Historic Status: Architectural Context & Analysis

The following discussion is taken from the historic nomination documents:

Newly developing architectural motives associated with the Picturesque movement informed the conception of Daniel Elliot’s Marlboro dwelling.  These nascent Romantic architectural and landscape design sentiments were championed during the 1840s by Andrew J. Downing (1815-1852) and culminated in his watershed 1850 book The Architecture of Country Houses.  The overall form, treatments and plan of Elliot’s house relate to models promoted by Downing in his 1842 book Cottage Residences, specifically those offered as representative of the Bracketed mode.  Of this fashion Downing wrote “This bracketed mode of building, so simple in construction and so striking in effect… indeed, we think a very ingenious architect might produce an American cottage style by carefully studying the capabilities of this mode, so abounding in picturesqueness and so easily executed.”  According to historian David Schuyler, Downing’s development of this theme was related to Swiss chalet models.   Variations of the chalet type had been previously offered in

John Claudius Loudon’s An Encyclopedia of Cottage, Farm, and Villa Architecture (1834), an English source Downing admired and referenced often.  The 1865 edition of Downing’s A Treatise on the Theory & Practice of Landscape Gardening (1841)—issued some dozen years after his death— noted the Bracketed mode’s eclectic origins, “partaking somewhat of the Italian and Swiss features.”  Also of consequence in the development of the Bracketed mode was Downing’s informal partner Alexander Jackson Davis (1803-1892), who assisted in the development of ideas for Cottage Residences, in addition to lending drafting aid for the preparation of the book’s woodcuts, and who himself had first promoted Bracketed designs during the later 1830s.

The house Elliot conceived for himself and his family in Marlboro was not his first foray into architectural design.  Around 1830, when the Church of the Messiah on Broadway in New York City he attended and was a trustee of was destroyed by fire, it was Elliot who consulted on the design, choosing Trinity Church, Boston, as the new model.  He then served as the head of the building committee to see the project through to realization.  In 1835, he contracted for the construction of a house in the city, on Ninth Street near Broadway, which was built from his own plans. It was situated in close proximity to that recently built for Augustus Greele.   Elliot was clearly interested in matters of architectural design; if, as once source noted, “books were his cherished friends,” it might be assumed he was familiar with contemporary literature on the subject.  This seems all the more likely given his immersion in the New York City cultural and artistic scene of that era, and his association with Cole and Morse, who took an avid interest in architecture.

The influence of Downing’s work was national in scope but particularly resonant in the Hudson Valley. Newburgh was his lifelong home and the center of his practice, which in later years came to include his two English-born protégés, Calvert Vaux and F.C. Withers.  Many of the philosophical underpinnings of landscape gardening and domestic architecture he developed and espoused—broadly referred to as the Picturesque— though they were informed by the work of English authors such as Loudon and P.F. Robinson, were nevertheless grounded in his own experiences in the Hudson Valley and its emotive potential.  His early professional development was aided by his association with Davis, whom he encountered in relation to the latter’s work at Robert Donaldson’s “Blithewood” estate, near Barrytown, where Davis had overseen improvements he termed “Irregular and suited to scenery of a picturesque nature.”  In addition to his commissioned work, Davis’s largely unsuccessful 1837 book Rural Residences appealed to Downing and suggested a vehicle in which to broadly disseminate his own critiques and suggestions regarding contemporary American architecture and landscape design.  While critics were not in complete agreement on the merits of Downing’s Cottage Residences, and though it failed to achieve the popularity of The Architecture of Country Houses, the book nevertheless found a broad market with 6,250 copies sold between 1842 and 1853.  Cottage Residences offered a critical new direction for designers and prospective house builders in spite of the continued popularity of the Greek Revival style. Its contents disseminated Gothic, Italianate and Bracketed house types, meant to exist in harmony with their natural environment on manicured rural estates.  The book was apparently referenced by Elliot, its contents forming a point of departure for the design.  So far as other architectural source materials then available, a nearly contemporary work, Edward Shaw’s Rural Architecture of 1843, offered predominately Greek Revival-style house designs in addition to two Gothic models.  Analysis of its contents confirms it did not influence the conception of Elliot’s house.

The form of the Elliot house as erected c. 1843—built on a T-shaped plan, with a three-ranked façade with intersecting central gable corresponding with the entrance bay, and a wraparound verandah encircling the rear projection—appears clearly adapted from Downing’s wood variant of Design V, “A Cottage Villa in the Bracketed Mode.”
E-B plan

This is all the more evident given the location of the house’s fireplaces and the disposition of service areas in the raised basement, let alone the exterior’s primary character-defining feature— the boldly projecting bracketed eaves.  Of the projecting eaves Downing opined that they gave “expression and character to the exterior,” and he noted that “the ornamental brackets [are] the principal features of decoration.”   The dwelling once had a shallow portico at the façade entrance, as evidenced by historic views, much in keeping with that illustrated by Downing.  On the interior the first-floor plan bespoke of a certain rural elegance, commensurate with Elliot’s social and economic standing.  This was expressed in features such as the full-depth south parlor, a feature which Downing indicated he preferred to the en suite arrangement of double parlors that was customary in the Greek Revival period, and the dining room, built with floor-length windows opening up on to the river-side verandah—the verandah or “umbrage” being a hallmark feature of Picturesque design.  The exterior, while adapted and shaped by Downing’s models, nevertheless failed to ultimately achieve the effect he envisioned.  This was in large measure due to the absence of vertical board-and-batten siding, which Downing considered “a less general mode” of sheathing preferable to traditional horizontal clapboard.  It seems Elliot was hesitant to subscribe wholesale to the new Picturesque mandates and at times fell back on accepted methods and treatments, though he was nevertheless cognizant and in large measure receptive to what were, in the early 1840s, developing trends in American domestic architecture.

