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A Georgian Diamond Taras Bohonok AHIST-305 Breiner 11/12/2007

Taras Bohonok Case Study History III 11-12-07 A Georgian Diamond The Deshler-Morris house served as a permanent residence for George Washington in 1793. In doing so, it has remained the oldest standing building to serve as a presidential residence. Thanks to the effort of historic preservationists, people today can witness the relationship between the Deshler-Morris’s design and the culture from the late 1700’s and the 1800’s. The house reflects prominent Georgian features and the culture through its design and different developmental stages. Also, the Deshler-Morris house stands out from the rest of Germantown, making it special and unique enough to keep preserving. Georgian architecture is best described through balance and proportion which are based on simple mathematical ratios. The Georgian Style is commonly referred to as “Palladian” architecture due to its strong resemblance to Palladian’s work.1 This Italian architect referred to classical Roman principles and inspired any neo-classical ideas. For the Georgian Style, "regular" was a term of approval. It implied symmetry and obedience to classical rules. Georgian towns maintained a common regularity for house fronts. The Georgian designs obliged to the Classical orders of architecture and contained a decorative vocabulary based on ancient Rome or Greece designs. The most common building material was red, tan, or white brick or stone.2 By examining the building and its plan, section, and elevation, one can agree that this house is a great landmark that embodies the period in a Georgian manner. The

1 2

Curl, Stevens James. Georgian Architecture. (Singapore: David & Charles 1993), 21. Curl, 15-17.

building has many classical, yet unique features. Its woodwork is painted a subtle yellow, which contrasts well with the monotone white walls. The massing is somewhat offset. The front of the house is wide as the middle thins out and is pushed back to the right side. This exposes an enclosed garden area on the southeast side.3 The gardens were prominent at one point as they would have stretched back on the vast property, but today that has been mostly sold off and redeveloped. Since the site lines to this garden are not visible from the street, this creates a secluded privacy. This feature is unique and makes the Deshler-Morris house prominent in Germantown. The human scaled proportions are reinforced by the entry pilasters and lead into the interior. From the inside , the spaces are long, tall, and narrow. The stories are almost twelve feet in height and add volume and light to the enclosed spaces through the original large windows. The third floor received light through dormers which have been removed over time. The height is accentuated in the long tall hallway which divides the space down the center. The tone is cool, and dark and made brighter by the white walls and accentuating furniture. Continuing the examination, the front faรงade exclaims the Georgian style through its extensive symmetry and architectural details. A strong central axis divides the front into two identical halves.4/5 The windows are lined up over each other, varying only by the addition of shutters on the first floor. This creates a simple rhythm that compliments the Georgian style.6 The rectangular dentil course that runs over the second floor


Adlerstein, Michael. Historic Structure Report: Deshler-Morris House. (Germantown: National Historic Park, 1982),1. 4 Callard, Judith. Germantown, Mount Airy, and Chestnut Hill. (Charleston: Germantown Historic Society/ Arcadia Publishing, 2000), 38. 5 Image 1a) 6 Image 1b)

windows emphasis the Palladian aspect in the facade and is often seen in Georgian design. The building is perfectly balanced and sits flush with the rest of the streetscape.7 The focal point is centered through the middle as the pediment and pilasters are the only things that break the continuous repetition between the windows.8/9 This humble design dominated most of Germantown, so the building doesn't overpower its neighbors. The building has a hard time establishing hierarchy because very little protrudes from the facade. The only noticeable protrusion from the face of the building is the pediment with the pilasters because in that period, the focus was centered on the inside rather then the exterior.10 The main form of contrast is found between the rectangular window frames and the triangulated form of the pediment.11 Overall, the Deshler-Morris House's facade exhibits many characteristics of Germantown in itself. It was common at the time to build homes in the Georgian manner. Yet homes in Germantown demonstrated their own uniqueness like consistently building in stone instead of brick, arched cellar windows, front stoops, and the “Dutch� door.12 What really adds value to the Deshler-Morris House is that it's original colonial structure was not destroyed. Only a few homes in Georgetown were built on expansions, unlike the rest, that resorted to demolition and new construction. The plans provide supportive details that tie this building to the culture and the ever-present Georgian Style. The roof plan demonstrates the gradual progression of development of the building. Today it is covered with a metal roof, but a beveled butt7

