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Learning from Lewisburg
5. What houses tell us.
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Three broad eras of American architectural ideology are visible before you.
A. 



The traditional, or folk, house type was a statement of inclusion, a house built the "right" way to complement the houses around it and permit the builder to endorse conformity. Folk housing was stable in time (changing little over centuries) but unstable in space (different here than elsewhere ... even nearby). Otherwise identical folk houses consistently have slightly different trim treatments only 40 miles from here.  
B. 



After 1880, "national" styles were rapidly adopted, then considered passe within a short period of time. Styles —Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, Italianate, etc. — swept rapidly and sequentially through the entire Northeastern US, such that many 19th Century houses can be dated to the decade by a cursory look at their style. National styles, like popular culture of today, are consistent over space — the same here as in Ohio — but unstable in time, shifting rapidly over the years.  
  National styles of housing were expressions of the class and wealth superiority of the builder compared to the adjacent houses. National styles were adopted within wealthy towns such as late-19th Century Lewisburg — but are nearly unknown in the country side. National house styles gained importance as industrialization, wealth, and communication gave both the means and the permission for part of society to seek to demonstrate its perceived superiority.  
C. 



"Modern" housing of the second half of the 20th Century enables house owners to express their own self-image, unconstrained by either a strong drive toward conformity, as in the folk era, nor a clear sense of an evolving national style. Modern houses satisfy the (perceived) domestic needs of the owner and communicate little about the owners taste in any stylized language, within the relatively anonymous discourse of contemporary cities. Wealth, of course, still wishes to speak its own name.
  Traditional vernacular architecture: the 4-over-4 (referring to the room count in the standard floor plain) was the standard Pennsylvania house for 250 years — a generally symmetrical 2 or 2 1/2 story building with roof-ridge parallel the road, built of any material. This house type is at root a farm structure, ultimately designed for its capacity to contain a large family of agriculturalists.
  Earlier traditional houses were built without rigid plans — see the uneven window and door spacing and the slight asymmetry of the halves of this double.
  Late traditional architecture — by 1870 — is a highly formalized version of traditional styles. Dimensions, spacing, and fancy finish are precise and replicable.
  Hesitant early manifestations of national styles comprise minor add-ons of stylish accoutrements to what is basically a Pennsylvania farm house in lay-out ... does a cute little campanile stuck on the front of this 4-over-4 building really make it Italianate?
  A confident national building, at last — the Mansarded "Victorian" style house on University Avenue is the one of the first to break from the rigid constraints of the farm house roof line and floor plan.
  "Modern" housing ... demonstrating the owners self-image (wealth, leisure), unconstrained by any conventional language of recognizable styles. Near Stein Lane, south of the university golf course.
  The large houses of 19th Century's wealthy families line this main artery leading to the commercial district of town. The wealth and interaction that the canal, and later the railroad, brought induced the relative exuberance of the older buildings around Lewisburg's market blocks, from Second to Fourth Sts. Classical Revival architecture is rare for residences in Pennsylvania, but clubs, banks, churches, and the courthouse are all done in elegant imported styles.
  The hotel, build in 1831, as the canal was arriving. This hotel passed through its pathetic "Hotel/Motel" phase in the 1960s and 1970s, when it catered to truck drivers and featured frequent pool cue fights. Recently it's been renovated for the carriage trade, with lots of oak and faux burnished brass.
  Architectural exuberance of indeterminate, eclectic style expresses the prestige of some 19th Century merchant or professional
  Interspersed with these are a few longtime local stores — a framing gallery, a stationery store, Stamm's Art-Deco stainless-steel appliance store, a bargain priced movie theater, and the in-town grocery. Lost in recent memory are the local butcher, the old time drugstore, the newsstand, and (several generations of bank buy-outs ago) all the local banks.
 
Stamm's, a downtown appliance store, remnant of the old small-town economy still able to hold out against Sears' economic pressure. It is an enamel-and-stainless-steel remnant of a bold earlier architectural moment, as well.
  Frankly, the town is giving lessons in gentrification, in redefining a traditional cultural landscape as a locus of style and leisure. Beyond Front St. look for (at last tally & in recent memory): the Guinness-certified pub, the earring store, the glass / gold jewelry / leather wallet store, the Celtic everything store, the art gallery, the fly fishing and mountain bike store, the art gallery, the “collectibles” store, the cigar store, the beer-brewing supplies store, the several pricey restaurants, the other art gallery, the gourmet-coffee-and-new-age-personal-growth-bookstore, the the Italian ices store (oops — now a chiropractor’s office), and the ammunition store. 
< Previous/ 0 Main/ 1 Campus/ 2 Connections/ 3 Susquehanna/ 4 Preindustial town/
5 Read a house
/ 6 Deindustrializing/ 7 Downtown/ 8 Lower town/ 9 Highway/ 10 Past & future / Next>