The Sunday porch: Edgemont

Edgemont, Covesville, VA, Library of CongressEdgemont (or Cocke Farm), Albemarle County, Virginia, 1935, by Frances Benjamin Johnston, via Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Built ca. 1796 for James Powell Cocke, Edgemont is significant as a very early example of a country residence in the combination Palladian and French manner promulgated by Thomas Jefferson. Although the design of the house has been credited to Jefferson for several decades, precise documentation of the authorship remains yet to be established. The character* of the compact and sophisticated dwelling is uniquely Jeffersonian, however, and exhibits the influence he had on the architecture of his region. . . .

from the 1980 nomination to the National Register of Historic Places

At the time of the photo, only two porticoes of the probable original four still existed. The house was restored and renovated in the late 1930s and 1940s. There are more F.B.J. photos here and 1996 photos here.

* “a formality and classical correctness devoid of monumentality. . .”

The Sunday porch: the portico

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A late afternoon gathering on the south portico (or back porch) of the White House, probably between 1890 and 1910, photographer unknown, via the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Encyclopedia Britannica defines ‘portico’ as a “colonnaded porch or entrance to a structure, or a covered walkway supported by regularly spaced columns. Porticoes formed the entrances to ancient Greek temples.”

The south portico of the White House was built in 1824, principally from an 1807 design by architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe, then Surveyor of Public Buildings.  Latrobe was appointed and supervised by Thomas Jefferson, who loved  neoclassical design and called Palladio’s books “the bible.”

The South of France

Roman temple
“simple and sublime”

Maria Cosway
on his mind

white column
and arch

Lorine Niedecker, from “Thomas Jefferson

Vintage landscape: tree delivery

White House tree delivered, Mar. 1922, via Library of Congress. . . to the White House, Washington, D.C., March 1922, by Harris & Ewing, via Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Thomas Jefferson, the second President to occupy the White House, directed that hundreds of small trees be planted in groves around the grounds (none of them exist today).

John Quincy Adams was the first to add ornamental trees. Andrew Jackson brought in the first sycamores, elms, and maples.

There’s more about the history of the White House gardens and grounds here.

What kind of small tree/large shrub do you think this was?

I never before knew the full value of trees. My house is entirely embossomed in high plane-trees, with good grass below; and under them I breakfast, dine, write, read, and receive my company. What would I not give that the trees planted nearest round the house at Monticello were full grown.

Thomas Jefferson to his daughter, Martha, (from Philadelphia), 1793

In which I discover a new word and an old garden

A west window of Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest revealing a view of the curtilage. Photo by Jack E. Boucher, via Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Curtilage –a piece of ground (as a yard or courtyard) within the fence surrounding a house.  Origin: Middle English, from Anglo-French curtillage, from curtil garden, curtilage, from curt court.  First known use: 14th century. — Merriam-Webster Dictionary

A bit more: a cortil was ‘little yard’ in Old French: cort + il (diminutive suffix).  A ‘cortile’ (in English, in architecture) is an internal courtyard of a palazzo.

As a legal term, curtilage means the land immediately surrounding a residence that “harbors the intimate activity associated with the sanctity of a man’s home and the privacies of life.” In U.S. law, it is important for dealing with cases involving burglary, self defense, and unreasonable searches and seizures under the Fourth Amendment.

I came across the word while reading the website of Poplar Forest, Thomas Jefferson’s second home and getaway (I remembered something about it after Apartment Therapy posted a slideshow of presidential retreats).  Its curtilage originally included an octagonal house (possibly the first in America), orchards, ornamental and vegetable gardens, and slave quarters. It was surrounded by a ‘snake’ or ‘worm’ stacked-rail fence, as well as fields of tobacco and wheat.

Because little visual evidence of Jefferson’s plantings remain, the 61-acre area is being reconstructed through archeology and research of his papers. Letters do indicate that a sunken garden behind the house contained “lilacs, Althaeas, g[u]elder roses, Roses, and clianthus.”

At Poplar Forest, Jefferson was working from a concept of “an ornamental villa retreat within an isolated agricultural setting.” He was thinking of ancient Roman villas, as they were reinterpreted in the 16th century by Andrea Palladio.

The estate is located in Forest, Virginia, near Lynchburg.

The top photo was taken as part of a 1985 Historic American Buildings Survey.