Image 1c) Image 1d) 9 Image 1e) 10 Image 1f) 11 Image 1g) 12 Simon, Grant Miles, Margaret B. Tinkcom. Historic Germantown. (Philadelphia: The American Philosophical Society/Lacaster Press, 1955), 8. 8

wood shingle roof exists beneath.13 One unique characteristic is the chimney. It has two stacks located on both sides of the gabled roof and are unexpressed in the exterior walls.14 Through analyzing this change, one can identify the additions that were added on to the house.15 The analysis show that the building grew out from the middle to the front, followed by an extension in the back. Expanding homes started to become common around Germantown because most families were growing out of room in their original settlements.16 In the Deshler-Morris house, the older part of the building was originally built set back from the street, which may indicate that The original owner probably anticipated on expanding it to the front in the future. The roof is characteristically Georgian because of its pitched roof. Having steep pitched roofs accommodated for rising heat throughout the house and allowed for heavy roof loads like snow to slide off the sides and not applying the load to the structure. The plan of the building is configured on a longitudinal axis. The rooms branch off to the left and right off of the main hallway which extends through the length of the whole building. The two sides are asymmetric, yet the first floor and the second carry on some symmetry in the placement of the rooms.17 The focal point is in the center of the hallway which houses the fireplace.18 This room is the original part of the building, around which the rest of the house was built. There is a contrast in the flooring, which parts the old construction from the new.19 Additional information can be found in the section of the Deshler-Morris House. 13

Adlerstein, 8. Donnelly, Marian. Architecture in Colonial America. (Eugene: University of Oregon Press, 2003), 4. 15 Image 2a) 16 Simon, 27. 17 Image 2b) 18 Image 2c) 19 Image 2d) 14

A natural hierarchy arises from examining the cross section of the floors. As the building progresses from the front to the back, so does the physical hierarchy of the elevation.20 The building is tallest at the front and shortest at the back. Also, the front holds most of the focal rooms such as the dining rooms and bedrooms while the middle only has the kitchen, hallways, and writing rooms. The back is primarily for the kids and maid’s quarters. This natural progression is an example of a different form of hierarchy that analyses the functionality of the space. Luckily, it also lines up with the hierarchy of the elevation of the building. Most of the structure in this building is supported in the exterior envelope.21 Bearing walls and wooden beams have supported the building very well, even though some minor assistance was provided by the Park Service restoration group. Over the course of the three floors, the building is split up into two modules; a square at the front, and a rectangle in the back.22 They are connected through a circulation path that runs down the middle and connects the levels vertically through a central staircase.23 Some of these features are what distinguishes this house from the rest of the culture at the time. Most people back then preferred to have the main staircase in the center of the building, easily viewed from the front.24 But in this case, the stairs are off to the right side and tucked behind a room. Another unique feature is that the fireplace has closets on either sides which occupy the entire wall. Since the fireplace was utilized as a stove, most of the cooking utensils and spices or grains were stored around the fireplace for convenience. These are just some of the details that make this building so unique for its time and special enough to preserve for future generations. Through 20

Image 2e) Simon, 66. Also see Image 2f) 22 Image 2g) 23 Image 2h) 24 Simon, 67. 21

these visual analysis, the Deshler-Morris House presents a strong tie to the cultural period and an emphasis on the Georgian style. The Deshler-Morris house retains valuable history some of which gained it its fame, and some that helped it stand out as a valuable example of Georgian architecture. The original building was constructed in 1750 for David Deshler who was a successful merchant.25 This building was used as a summer house. The small cottage like structure fit well into the culture. At the time, most family sizes were small since the Germantown community was only beginning to take its roots. “The enlargement of these small houses, to accommodate the growing families, is characteristic of the next step in the growth of the community.”26 Eventually the Deshler family outgrew the small summer home and an extension was added to the front in 1772.27 This new structure is what most people associate with the Deshler-Morris house and consider this to be the original date of construction. It is simply a matter of interpretation. But what this did was it unified the building with the Germantown street facades and gradually began a process of unification for the town of Germantown. The addition provided enough sleeping quarters for the family and allowed for a greater lifestyle. This addition also attributed to most of the Georgian detailing in the building. The new addition presented a very symmetrical Georgian five-bay façade with the main hallway opening up into the hallway.28 It was very conservative in design and innovative with its new construction methods. This building was also home of the Contributionship Insurance Company which still has its symbol of four clasped hands in place over the colonial doorway (America’s first fire 25

Moss, Roger. Historic Houses of Philadelphia. (Philadelphia: Barra Foundation/ University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998) 147. 26 Simon, 27. 27 Adlerstein, 5. 28 Donnelly, 115.

company that organized in 1752)29. The town of Germantown was described by Pastorius as such, “We have here wholesome pure air, charming springs, streams abounding in fish, fertile ground after it has first manipulated by strong, assiduous arms, and all kinds of tame and wild animals.”30 These qualities are what drew the people out of Philadelphia to settle in this quiet suburb of the busy city. Unfortunately, most of its booming sprawl is linked to a disastrous event. Philadelphia’s populous was very fortunate to have a very modern water supply system. The Water Works pumped water from the river into a great reservoir where the Philadelphia Museum stands today. The water then dispersed into the city through a vast piping network. Sadly, the river was a source for increasing pollution as more trash was being dumped into it each day. Eventually it brought about the spread of yellow fever epidemic.31 This caused the public to leave the city in drones, seeking a safe haven outside the city. Germantown was the perfect location for those who could afford to live in it and could provide themselves with the luxury of a commute to the city. One famous tenant to Germantown happened to be none other then George Washington. He resided in the Deshler-Morris residence for about two weeks during 1973. By now, the house was sold off to Colonel Franks who was renting the house out. During his visit, the president had to bring his own furniture since the house came unfurnished. This furniture was very indicative of the culture such as chairs designed by George Hepplewhite and cabinets by Thomas Chippendale. Unfortunately, The founding president took the furniture back with him, so only a few pieces remain today in the