While the Elliot house may have failed to fully achieve the vision promoted by Downing for models, it nevertheless displayed hallmark elements, in addition to other characteristic Picturesque features. Decorative chimney pots were employed, and while not a feature of this type, were nevertheless illustrated in Cottage Residences in relation to English Gothic models.  The disparity between the aesthetics of the interior wood finish work and plaster cornices, which recall Greek Revival precedents, and the marble mantelpieces which are more in keeping with developing Picturesque sentiment, are fully expressive of the transitional nature of architecture in this era and reflect different sources of manufacture and conception.  This discordant effect may well relate to the failure of Downing’s book to recommend comprehensive interior treatments, leaving such details to be resolved by clients and tradesmen.

The so-called Bracketed mode failed to leave a distinguishing mark on American architecture and was largely relegated to early developments in the Picturesque movement.  The Gothic Revival and various Italianate styles were instead the prevailing modes of domestic design which in large measure expressed the Picturesque aesthetic and continued to find expression, in various manifestations, in the post-Civil War period.  There were nevertheless some notable examples of this type in the Hudson Valley, among the earliest of which were A.J. Davis’s retrofits of existing dwellings for Robert Donaldson at “Blithewood” (1836) and Dr. Oliver Bronson in Hudson (1839).  While perhaps only coincidental, it is nevertheless interesting that Davis counted among his friends Cole, Durand and Morse, associates of Daniel Elliot. One can only wonder whether the two men had met and interacted with one another in this period in New York City, given their affiliation with the various cultural institutions of that time.  Later manifestations of the Bracketed mode such as “Maple Grove,” Poughkeepsie (c. 1850) are more often commonly thought of in relation to the early Italianate style.  Lending credence to Bracketed mode as a stylistic subtype of its own was Edith Wharton’s 1929 book Hudson River Bracketed:

“Hudson River Bracketed?” he echoed. “What’s that?”

“Why, didn’t you know it was our indigenous style of architecture in this part of the world?”

A large landscaped estate originally served as the setting for the house, complete with views eastward to the Hudson River, however the property has since been truncated to a modest three acres.  Evident on the 1891 map included in the Atlas of the Hudson River Valley is a semi-circular drive which provided access to the house from the Post Road before connecting with a larger carriage road that traversed the estate grounds to the north.  Unfortunately the property was just beyond the L.R. Burleigh aerial view of Marlborough dating to that same year, and as such no information on the landscape configuration can be gleaned from that source.  Surviving components and historic views nevertheless are suggestive of characteristic Picturesque estate design features, among them specimen trees, circuitous road systems, and trellises to encourage the partial enclosure of the verandah with natural growth.  The estate’s horticultural plan may well have been inspired by Downing’s work, as well, which extended beyond architectural and landscape design to include his seminal 1845 book Fruits and Fruit Trees of America, which gained him tremendous acclaim at home and abroad.

The most substantial changes made to the house occurred in the 1920s, notably the construction of the new north wing and the addition of a porch on the south elevation, where a wing was once situated.  These changes imparted Colonial Revival influences, as did the reworking of the primary entrance.  There a new frontispiece was introduced, consisting of a semi-circular keystoned fanlight set within an open pediment sustained by engaged Tuscan columns. Other alterations included the creation of new space above the south side of the original rear verandah and also the construction of an in-ground swimming pool.  Notwithstanding these changes, the original c. 1843 dwelling designed by Elliot remains largely interpretable to that date.

          Eliot Family, 56-58. Page 59 states “He found a farm among three hills, at Marlborough, upon the Hudson River.  Here again he planned, and built himself a home and in 1843 settled.”

          Ibid, 56.

          William H. Pierson, American Buildings and Their Architects: Technology and the Picturesque.  Vol. 2. The Corporate and Early Gothic Styles (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1978), 300.

          Schuyler, Apostle of Taste, 72.

          Edward Shaw, Rural Architecture: Consisting of Classic Dwellings, Doric, Ionic, Corinthian and Gothic (Boston: James Dow, 1843).

          Downing, “Cottage in the Bracketed Mode.”

          Edith Wharton, Hudson River Bracketed (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1929), 66-67.

          A.J. Downing, “Design V. A Cottage Villa in the Bracketed Mode,” Cottage Residences (1842).

          David Schuyler, Apostle of Taste, Andrew Jackson Downing 1815-1852 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1996), 47-8.