The Columns of Bennington

Yes, this is a column about the columns that builders in Bennington used before 1860. There were many, most of them fluted.

This is the Charles Cooper Residence.

Below it is the home, and probably the office, of Dr. Goodall.
Both have 2 story tall porticoes with dramatic Doric columns.

These houses were photographed in 1904 for the Bennington Souvenir. Both date from the 1850's and were on Main Street.   The Cooper Residence was extensively updated in the 1880's as can be seen by the curved roof over the veranda that nestles between the wings of the house.
Both were, in 1904, painted several colors, no longer the classic white preferred in the 1850's.

The first house is gone, the second one also. I show them as examples of the many Bennington houses which had dramatic columns. 

Here is Bennington's Town Offices, built in 1842 for the Root family, given to Bennington in the 1920's to be the Town's offices.

For more about the Root House, see:





It also has Doric columns; columns with flutes,  no base at the bottom and simple capitals at the top: classic American Greek Revival.


 If you cut one in half it would look like this:

Long wooden shafts, 2" thick minimum, with their sides cut at angles so that when they are set side by side they join in a circle.* After three flutes are carved in each shaft, they are glued together on the edges and the inside with angled blocks and hide glue. 




In 1842 this was new.  As recently as 1836, when the Norton-Fenton House on Pleasant Street was built, the columns had been made from full trees, cut, shaped, and smoothed, with added capitals and bases. 





The columns in the Old First Church, built in 1805, are also trees. Local tall, straight white pines. debarked and shaped, support the balcony, the ceiling of the meeting house, and the roof as part of the attic trusses. 


The next time you visit the church check the columns. You can see where tree branches were lopped off when the columns were shaped, and where the young men who sat in the balcony carved into those trees during church services.



Why did this change?     Supply and technology.

The supply of tall straight trees close to the major seaport cities had dwindled. As early as 1820, the trees for the timber frames of houses along the seacoast north of Boston were being hauled by oxen and rafted down rivers from forests 50 miles away.  Remember that in 1840, a 3 mile journey to town in a wagon took 45 minutes. Bringing the lumber to the cities cost money and time. Those logs was too precious to use whole.

At the same time the technology of saw mills had greatly improved. Saws could cut not just one board from a tree, but many boards at once. 

Bennington  still had the trees. It wanted the newest  style: Greek Revival. The pattern books written by master builders and architects had plates and descriptions, including how to build the new fluted columns.

Asher Benjamin in his book, The Architect, or Practical House Carpenter, showed a Doric column  with its base and capital. He included the proper proportions on the left and the profile on the right.

Benjamin accompanied his drawings with detailed instructions to the carpenter.* He wrote:

I especially like his explanation of the necessity of accuracy and 'exactness' in order to keep the work from being 'bad'. 

Doric Columns, some much larger than those on the Town Offices, were used on Main Street, Pleasant Street and West Road, on Prospect Street in North Bennington. Those at Powers Market were brick, specially formed for that purpose.


 *The image of the Doric column is part of Plate IV, titled: 'DORIC ORDER From the Temple of Theses in Athens'.
*The image of the cross section is half of Plate XXIV, titled 'Glueing up of Columns'.                       *The excerpt is from Page 52: PLATE XXIV To glue up the Shaft of a Column.
All are in  The Architect, or Practical House Carpenter, by Asher Benjamin. 1830; reprint by Dover Publications. 

Hiram Waters, a master builder whose shop was on Monument Avenue, Bennington, owned a copy of this book. It is possible that he was the carpenter for these houses.  

For more on Hiram Waters, see  

See also issues of the Walloomsack Review, published by the Bennington Museum.








Bennington's Town Offices, originally The Root House



Now that the leaves are off the trees, pause on Union Street, look toward South Street and admire the Root House that was set  right there for you to see.



Today this is Bennington's Town Offices. 

The house was built for the Roots' family. Elisha and Betsy Root had come to Bennington in 1833. Their son, Henry Green Root, a tin smith, had joined with Luther Graves, a peddler, to make and market tin goods. The Root family lived here until the 1920's when they gave their house to the Town.

When it was built in the 1840's it was the latest style.  Facing the gable end of the house to the street was the new way; so were the wings. English gentlemen had country houses like this. So did successful merchants in the Mid-Atlantic states. 

Now the style had come to Bennington.  Copying the solid rectangular shape, the strong moldings, and columns of Greece temples was all the rage. 


These photographs, each bringing the viewer closer to the house, help show how a visitor approaching on foot or in a carriage would have perceived the house - not as we see it today in one photograph or passing by in a vehicle.

 Setting the house back from the street away from the hustle of the town, was also the latest style. It  presented the house within a vista. A visitor needed to approach the house deliberately, not just  happen by.

The veranda - the name used for a porch in the 1840's - helped. It was a platform: showing off the house.

It also was a place to see and be seen. It spoke of a family who had leisure time to spend on that porch.
The windows which looked onto the veranda came to the floor - you could walk through them. The house became porous, not just protection from the elements. In the winter the windows would have interior shutters and drapes and the newest heating system, cast iron stoves, for warmth.



 The large, fluted, and slightly tapered columns with simple capitals copied those of Greek temples.
They were not cut from one tree, but assembled from many planed and carved boards.

 Columns in early Bennington buildings, for example: The Old First Church, 1805, and the Norton-Fenton House, 1836, were trees.

 The gable triangle, emphasized by moldings reminded the viewers of a classic Greek pediment. The flat boards -  set side by side, not lapped as clapboards are  -  referenced the stone walls of  Greek temples The boards were probably made smooth by a water powered planing machine, not by hand. What a time saver that would have been!

The columns and the flat boards required newly emerging technologies that Bennington embraced.   


The house - seen here in the center of the colorized 1887 Bird's Eye View map of Bennington - had barns and out buildings. One - on the left at the corner of South and Elm Streets - had begun as the Root and Graves' company workshop. It is now Bennington's Welcome Center.

To the right is the house that is now used for Harvest Brewing and a restaurant and then the brick wall of Jay's Art Shop and Frame Gallery.




Here's the house as photographed by WT White or WH Sibley for the Bennington Souvenir. published in 1904.

Mary Root Mollica once told me that when she was a child (early 1930's)  her Morgan horse was stabled in one of the barns. 

Hiram Waters' workshop, Monument Avenue, Bennington, VT


Hiram Waters was an excellent carpenter. This is his workshop on Monument Avenue in Old Bennington; built in 1835, with help from the community to replace his old shop which had burned down. 
His apprentices roomed upstairs; the kitchen was in the basement. It’s shape - a story and a half, gable facing the street, is standard for the time. The center door says it’s a place of business: the visitor enters into a show room. A residence would have a side entrance leading into a hall with a room on one side .
Enjoy his skill as a joiner - a finish carpenter. He understands the latest style: Greek Revival. His proportions fit his facade - not too big or too little. He includes all the right classic architectural details. 
This is now residential and connected to the house to the left.

'Pattern books' were published to share the latest designs with country carpenters. We know that Waters owned at least one of Asher Benjamin's pattern books, which included detailed drawings of columns like these.

A handsome classic sequence of curves on the pedestal! 

However the half rounds that make up the column are fascinating - classic flutes curve in, here they curve out, 'reed molding'.
Did he not have the right plane?  Was he inventing using the planes he had?
Or did he prefer this shape?
 No matter - it's handsome.

I count 6 layers of molding - 6 shadow lines for the capital from the top of the column to the frieze (the flat piece). And then the 'rope': delicate, tucked between 2 larger simple surfaces and a plain fillet. 

The running bead continues up the rake, under the overhanging eaves. It is small - best seen by a pedestrian, which is 1835 would have been almost everyone.
The cabinet shop itself is a statement of Water's ability as a builder; the rope molding is frosting on the cake. 
The pattern book  we think Waters owned was Asher Benjamin's  Practical House Carpenter, first published in 1830. This frontispiece comes form the edition published 
in 1844.
Benjamin's books were very popular.  He published regularly from 1797 until his death in 1845. His publishers issued later editions until 1862. 

This is part of Plate XII, the architrave for an Ionic column.
Waters didn't copy the architrave or the others in Benjamin's book exactly . for example, he left out the dentils, and added more moldings which emphasize the parts and created more shadows. 
He was also adapting the design for a free standing column to a corner pilaster.
This is part of Plate V, the base for a Doric column.
The sequence of curves on Waters' base is quite similar to this.

I first posted this on Facebook.  I have copied it here so it's not lost.
The images of Asher Benjamin's Plates come from The Architect, or Practical House Carpenter (1830), Dover Publications reprint, 1988. 
That book does not include this frontispiece.  That came from an original edition available online. I chose to use the original fonts and layout because I wanted to share with you, the reader, the cover page which Hiram Waters saw. 

The Campbell House porch, Main St. Bennington, VT

 This is a look at a beautifully designed porch.

I included commentary about how a porch was used in a time before the automobile, when seeing and being seen was a art form with etiquette and rules.


 How to design the perfect porch for the month of August.


The Campbell House, built in 1896, Bennington, Vt., was designed by  William Bull, Bennington's premier Late Victorian architect.


 1 - Make one side (on the left here) ample so family and friends can gather, admire the owner’s factory across the road, and observe the community passing by. 

Set your house back from the street. This allows gentile lounging and discrete watching, without engagement with the public.

Originally a small porch (with an awning!) was in the middle of the 2nd floor, between the windows.

 In the attic another porch - now glassed in - had a view north to the mountains. 


2 - Always put a tower above your porch so it’s clear where the action is.

Add a great finial!
The plaster ornaments around the frieze anchoring the turret were the latest fashion. 
 Weatherproof plaster that could hold ornate shapes was newly invented. These patterns are still available  and made from the original molds.
3 -  Include a wide stair which curves outward.
The house is set more than 6 ft above the street which could a  daunting height.
If a stair were narrow it would be forbidding. 
Those wide, curved, shallow steps solve the problem. One can climb them leisurely; be seen, pause, and be welcomed (or not). 

 4 - Curve your porch! Curve your railing! Add double columns too. William Bull was a master at using curves. They make spaces slightly larger. But visually, physically, circles draw the eye; they are dramatic. They also soften the character of, and welcome you into, the space.
5 - Add as many patterns as you can. You do not want bored companions. 
Choose sensibly: stone for bases, fretwork for airing the porch, solid pedestals for those columns, sturdy railings and balusters for young gentlemen to carelessly lounge on.
6 - Double columns are good. More is always better. Ionic capitals represent 'grace and beauty', the right ideas for a summer porch. 
Set the curved horns on angle, with 2 faces each, not 2 per end as in the Classic design. Add some acanthus leaves as a flourish.
Your family and friends will visit whether or not your cook can provide excellent lemonade and ginger snaps.


The Miller's Toll - How it was built

I wrote about the  history of The Miller's Toll Restaurant on Main St. in Bennington here:

This post is about its construction about 1825.

All the good framing that I was fortunate to see is now hidden again as the renovations are completed. Invisible. Behind siding, insulation, interior walls, new paint.

I can't say,"Next time you're there look at this!"  Instead this post answers the questions I get: "That old? How to do you know? What are you looking at?"

I started checking Bennington's old maps, seeing if they show the house. They do.

Here is a small part of the 1877 Bird's Eye View map of Bennington.

In the middle, beside the Walloomsac River,  above and left  of the bridge, is the house.
It is a 2 story house with a back wing and a porch on 2 sides. There are 3 windows on the second floor in the front and a chimney in the middle.

This is  what the 2nd floor looked like 3 years ago.

The 3 windows seen on the map are still there.
The roof still has the same pitch with the gable facing the street.
The bunch of wood in the  photograph in the middle of the floor - where the surface changes -  covers the hole where the chimney was.

The hole in the roof for the chimney is now patched. It is right where the map placed it.

It's the same house. It was here in 1877.

The gable faces the street. That was the 'new' way to build in the 1830's.  The house is at least that old.
The 1835 Hinsdill Map of Bennington has dot in this spot.*
Is this house that dot?  Yes.   Here is how I can tell.

Warning! Now begin some picky details!
I think this is fun so I like sharing it.
If you don't, thanks for reading this far

The ridge beam, running down the middle of the picture, has 5 sides. It was once a tree, cut to this shape, and notched to catch the rafters. Ridge beams with 5 sides were standard in Bennington houses from about 1765 to about 1850.

Notice that the roof sheathing is  wide boards with vane. 'Vane' is the edge of the tree. The boards were not trimmed, but used as they were sliced off the log by the saw.
The frame, painted here in the photo, is typical of New England post and beam, timber frame construction.
The square posts support beams connected with mortise and tenon joints held together with wooden pegs.

Here the frame is exposed and painted. By the1830's the beams would have been hidden in the wall, and ceiling.  The lath (see the photo below) would have covered the posts and beams as well as the exterior sheathing. 

The walls have no studs. Instead planks sit side by side.  Bennington had lots of wood and saw blades to cut them into wide panels. The intermediate studs we had earlier used in the post and beam frame gave way to plank walls.
Those planks  were cut at Safford's saw mill located just across the Walloomsac River.
This is reasonably common here in the Tri-State area. Sometimes it can be found in houses in western NY and Ohio. That indicates that a framer trained here took his skills with him when he moved west.

The mill used a sash saw with a saw blade that went up and down. It left marks on the boards which are still visible today. Later circular saws left curved marks. Those saws were in the area by the 1840's.
In the photograph the left side shows the saw marks.

On the right side are the light and dark marks left from where lath was nailed on for plaster. The uneven lines mean that the lath was 'split'  - make from  boards. Later lath is cut in uniform widths instead of being split. 

For a more technical discussion you can read my blog post here:

* Prints of the Hinsdill Map are in the Bennington Museum Research Library as well as several books on Bennington and Vermont.