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The Colonial Records Project
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Last Updated 11/14/01
Colonial Homes in North Carolina
The interior from Wakefield, just seen (figure 62), represents one idea about how the walls of a room should be treated. There were other schemes for the treatment of the main room of a house; some of these are illustrated in figure 63 and in the following sketches.
In figure 63 parts of the great frame of a wooden house project unashamedly through the smooth plaster walls and ceiling. Running across the middle of the ceiling is the large center beam of the house. A similar member along the outside edge of the ceiling might be expected to continue all the way around the room as a cornice, but it does not. At the floor line, however, a base board does continue around the room, but it is heavier under the window wall. The chair rail (the board or rail installed about the height of the back of chair, to protect the plaster from damage) does continue around the room, but at the corner it develops special bracing not employed where the rail joins the frame of the door.
Such irregular features suggest a skeleton of the house going beyond the present room. The builder of this dwelling was unconcerned if one wall was different from another- perhaps he felt a keen satisfaction in the wooden structure of his house and was pleased to have this framework reflected in the interior. This spirit is occasionally seen in the less important rooms of a colonial house (for example in the Palmer house), but it is rarely found in the main rooms of extant colonial homes. Figure 64, also a simple interior, is more expressive of what colonial builders desired. The cornice, the chair rail, and the base board continue around corners without any change in character. Thus the room appears as a box having its own order, independent of irregularities in the frame of the house. Chair rail and base board are almost always found, because they were necessary to protect the plaster. The cornice, although occasionally missing, is usually present- as though the builders felt it was necessary to mark the upper edge of the cube of the room. The fireplace is adorned with surrounding panels. A fireplace is psychologically an important place in the room-it is the source of warmth and the place where people gather-and, therefore, it is honored with special decoration.
A more elaborate interior is shown in figure 65. The mantelpiece rises to the ceiling and has some carved details. A paneled wood wainscot runs around the lower part of the wall. The inset sketch shows a long plank sometimes used in the wainscot, and left exposed as a long panel. The front is glassy smooth, the back is rough hewn and notched to fit snugly against the upright posts. Such a long panel of wood is not overly impressive when used today-it is just a sheet of plywood-but in a colonial house it is something to awe a modern carpenter.
Figure 66 shows an exceptionally elaborate room inspired, perhaps, by pattern books or memories of England. The mantelpiece is an elaborate concoction of many units piled  one on top of the other-ledges, columns, a gable pediment-a display of the carver's skill. The walls are fully covered by a series of vertical panels above and horizontal panels below.
Having seen in the above sketches some of the notions which colonial builders had for finishing the important rooms in a house, we will look at photographs of two fully paneled rooms, one plain and the other elaborately carved.
Figure 67 is an interior from the Lane house, Nixonton, shown as an example of a simple, fully paneled room. This Nixonton house is the second Lane house to be discussed in this study; the first was Wakefield, the Joel Lane dwelling in Raleigh. Our photograph shows one of three rooms from the Nixonton Lane house, as now installed in the Carolina Room at the University of North Carolina. This is the section of the University library which contains books, pamphlets, old photographs and newspapers, all referring to North Carolina. It seems appropriate that the Lane interiors should be at this center for studies of North Carolina history and culture. The installation was accomplished under the direction of Thomas Waterman, student and author of works on North Carolina architecture.
The over-all design of the room shown consists of panels set in a lattice of vertical and horizontal strips. Window height determines the three-part division of the wall-tall vertical panels in the middle, and short horizontal panels above and below. This scheme is repeated in smaller scale at the mantel. The emotionally important fireplace is given a few further touches of embellishment-a carved mantel shelf and pilasters at the edges above. (A pilaster is a rectangular support treated as a column with a base, shaft, and capital.)
Figure 68 is inserted into our account at this point to aid in discussion of a special beauty in this room, the expression of a craftsman-builder. The drawing shows a section of the  wall in the photograph. In his actual construction of the paneling, it appears that the craftsman followed these steps: 1st) erected uprights marked 1 and 1, which rise all the way from floor to ceiling, corresponding to the posts which frame door and window; 2nd) cut and fit the strips marked 2 and 2, which fit neatly between the uprights; 3rd) erected the secondary upright marked 3; 4th) fitted in the short pieces marked 4, the location of these strips being determined by the framing of the window. The above sequence of steps is the natural, rule-of-thumb way to proceed; the craftsman does not need a blue print-or even a ruler. Thus the wall expresses the craftsman-builder at work, suggests his simple procedures and his delight with his material, wood, whose satiny surface is brought out in the room.  Figure 69 shows a sketch and a plan of the Lane house at Nixonton. It is a simple one-story building which looks down peacefully on the Little River. Sometimes it is called the Old Customs House, or the Old River House. It is dated in the 1740's, some years before the other Lane house, Wakefield, in Raleigh.
The plan of the house is a clean-cut example of the three room idea advocated by William Penn. The big room was seen in our photograph (figure 67). The two smaller rooms had walls of plaster. Foundations above ground are of brick; below ground are the stone walls of a low cellar. It may be remarked that there is no stair to the loft. The loft window shown in the sketch was just for looks, according to old settlers. Today, however, the loft is reached via an addition to the house, not shown in the sketch.
Figure 70, an interior from the earlier mentioned Old Brick House, is shown as an example of an elaborately paneled room. It was put into the Old Brick House about mid 18th century, at about the time of the simple Lane interior, just seen above. It is opulent, high-spirited, robust. Perhaps its swashbuckling grandeur would appeal to a pirate and could, therefore, be used to support the legend that Blackbeard once lived in this house. The legend, however, is unfounded; Blackbeard had been dead for many years before this room was executed, and similar interiors are found in other North Carolina houses known to have been built by highly respectable owners.
The Old Brick interior stands in sharp contrast to the chaste Lane interior. Whereas the Lane interior expresses simple wood structure, as we have seen, the Old Brick interior suggest stone. The row of energetic pilasters support a very convincing stone architrave above, and the arches are constructed complete with keystones as found in stone work.
 The Old Brick House's interior has left North Carolina. The photograph shown portrays the fireplace wall as it is installed in a house in Delaware, its proportions changed to make it fit a higher room. An older photograph, figure 71, shows the door along the wall in the original room. By comparing the before-and-after photographs it can be seen how blocks were inserted under the pilasters to accommodate them to the height of the room and providing more head room above the arch. In the original room the pilasters stood emphatically on the ground. The door proudly raised itself to its full height, the keystone of its arch touching the enframement above. The more the two photographs are compared, the greater the appreciation one has for the particular nature of the original room, and the intention of its designer. It had a dynamic pride, in contrast with a politeness which characterizes the later room.
The re-installed room has also changed the original arrangement of parts along the wall-the door, the mantelpiece, and the cabinet. The original arrangement of these units may be seen by looking carefully at figure 71, and also the plan of the Old Brick House, figure 44.
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