PASSING BY: The Joseph Myers House


Burrington Road branches off Route 7 just south of Pownal Center. It was once the main road to Williamstown, Mass.

If you traveled this road in 1840, you would come on foot, or by horse, in a wagon or carriage at about 5 mph. There would have been plenty of time to be awed by the panorama of the Hoosick River and the Taconic Mountains, and to admire this house: Graceful and settled on the land, in tune with its surroundings.

Today we rush past. But on this quiet road, I often slow down and enjoy how the house was deliberately sited to face and greet whoever passes by.

The style of the house is Greek Revival. Placing the front door on the end and facing that end to the road, adding wide corner boards, makes this a ‘Temple House' -- meant to resemble a Greek temple.

When this house was built, about 1840, we Americans were bored of Colonial, or Georgian, houses a style we had favored for more than 150 years. We were, after all, no longer an English colony. We championed Greece in its fight for independence.

Archeologists digging there sent back reports and engravings of classic Greek ruins. Copying Greek forms was interesting and fashionable. Turning our houses on end created a new look.

Note, however, that this house also has a ‘front' door on the east side, the one a visitor would see coming from the other direction. It tells me that the builder had not quite decided how to interpret the new style.

The new Greek Revival look was made possible by new technology.

By the 1830s we had the circular saw. The round saw blade, known by the Dutch, had been improved originally to cut smoother clapboard and shingles. Then the Shakers made it popular. The traditional saw mill ‘sash saw' moved up and down. The cuts left a rough surface. A board to be used for finish work required planing by hand. The action of the sash saw also jerked a narrow board and broke it. The circular saw went around and around and didn't snap off a thin piece. Its teeth also left a smoother surface and made less saw dust. A saw mill could produce many wide smooth boards, easily, cheaply. When we used them to outline the corners of our houses, as corner boards, they looked like Greek columns. When they outlined the triangle of the roof, they created a Greek pediment.

This up-to-date Greek Revival house dwarfed the original house, now the right hand wing. That house was small, only one room deep. In its walk-out basement is a kitchen with a cooking fireplace and a bake oven.

Whose house was it?

The 1854 Beers Atlas map of Pownal says ‘J. Myers.' Probably he was the second of 4 Joseph Myers recorded in Pownal archives. He would have been the right age to enlarge the house. His grandson, James Hamilton Merchant, signed his whole name on plaster in the basement. All the Joseph Myers' were farmers, one was also Town Treasurer.

I could not take a clear picture of this house from a distance, to show how you come to it, how it sits in the landscape. I hope you will drive past.

Jane Griswold Radocchia is a Banner columnist.


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