Presentation highlights architecture

WILTON – Queen Victoria ruled the British Empire from 1837-1901, a period now referred to as the Victorian Era, although that term is used loosely and includes the periods before and after her reign.

The style of house with steep gables and towers, turrets, balconies, porches and detailed wooden fretwork commonly called “gingerbread” is more properly “Queen Anne.”

But though the style of the house may be older, its age probably isn’t, according to Richard Guy Wilson, “because American architects borrowed from everywhere,” he said.

The era is also sometimes called The Gilded Age, and he recommended a book by that name by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner as being excellent for a study of the culture of the time.

Wilson, the Commonwealth Professor of Architectural History at the University of Virginia, delighted a packed rotunda at the Wilton Public & Gregg Free Library on Wednesday, June 14, with an illustrated talk on New Hampshire architecture. His pictures included several from Wilton, such as Town Hall, which he described as “a beautiful example that embodies all of the characteristics of Victorian architecture. The architect was obviously having a good time” when he designed it.

He also included the library and two Queen Anne-style houses on Park Street.

That era covers a lot of styles, Wilson said, including Greek Revival, the use of fluted columns on porches; Italianate, influenced by Italian villas; and also the plain and functional Shakers.

Wilson’s talk covered the rise of the railroads and the development of the elaborate stations, most of which are now gone, the structure of the mills in most towns and churches with their towers. Mont Vernon Congregational is a good example of the era, as is All Saints Episcopal in Peterborough, he said.

The “White Mountain School” of Boston and New York area artists who made summers in the White Mountains popular during the 1880s and 1890s, the era of the grand hotels, brought their preferences with them, influencing the designs of the hotels, he said.

Wilson discussed the Industrial Revolution and its effect on architecture.

The style known as “craftsman” is noted for its details such as the lacy wooden fretwork, elaborate cornice brackets and balustrades. But those aren’t handmade, Wilson said.

“They were mass produced and you could order them,” he said.

Wilson, the author of several books on architecture, showed examples of catalogs of trimmings.

Wooden trimming was replaced by iron, he said, “especially on commercial buildings because it was cheaper and easier than hand carving.”

That detailed ironwork was also used in cemeteries and as gates.

The round columns of the Greek Revival also had a cheaper version: square columns without the fluted tops.

There has been a revived interest in old styles, Wilson said, and there are preservation efforts.

Wilson has been a summer resident of New Hampshire since 1978, and has run the Victorian Society of America’s summer school since 1978. He is considered an expert on architecture of the 18th through 21st centuries.

The program was presented through the New Hampshire Humanities Council.

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