The 4 front doors of the Norton-Fenton House


Here's Bennington's Norton-Fenton House, built in 1838.
The small porches on either side of the 3 grand columns are modern additions. So are the storm doors.

I wrote about its history in an earlier post.  http://passingbyjgr.blogspot.com/2014/01/passing-by-norton-fenton-house.html



Recently I was asked why the house has 4 front doors.
The simple explanation is:
2 of the doors are for visitors, 2 are for the family; or perhaps for business.

The 'company' doors are grand with double Ionic columns.
The curled scrolls at the top of the columns were thought to symbolize wisdom and grace.

Today the columns are not readily visible from the street, sheltered by the porch roofs.



The secondary doors are those in the middle with no columns, only casings.

The fluted moldings have rosettes at the top, not capitals, a modern touch in 1838. The massive marble lintels make these doors sturdy and practical.



The house was built for an extended family. Judge Luman Norton and his wife lived on the left side; their daughter and her husband, Christopher Fenton, were on the right, Together they owned the pottery factories around the corner on the Walloomsac River.

The families must have wished to visit and share easily. There is, for example, a bake oven in the firebox of the Fenton house, but none on the Nortons'.  Those 2 family doors made it possible to quickly and easily go from one house to the other.

'Back' doors existed as well, for household chores.

It is possible that the 'family' doors were 'business' doors. They opened into rooms that could have been used as offices for the potteries. Before 1860, tradesmen's workrooms were often attached to their homes. Lawyers, judges, ministers, and doctors regularly had offices in their houses. Why not pottery owners too?

There is another way to consider the front doors -
The house itself is really 2 center entrance houses set side by side - with a hole where they join. Look at the windows across the 2nd floor - 5 on the left centered on a front door; 5 on the right also centered  over a front door.


Here is a picture of what the house would look like as double house - long, ordinary, undistinguished.
The red line is added to help to visualize the 2 houses.
 Changing the roof direction in the middle gives the  house a center. Then, of course, that bit of roof becomes a pediment which needs a visual support on each end. That space becomes the first thing a visitor sees. Adding the 3 columns just reinforces the effect.
 
The center section could have been brought forward. Instead it was recessed.  That made space for both windows and columns.

The drawing shows how elegant it is.
The main doors with their ornate columns, side lights, and transoms soften the austerity and power of those columns, and bring the viewers' eyes back from the pediment to the ground.



Then the business doors were added...  And with them the visual dilemma - where to look? which doors are the important?  the ones in the center, under the pediment? those with the columns?
Today I look and wonder what solution I would come up with if I had been the designer; the Nortons and Fentons, my clients.

I am very fond of this house. It is unique, not copied from someone else's idea of what a house should be. I am glad to see it useful 180 years after it was built, and especially glad that many different  people get to enjoy it.


No comments: