Essex: The Architectural Heritage was written by George F. McNulty and Margaret Scheinin. Published in 1971, this user-friendly examination of the architecture in Essex, New York includes photographs of Essex buildings and detailed close-ups of architectural details to illustrate its thoughtful assessments.
The authors open with a brief history of Essex and explain its designation as an historic district. Essex was once a popular maritime port, but after 1850 the population shrank as a result of the decline in industrial and commercial activity. Essex fell behind the times. The advent of railroad transportation diminished the importance of waterway shipping (9). With a declining population new houses were unnecessary, so existing houses were used and preserved. Essex “is neither a museum or a restoration. It has been preserved intact by the events of its history” (9).
Essex Architectural Styles
Essex: The Architectural Heritage details the prominent historical architecture styles preserved in the town, emphasizing the rapid but brief building boom which accounts for most of the enduring structures. Essex “reached its maturity in a very rapid space of time, less than sixty years, covering an architectural period generally recognized as the high point in American architecture” (3).
The book is broken into sections describing the principal styles chronologically as they became popular in Essex: Colonial,, Greek Revival, and . The majority of the historic buildings in Essex were designed in Federal or , but Victorian, , and other influences can also be observed in some of the buildings. Federal style buildings are the oldest architectural style preserved, and as the years passed and new architectural ideas influenced the area some of these buildings have received additions and renovations in later styles.
Colonial & Federal Architecture
While there are no authenticated Colonial style buildings in Essex, some Federal houses exhibit elements characteristic of the Colonial style, so George F. McNulty and Margaret Scheinin include this style as well (12).
Federal style buildings usually have some of the following features:
“Delicate reedings, pilasters, columns with elaborate capitals, fluting and fans, urns, garlands, balustrades, and detailed cornices are typical details of the period […]
The average Colonial or Federal house never presented an ostentatious display of wealth, that was to come later in the Victorian period; but rather a carefully balanced and refined design which reflected a moral philosophy emphasizing thrift, virtue, and good taste…” (16).
Greek Revival Architecture
Essex homes constructed during the early 1800s endured in large part because they were structurally sound and there was seldom need or financial means to tear them down and replace them. However, the first extensive remodeling of homes and commercial buildings in Essex began during the Greek Revival period. “Details of cornice and pilaster, pediment and portico were easily copied and added to an existing structure of incorporated into a new” home. (28)
Two popular Greek Revival alterations included modifying the roof ridge (traditionally parallel with the street) to be perpendicular allowing the gable to be modified into a classic temple style, and adding a portico (small roof over door/walkway) to Federal doorways (29)
Block House Farm is the only building in Essex that reached full temple style (29).
“The Victorian period is in itself rich and extremely diversified, there are so few Victorian structures in the village [Essex] that it is impossible to establish clearly any trends within the period.” (42)
This style seems to have been used more in interior redecoration in Essex, but there are some Victorian features such as steep roofs, bay windows, and intricate iron fences that can be seen on the exterior of some buildings to denote that style (41-42).
Essex: The Architectural Heritage concludes with a illustration that names the different elements of a column and entablature as well as a glossary of helpful architectural terms.