assistance of one or two servants. The majority of such cottages in this country are occupied, not by tenants, dependants, or serfs, as in many parts of Europe, but by industrious, intelligent mechanics and working men, the bone and sinew of the land, who own the ground upon which they stand, build them for their own use, and arrange them to satisfy their own peculiar wants and gratify their own tastes.50

Morality, nationalism, and economic and aesthetic individualism blend in this version of the American dream: "an individually owned home on a lawn-fronted lot for every working man-as a testament to material progress and to family stability in a dynamic society within a transformed physical world."51

The four Gothic cottages on Mt. Hope Avenue between Linden Street and Cypress Street seem actually to have resulted from a mixture of entrepreneurial innovation and benevolent paternalism. Ellwanger and Barry purchased the land on which they stand in 1855. As the city of Rochester grew south toward the nursery's fields, plans for a subdivision followed soon after. (Ellwanger and Barry also donated large areas of the former nursery to the city as parkland.) The development was unusual in that the landowners oversaw construction of the houses. Their original cottages, including these four, were apparently meant chiefly for sale to their employees. The Civil War probably delayed construction; a ledger from the Ellwanger and Barry Realty Company preserved at the University of Rochester gives dates for three of the houses: number 254 (now 554), 1868; number 256 (now 560), 1868; number 258 (now 566), 1871. The lots are listed as costing $1,500 apiece; water pipes, $25; gas fixtures, $50; and back sheds, $50. The present 560 had a barn priced at $300. Total costs in 1871 are given as $4,690 for the present 554, $4,990 for the present 560, and $6,059.50 for the present 566. Two copies of an undated prospectus laid into the same ledger describe "Houses for sale by Eliwanger & Barry on Mount Hope Avenue and Linden Street":

One Handsome Brick cottage [present 566 Mt. Hope] corner of Mt Hope Avenue and Linden Street-lot 63 feet on Mt Hope Av and 130 feet deep
and 20 feet wide in rear-price $6500.00-One brick cottage on Mt Hope Av next north of preceding-lot 50 ft front and rear and 130 feet deep price $5,500.

In the same prospectus the first house on the north side of Linden Street, "new, never occupied," figures as "No 1 Brick-lot 50 x 115 feet price $4100.00" with "grading and fences extra $150 each" and "sewer $50." Additional "extras" described comprise "Picket fence $50, Division fence $25, Privy $25," and "Side wall lumber & labor $6." The average value of all brick houses constructed in New York State in 1865 was $6,171.52 Although many of the houses they constructed could not be sold and had to be rented, Ellwanger and Barry embarked upon the real estate business in earnest in the 1870's. Oakland Park was laid out in the area between South Avenue and Mt. Hope. Including the houses on Linden and Cypress streets, 118 houses were built at a cost of $250,000.53

Although architect's fees are figured into the costs of the three Mt. Hope Avenue cottages in the Ellwanger and Barry ledger-present 554, $90; present 560, $90; present 566, $129-the architect's name is unknown. His achievement in all four houses (for he was probably also the architect of the present 548 Mt. Hope) testifies that he was a master of the Gothic Revival style. As they were originally built, they must have conformed delightfully to the ideal of the romantic Gothic cottage; their steeply pitched cross gables, their inclines decorated by barge boards (wood trim carved in a curvilinear pattern reminiscent of Gothic tracery), their overhanging eaves with bracketed supports, their chimneys, their verandas, and their windows of varied sizes and shapes in asymmetrical patterns with Gothic-eared drip moldings above, all must have been both picturesque and evocative of Downing's relative beauty. The texture of their brick walls and their irregular shapes and rooflines still contribute to their picturesque effect, even when much of their original ornamental trim has vanished. The interrelation of the four houses makes the sum of their significance exceed that of the individual buildings, and their polychrome slate roofs remain especially handsome. End supports remaining on the roof of 554 indicate that its roof may originally have been surmounted by the additional tracery of an iron frieze.

The comfortable interiors of the cottages reflect the freedom possible with the liberated, asymmetrical Victorian ground plan. Three houses, 548, 554, and 560, had the same interior, with three floors, high ceilings, three central halls, open stairwells, two parlors, and lovely woodwork. Exterior and interior details seem designed to prove that the American workman or "industrious mechanic" can enjoy some of the same "elegancies of life" available to the residents of the larger villas. The architect of these four houses might almost have read Downing's directions in The Architecture of Country Houses:

When the means of the builder enable him to go beyond these simple beauties of form, his first thought, on elevating the expression of the cottage, should be to add ornament to the most important part of the dwelling. These are the entrance door, the principal windows, the gables, and the chimneys. The front door and the principal or first floor windows should be recognized as something more than mere openings, by lintels, hoods, or borders (dressings); the gables by being very simply moulded or bracketed about the junction with the roof; the chimneys, by a pleasing form or simple ornaments, or merely by having the usual clumsy mass lightened and separated into parts. After this, the next step is to add something to the expression of domestic enjoyment in cottage life-such as a simple porch, or veranda, or simple bay-window.54

The new architectural freedom of the era means that even relatively simple houses can draw on a wide variety of historic motifs rich in symbolic associations. Such Gothic Revival dwellings as these have "strong character, a romantic disposition, and an expressive vocabulary."55

 "The art of building," wrote Calvert Vaux in 1857,

faithfully portrays the social history of the people to whose needs it ministers, but can not get beyond those boundaries. We must remember, therefore, that principles of action, perceptions, convictions, habits of thought, and customs are the directors of all architectural design, and that wherever and however it may exist, it is one of several national exponents, not a cut-and-dried theoretical existence. Good architecture of some kind must spring up in any society where there is love of truth and nature, and a generally diffused spirit of politeness in the ordinary habits of thought.56

The mid-nineteenth-century builders on Mt. Hope Avenue dreamed just such optimistic dreams for architecture. Rational as well as romantic, they sought to be both functional and picturesque. Their commercial and residential structures, products of the energies and aspirations of rapidly expanding Victorian society, remain useful and beautiful after more than a century.



