PASSING BY: 322-324 Gage Street


I like to drive past this house. Often I come by Scott Street and turn at Maple so I can stop a moment at the intersection with Gage just to enjoy it.

Its records are sparce. Since it appears on the 1893 map, it probably was built in the late 1880s for an extended family. But I can find no name. Parents and children often built joined houses for themselves in the period before WWI. Maybe this family was connected with the Lassiter Hosiery Mill then located across the street where Eveready Battery is today.

Why do I like it? First, because it is well designed, and second, because it is fun.

It is a double house not too big for its narrow lot, aware of the weather, with inviting spaces. And it has style. The house stretches out along Gage Street, with a bay window on the Maple Street end. The central tall wing with its long windows faces the street and the sun. The roof behind the wing swoops down around it on both sides to shelter the house and the long porches. The street is close, so are the neighbors. So the porches are places to linger and observe, to welcome visitors, but also to provide privacy for the living spaces behind them. They encourage socializing in good weather, provide shelter in bad. The long windows in the center wing are set too high for us to peer in. They give privacy while allowing the winter sun to shine deep into the house. And that tree, right there in the middle? In summer it shades the windows and blocks the hot sun.

Shouldn't that be enough for a house to do? It is graceful in its location, easy to live in, provides sunshine and shade.

But look again: whoever built this was having fun. On the left side the roof is interrupted by an eight sided tower with a double curved roof and sheathed with double curved, "fish tailed" shingles! On the right end of the roof are two generous dormers with narrow slit windows in their peaks. The house is asymmetrical, something the Victorians loved. But it is balanced: The central wing anchors the house firmly to the ground with a solid wall at its base.

However that base begins with a rusticated stone foundation, then shingles followed by clapboard. The six windows above are paired, framed, topped by a frieze with corbels, then fancy cut shingles. Above in the gable paneling surrounds the attic windows.

The Victorians loved pattern. They had invented the machines to make all this. It pleased the eye, it was fun, it showed off their success. Every wall deserved its own fillip, even the one that faced the back yard. Here that wall boasts a large wooden flower medallion. You can see it from Maple Street.

The house would not have been painted white. All that pattern would have highlighted by three or fou contrasting colors.

William Bull, Bennington's own high-style Victorian architect, may have designed this. He loved to play like this. Take a look at the Graves Mansion he designed on the corner of Elm and Washington Streets. It has the same exuberant flourishing. But we have no record.

The house next door, smaller but similar in design, is now sheathed in sturdy asbestos shingles. Its character is hidden.

Jane Griswold Radocchia is a Banner columnist.


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