Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Preserving the Birth Home of L.H. Bailey

As posted in our November 14th blog, Liberty Hyde Bailey's birth site home (a National Historic Place and museum) is being historically accessed inside and out in order to uncover, rediscover and finally recover this priceless artifact. For this installment we start with the home's most noticeable feature, the arched front porch.

A popular Liberty Hyde Bailey Museum anecdote that has been bandied about by docents and trustees explained the four asymmetrical arches that grace the home's front porch as a Masonic symbol, secretly announcing to any passing Mason of the homeowner's connection to the brotherhood. While making a good story ala National Treasure there wasn't any evidence (besides the story) to support this claim. Even with pressing a museum docent further about how he new about the Masonic symbolism, he cryptically shook out the well worn trope of keeping Masonic secrets, secret. This doesn't hold water even more so now that the Masons have public radio commercials to help boost their waining numbers. Not much cloak and dagger as wishful projection. Here is what historical preservationist, Erica Pearson-Eklov uncovered for us.
While there isn't anything on Masonic symbolism, the porch and arches unquetionably stand apart from the Greek Revival style home.

The most contrary feature of the Bailey home is its front porch, which does not abide by Greek Revival style porches or d├ęcor. The single story wood porch extends the entire length of the west-facing front elevation, with a half-hipped roof. The porch has four arches of varying sizes facing west and one arch on either side elevation. Each arch displays rounded wood moldings and keystone decorations. Completed by December 1861, the porch was an addition to the house. The inside of the porch has wood plank flooring, painted a green color, with a tongue and groove wood ceiling. The foundation of the porch is composed of cobblestone masonry, differing from that of the house’s foundation. Most notably, the design of the porch exists in stark contrast to style of the main house.

As Marshall McLennan, professor emeritus of Eastern Michigan University’s historic preservation program, notes: “That is one fascinating porch! ...while the house is Greek Revival, the porch is more attuned to the earlier Georgian style. The facade of the house is very plain, lacking classical door and window treatments. Conversely the graceful porch is completely out of character with that. I am of the opinion that the porch was added later to try to spiff up an ordinary house.”

While McLennan argues towards the porch’s Georgian notes, others could argue the porch illustrates more Italianate tendencies. The Italianate style favors arches and curved tops, and its post-Greek Revival occurrence can be considered in tandem with the history of the Bailey porch.

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