  1. Census of the State of New York for the Year 1865, p. ci, quoted in Edgar W. Martin, The Standard of Living in 1860: American Consumption Levels on the Eve of the Civil War (Chicago, 1942), p. 120.
  2. Calvert Vaux, Villas and Cottages (New York, 1857), p. iii.
  3. Daniel Harrison Jacques, The House: A Pocket Manual of Rural Architecture (New York, 1859), p. v.
  4. Andrew Jackson Downing, Cottage Residences (New York, 1844), p. 20.
  5. John Maass, The Gingerbread Age: A View of Victorian America (New York, 1957), p. 26.
  6. Vincent J. Scully, The Shingle Style and the Stick Style: Architectural Theory and Design from Downing to the Origins of Wright (New Haven, 1971), p. xxviii.
  7. James Early, Romanticism and American Architecture (New York, 1965), p. 30.
  8. Wayne Andrews, American Gothic: Its Origins, Its Trials, Its Triumphs (New York, 1975), p. 43.
  9. Andrews, American Gothic, p. 43.
  10. Wayne Andrews, Architecture, Ambition and Americans: A Social History of American Architecture (New York, 1964), p. 110.
  11. Andrews, American Gothic, p. 43.
  12. Carole Rifkind, A Field Guide to American Architecture (New York, 1980), p. 50.
  13. Early, p. 55.
  14. Early, pp. 55-60.
  15. Scully, pp. xxviii-xxix.
  16. Rifkind, p. 50.
  17. Andrew Jackson Downing, Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening (New York, 1841), p. 381.
  18. Early, p. 60.
  19. Early, p. 61, quoting M. Field, Rural Architecture (New York, 1857), p. 102.
  20. Early, p. 62.
  21. Jacques, p. 40.
  22. Jacques, pp. 40-41.
  23. Rifkind, p. 50.
  24. Jacques, p. 14.
  25. Gwendolyn Wright, Building the Dream: A Social History of Housing in America (New York, 1981), pp. 82-83.
  26. Andrew Jackson Downing, The Architecture of Country Houses (New York, 1850; reprinted, New York, 1969), p. xx.
  27. Downing, The Architecture of Country Houses, p. xx.
  28. Marian Card, "The Ellwanger and Barry Office," Genesee Country Scrapbook IV (1953), p. 8.
  29. Early, pp. 60-61, quoting Downing's "Hints to Persons About Building in the Country," his introduction to George Wightwick's Hints to Young Architects (New York and London, 1847), p. xvi.
  30. Quoted in Card, p. 10.
  31. Card, p. 11. George Ellwanger wrote to Davis in 1882: "I did not build after your plans-Soon after you executed them I left for Europe, after my return changes took place, so that I could not build on the location selected so the matter was deferred for a few years, when I built a fine stone house after another plan suitable for the location. When I finished I was taken sick, sold it, left for Europe. On my return I purchased a house & fine grounds [625 Mt. Hope Avenue], where I now reside."
  32. Kevin P. Harrington, note for the Historic American Buildings Survey Photo-Data Project, 1966-68. Descriptions of all six Ellwanger and Barry buildings are drawn from the HABS notes written by Jean R. France, Kevin P. Harrington, and Harley J. McKee. These are in the files of the Landmark Preservation Society of Western New York.
  33. Card, p. 11.
  34. Card, p. 12.
  35. Card, p. 12.
  36. Program for the 1979 Garden Club of America Tour, in Landmark Preservation Society files.
  37. Card, p. 9.
  38. Maass, p. 97. Prince Albert designed an "Italian" castle for Queen Victoria, which she built on the Isle of Wight.
  39. Maass, pp. 38-39.
  40. Early, p. 30.
  41. Maass, p. 97. Maass points out that "All these amenities anticipate the same features in present-day houses by over a century!"
  42. Maass, p. 64.
  43. Scully, p. xxxiii.
  44. Downing, Cottage Residences, pp. 19-20.
  45. Downing, Cottage Residences, pp. 21-22.
  46. Downing, Cottage Residences, pp. 10-12.
  47. The splendors of the original decor were recaptured in the 1964-65 renovation supervised by Elizabeth Holahan.
  48. Downing, Cottage Residences, p. iii.
  49. Wright, p. 84, quoting Downing, The Architecture of Country Houses, p. 262.
  50. Downing, The Architecture of Country Houses, p. 40.
  51. Rifkind, p. 51.
  52. Census of the State of New York for the Year 1865, p. ci, quoted in Martin, p. 120.
  53. Blake McKelvey, "The Flower City: Center of Nurseries and Flower Orchards," Publications XVIII (The Rochester Historical Society, 1940), p. 163.
  54. Downing, The Architecture of Country Houses, pp. 46-47.
  55. Rifkind, p. 51.
  56. Vaux, pp. 20-21.