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Resources: Preservation Library: Researching the Style and History of a Building

Rhode Island Historical Preservation Commission Survey Reports, Providence, various dates.
The first step in historic preservation is research to locate and record historic resources. The Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission has surveyed over 50,000 Rhode Island structures. The survey reports focus on individual towns or neighborhoods. Historic properties are identified and evaluated for their architectural importance and for their significance to the community's history. Professional historians and architectural historians on the Commission staff, often assisted by local residents, conduct the research. A report on each survey is published and distributed to government officials, libraries, schools, and the public. The report combines an inventory of specific historic properties with a history of the community.

 

Field Guide To American Houses, by Virginia and Lee McAlester, N.Y.: Knopf, 1989.
Each chapter in this book treats one of the major styles popular in America's past. The beginning of each chapter features a drawing showing the three or four identifying features of the style. Native American homes are included. The illustrations are clear and easy to understand, and the many black and white pictures show wonderful examples of styles and adaptations of styles. One is seized by the urge to take this book and drive across the country - or at least walk around the neighborhood - and just look at houses.

 

American Buildings and Their Architects, by William Jordy and William Pierson, 5 volumes:
vol. 1: The Colonial and Neoclassical Styles. (Pierson)
vol. 2: Technology and the Picturesque: The Corporate and the Early Gothic Styles. (Pierson)
vol. 3: not yet published.
vol. 4: Progressive and Academic Ideals at the Turn of the Century, (Jordy)
vol. 5: The Impact of European Modernism in the Mid-Twentieth Century. (Jordy)
A series that considers the influences, the philosophy, and the designs of American architecture of various periods. Many individual buildings, both public and private, are analyzed and illustrated.

 

How Old Is This House?, by Hugh Howard, N.Y.: Noonday Press (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), 1989.
Intended for the person who wants to understand where his or her house fits into the timeline of architectural history, this book helps the reader to identify a house's period using style and documentary and physical evidence. It provides a basic chronological guide to the evolution of the American house over five centuries, giving excellent illustrations of style and details. It also includes a very good list of resources to check for documentary evidence about a house's history.

 

Greek Revival America, by Roger G. Kennedy, N.Y.: Stewart Tabori and Chang, 1989.
A hefty tome with distinctly beautiful photographs. The text reviews the history and psychology of the Greek Revival; the photos are from all over the U.S. An appendix, "A Gazetteer of Important Greek Revival Buildings in the U.S. Today," lists both Manning Chapel on the Brown University campus and the Arcade, which it calls "America's best Greek Revival commercial building." Thought-provoking and wonderful to peruse.

 

Greek Revival Architecture in America, by Talbot Hamlin, N.Y.: Dover, 1944.
A thorough history of and guide to this style, which prevailed roughly from 1820 to 1860, this book is rather scholarly in tone but rife with detail. It shows examples of the Greek Revival style across the country. Chapter 7, "Greek Revival in New England," contains many references to buildings in Rhode Island and especially Providence. Floor plans, illustrations, and black and white photographs are liberally sprinkled throughout the book, which is well-indexed and contains a long bibliography for further investigation.

 

The Comfortable House: North American Suburban Architecture, by Alan Gowans, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1996.
An attempt to make coherent the profusion of styles represented in suburban houses built between 1890 and 1930, when more houses were erected than in the nation's entire previous history. Lots of pictures and even some floor plans, but this book is concerned more with history and analysis than practical advice.

 

Rhode Island: A History, by William G. McLoughlin, N.Y.: Norton, 1978.
The best modern history of Rhode Island. Well written and easily read, it presents places, events, and issues with clarity and insight.

 

Victorian Splendor, by Allison Kyle Leopold, N.Y.: Stewart Tabori and Chang, 1986.
A beautiful book which illustrates and explains the nuances of the Victorian style. It discusses the historic significance of each room in the house, including the decorative differences between masculine and feminine and public and private regions of the house. Lovely photographs by Elizabeth Heyert and text combine to inspire those wanting to duplicate this deliberately cluttered style. A directory in the back lists more than one hundred 19th-century historic houses open to the public and antique dealers who specialize in the period.

 

The State Houses of Rhode Island, by Patrick T. Conley, et al, Providence: R.I. Historical Society and R.I. Historical Preservation Commission, 1988.
A history of the six different buildings which have served as the seat of Rhode Island's legislative and government activities, sometimes simultaneously. Sumptuous photos by Warren Jagger; informative and lively essays by Dr. Conley and his co-authors, Robert Owen Jones and Wm McKenzie Woodward.

 

The Buildings of Main Street: A Guide to American Commercial Architecture, by Richard Longstreth, Washington, D.C.: Preservation Press, 1987.
Large cities across America have "downtowns" - commercial areas with prominent buildings which serve as the focus of business and community life: banks, restaurants, movie theaters. Many can be identified by style: the temple front, the vault, the enframed block. Longstreth traces the history and development, decline, and renaissance of city buildings and presents wonderful photos illustrating the different styles.

 

Grand American Hotels, by Catherine Donzel and Alexis Gregory, N.Y.: Vendome Press, 1989.
A lavish coffee table book, richly illustrated, giving history and descriptions of the great American and Canadian hotels, a little about their architects, and lots about the people (Astor, Hilton, etc.) whose vision and way of life inspired the grand tradition. Fun to look at and dream over.

 

A Graveyard Preservation Primer, by Lynette Strangstad, Nashville: American Association for State and Local History, 1988.
There is increasing interest in historic graveyards. Stating that stone conservation is a complex field with much research-in-progress, Strangstad explains that the book is intended specifically for non-professionals involved in small to medium-sized projects. She describes some procedures and directs the reader to appropriate resources. Lots of "before and after" pictures show improvement in stone, foundation, and even the grass around graves.

 

In Small Things Forgotten: The Archaeology of Early American Life, by James Deetz, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1977.
A thoughtful and reflective book on the significance of historical artifacts. We get to know the people who lived and worked here before us and the archaeologists who dig up the past.

American Gardens of the Nineteenth Century, by Ann Leighton, Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1987.
Lovely illustrations grace the pages of this book, which traces the development of the American passion for gardens and gardening. It covers the design of summerhouses, the lives of early American botanists and nurserymen, and the rise of landscape gardening in public places. Also included are sections on garden furniture and specialty gardens (one-color, rockwork, Chinese). An appendix lists plants most commonly used in 19th-century gardens. Perusal of this book is mandatory for garden enthusiasts.