Victorian Gothic Architecture

The Victorian period of history covered the years 1840 to 1900. As opposed to being an architectural style, as many people believe, it is rather the actual time period in which a home was built. However, during those years, a number of distinct architectural styles were created, among them the Victorian Gothic, the style in which both the Sandlin homes were built. Generally, a Victorian Gothic home will utilize pointed windows with decorative tracery and pointed arches, grouped chimneys, leaded glass, clover shaped windows, lacy gingerbread trim and bargeboards, vertical board and batten siding, a one story porch, and an asymmetrical floor plan. Clearly, the Sandlin houses encompass several of these features, as well as some from other architectural styles.

The architecture of the Victorian era was instantly popular, as people viewed it to be a new kind of modernism, allowing them to drift away from the simplistic designs they were used to, and lean toward the highly decorative features of this period. As a result, these homes tend to mark the real beginning of “modern architecture.” A Victorian Gothic house allowed a homeowner to fulfill a new found love of exquisite design at a reasonable cost. Additionally, it allowed the homeowner to plan the house from the inside out, letting the layout of the rooms and the traffic pattern determine the outward look.

Andrew Jackson Downing introduced the Victorian Gothic architectural style as it could be used with wood frame homes, with the book Cottege Residences in 1842 and Architecture of Country Houses in 1850. Downing is also credited with popularizing the front porch, as he saw it as “the link from the house to nature.” On these frame homes, the plans for which were given in his books, Downing showed the Victorian Gothic ideas in the shape of the roof and window moldings, as well as with a steep center gable. Some of the homes were highly decorated with architectural trim features, giving them a rather fanciful look. Early architects and builders often used the same general floor plan for houses while changing the facades. It is important to note that many of the early homes had no kitchen or bathroom, and these rooms were typically housed in sections that were later added.

Although the first Victorian homes emulated the castles and cathedrals of Europe, and were made of brick and stone, the ready availability of wood led to a distinctively American version of the Victorian architectural style. Later, the ease and affordability of adding scrolled ornaments, gingerbread trim, and other decorative details led to homes heavily steeped in Victorian Gothic. Steam powered scroll saws, invented mid-century, allowed the cutting and shaping of thin pieces of wood into just about any way imaginable, which in turn allowed the mass production of intricate moldings and scrolls. This invention clearly helped pull the Victorian Gothic style away from brick and stone toward frame houses.

These wooden homes were not intended to be castles or cathedrals, but instead, according to English architect John White in his Rural Architecture: Ornamental Cottages and Villas (1845) were to be “of such a character as to accommodate the various ranks of society, the price being so moderate as to bring it within reach of the humblest mechanic [laborer].” The industrial revolution in the late 18th and early 19th centuries introduced many major changes in agriculture, manufacturing and transportation, which in turn brought forth more economic opportunities. This phenomenon changed the face of “fancy.” It was no longer strictly a privilege of the wealthy, but instead could be obtainable by the newly rising middle class families.

According to Shonna L. Clark in The Era of Victorian Architecture:

“The newly rising middle class would change the face of the country forever. They were optimistic, they believed that any person with three important qualities: skill, imagination, and energy, had the opportunity to earn a good living and even become rich. This new middle class lived comfortable lives and as the wealth of the nation increased many were able to enjoy the pleasures of the good life in beautiful homes. They became the social entertainers and they built their homes to symbolize their wealth and status in society.”

This clearly applies to the Sandlin home, as it was one of the largest homes built in Hamilton County, and was the setting for several entertaining parties. Additionally, it could be said that Preston H. Sandlin possessed those three qualities deemed necessary for success: skill, imagination, and energy. He had the skill to begin his livery and stable business and bring it to success. He had the imagination and gumption to try to save The First National Bank from the throes of the Depression, although he eventually failed, losing everything. He also had the energy throughout his life to effect change in his community, his own life and those surrounding him.

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