Adlerstein, 4. Sache, Pastorius. Letters. Massive #1. Pastorius to Parents, (Philadelphia: Philadelphia Public Library),4. 31 Wolf, Stephanie. Urban Village. (Princeton: Princeton University Press,1976), 24. 30

house. George Washington enjoyed his stay so much that he brought his family back to this retreat in 1794. This fact puts the Deshler-Morris house into the history books as the oldest standing building to serve as a presidential residence. Now that the building was quickly gaining fame, The Morris family purchased it and managed to keep it in the family and maintain it till 1948. That is why it building is rightfully named after Deshler and Morris. During this period in the 1800’s the building managed to grow out in the back, gaining more room for servants to accommodate the residents’ needs.32 These additions fell in line in the original structure and formed a continuation off of the colonial central area. They form most of the “tail”, so to speak, that stretches back into the property. The final structure looked like a set of stairs, stepping down from a three story structure at the front, to a two story colonial center, and finally to a one story expansion. The Morris family added on a few other changes in the late 1800’s like fixing the building up to code, adding on restroom facilities, and bringing up the final addition to two stories to create a kids room.33 Thanks to the effort of the Morris family, the Deshler-Morris house persists to shine. The building was finally sold off to the National Historic Park in 1948 and was restored to become a museum.34 Overall, the Deshler Morris house is an amazing part of American history. It culminates so much of the 1700/1800’s culture and gives a great insight into what makes a classical Georgian building. One way to emphasize this feature is to restore some of its original components. Part of the original addition that went up in 1772 had two roof dormer windows that can be found on the Roof Framing System in the Historical Structures Report done by the Independence National Historic Park Commission. By the 32

Adlerstein, 5. Adlerstein, 5. 34 Adlerstein, i. 33

late 1800’s, the dormers were removed. By reinserting these two windows, the building would not only be brought back to its original glory, it would add much needed light into the third story. The third floor is where the president resided, and if that is a key focal point of the building, why not restore it? Today, the third floor suffers from excessive trapped heat. Even during the tours, the third floor is restricted. The dormers also played an important part in circulating the air and letting all that rising heat escape. This restoration project would culminate the essence of the Deshler-Morris house and bring it back to its full glory. In conclusion, this building is part of America’s past. Through visual and historical evidence, the Deshler-Morris house accentuates on the Georgian style and embodies the culture from that time. It was well preserved through the care of certain individuals and has a bright future ahead. With devotion, this building can be restored to what it was like at its peak and remain a landmark and an asset to Germantown.

Taras Bohonok Annotated Bibliography

Adlerstein, Michael. Historic Structure Report: Deshler-Morris House. Germantown: National Historic Park, 1982. This report provides the most thorough report on the building by providing multiple drawings, sections, elevation, as well as literature on its progression.

Callard, Judith. Germantown, Mount Airy, and Chestnut Hill. Charleston: Germantown Historic Society/ Arcadia Publishing, 2000. This book briefly mentions the Deshler-Morris House and provides a faรงade image circa 1772 with a description.

Curl, Stevens James. Georgian Architecture. Singapore: David & Charles, 1993. It is one of the better sources to give a background history of Georgian architecture to better put the building into a historical context.

Donnelly, Marian. Architecture in Colonial America. Eugene: University of Oregon Press, 2003. The book goes into great lengths to depict the way life was set in colonial America, and the book provides pictorial examples.

Moss, Roger. Historic Houses of Philadelphia. Philadelphia: Barra Foundation/ University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998. This book provides multiples color images and a fine history of the building.

Sache, Pastorius. Letters, Massive #1. Pastorius to his parents. Philadelphia Public Library. Simon, Grant Miles, Margaret B. Tinkcom. Historic Germantown. Philadelphia: The American Philosophical Society/ Lancaster Press, 1955. This book details the Morris-House layout and provides a very good first floor plan.

Teitelman, Edward. Architecture in Philadelphia. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1981. This book details the construction date of the Deshler-Morris House and provides information on all of Philadelphia’s famous architecture.

Wolf, Stephanie. Urban Village. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1976. This book outlines the community, the family structure, and the population of Germantown from 1683 to 1800.

A Georgian Diamond  

A paper on the Deshler-Morris house.

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