Preservation ABCs: S is for Shutter

Preservation ABCs is a series that will work its way from A to Z, bringing words into conversation that are relevant to historic preservation, whether it’s an idea, feature or vocabulary term. The idea is to help you see preservation everywhere you look and wherever you go. Enjoy! See previous letters.


S is for Shutter

Real (functioning) shutters on a house in Clarendon Springs, VT.

Real (functioning) shutters on a house in Clarendon Springs, VT.

Shutters adorn buildings for reasons greater than aesthetics; shutters also have a functional history associated with buildings. Originally solid wood panels on hinges, until the late 18th century when wood slat shutters were introduced, these traditionally movable panels were used for insulation, light control, privacy and protection from the elements. Consider it early air conditioning and thermal panes. Shutters can be found on the interior or the exterior of a building.

Shutters are associated with many architectural styles (according to Virginia & Lee McAlester in A Field Guide to American Houses) including French Colonial, Federal, Georgian, Greek Revival, Colonial Revival and French Eclectic. However, you can readily find shutters on any architectural style if you look. On some of these styles, shutters were meant to be functional – often on the earlier styles such as French Colonial and Georgian. During the wide-ranging Colonial Revival era, shutters became decorative.

How can you distinguish between functional shutters and decorative shutters? It’s simple, actually. Functional shutters, when closed, will cover the entire window. Decorative shutters are too small for the window openings. Consider the ranch houses of the 1950s that have shutters on either side of a large picture window. Relate that to the actual purpose of shutters, and it seems a bit silly, yes? Also, functional shutters will have hinges and hardware called “shutter dogs” which hold them in place when not being used. Many shutters today are plastic and simply attached on either side of a window. An aesthetic preference, though architectural historians find non-functional, inappropriately sized shutters to be ridiculous. (Just a peak into their architectural world!)

Does your house have shutters? What do you think of functional shutters? What do you think of shutters for decoration?


Preservation Pop Quiz


Architectural historians, here is a question for you. How would you define the recessed brick sections on this building?

Preservation Photos #130

The Joslin Memorial Library in Waitsfield, Vermont. This library was built in 1913, with about $21,000 donated by George A. Joslin, a Waitsfield resident.

Elgin Springs House in the Springtime

Back in the wintertime, when Vermont still had snow on the ground, I stopped on the side of the road to photograph the Elgin Springs House. I’ve been fascinated by this house for over one year, so I thought I’d take the time to photograph it in the spring.

Elgin Springs House on Route 22A.

Something about this house makes me want to stare at it all day long; it is captivating. This house has been abandoned for over three decades, yet it is still standing. Metal poles are supporting the overhang of the second story and there are holes in the roof, but the house remains fairly square and upright. It is a testament to the quality of construction and the talent of the builders.

Zoom in to see the wider wood planks beneath the wood clapboards. You can also see the dentils on the soffit and the detail in the cornerboards.

And so much of the architectural details remain. Glass panes and window frames are almost all gone, likely to vandalism or Mother Nature, which immediately gives the house an aura of mystery and sadness.  Tattered curtains – once chosen and hung by a resident of the house – blow in the breeze in broken windows.

Broken shutters and tattered curtains.

The intricate screen doors hang loosely on the hinges. Few shutters remain, and those that cling to the house are broken and faded and deteriorating.

You can see the metal pole supporting the second story.

View of the front.

View of the southeast corner.

Another view of the original house (the two-story section is an addition according to the Vermont Sites & Structures Survey).

Next time I’ll use a different camera lens so I can zoom in for even closer details — like better views of the plaster and lath that you can see on the walls in a few pictures. See – the fascination? It’s ridiculous.

Outbuildings associated with the house.

How much sadder can this house get? I hate to think of it, but a few more hard winters like this one, and its future is looking grim.

Click and zoom in on all of these pictures at your leisure.

Do you know of similar, abandoned, sad houses that need to be photographed for memory? Let me know or send some pictures. Thanks!

The Kitten Who Studied Architectural History

Meet Izzy: a three-month old white fluffy kitten joining us in our house. The benefits of a new kitten are wonderful: kitten cuteness to liven things up and make me smile when schoolwork was getting to be overwhelming, endless entertainment by silly kitten adventures, and a purring furball to stay up late with me when I am writing papers or studying.

Izzy. This picture is not posed; she thinks the laptop is hers.

She likes the pink flamingo computer.

Izzy enjoys walking across the keyboard, peeking over the back of the laptop, attacking my fingers as I type, and sitting under the laptop if it’s on my lap.  As you can see, Izzy helped to write my preservation planning paper and then during finals week she hung out with me at night to study for architectural history. Here is the tale of Izzy studying with me (it does not necessarily reflect  my study habits):

Days before studying, acknowledging and avoiding the book at the same time.

Here we go - studying class lectures.

Switching to notes and index cards.

Thinking she could possibly ingest the knowledge if she eats my notebook.

Izzy begins to wonder just how much more there is to study and how much time it will take...

Izzy needing something to stay awake!

Izzy getting tired of this studying thing.

And she's passed out in my arms.

And there you have it – that’s how tiring final exams can be. So Izzy the kitten may not be the best study partner ever, but she wasn’t the worst. But the cuteness, preservation friends, is why having a kitten by my side this last month of school was awesome.

Ghost Lines

When examining and analyzing buildings, preservationists love to find ghost lines (or marks) that give us clues to where there was once a window, a door, or a change in original construction. These are some very subtle hints on the surface like a change in brick pattern. They are always fun. Imagine my surprise when I saw this while visiting Montreal, Canada with some of the UVM HP students:


This one tells quite the story. Enjoy!